The AIDS QuiltNPR is all over AIDS lately, because it is the 25th Anniversary of that terrible disease. NPRcelebrated today with a story blaming the West on the spread of AIDS. The theory is that the French in West Africa, in a well-intentioned move, innoculated too many people with too few needles. It's a perfectly plausible scenario, given that people in those days knew nothing of the disease and could perfectly well have done so. However, we know that AIDS spreads through methods other than needles, so it's entirely possible to think of other ways for the disease to have spread. As it is, the story has a novelistic quality that makes it interesting, but not necessarily completely compelling. As we know, diseases have always found vectors. Bird flu is only the most recent example.

The whole AIDS anniversary thing reminds me of where I was 25 years ago. I was working as a secretary one summer for two virologists in an urban hospital. They were busy writing a paper about a bizarre spectrum of rare diseases appearing amongst New York's gay population. My contribution was photocopying articles and typing — lots of typing. The article got published about three months before someone figured out that the diseases all resulted from an immune system failure that could be traced to a single virus.

My name actually shows up in the article along with many others ("with thanks to Ms. Bookworm"). The thanks were merited because, without me, they wouldn't have gotten the article published. (Of course, had they waited a bit longer, the article would have been written with AIDS in mind, and not just been written as a "hmmmm, why is this happening?" type of article.) You see, these researchers had a secretary before I came on board that summer. She was terrible — completely unproductive. Unfortunately, because of union rules, they couldn't fire here. What finally got her out of there was her maternity leave. I needed a summer job at the same time, and that's how I came to work for them. In that single summer, I helped them get published five separate articles that had been languishing, sometimes for years.

In any event, when AIDS suddenly appeared in the national consciousness, I was one of the few lay people who already knew about Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumocystis pneumonia, bizarre manifestations of tuberculosis, and all the other awful diseases AIDS brings in its wake. And because I lived in the Bay Area, I carry a long mental list of the dead.