Daniel Uy with an afternoon of juice, drugs and AIDS talk in the heart of his downtown Toronto HIV positive care clinic
I am sitting in my HIV doctor’s waiting room, playing Bejewelled on my muted iPhone and listening to a 24hr local news channel blaring on the television in our small space.
I can’t help but feel that the face of HIV/AIDS has changed through the years. There is an African couple to my right. Diagonally across the space a guy with one leg in a wheelchair sits waiting slightly impatiently with a friend. Across from me is a deaf guy signing and laughing with his interpreter who is directly beside me. Beside him is an older gay gentleman with a feather earring and near the reception desk a medical staff member who pricked themselves with a needle. Between him and I is a middle-aged white woman smiling while she reads a magazine on fashion.
The deaf man is called in and he and interpreter leave the space while in the background a story about Toronto’s city mayor is playing. It was about a popularity poll (this was prior to the mayor’s removal from office two weeks later) and the African man and I share a funny joke about him and our feelings about his operation of the city.
Yes the face of AIDS looks different. If you didn’t know this was the infectious disease area and almost all sitting here are there for HIV care, you wouldn’t have been able to tell, certainly not from our demeanours. Even the busy medical staff member looks quite calm.
It’s finally my turn and I’m a bit miffed. It’s the first time I’ve had to wait in quite a while. I guess I’m just used to getting an earlier appointment or something. First I speak with my HIV pharmacist. I had transferred from one med to another at the beginning of the summer and he wanted to go over side effects. For a month I had some insomnia and as quickly as it came, it left. The results in my bloodwork seemed to have favoured a smart decision – I had initiated the switch (more in another article, soon).
Then I got to see two of my favourite people at my HIV doctor’s office – Myrle (left) and Maureen, my HIV nurses. These women always seem so calm, composed and kind. Not once have they ever had a frown or been angry to my knowledge. I have been at this clinic for over 15yrs now and they have always been the nurses. For some reason, this visit, I had a small room to just Myrle and I, so I thought I’d ask her some questions.
She’s been a part of the clinic full-time since 1991, but mentions Maureen’s been there a bit longer. They both helped out way before that, though.
Back then, according to Myrle, only my current HIV specialist took patients. Even the hospital closest to the gay village at the time (the Wellesley Hospital) turned them away. My nurse was there. “Back then,” she goes on to say, “there were about 250 patients and only one doctor. Now there are over 1,500 patients here and five doctors.” In the old days, the positive care clinic nurses used to go to funerals and see and talk to family members, make calls and even make hospital bed visits. Sometimes these were to do check-ups on the patients, but mostly to smile and be a friend. Now there isn’t time for that.
As she relives these old memories, Myrle turns and smiles and looks me in my eyes and says, “But not to worry about funerals, you just keep getting stronger young man,” to which she pats my hand, smiles lovingly at me and walks away. Moments later, Maureen comes by and offers me some orange juice because she heard me mention that I was hungry and needed to grab food soon.
I don't know what the face of AIDS looks like. But these nurses' faces sum it up best for me. One who had been a witness to it in the frontline, who has probably buried many young men just like me. But one who is hopeful that with each year that passes and we continue to live and grow there is hope.
I often think about the Spanish Flu. Influenza streaked across the globe and killed millions. But it went away. What do you think it was like in those years for those who still had it? For those who encountered loved ones who did. Are we in those times now with the HIV virus?
As my dear nurse gives me my flu shot I couldn't help but wonder if in the future some young bright-eyed young man will be sitting in a similar hospital room contemplating what life was like in our time now while waiting to get his HIV shot.