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Letter: Nursing AIDS patients in the 80s gave me strength to deal with extreme care situations

Jackie Hunt says our article on AIDS wards in the 80s reminded her of the challenges of working as a young night sister
Aids article

Jackie Hunt says our article on AIDS wards in the 80s reminded her of the challenges of working as a young night sister

I was completely absorbed in the article Nursing in a war zone . As a night sister aged 25 at The Middlesex Hospital in the 1980s, I looked after patients with AIDS without any training or warning of what I might encounter. I just found them, shut away in side-rooms with a lot of black bin liners outside the door. Let the porters know when you want any rubbish to be taken away, I was told.

I spent hours with them at night giving huge cocktails of intravenous drugs. Their symptoms and appearance were both alarming and heart-rending. But because of the time I had with them giving IV drugs, I

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Jackie Hunt says our article on AIDS wards in the 80s reminded her of the challenges of working as a young night sister

I was completely absorbed in the article ‘Nursing in a war zone’. As a night sister aged 25 at The Middlesex Hospital in the 1980s, I looked after patients with AIDS without any training or warning of what I might encounter. I just found them, shut away in side-rooms with a lot of black bin liners outside the door. ‘Let the porters know when you want any rubbish to be taken away’, I was told. 

I spent hours with them at night giving huge cocktails of intravenous drugs. Their symptoms and appearance were both alarming and heart-rending. But because of the time I had with them giving IV drugs, I also had time to talk and learn about the person and their circumstances. So many well educated, intelligent people, some infected by their partners having affairs, some having had very socially adventurous lives with unexpected consequences. 

I read their notes, read all I could about their disease signs and symptoms and made a point of understanding what was happening to them as a way of coping, and to prepare me for what might happen to them in the end. There were indeed many deaths. The black bags were a continuing image for me. 

I didn't talk about it much outside of work, even when I heard others, with all their prejudices and misinformation, talking about ‘these people with AIDS’. I felt the patients deserved to be treated with dignity and humanity. I didn't see the point in having arguments with people who really had no idea what was at stake. 

As the article says, it was a totally unique experience and one which I have never forgotten. I also think it gave me a strength to deal with very extreme care situations, the like of which I don't really think I have seen since. 

Thankyou for this article. 

Jackie Hunt

Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing

Oxford Brookes University

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