When I first moved to San Francisco in 1980, my first job was in field service. I traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area fixing computer for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). I loved my job because I was getting paid to explore the area and I love fixing things.
One of my accounts was San Francisco General Hospital, now Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (Yes that Zuckerberg).
I used to work on their nuclear medicine computer which was in a very crowded wing in the main hospital building. The hospital is very old with very small rooms. You could barely move in the room where they did nuclear imaging.
Nuclear medicine imaging uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose, evaluate or treat a variety of diseases. These include many types of cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal, endocrine or neurological disorders and other abnormalities.
My pager went off one day with a 911 code which meant a priority service call. When I arrived in the nuclear medicine wing, the halls were full of men on gurneys. I’d been there many times before and never saw an overflow crowd like this. There must have been a dozen people waiting for their nuclear scan.
A few weeks later I came for a service call and there ware at least 50 people on gurneys in the hallway.
I’ll never forget the look in their eyes. They had masks over their nose and mouth but I could see the fear in their eyes. It’s a look of fear I never saw before and I will never forget. They were very weak and very scared. It was like their eyes were crying out to me to help them.
This was the beginning of HIV and AIDS, the mysterious disease that didn’t even have a name yet in the early 1980’s.
Gay men were dying like crazy in San Francisco and doctors had no idea what this disease was or how to treat it.
Straight people started dying a few months later.
Nobody knew what this disease was or how it was being transmitted but was out of control, much like today’s Covid 19.
And here I was in a crowded room full of medical equipment, doctors, nurses and very sick people.
I did not feel safe. The doctors assured me it was safe for me to be in the room but I didn’t believe them. Doctors thought they knew how HIV was spreading but there was no definitive proof at that time.
Imagine being the Chinese doctors and nurses helping the first patients with Covid 19. That’s how I was feeling at that time.
The radiation didn't scare me but the unknown disease and the fear I saw in their eyes scared the hell out of me,
There were too many unknowns so I went to my boss and told him I didn’t feel comfortable returning to the hospital. At first he thought I was kidding but soon he realized we needed to learn more.
After a few meetings with the administration at SF General, my boss and his boss escalated the situation to DEC corporate headquarters. A few weeks later, corporate headquarters supported me and said we will not service the computers until there is more definitive information about HIV and AIDS.
Today, I keep thinking about the fear and pain in the eyes of those sick guys on the gurneys as we watch Covid 19 spread around the world.
We’re all scared. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m starting to see that same fear in people’s eyes today.
Just a week ago we were living our normal lives enjoying record highs in the stock market. Today, our lives are being turned upside down.
If you’re not taking this seriously, you need to because ignoring this may not make you sick but you could be spreading the virus to your loved ones. How would you feel if you carried this virus to your mother?
Spend time with your loved ones and stay safe!
Feel free to reach out anytime if you need someone to talk to. We’re going to get through this together.