Jason M. Grow / AP
Today, antiretroviral drugs enable people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to live a long, productive life. However, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, the disease was considered a death sentence. Nobody knew exactly what caused it or how it spread. Some doctors and nurses refused to treat patients with this disease. others protected themselves by wearing body suits.
Cliff Morrison, a nurse at the San Francisco General Hospital, was appalled by what he saw: "I would go to the patients' rooms, and they realized they had no bath," he says. "They were not cared for."
In 1983, Morrison organized a team of health care providers to open Ward 5B, an inpatient special AIDS ward at the San Francisco General Hospital. The department's medical team encouraged patients to make their rooms feel at home, allowing families and partners to visit them whenever they could. They comforted the patients by touching them and even sneaked pets.
5B was the first device of its kind in the nation – and it became a model for the treatment of AIDS, both in the US and overseas. Now, a new documentary titled 5B tells the story of the doctors and nurses who took care of the patients at the ward.
Dr. Paul Volberding was a doctor at Ward 5B and co-founded an AIDS clinic in the hospital, which was one of the first in the country. He emphasizes how seriously ill the patients in the department were.
"These were people who really, sometimes literally, died when they came to the hospital, so it was really important what we could do to make them more comfortable," he says.
Working on 5B was emotionally exhausting and death was a perpetual reality. Nevertheless, Volberding describes his time there as a "blessing".
" Caring for the patients was really special and very different than in the rest of the hospital, "he says. It has always been an absolute privilege to do this job.
Morrison adds, "I have had some really wonderful experiences with people in their death, and they have taught me a lot. It really puts into perspective the fact that life is in a continuum and death is only part of that continuum. I've seen people have beautiful deaths, and that was wonderful.
Highlights of the Interview
Like all who came to the hospital with the virus in the early 1980s, Volberding
: I do not think most people today Understanding how devastating AIDS was back then … It's just impossible to understand that HIV, if left untreated, essentially kills 100 percent of people. It's much worse than Ebola, much worse than smallpox, so everyone died Patient who was sick enough to come to us to look for medical care would die from this disease and people knew that there was a lot of education to give, but they knew that this was a really bad situation
How they did not know if what they saw was contagious when the first patients with the rare cancer appeared, Kaposis sarcoma, which ended up being one of the symptoms of the as yet unknown AIDS virus  "It has always been a privilege to do this work," says Dr. Paul Volberding on treating patients with 5B.
Courtesy of Paul Volberding