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The ‘Happy’ and the ‘Hopeless’

by Jerome Groopman

In 1981, I completed my fellowship training in blood diseases and cancer, and took a junior faculty position at the University of California, Los Angeles. During that first year at UCLA, a young man was hospitalized with a rare form of pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis carinii. He died despite the most intensive measures. Not long after his death, more men struggling to breathe were diagnosed with this infection; others sought care for an unusual colitis, cytomegalovirus inflaming their bowel, and still more for high fevers and wasting from an avian microbe akin to tuberculosis. Then several arrived with red and purple tumors that grew to distort the face, swell the limbs, and block the throat. Biopsy showed Kaposi’s sarcoma, a tumor sporadically seen in the elderly and in an endemic form in Africa.

All of the patients proved to share one laboratory abnormality: low numbers of T-lymphocytes, blood cells crucial to immune defense. But what also linked them was their sexual orientation, and this led some to name the new disorder “GRID,” for gay-related immune deficiency. Later, it would be known as AIDS.

(To read the rest of the review, please visit the New York Review of Books website.)