The film 5B follows the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the intense discrimination that grew with the disease. As AIDS was not understood, people associated it as stemming from gay men but were unsure how it could be transmitted. As a result, hundreds of individuals were put into hospitals, and often with limited or unfair treatment. Until the dedicated AIDS ward opened up, 5B, the patients were not touched. The nurses decided to treat the patients with affection and love, and as the head nurse Cliff said, if they’re going to die, then the nurses might as well touch them and love them.
The way that the nurses treated AIDS patients is not just through chart talk or cultural competence. They approached them with compassion. Because at first they were not there to heal or cure the illness, they described it as the individuals “permitting us to share this intimate experience of dying.” As we saw in Bauby’s book, there is a level of dehumanization that comes with extreme conditions. The nurses in 5B were trying to bring back the human experience by taking away the blame and stigma. One thing that really stuck out to me was the nurses describing the patients as their friends; they were witnessing their friends die. But in the process of all that pain and grief, the nurses were able to change how they made the patients feel.