CHAPTER 9Compassion Fatigue

Cole started his career as a resident physician in Atlanta in the mid‐1980s. During that period, an increasing number of patients were diagnosed and treated for what had recently been identified as HIV/AIDS. It was a period when a diagnosis almost certainly meant death. As a resident physician, Cole began to see firsthand how many of these patients were treated while in the hospital. As Cole describes it, “When AIDS patients were in ICU rooms, meal service workers would shove their meals under the door and push the tray with a broomstick into the middle of their room. They did not want to be close to these patients. Nurses were terrified. Everyone was terrified.” This fear of the unknown led to poor treatment of these patients, particularly those who were gay and, in many cases, alienated from their families during the last and very painful ends of their lives. It was during that time and witnessing the suffering of these patients that Cole realized that he wanted to devote his professional career to helping AIDS patients.

During the first 10 years of his career, there was no known cure or even much of a treatment for HIV/AIDS. “My role was to try to make their remaining days as comfortable as possible.” Cole worked to comfort these patients as best as he could, listening to their fears and concerns in the absence of family and friends. “Some doctors were known as ‘skateboard doctors’ that would fly in and out. They would see 10–12 patients an hour. ...

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