Last week we went to see the movie Dallas Buyers Club (IMDb; Tomatometer= 94%) starring Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodward, a prejudiced, foul-mouthed, heterosexual, homophobic, promiscuous Texan who contracts the HIV virus in 1985. The movie is the intense story of how he fights against his own death sentences and, while running drugs from Mexico and other places, actually discovers some humanity. After leaving the movie I remembered that December 1 is World AIDS Day and I spent some time reflecting on the movie and the story of AIDS in the last 30 years.
The movie does an excellent job of showing the desperation and soul-level fear that came along with AIDS. The lines of (mostly) young men waiting to get medicine from Woodward; the emaciated, deathly look that McConaughey portrayed; the fear of an unknown killer that raised levels of homophobia in its wake. McConaughey does a performance of a lifetime with that desperate look of fear and the swagger of fighting to the end. But the movie also shows the impact of strict drug laws and protocols that did not allow medications to be utilized and the war against drugs by the DEA and FDA.
As I sat through the movie I was taken back to those days when my two oldest friends were diagnosed with and died of AIDS within two years of each other. One was gay; the other straight who contracted the virus from a blood transfusion before testing was available. I relived some of the discussions with them over the drugs and drug protocols. I remembered each new hope that never seemed to pan out as people wanted them to. I recalled the nursing staff at the one hospital where one of them was dying who didn't want to give him pain meds at that point since it would get him addicted. Fortunately the palliative care team stepped in.
It is a long time since 1989 and 1991 when my friends died or 1992 when Ron Woodward died. Medications have turned it from a fatal to a chronic illness. AIDS is no longer a death sentence. In the United States.
But the disease has not gone away. It is epidemic in places in the world. It is fatal due to poor or non-existent medical care in some areas. It is still met in many corners with the fear and prejudice shown in the movie.
Today, then, remember Ron Woodward and any others you may have known who have died in the past 30 years. Remember that it is still very real and still very deadly if not treated with expensive medications and protocols that many can't afford. It is not a plague sent by God to punish anyone. Those who continue to suffer are people who de3serve dignity and support. Remember them today.