By Caitlin Kelly
There are very few book of more than 500 pages anyone wants to tackle!
Let alone one that focuses on an international source of death…
No, not COVID, but AIDS.
I found this book on the shelf at my father’s house on our visit to Ontario in September and had been wanting to read it for many years but hadn’t sought it out.
Then, there, I had time to sit in the fall sunshine and read for hours.
Despite the grim topic and the fact it all happened more than 30 years ago it is a tremendous read — powerful real characters, from death-denying politicians, AIDS activists, researchers in Washington and Paris competing for prestige and power as they sought a vaccine, the individual men and women affected and their families and friends…
It is an astonishing piece of reporting, of history — and so sadly, powerfully prescient of what we’re all enduring with COVID. Of course its author, Randy Shilts, also later died of the disease.
I remember a lot of this because it was also my time.
I was a young and ambitious daily newspaper reporter in the mid 1980s, and so AIDS became part of the work I did for The Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette. I lost two dear friends — both gay men — to this disease because, then, it just killed everyone, and they died terrible deaths.
I still remember the names of some of those incredibly dedicated and frustrated doctors doing their best against, then, an implacable enemy.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was one of them.
For millions of closeted gay men, it also meant suddenly coming out to their families — some of whom rejected them, leaving them to die alone in ever-more-crowded hospital wards.
It affected women and children through shared needles, through blood tranfusions, through unprotected sex with men who were infected, whether they knew it or not.
We were horrified by it, scared of it, despairing when someone we loved called to tell us it was now their turn.
I know most of you won’t even consider reading it, and I get it!
But it is an important and powerful testament to all the issues we’re fighting today….still!
Vicious battles between those who recognize(d) the science and those who refused.
Demonization of victims.
Demonization of the health-care workers caring for them.
Fear that caring for AIDS patients could kill someone.
Insufficient funding to help victims.
Insufficient government action — sooner — to mitigate the disease’s spread.