Chapter 07: The First AIDS Unit at MD Anderson

Title

Chapter 07: The First AIDS Unit at MD Anderson

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Description

In this chapter, Ms. Alt recalls the period in the 1980s when MD Anderson established its first AIDS clinic, staffed by volunteers. She describes this period as “a nightmare” firstly because of how ill the patients were and secondly because of the prejudiced attitudes were revealed among the faculty and staff. She notes that she was surprised that older faculty were more understanding than younger faculty. She talks about the work of a Dr. Rios, who left MD Anderson to establish a private AIDS clinic.

Identifier

Alt,J_01_20180529_S07

Publication Date

5-29-2018

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution Building/Transforming the Institution; Multi-disciplinary Approaches; Obstacles, Challenges; Institutional Politics; Controversy; Devices, Drugs, Procedures; MD Anderson Culture; Working Environment; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose; Critical Perspectives; Human Stories; Offering Care, Compassion, Help; Patients; Patients, Treatment, Survivors; Cancer and Disease

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Chapter 07: The First AIDS UnitB: Building the Institution;CodesB: Building/Transforming the Institution;B: Multi-disciplinary Approaches;B: Obstacles, Challenges;B: Institutional Politics;B: Controversy;B: Devices, Drugs, Procedures;B: MD Anderson Culture;B: Working Environment;A: Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose;A: Critical Perspectives;C: Human Stories;C: Offering Care, Compassion, Help;C: Patients; C: Patients, Treatment, Survivors;C: Cancer and Disease;J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

During my tenure, we started the first AIDS Unit.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, I didn’t know that.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

My God, you can imagine.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Tell me about that.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh dear God, that was a nightmare, preparing the staff for something that no one really knew that much about, except Dr. Hickey, bless his heart, he said he experienced… I just loved the man. A big thing with an AIDS patient was trying to control their [bowel movements], and he said in the Army, they had [ ] [a form of dysentery so] they put them in troughs, [ ] [to manage the copious stools]. This unit volunteered to be the AIDS Unit.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Which unit was that?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

10-LP. Now, I don’t know what it is now.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And what did they usually do, 10-LP?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

They had some leukemia, but it was a medical oncology unit. Other than the fact that these patients were deathly ill, you’re still learning [to manage] them. The social issues were humungous. The patients’ [families] didn’t know they were gay, [ ] and so they’d come in and we’d have them in isolation, their boyfriend, girlfriend, sitting there and I mean it was just a nightmare for those people, and they did unbelievable things to deal with that in a professional manner.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What were some of the strategies they used?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

To keep their sanity, they called themselves the “poop patrol.”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Humor works.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I mean the feces were just volumes. Let me tell you, they let people know that it wasn’t right not to respect the choices they made or the illness they had. It was tremendous and they learned and they taught each other, because they were walking into, [so many unknowns at this time]. How infectious is this?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So this was also early ’80s we’re talking about here, when all this was happening, yeah. Now was it controversial for the institution to put in a service of this kind?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What were some of the conversations about this?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I hate to even tell you. [ ] [Some deserted taking care of their patients. Some were afraid due to the many unknowns and some didn’t know how to talk with the patients and families in this social stigma.]

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, wow.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I mean it was bad.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh my goodness, yeah.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

And the thing that surprised me so...

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Wow. People can make strange decisions based on their beliefs.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I thought it would be the young staff who—the young medical staff, who understood this social dilemma. No, it was the old folks, the older staff, who understood. I mean they didn’t know either, what was doing all this, but they recognized the suffering and understood the emotional impact it had on the family. Some of these patients were terrible. They would hang leather [clothes] in their room [as a symbol of their lifestyle] [ ] It was just there were so many social issues here that were just unbelievable.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

How long did it take for the kind of controversy to die down or to change in character?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

A long time I think, [ ], because I would sit in the meetings and hear [unbelievable issues] about their social life. You know it was sort of like they got AIDS because they deserve it, and that sounds terrible but [ ] [everyone was learning how to deal with this terrible disease and foreign lifestyle to many.]

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

But that’s what people were saying at the time. I remember the news, it was all over the place.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

And the suffering, oh God, the suffering those people went through in isolation. You couldn’t walk into their room without being [garbed in full protective clothing].

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Thank goodness for the antiretrovirals.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yeah, it has really improved [today] but they went through hell.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah. Do you think the institution as a whole, learned something from that experience, you know having that happen here? Did it raise awareness or just do anything?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

[ ] [I think so and] I’ll tell you, also from that, a doctor left the institution and went out and established a practice just for AIDS patients.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Really?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Do you remember that person’s name?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

No.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

That’s all right.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Rios, Rios. I don’t know his first name. I don’t know if he’s still in private practice or not. [The head nurse on that unit would publicly take on anyone who had negative commentary about this unit.]

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Interesting. Well, we’re at just about five minutes of three. Do you want to close off for today and make another time?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yeah, that would be fine.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, that sounds good.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Let me see where I am on my—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay, you make a note and I will just say for the record, I’m turning off the recorder at five minutes of three.[

Chapter 07: The First AIDS Unit at MD Anderson

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