Tag Archives: AIDS awareness

From GRID To AIDS

July, early 1980s, San Francisco.

A month before my 25th birthday, I began my clinical training in mental health. I was doing a rotation in a crisis clinic, a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital. I was eager to get out of the classroom and start working with clients. I had no idea that the nation’s health care community was at a crossroads, entirely unprepared for what was about to unfold.

Within a few weeks, we began to see a new presentation, which quickly developed into a dreadful pattern. A young man would be brought in, overtly psychotic or confused and delirious. We’d ask questions and find out that he had a steady job, a strong friendship group, sometimes a partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. He’d also have a recent medical history that made no sense – sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions, sometimes a parasite only seen in sheep. He would have lost an alarming amount of weight in a startlingly short period of time. He would be in his 20s and gay. He was a healthy young man, who was inexplicably dying.

Initially, we didn’t understand the cause (single agent? combination?), or how the virus was transmitted (sexual contact? airborne? insect bite?). Until that point, “Safe Sex” meant preventing pregnancy; the idea of gay men using “protection” during sex was ludicrous. As the medical community realized that HIV was sexually transmitted, many people put up huge resistance to precautions like using condoms and closing the famous San Francisco bath houses. With our nation’s bruised history of homophobia (which is sadly ongoing), with self-proclaimed religious leaders ranting that AIDS was a “scourge” from God, folks in the gay community understandably wondered if these “protective measures” were actually the next bigoted attempts to shut down gay sex.

I remember having lunch with a group of residents at the hospital. We were all in training, in different fields of medicine. One woman in pediatrics – bright, dedicated and decent to the bone — asked if the patients I had seen were truly all gay men, or if that was homophobic propaganda. I assured her it was true — which made no sense to any of us. We sat around our table and brainstormed, wondering if there could be some sort of Andromeda Strain phenomenon, making males in their 20s more vulnerable than females in their 90s. But that didn’t help us understand the gay factor or the sheep. One of the residents grew up on a farm, and we questioned him about rare illnesses in animals…which of course clarified nothing.  In all of the patients I had seen, 100% were gay and male; 0% had contact with sheep. Looking back, it seems like an idiotic discussion; at that time, we were scrambling – sharply aware that as we ate our sandwiches, people were dying.

Over time, the diagnosis evolved from Gay Cancer or GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) to AIDS. But we still had no medication to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was brutal.

The following year, my training program offered the opportunity to work on the “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. This unit was set up solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was given the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But I figured if I asked my patients to step up and deal with their fear, then the least I could do was step up and deal with my own. To this day, I’ve never seen a better-run unit in any hospital. I’ve never been in an environment with a stronger sense of teamwork, with more exemplary patient care. Working on the AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. As a psych trainee, I was called in for mental health issues. Some patients needed meds when the virus attacked their brain, but most needed to talk. They asked questions, trying to understand. Sometimes I had answers; usually I didn’t. I listened to their stories, each unique, each the same.

My main role was to help them catch up to themselves. AIDS had slammed them, a blitzkrieg assault with such force that they had no time to adjust. Some showed me photographs, pre-AIDS, smiling and strong.  The pictures captured an experience that defied language, as they grieved for their former selves. I helped them build an emotional bridge between their then and their now.

I’ll always remember those young men who lived, loved, fought, lost. I’m grateful to them, to their friends and to their families for allowing me into their lives and into their deaths. I wish I could tell them, all these years later, that they paved the way for others to survive. I hope they know how valuable they were to me. I dedicate this post to them.

____

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBT allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other important characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Click here to check out Amy’s recent blog posts, read reviews, purchase her novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under AIDS awareness, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Uncategorized

LGBTQ+ Posts

Dear Reader,

Before I decided to write fiction, I was a psychologist for 25 years. I’ve always been drawn to the process of self-discovery and personal transformation – first as a therapist, and now as a writer. Our culture often makes this process extremely difficult for people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and I hope my writing can help.

As I write each post for my blog, I’m drawn to the same underlying themes. My blog includes a body of work on LGBTQ issues, which focus on different aspects of self-discovery, personal transformation and ally support.

Below is a “hit list” of these posts.

Thanks for reading!

Amy

 

“Imagine”

Written in support of trans students, and to try to help people understand why bathroom issues are so harmful.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/imagine/

 

“More Bathroom Bills”

A trans ally is fed up with bathroom bills.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/more-bathroom-bills/

 

“GLSEN 100 Days Of Kindness”

In high school, a friend stopped a bullying incident with one simple question.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/glsen-100-days-of-kindness/

 

“Amy vs. Chapter 37 — GLSEN No Name Calling Week”

Writing as a form of healing from words used as weapons.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/amy-vs-chapter-37-glsen-no-name-calling-week/

 

“GLSEN Ally Week — Let’s Open The Conversation”

A 91-year-old woman’s path to becoming an LGBT ally.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/glsen-ally-week-lets-open-the-conversation/

 

“Use Restroom, Wash Hands, Leave”

Written in response to HB2, signed by North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/use-restroom-wash-hands-leave/

 

“Confused Children (Or Not…)”

In support of same-sex parents.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/confused-children-or-not/

 

“Rainbow Cake”

A celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold same-sex marriage.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/rainbow-cake/

 

“LGBT Pride Month: Yale Has Come A Long Way”

An experience in college that taught me how to be a better ally.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/lgbt-pride-month-yale-has-come-a-long-way/

 

“LGBT Pride Month: I Wish He Had Told Me”

About a boy I knew when I was in high school, who didn’t feel safe coming out.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/lgbt-pride-month-i-wish-he-had-told-me/

 

“Huge Mistake”

Written in response to the homophobic Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/huge-mistake/

 

“Same-Sex Parents”

In support of gay dads and lesbian moms — addresses some common concerns and misconceptions.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/same-sex-parents/

 

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”

To help families handle this situation with togetherness and support.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

 

“Heartbeat of AIDS”

About being a psych trainee, in San Francisco, in the early 1980s, trying to figure out why healthy young men were inexplicably dying.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/heartbeat-of-aids/

 

“Spectrum Of Normal”

A perspective on the LGBTQIA spectrum.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/spectrum-of-normal/

 

“Everyone Can Be An Ally”

The bullying incident in high school that motivated me to write my first novel.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/everyone-can-be-an-ally/

 

“Two Weddings And A Novel”

How my first novel was influenced by Gavin Newsom’s legalizing same-sex marriage in San Francisco.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/two-weddings-and-a-novel-2/

 

“All Love Is Created Equal”

A a child, realizing that gay and straight couples were viewed differently.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/all-love-is-created-equal/

 

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room”

Support for families when a daughter or son comes out, and suddenly all the parents can see is GAY.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

 

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out”

Support for families, a model of togetherness.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

 

“Speak Gay With Pride”

About the homophobic expression “It’s so gay”, and how parents can handle it.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/speak-gay-with-pride/

 

“Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire”

Both of my novels have LGBTQ themes central to the plots. Without the gay and lesbian characters, the stories could not exist. As I wrote the reading guides, I included several questions inviting readers to share their experiences. Understanding diverse perspectives creates a path to acceptance and support. Let’s open the conversation.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/reading-guides-for-hollywood-high-achieve-the-honorable-and-tightwire/

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under AIDS awareness, bullying, coming out, Equality, family, gay and lesbian parents, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

Heartbeat Of AIDS

The Normal Heart is an HBO film adapted from Larry Kramer’s play. It’s wonderful, and worth your time. But prepare to feel devastated. Mr. Kramer is an author, a playwright, a public health advocate and LGBT rights activist. Mr. Kramer is also a strong voice for AIDS awareness.

I began to follow Larry Kramer’s work back in the 1980s, when The Normal Heart takes place. I was in my first year as a psych trainee in San Francisco, doing a rotation in a crisis clinic (a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital). At a certain point, we began to see a new presentation, which developed into a dreadful pattern. A young man would be brought in, overtly psychotic or confused and delirious. We’d ask questions and find out that he had a steady job, a strong friendship group, sometimes a steady partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. But he’d also have a recent medical history we didn’t understand — sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions. He would have lost an alarming amount of weight in a startlingly short period of time. He would be in his 20s and gay. He was a healthy young man, who was suddenly dying.

During this reign of terror, AIDS ran rampant. Initially, we didn’t understand the cause, or how the virus was transmitted. Even when we began to gain an understanding, we had no medications to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was gruesome. People were terrified, and the early AIDS victims were often treated as pariahs, fearful objects, grim reapers.

But Larry Kramer was different. He raised his voice, loud and unapologetic, in support of gay men infected with HIV. Interestingly, he was revered by some and hated by others for the exact same reason: he stepped forward, stood tall, insisted that bodies (both living and dead) be treated with respect and dignity. He shouted that people needed to pay attention; he was ignored; he shouted louder. He raised his voice for those whose voice had been taken away.

Larry Kramer first wrote The Normal Heart as a play. The story follows the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, from 1981-1984, in New York. I was in a different city, but the issues – medical, political, personal – were exactly what my colleagues and I faced in San Francisco. Watching the film, each hospital scene brought back a flood of memories from being a psych trainee on Jim Dilley’s “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. Dilley set up a unit solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was offered the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But Dr. Dilley was a rare blend of intelligence, decency, talent and compassion. I trusted him, and I knew I was being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I figured if I was going to help my patients step up and deal with their fear, then the least I could do was step up and deal with my own. To this day, I’ve never seen a better-run unit in any hospital. I’ve never been in an environment with a stronger sense of teamwork, with more exemplary patient care. Working on Dr. Dilley’s AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. There’s a camera shot in The Normal Heart, lasting just a few moments: two gaunt and emaciated men, lying in adjacent beds, holding hands. Back on Dr. Dilley’s AIDS Ward, I saw those two men many times.

I never met Larry Kramer, but I hold his work in high esteem, and I admire him for his commitment. He fought for a long time with minimal support, and I can only imagine how alone he must have felt. But he never gave up. He raised awareness, and his work saved lives.

The Normal Heart took me by the throat, as it should. Every personal loss in the story reminded me of San Francisco, in the 1980s, when I knew too many who died too young. I remember the sadness, fear, frustration, defeat. Then I take a deep breath, and inhale a tiny bit of Mr. Kramer’s fire.

I’m grateful to be here to remember.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Filed under AIDS awareness, Larry Kramer, LGBT, The Normal Heart