Fiona – London

Having watched the recent brilliant series The Sin, it brought back memories of being a student nurse in London in the late 70’s, qualifying in 1982 . It resonated both from a personal point of view and professional.

We were generally a pretty promiscuous bunch of students – worked hard and played hard. Long long hours in pretty stressful environment, so on days / nights off we partied hard and for many of us had pretty random sexual encounters.

On my very first ward at this major West End teaching hospital in 1979 – I nursed a young , homosexual man who had an autoimmune condition which did not respond to any treatment. He was nursed in isolation, and it was suggested he probably had some unknown strain of a sexually transmitted disease . He subsequently died a lonely death, I don’t remember him having any visitors, and I have remembered the sadness of this to this day.

Ironically I am back working in ICU in response to Covid 19, and this memory comes back as we nurse very very sick patients with no family visits until death is imminent, deeply upsetting for all concerned.

As the early 80’s arrived, HIV and AIDS became a real diagnosis – so now I was working in the operating theatres. Double gloving, lots of PPE as the risks felt huge to us in this working environment. On the wards these patients were now isolated and staff were very wary of catching the virus. Lots of nonsense we now know regarding the use of cutlery and crockery, bathroom facilities etc. We were fastidious about cleaning any equipment, and rooms & beds had deep cleaning before further use. We had no physical contact without double gloves & aprons.

Personally some of my friends and I considered whether we should get tested before starting families because of our rather dubious sexual history – we were too frightened to though in case it affected our ability to get a mortgage, job etc. Back then you had to declare if you had been tested.

Fast forward to 2013 – I had pneumonia and was very ill. It was atypical and I did not respond to the IV antibiotics and was becoming increasingly unwell. I will never forget the moment the consultant came to my hospital bed and asked permission to do an HIV test along with Legionnaires disease. I of course gave permission, but felt absolute
devastation as there was a possibility that I could have had a needle stick injury during my operating theatre work and the diagnosis could be positive.

I wept for what this would mean and the impact on my life – and recognition that even after all these years, and treatment now being available and life expectancy being almost normal, there is still a stigma around this diagnosis.

I truly hope that the TV series helps put this to rest once and for all, and blogs like this help those suffering get the support and networking to alleviate the potential loneliness of this illness.

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