Fifteen Minutes of Fame



My cell phone rang as I was helping another nurse wrap things up for the week in the Care and Treatment clinic.  I quickly recognized the soft-spoken voice of one of my supervisors, a young Tanzanian physician.  "We will have visitors at Tumbi tomorrow," he told me.  "ABC news?  Do you know them?"

The whole country, it seemed, was in a mad panic in the days and weeks leading up to President Bush's four-day visit to Tanzania.  In the midst of the excitement, it never occurred to me that our hospital would be showcased as an example of well-spent PEPFAR HIV dollars.  Yet, apparently this was exactly what was planned for our otherwise closed Reproductive Health Clinic on the following Saturday morning.

M, an organized and knowledgeable coworker as well as a compassionate HIV nurse, switched into high gear.  She pulled charts and log books from the shelves.  "What are you doing?" I asked her.  "Studying!" she answered, as if it was the most obvious reaction to an impending invasion by American press onto her clinical turf. 

"Hmm," I thought. "I should probably bone up on my transmission and prevention statistics, too."  I was already actively imagining my ignorance publicized to family and friends via the evening news.

We arrived at the clinic early the following morning.  I'd never seen it so eerily quiet.  The wooden benches were oddly empty of wailing babies and their hushing, rocking mothers.  Into this silent scene stepped a young woman, modernly dressed in fitted jeans and a T-shirt.  She held a hand over one of her eyes and asked M a question, massaging the skin at her temple as she spoke.  M pointed the woman up the stairs where a single clinician was seeing walk-in patients. 

"Her boyfriend punished her." M told me by way of an explanation, and then continued to attach glossy posters to the clinic walls, festooning the place with US-funded patient educational materials.

"How many women do we have enrolled in Care and Treatment?  How many under-five children?  How many on ARVs?"  We grilled each other with questions we thought we might be asked on camera.  When I turned around, having just taught M how to loop masking tape behind posters so that the poster hangs securely without revealing the tape, I saw a couple lurking sheepishly in the doorway. 

"Karibu!" M shouted over her shoulder.  "Welcome!"  M remembered the pregnant woman from her antenatal visit the day before.  During that visit, this patient learned that she was HIV positive.  Now the woman was bringing her husband in for testing.  They hoped to be spared unwelcome public exposure by chancing a weekend visit.  M looked at her watch - the media crew was due any minute - and then took them both of them into the Counseling and Testing room.  She closed the door behind her.  This is one thing I've learned from M: never miss an opportunity to test a partner. 

We'd recruited three long-time patients to come to the hospital for filming.  All three were open about their HIV status and willing to speak about their experiences.  All three brought new babies.  We sat on the breezy concrete porch and waited for ABC to arrive.  The bubbly women shared their stories with the ease of gossiping girlfriends, creating a rich back-and-forth about the struggles and the achievements of motherhood in the face of HIV.  They were vibrant and outspoken and laughed readily and often.  They handed me their fat, healthy babies to admire. 

The journalists and cameramen were edgy and rushed when they finally appeared around lunchtime.  M clammed up.  I babbled nonsense.  The previously outgoing patients stared shyly at the ground, utterly intimidated by the giant camera lenses. 

We never made it to the evening news. 

I wished I had carried an invisible camera with me throughout that morning.  "This, fellow Americans," I would have said as I filmed the battered woman asking for help, the scared couple looking for answers, the courageous mothers refusing to allow HIV to defeat them, and M and I quizzing each other like the nervous professionals we were, "Is HIV in Africa."

Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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