AIDS' widening shadow has fallen on many San Diego County people. We've found that some of us may have been exposed to the AIDS virus from blood transfusions received between 1978 and the late spring of 1985.
As a former registered nurse with chronic, serious health problems, I had ample symptoms and more than enough knowledge to augment my fears. I'd had surgery for a kidney stone in 1981.
At first, I didn't have the courage even to ask whether I had received a transfusion, and wondered how I would know whether it had been contaminated if I had. If it were, did I have acquired immune deficiency syndrome?
With society's present judgmental and fear-ridden attitude toward the disease, even if I tested negative for AIDS, but were labeled "exposed to the AIDS virus," my life could become a horror show.
Because of the misinformation, ignorance and dire prognosis that surrounds AIDS, I might be looked upon as though I already had the disease and was doomed to die. I could also expect to be treated by many people as though my presence threatened their lives.
We of vintage age have fragile skin. It tends to tear and to bleed easily. Did that mean I would have to stay away from my grandchildren? From everyone?
I had no faith in experts. Too many of them didn't agree.
If I tested positive, would there be doubts as to whether this actually originated with an unfortunate blood transfusion?
I had no faith in anonymity.
Then at last, came the stage when you stare down the ogre of your feelings and deal with it. One of my ways of dealing with it was the first of two dozen attempts to write this article, for myself, and for whoever might read it.
The pronouncement is, "AIDS is 100% fatal!" Being alive is 100% fatal. What matters is our reaction to whatever predicament life hands us. This has always been true. It applies just as strongly to AIDS and exposure to the AIDS virus.
Right now, we are not using all the weapons available against AIDS. Some of them are already built into that complexity that makes us human--body, mind, brain, psyche, spirit.
Nobel Prize-winning Salk Institute researcher Dr. Roger Guillimen made the early studies into the opiates and painkillers the body can produce for itself. He led the work of a growing number of researchers who are now convinced that our expectations and emotions can have a profound effect on just what chemicals our brain and body will manufacture.
It has become, not a psychological speculation, but a biochemical fact; the things we think with our minds can affect the chemicals produced by our brains. The effect that emotions can have on the immune system and other body processes is under increased study. A growing branch of science now bears the imposing title of psychoneuroimmunology.
Which leads to the question: How many victims of AIDS and those exposed to the AIDS virus are hindered in healing by what may be two of our more deadly chemical poisons--fear and the sense of lost control over one's fate?
It has been shown that even if we leave out mistaken diagnoses, a surprising number of victims of cancer and other maladies who are told their illnesses are fatal still manage to survive.
Studies show that almost all such survivors refuse to accept the finality of their dire sentence.
Certainly it would be foolhardy to forget that human suffering attracts an accompanying crowd of quacks and charlatans. Nevertheless, many methods for healing, such as hypnotherapy, osteopathy, biofeedback, acupuncture, and the many stress-reduction techniques are now in the mainstream. Some of them are now paid for by health insurance, but were scorned 10 years ago.
With AIDS we don't have 10 years. Those who have AIDS or have been exposed to the AIDS virus shouldn't be confined to any one path of treatment. Many methods believed to be of help in boosting the immune system could be tried.
Victims of AIDS and those exposed to the AIDS virus should not be deprived of their will to fight, nor be denied the healing chemical of hope.
Only at this point in my thinking did I have the courage to ask, and to find out, that I had been lucky. I did not receive a transfusion during that surgery.
I needn't have lived so long with fear. I could have asked my surgeon whether I had had a transfusion during those years. Or I could have written the medical records department of the hospital where the surgery was done.
I could have been tested for exposure to the AIDS virus. My fears about accuracy and anonymity in AIDS testing could have been allayed. The San Diego County Department of Health Services provides tests, which are free and anonymous, and the indirect fluorescent antibody testing method is used, which health officials believe to be highly accurate.
Judgmental attitudes helped slow the research needed to conquer AIDS. Harsh judgment has chased many AIDS victims and potential AIDS victims underground, which increases the potential for spreading the virus.
Not everyone is certain what exposure to the AIDS virus really means.
It does not mean you have AIDS. However, many in the general population don't know that.
The late Jacob Bronowski author of "Ascent of Man" wrote, "There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they be scientists, or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition." It is certainly the condition we are in now with the tragedy of AIDS.
AIDS should be fought with every weapon available. Every feasible precaution to prevent infection should be used. But those precautions should not be chosen from a position of fear, harsh judgment and lack of knowledge.