“You Have To Leave.” Facing Discrimination In A Hospital At The Height of the AIDS Crisis.

by Doug Rice

I’m Doug Rice, I’m from Rochester, New York. Robert and I met in 1983 at a record store I was working at. He came in as a customer and I’d just gone to a Talking Heads concert because I was really into them and he was at the same concert. But we didn’t know it but he saw my t-shirt so we start talking. We started seeing each other and moved in fairly quickly. After about a year in Rochester, I was young, 22 maybe, and just wanted to start my career in sound engineering. I was mixing sound for bands and things, and I wanted to come to New York and learn how to do it really. And so I did, and Robert moved down also. We moved to Williamsburg because I could still run fast and you had to run fast back in those days. And life was good. The 80s was a rough time for a lot of people in our community and by the late 80s Robert had contracted HIV. And you know this is before, the only thing around was whatever that first horrible treatment was. So periodically we’d end up in the emergency room, go to St. Vincent’s right in the middle of, right by Christopher Street there, probably the gay-friendliest hospital around. We go to the emergency room, go and see the triage doctor. I’m sitting with Robert and at that point he had AIDS Dementia Complex which is kind of like Alzheimer’s. I don’t think it happens much anymore with the medicines that are around but it’s part of the natural progression for a number of AIDS patients back in the day. And if anyone, if you’ve ever cared for an Alzheimer’s patient, it’s a little bit of a ride. In any case, so we’re down for I don’t know what the emergency was but we were at the Emergency Room for whatever was happening that weekend, and went into the triage with the doctor and the doctor’s interviewing Robert, “Do you have a history of this, a history of that, this?” And, you know, Robert had dementia and he was, I don’t know if he was making things up but he wasn’t accurately representing his history in a way that could hurt him and of course I’m his lover and I really want him to be treated properly. And so I start correcting him to the doctor and the doctor looks at me and goes, “Who are you?” And I’m like, “Well I’m his boyfriend.” And he’s like, “Well, are you related by blood?” And I was like, “No.” He was like, “Then you have to leave.” And he called security and had me escorted out. He continued to interview Robert and treat him based on his dementia-enhanced history. And that sucked. I don’t remember how it ended. We got through that afternoon and the next day I could speak with his Primary Care Physician and everything got back on track, so you know, it was a one day little hiccup. So there was no major repercussions but other than that scariness of a) getting thrown out of the freaking hospital for helping. That wasn’t that uncommon. There were sometimes I would spend the night in the hospital and sleep next to Robert in his bed, and other nights at eight o’clock the nurse would come in and say, “Get the Hell out of here, who are you?” depending on the compassion of the nurse. And that’s what happens when you leave decisions like that up to the whim of whoever’s working that night. I don’t think people realize how fucked up everyone is. I mean, you know, you go to the hospital for help. You have someone with dementia giving a history and you have a doctor who, I believe, clearly saw it was dementia and he didn’t want to deal with the faggot in the room. I think the takeaway here isn’t that this has changed. I mean the world has changed, some areas have changed, but I can guarantee you any place that allows choices by individuals that aren’t following some sort of protocol like Kim Davis, there’s a lot of situations where individuals wield a lot of power and if those individuals are willing to abuse their power for whatever reason it can seriously impact your health. When you’re alone in a room with a doctor or a nurse practitioner, if that nurse practitioner doesn’t like something about you and also doesn’t take her medical license seriously enough to actually treat you rather than judge you, I’m sure that happens every day all over America. It’s still happening in New York I bet, but less or at least less for gays. I guarantee it’s happening a lot to someone.

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