Knowledge changes the battle

Published 10:55 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some years ago, I spent the better part of a month in an AIDS hospice to write a story about living with the disease.

The local Gay Alliance had set up the hospice with a little help from some brave health care providers. The neighbors in this upscale, old-town neighborhood didn’t appreciate the disease-ridden walking down their sidewalks or shopping in their grocery store on the corner.

These were the days before anyone knew much about AIDS; before the cocktail that extended life. For the men and women of the Sandifer House, HIV was a waiting period to develop into AIDS and die.

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The house was old and musty smelling. In the front hall was a shelf with urns on them that held the ashes of men and women who had died there at the Sandifer House. Their relatives didn’t want their ashes because they were afraid the remains would contain bits of the virus.

The first night I slept there, one of the men died. He died loudly.

His bed sores hurt. He had lost his mind to dementia — a commonality in the final stages. I played cards with five or six of the other men in the kitchen adjacent to the dying man’s bedroom. I watched their faces as they listened to the cries, the moans.

They heard their future.

Many years have passed since those early days. The Sandifer House changed locations and connected with health care professionals who now regard HIV/AIDS as any other contagious disease. The neighborhood changed character, too, with more helpers than critics.

Everyone who lived in the Sandifer House died while I was there or shortly thereafter. Some of them were buried by their families. Many of their urns joined those in the hall.

We have come so far since those early days. We have learned that AIDS is not a gay plague, but is common to all who practice unsafe sex or who trade needles when they use drugs. We have learned that a cocktail of drugs will keep friends and relatives alive and with us, although that quality of life is diminished.

World AIDS Day is Monday. Selma and Dallas County will mark the day with information sessions at the health department and a vigil later in the afternoon. I’ll light a candle for those who died too early. I will also remember those who died without loved ones around them because of fear and ignorance. I shall meditate on the beauty of life and the need for tolerance.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of The Selma Times Journal. She may be reached at 410-1730 or by e-mail at