People are Still Dying from AIDS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2014, 6,721 deaths were attributed directly to HIV. That's the latest year for which reliable statistics are available. Untreated, people can still die from HIV infection.

In my 34 years of medical practice caring for people with AIDS, many of my patients have died. When things were at its worst in the mid to early 1990s, before the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy, I often struggled with moribund thoughts. I got depressed. In one of these funks, I almost convinced myself that I would write a book about all the different ways people can die from AIDS -- that's how bad it got.

Theater and writing plays have been therapeutic for me. I wrote a short play entitled Red Rain that dramatizes one of these cases. I've had it read at a Village Playwrights meeting in New York, but it has never been produced. I hope one day that it will.

Today, I learned that one of my current patients died. I hadn't seen him for several months -- he had dropped out of sight. I don't know yet what was his cause of death. My patient had behavioral health issues that may have been related but I don't want to speculate. Sometimes, for privacy reasons and other fears, a cause of death that may be related to HIV is not stated on a person's death certificate, as happened in the case of the musician Liberace. It might say something like "cardiac arrest". I may never find out what really happened.

I talk about a few of my early patients that died in Rainbows and Ribbons. I don't want people to forget what it was like back in those days. It's still a relevant topic. The Dallas Buyers Club, the movie starring Matthew McConaughey, depicted those days as did the films Philadelphia, And The Band Played On and The Normal Heart. Angels In America is also getting a Broadway revival. There are countless other plays and movies about AIDS as well. 

Rainbows and Ribbons doesn't have their stature as literary works, but it is a heartfelt story with a hopeful message. It is a story about healing. A story that our country and our world still need to hear.

Ross Hewitt