The Stigma of Disease

Internal Medicine

12 Apr 2020 | 0 | by kjh

11820login-checkThe Stigma of Disease

In a small town in the San Francisco bay area, a couple concealed their AIDS diagnosis for years.  That was in 1990. The father of two had been in the Governor’s cabinet and the mother was a well-known socialite.  The father got infected when he got a blood transfusion before blood was screened for HIV. The father gave it to his wife.  The parents asked their children to never, ever reveal that they had AIDS. They feared that the prominent community would have been horrified and judgemental and that it would have further distressed their family.  

The children held the secret for many years and eventually the parents died.  The children had been instructed to say that they died of an “acceptable” death-related cause not associated with AIDS.  The children carried this secret for years until one of the daughters couldn’t take the stress anymore and she finally divulged the secret she had been keeping.  Surprisingly enough, she found out that her own neighbor was gay and had also contracted AIDS.   They wished they had been able to comfort each other all those years.

Aside from AIDS, however, many people seem to feel stigmatized about a variety of diseases.  I remember when my girlfriend had cancer and she called me up and whispered to me that she had cervical cancer and that she was going to undergo treatment.  She told very few people and she said she felt ashamed.  I wondered why because all I wanted to do was hug her.

Now that we have the coronavirus, I’ve noticed in my community people are demanding to know who has the virus.  They are asking for lists and asking for the people to come forward. I understand they want to know who is contagious but those who have it in our community say they are staying home in isolation or in the hospital.  On the Nextdoor app, a woman scolded her neighbors not to hide it if they get the coronavirus.  

Disease is everywhere.  I only hope we can be compassionate to our friends and neighbors if they become ill.


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