This September, the Boston public health clinic Pathways to Wellness—which began in 1989 as the AIDS Care Project—closed its doors after 25 years of serving thousands of patients across the state of Massachusetts from its home in the South End. With assistance from some of the hospitals with which it collaborated and New England School of Acupuncture, it appears that the core of what grew into Pathways—the original AIDS Care Project (ACP)—will live on in Diaspora as a series of satellite clinics and home visit programs after the bricks and mortar are gone. It’s an important legacy to preserve: in 1998 the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts recognized ACP’s service by bestowing on it the Committee’s only award voted on by the members of the HIV/AIDS community themselves; and even now, as Boston’s South End News proclaimed in its October 2014 headline, “Despite Closing its Doors, Pathways Continues to Heal.”
To recognize that spirit and its resonance with the theme of this blog, today’s post and the stories in a series of posts to follow over the next few weeks @notWWJD will testify to that legacy.
Because I served at the AIDS Care Project from 1993 to 1999, and no place—no community—taught me more of what it means to get out of your own way so God can use you than ACP.
First off, back then we wanted to get out of our own way: a lot of us felt useless in the face of that disease. I’m not even going to say epidemic, because in those days it wasn’t the headlines, the number of infections or deaths that threatened to defeat us, but each individual case, each person that came into our care, who were in turn attached to people who loved them and yet were being forced to learn to let them go.
I was not at the AIDS Care Project at its outset, but I was there early enough, stumbling in as a clinical intern during grad school in the days before protease inhibitors finally offered effective treatment. ACP was actually a subcontractor under state and federal funding to provide free care in what was called Oriental Medicine—acupuncture and Chinese herbs—to individuals infected with HIV. We saw people in our clinic at the YWCA under the Hancock Tower’s long shadow over Boston’s South End, followed them into the hospital, and continued to treat them at home. Most of our referrals were by word of mouth and from MDs at the infectious disease units; research had shown that acupuncture was an effective treatment of choice for neuropathy—crippling pain in the extremities that was often caused as much by the medications being used at that time as by the syndrome itself—and also because acupuncture was seen as a way to address a host of other symptoms, whether HIV related or not, when one more medication could not possibly have been piled on top of a body’s already overtaxed system, our clients’ livers and kidneys handling drug regimens of a dozen prescriptions or more.
But in those early years, most of our referrals were for palliative care: to help people feel as human, as whole as possible, while their physical hold on this world, and its physical hold on them, disintegrated. Before the mid-90s’ discovery and introduction of anti-retroviral drugs, if a doctor referred a patient to us with a diagnosis of full-blown AIDS, we knew that we were being asked to accompany that person for merely a matter of months—a year, maybe two at the most—in order to make the painful possible.
We had no magic bullets. We had no cures, instant or otherwise. We were practicing a form of medicine at the time referred to at best as ‘alternative’, turned to by patients and ‘conventional’ practitioners alike only when they felt they had no where else to turn. Some of us were religious, some were not, or at least not yet, but all of us seemed united in the belief that there was something in this world larger than our Self, and whether you were there because someone you loved had HIV, or, like me, you were simply assigned as a clinical intern who then chose to stay for another six years, we knew that the only benefit we could bring to those people who came through our door was to turn our Selves over to that which was greater than our Self and beg: use me.
That is where every ACP story begins and ends, with that simple request:
@notWWJDjswgc is 1 of 3 streams of tweets and blogs from Good Counsel. To learn more, follow me on Twitter or visit the "Read Me" page at goodcounsel.squarespace.com