How Elizabeth Taylor decided to fight for AIDS awareness
“I became so furious and personally frustrated with the rejection I was getting for just trying to get people’s attention. I was so aware of the silence, this huge, loud silence about AIDS, that no one didn’t want to talk about it and nobody wanted to get involved. Certainly, nobody wanted to give money or support, and it irritated me so much that I finally thought, Bitch, do something yourself. Instead of sitting there getting angry. Do something.”
In 1987, Taylor launched its first fragrance, Passion, and followed it up in 1991 with White Diamonds, another huge success. She traveled the country visiting department stores that sold her perfume, and she vowed to visit AIDS hospices in every city she could. But there were two caveats: she didn’t want the press to interrupt these private visits, and the perfume company and department store would have to donate money to each of the hospices she visited. She has sworn to match their contributions.
At the Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco’s Castro District, nurses were quietly informed that Taylor was on her way. She stopped in each of the 15 small rooms in the hospice, and she spent several minutes talking with each patient. She asked them if she could arrange to have their dogs walked; she asked if she could call their mothers for them or write letters for them.
Some patients cried when they saw her, said Guy Vandenberg, a healthcare worker and AIDS activist who was at the Coming Home Hospice when he visited. After meeting with patients, he said, Taylor sat down with the handful of staff members in their small kitchen and asked them how they took care of themselves. “How do you support each other? she wanted to know.
They averaged three deaths a week at the 15-bed hospice, he said. “Sometimes I would leave my three-to-midnight shift and come back the next day, and maybe one or two people died overnight,” Vandenberg said, his voice cracking. “The need was so great that the bed would not remain empty for more than a day at most; sometimes the bed was filled right away. We did not have time to process the volume of deaths.
Even in the midst of all the darkness, there was joy. “The majority of our patients, as they were dying, were quite capable of laughter and gallows humor, and to a stranger who often felt really strange or inappropriate. When the hospice was taken over by a more corporate hospital, we were disciplined for too much laughter, and we were eating with the patients and that was not allowed,” Vandenberg said in tears. “She fit in well, she knew it was fine. She joked with them. She hugged and kissed all of us, patients and staff.
After one of her visits to the hospice, a patient woke up and said, “I had a vision that Elizabeth Taylor came to see me while I was sleeping!
“No, she was actually here,” a nurse told her.
Taylor wanted to look perfect for every visit (“I hope I didn’t overdo it!” she joked), so she always arrived with full hair and makeup and the famous 33 Krupp Asscher-cut diamond, 19 carats on his left ring. finger. She wanted patients to see her as they had imagined her.
She told her assistant Jorjett Strumme, who would become emotional, that she could not enter the hospices with her because she would start crying if Strumme cried. She had to keep things light and happy, she said, but she would get back in the car and bury her head in her dog’s soft white fur and be unusually quiet for a while.
Ed Wolf was a counselor in Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s. San Francisco was second only to New York in the number of AIDS cases, and 5B was the world’s first breakthrough inpatient unit for people with AIDS. It was created in 1983 and run by qualified nurses specializing in the care of AIDS patients. In 5B, patients were treated with compassion.
At first, nurses and doctors wore so much protective gear that they looked like astronauts. Trays of food were piling up outside hospital rooms because no one wanted to touch them. But in 5B, things were different. Nurses were not allowed to wear protective medical equipment, including gowns and masks. They believed that physical touch was an important way to honor each patient’s humanity. They’ve done small things seemingly, like recreating the decor of patients’ living rooms in their hospital rooms, allowing their pets to visit, and, of course, allowing their partners to stay with them. They even used champagne glasses for the water.