Demystifying HIV/Aids at the Lady Davis Institute
My aunt Lilly and her husband were diagnosed with HIV in the 1980’s, bringing untold suffering and trauma to the family. Several years after the then childless couple was diagnosed with the disease, my aunt’s husband succumbed to the infection and died leaving my traumatized aunt in unbearable pain. Amazingly, my aunt is still alive and healthy today, having fought the disease for close to three decades to date, which is a long time considering the lethality associated with this killer malady.
Actually, after the initial fears were overcome and my aunt regained her health, our family has become used to the disease and we regard it just like any other medical condition. One thing that we will never forget is the role that the Lady Davis Institute/Jewish General Hospital (LDI) in Montreal played in demystifying HIV/Aids and in inspiring our aunt to fight the disease.
Before my aunt and her husband were diagnosed with the disease, HIV/Aids existed mainly as a myth to most of us. In contrast with how the disease is considered today, HIV/Aids was abhorred, feared, and even considered an abomination in the 1980s. One of the main reason why the disease was considered such was related to the primary mode of transmission; unprotected sex with an infected partner.
In this light, being infected with HIV put a person in a bad light and patients were generally considered sexually careless and immoral. Another reason was due to the consequent symptoms that emanated following infection, especially the severe weight loss or emaciation. When narrating her painful ordeal and experiences after her diagnosis, my aunt never forgets to remind her audience how her physical condition was worsened by emotional and psychological trauma due to these societal notions regarding the disease.
A Mystical Illness
For a long time, HIV/Aids was regarded as a mystical illness that infected immoral people as punishment for their sexual impropriety. This ideology was further reinforced by the shameful symptoms associated with the disease such as severe weight loss and/or other AIDS-defining conditions. However, the Lady Davis Institute has helped to demystify these stereotypical ideologies by offering objective guidelines on the prevention and management of the disease. My aunt recounts how she almost succumbed to this illness after her husband’s death.
Her ironic journey to recovery started after she attempted suicide a few months after her husband’s death. Luckily, she was rushed to the Lady Davis Institute to recuperate from her suicide and also to seek medical intervention for her rapidly deteriorating health. After her admission in this amazing facility, the medical team enrolled her in a comprehensive HIV/Aids recovery program that included biomedical interventions as well as intensive counselling sessions.
Amazingly, she recovered after only a few months. She was discharged after she regained her physicality and functionality and put on a monitored antiretroviral therapy. Since then, my aunt honestly and proudly claims that she has never been admitted in a hospital ward again. She still takes her daily antiretroviral dose, which she considers a small price to pay for her life.
Additionally, the facility has continued to improve on HIV medication for the disease and she is now as healthy as she could ever be. My aunt is now involved in many HIV/Aids organisations and is a living inspiration to many people thanks to the life-saving care she received at the LDI.