A detailed oral history of the first decades of the AIDS epidemic, told from the vantage point of the treating physician.
Meticulous interviews with 74 doctors form the core of this lengthy narrative. Beginning with the events of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the doctors in these pages describe the sudden advent of the mysterious disease that presented itself, in various urban centers, as an immunologic deficit coupled with rampaging, exotic infections. Many physicians’ professional lives paralleled the emergence of AIDS medicine in the US: as recently minted residents when the first cases of AIDS appeared, many perceived AIDS both as a clinical opportunity (allowing them to engage in groundbreaking scientific research) and a professional coup (gaining them early entrée into the lime-lit medical demimonde of cutting-edge medicine). Startlingly candid, more than a few physicians here express their passion for cowboy medicine—as well as their pride in publishing journal articles, receiving coveted speakers’ invitations, and achieving the crowns of professional stature (such as tenured professorships and government appointments, historically reserved for more senior physicians). The intellectual and emotional conflicts raised by the nearly constant stream of AIDS deaths (until the advent of antiretroviral “cocktails” in the last half of the 1990s) devastated and sobered a generation of physicians taught that treatment leads to cure. Technical gaffes in the storytelling (such as describing the death of an AIDS physician, yet quoting her extensively in subsequent chapters) may confuse and distract the reader, but the eloquence and candor of many of the doctors quoted outweigh a certain lack of editorial finesse.
A cold and revealing history of an American archetype, sure to appeal to readers whose lives have been affected by AIDS, and it might do well as required reading in medical school.