I saw a young man recently come into the ER with full blown AIDS. He had declined the best medical therapy once he got HIV believing somehow he could whip it all on his own by living a healthy lifestyle... eating his vegetables or something like that. Now he has several opportunistic infections and he looked unbelievably miserable. He asked me after we talked (although I could barely hear or understand him), "Are you going to be doing this after residency?" and I said no. He said, "You should. You're good at it. These other people make me feel terrible." I was most certainly NOT good at it. This is one of only a handful of AIDS patients I had ever seen. But I realized what he meant was that unlike the other ER staff (and regrettably, my senior resident as well), I wasn't treating him like a freak. Later he said reflectively as I was filling out paperwork, "I'm a bad person aren't I?"
This experience had sort of a strange effect on me. It made me feel so hopeless. Hopeless about the healthcare system. Hopeless about the ignorance people have regarding gays. Hopeless about people that I usually work so hard to believe the best about. It's also a feeling that hits me every time I read an editorial lambasting religions as categorically intolerant, which seems to be happening with increasing frequency. It's a hopelessness that just hits me when people insist on being stupid even when I feel they've been given ample opportunity to widen their understanding.
The second step in 12 steps is based on hope. I haven't really worked my way up to that point yet (yes, at this rate I will reach step 12 when I'm about 147 years old). But it occurs to me that I am quite hopeful regarding myself and my own progress--and shouldn't that matter most? Why should I let ignorance and bigotry from conservatives and liberals alike interrupt my personal progress and peace? Well. I guess I'll just keep trying to have hope on both levels--personal and societal.