This week I turned my blog over to one of the women in my book (Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community). Kathleen Pooler worked as a emergency room nurse in upstate New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Like many of us, that experience influences her response to the current pandemic.
As I write this post, I am sitting in a wheelchair in the rehab facility where I have been for two months to heal from a femur fracture sustained after a fall. I have plenty of idle time to immerse myself in the constant coverage of our current pandemic and reflect on what it all means.
I’m a retired nurse who lived through the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and remember the fear of dealing with an invisible enemy. It was soon discovered that AIDS was hitting the gay community the most. This fact alone added another layer of challenge due to homophobia and an entire community of mostly men were forced to die isolated and alone. This still makes my heart feel heavy when I think about how inhumane this was.
The fact that my own cousin Bob died from AIDS brings it closer to home. He felt compelled to tell his parents and sister that he had lung cancer. About a month before he died, we were at a family gathering in Connecticut when he asked me to go for a walk with him. As we walked through the lush woods surrounding our aunt’s home, he began sharing a life review, especially his relationship with his father. I felt like he was saying goodbye. But I found myself at a loss for words, though I hope that my presence helped him know he was not alone.
Thankfully, over the years, AIDS has garnered the attention it deserves though more work is needed. Life-prolonging drugs have been developed to treat symptoms and provide hope that victims can experience an improved quality of life. I was a practicing nurse in the emergency room at the time and felt I could do my part to treat each patient with respect and dignity. I railed against the homophobia that was prevalent in those days.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is that same level of fear in dealing with an invisible enemy and I find myself thinking about what I can do—I’m a nurse at heart so I still feel that lingering need to volunteer my services. Of course, that is out of the question due of my current health status: I’m still learning how to walk again. But I feel such an affinity to these front line heroes who are risking their own lives to save their patients. I know the feeling of wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of people who are suffering.
Right now we don’t know the outcome. Clearly, we are not out of danger. Some people are not following the recommendations to stay at home and not congregate in groups as our health care community and medical experts are begging everybody to follow the guidelines.
The story is still evolving with many options of the horizon—drugs, convalescent plasma from patients who have survived, maybe drug combinations. We don’t know what this virus will do—swing back around in a mutated form?
Like the AIDS epidemic, this virus will be around for a long time and will spawn new technologies and treatments. We will learn from what we have been through. It’s even possible that a lot of good will come out of this– an increased gratitude for the little things that matter, a slowing down of our frenetic pace.
Whatever our uncertain future holds, I do know one thing: I will never stop being a nurse and wanting to make a positive difference to those suffering. I will just have to think of creative ways to minister which for now is through my writing.
Kathleen Pooler is a retired family nurse practitioner and author of the memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published in 2014, and is sequel, Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope, published in 2019. She writes about how she tapped into her faith in God during her biggest obstacles and disappointments to transform and heal from life’s greatest challenges. She believes that every little bit of hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when sharing our stories.
She can also be found on: