Before COVID, There Was AIDS

Roni Robbins holds her copy of her cousin's book, "Nurses on the Inside."
Roni Robbins holds her copy of her cousin's book "Nurses on the Inside."

In honor of Pride Month and the 40th anniversary of the AIDS crisis, I share with you my review of “Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC.” It was written by my cousin Ellen Matzer, along with Valery Hughes, and published months before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

While there’s a newfound respect for healthcare workers on the front lines of today’s coronavirus pandemic, there was a time, back in the 80s, when medical staffs were performing life-risking duties in another healthcare crisis – AIDS – to a lot less fanfare.

Two nurses, Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes, take us to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in “Nurses on the Inside,” when the first patients were brought into New York hospitals with mysterious symptoms. They help us “see” the evolution of the disease from unknown to misunderstood and feared illness, and how the world responded.

We get to know their AIDS patients intimately, their back stories, their symptoms and how the disease progressed and derailed their young lives and that of their loved ones. We feel the intense emotional impact of their often-successful lives tragically ravaged by illness. Not to mention the personal struggles of the two authors who watched their patients’ progressive and devastating decline despite their best efforts to keep them healthy.

Meanwhile we get a rare and raw behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner-workings of the New York medical community from the nurses’ bird’s-eye view. We experience the changing climate around them, including intolerance and misinformation about the disease’s spread, and witness the less-than-optimal medical conditions in which they worked, from overcrowding to a lack of supplies. If it sounds vaguely familiar to the what the world experienced at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, including mask shortages, there’s a reason. We have come to realize we have a lot to learn from the AIDS crisis how to respond to other national and global health emergencies.

“Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC” was published in July 2019. It is available on Amazon.

About the Author
Roni Robbins is an editor, award-winning journalist, and author of Hands of Gold, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award quarter finalist set for May 2022 release by Amsterdam Publishers.
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