Nearly forty years ago, the AIDS crisis kicked off rather quietly about the time I entered medical school. As young medical students, we found ourselves with a unique perspective on a massive epidemic that initially defied understanding. All sorts of explanations were attempted to comprehend the strange array of illnesses which suddenly appeared. Hospital admissions radically shifted. Entire wards became dedicated to this new illness. Internship and residency training took a bizarre twist. Conventional diseases became less important. We became experts in a list of bizarre new diseases.
There was another rapid shift that is easily forgotten: The rise of Universal Precautions.
In the old days, when we placed intravenous lines and drew blood, we did not wear gloves. Let me repeat this: We drew blood and placed IV’s with our bare hands. We got blood on our hands. Often, we got a LOT of blood on our hands. It also got on our white jackets and we wore it like a badge of honor. The danger never occurred to us.
Gloves? They were usually hidden in a locked cabinet away from the students and residents. We couldn’t use them if we wanted them. The keys were usually in the possession of a very scary head nurse.
As we realized AIDS was caused by an infectious agent, we pivoted in our precautions. We went from no gloves to far more extensive isolation gowning. Gradually, we figured out the proper balance.
Now, in the era of Coronavirus, our body coverage has become far more intense. Yet, healthcare workers are still getting infected by their patients.
About thirty-five years ago, I did this cartoon for the magazine “Resident and Staff Physician.” The difference was, instead of “Coronavirus,” I wrote “AIDS.”We have a rough couple of months ahead of us. I pray our lives return to normal, soon.