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    Grant Glass

    Post your response about the movie 5B


    Wow, this film was so incredibly powerful. Though I knew some about AIDS before watching this film, I was no aware of the level of importance it also had socially. One of the most powerful quotes at the beginning of this film was “You have to get out of the mode of you are going to cure people, you have to get into the mode of caring for people.” I think this sums up the entire movie very well, the most important thing you can give to someone is showing that they matter, are loved, and are cared for. One of the most heart-breaking parts of this film was seeing all of the patients struggling and hurting without their family or friends beside them, just because it was seen as a “gay” disease. If it was any other disease, unrelated to being a homosexual, I feel like the amount and support and love they received would have been much greater. As one man with HIV who was being interviewed put it, “people look at the condition and lose sight that there is a person there.” This is an incredibly important statement because in the beginning people with AIDS were not treated like human beings, they were being refused treatment by some and other would completely gown up around them even after they knew it was spread through bodily fluids and not just touch or through the air.

    Because AIDS was stigmatized so much, the fact that so many nurses came to help out and treat them as human beings with feelings and emotions was really moving. It was incredibly powerful that they changed the rules so that AIDS patients could define family in their own way and have visitors, even pets come and comfort them. The biweekly dinners and entertainment created a since of community and joy in a time of uncertainty and pain. These nurses and doctors made their patients experience as pleasant as it could be given the circumstances. I loved that the film focused so much on touch and hand holding. As human beings, we all need contact with others and it is not the same when someone is wearing gloves and masks around you, it is not genuine. This really struck me personally because my grandfather passed near the beginning of the semester and the last week he was in hospice, all he wanted to do was hold people’s hands. Though he could no longer talk, this was his way of communicating to us that he loved us; and it was our way of showing him that we were there. All people need love and support no matter what sexuality they identify with, what race or age they are, or their socioeconomic status. People are people no matter what. People should be cared for and shown compassion no matter what.


    This documentary was incredible. There were many moments that stuck out to me, and I noted different quotations throughout the movie that I felt really captured the points we have made throughout the semester. One was said by a nurse (I believe it was Mary) around the timestamp 16:47. She spoke about being used to “maintaining a clinical objectivity” with her patients before working in 5B, but here she was “allowed to love your patients.” This reminded me of topics we have discussed in lecture. In our Western society, medical care is often thought of as purely clinical and detached from the actual person. A previous reading talked about nursing students who, after seeing other professionals be emotionally distanced and even judgmental of their patients, had to cope with their grief and emotions through this same disconnection. We are often told that it is important to remain disconnected, because a medical professional cannot be too attached to patients who may die. However, I think this film showed the importance of human connection for both the patients and the nurses/doctors. Providing the patients with human touch and affection obviously had a significant impact on their mental wellbeing. The patients expressed gratitude and joy at being treated like human beings, rather than vessels of a disease. The medical professionals also received much from these interactions. They learned how to love more deeply and how to provide genuine care for dying people.

    The homophobia shown in this documentary was also very impactful. Although we know how stigmatized the LGBTQ community is, especially during the AIDs epidemic, seeing and hearing congressional representatives and medical professionals exhibit these ideas was appalling. One part that greatly struck me was around the timestamp 29:50, when two men (I believe a congressman and a reporter) brought up wanting to tattoo people with AIDs so people would know to stay away from them. I immediately thought of the Holocaust, where Jewish people were both forced to wear gold stars to identify themselves, and were tattooed with numbers to identify them in concentration camps. I was horrified to hear such a similar suggestion being argued for during the AIDs epidemic, only about 40 years after the end of World War II. This discrimination, while terrible to see, is incredibly important to have in a documentary like this. Discrimination is real and effects so many different groups of people, and it is important to remember instances such as this in order to confront future discrimination.

    Angel Scialdone

    The documentary 5B is an extremely powerful piece of media. I have watched the film How to Survive a Plague, which is also about the epidemic, specifically AIDS activist groups, but I did not find it as impactful as 5B. I believe having the same nurses who worked on ward 5B speak to their experience, while also showing raw footage of their efforts during the outbreak, provides an element of reality to the film and forces viewers to recognize just how devastating the epidemic truly was.

    One piece of information I found upsetting and had not considered prior to watching was how insurance providers responded to AIDS and the stigmas surrounding the disease. The film briefly mentions how insurance companies could not ask policy holders to disclose their sexuality, but providers instead sent out questionnaires to people, specifically men, who applied for coverage during the epidemic. These surveys asked questions such as “have you worked as a florist, hairdresser, etc.” in an attempt to judge masculinity and avoid providing coverage to homosexual men. Insurance companies added another layer of discrimination to an already marginalized group and perpetuated patient suffering by inducing the stress of an economic burden. It was stated in the film that it “is important for human beings to be there for one another,” and this truth extends beyond our immediate community and applies to corporations like insurance providers who are huge actors in an individual’s ability to manage sickness and disease.

    In our current outbreak, Krispy Kreme has decided to provide healthcare workers with free doughnuts every Monday until the middle of May. Although doughnuts cannot cure COVID-19 or help with the main issues at hand, the company’s gesture sets an example and highlights how we all should be appreciating healthcare workers and doing what we can to help them help others. In Professor Thrailkill’s lecture, she explained how in the absence of a cure, care is an essential task. Care can take many forms, whether it is through pastries, in a hospital, or over Zoom, but no matter how we experience care, it is central to share during these uncertain times.


    I think this movie did a great job at presenting the AIDS epidemic as an injustice towards and an excuse to marginalize people that were different. But it is not without faults, similar to what both Professors mentioned in lecture: there are some shots and some individuals who were not helping to drive the story and made me uncomfortable/confused at times. The film doesn’t really capture the pressures on providing care to AIDS patients (structural barriers) but it was showing that there was pressure and backlash on the individuals that had AIDS or the hospital workers. Though it did show two people of color who contracted AIDS, black people were marginalized further with the stigma of having AIDS/HIV. I think the message of the documentary could have been strengthened by showing more background information on more (as well as diverse) patients in order to represents more sides to the epidemic.

    The part where one nurse was explaining how she was told to stop thinking that she was there to cure people but to care for people, this showed a turning point in the film. I think our school system is really driving people to the “cure” mindset at a young age. As a child, I related doctors to treating patients, curing cancer, and preforming surgery. It totally lacks the idea that doctors form bonds with their patients, are usually consulting with them, and are meeting them regularly. Professor Thraikill mentioned in lecture, organic chemistry is not teaching us how to interact with patients (can confirm this because I have taken orgo 1 + 2), though it is a required class for medical school. I think many pre-health students are giving precedence to their credentials (grades, research, and extra curricular activities) because that is what gets them into med school. There is a need for “real” training around what will equip them with the emotional capacity to care for people who are in pain is needed just as much as the biological knowledge, maybe this is available in shadowing but I think maybe real life simulations of conversations and of dialogue is needed to train future health care providers.


    “One part that greatly struck me was around the timestamp 29:50, when two men (I believe a congressman and a reporter) brought up wanting to tattoo people with AIDs so people would know to stay away from them. ”

    In response to this part: it was really telling of how disconnected and how far removed officials were from this issue. You would think that in times of crisis, people would be more compassionate towards one another and care for one another but we were shown hostility in terms of nurses not willing to do their ~job~ and the lack of funding given. It was like people (esp people in power) were willing to let this disease take the lives of fellow Americans, the very people they were suppose to serve and represent (though the LGBTQ community probably were the opposite of what they personally identified with). I also related that scene with the tattoos with the Holocaust as well as with the branding of cattle. Both instances are dehumanizing.


    What resonated with me the most from the movie 5B is how nurses are truly heroes of our society. Yes, they save lives. But their work is also considered to be a movement. In this movie, nurses were examples of how we should respond as a society towards all people. They fight for their patients, not just on a health level but also on a social level. What this movie also shows is how nurses are the only one’s who can keep things under control. We’ve learned about issues homosexual people faced (and still do to this day). And I think that a movie like this made it pretty evident that the nurses and doctors were there to not just keep the disease under control/correct it, but also help their patient’s become corrected. What I mean by this is that as they are treating their patients, nurses they are showing them that they’re lives actually do matter. That they do have a place in society. That they are worthy of receiving the care and the help that they need, and deserve. That the nurses job does not stop when a homosexual person enters the room. In this way, our doctors and nurses promote their patient’s state of dignity.
    I think it’s also important to note, however, that a nurses job goes beyond the job of a hero. This mainly comes from how nurses care about the relationship that they have with their patients. This relationship comes in many different forms and isn’t limited to the “hero”.
    They showed an example of this through the touch/hand holding. What makes this act significant is that, nurses can act like nurses, but they can also act like friends, or family because you typically hold hands with someone you are close to. What the hand holding shows is that these roles aren’t off limits for a nurse. And that the extent of their role truly goes beyond any role.


    I thought that the movie 5B was beautifully produced. I really enjoyed how the directors conveyed a temporal shift through the use of both recent film of the empty ward and older film from when the ward was in use. Although there are many parallels between the AIDS epidemic as depicted in the film and our current COVID-19 pandemic, I kept thinking about how similar the 5B ward approach to care seems to hospice care. Hospice care emphasizes the importance of human touch in care and building relationships that nurture trust and care. Just as one of the 5B nurses said about their type of treatment, hospice focuses on the care not the cure as well. Interestingly, hospice care was in its infancy at the same time the 5B ward was built, with the very first hospice center built in 1974. While great strides have been made in the field of hospice care since then, at the time the “caring” mentality of medicine was novel. Previously comfort care was seen as a failure of medical technology. As the film shows, I think that having comfort care as the only option to treat AIDS patients perpetuates others fear of them because they saw how medicine can fail or lose.

    To address some of the questions from the lecture on April 1st, I think that what is missing from the documentary are the families and social lives of the nurses involved. I wonder, how did this new approach to care affect the social lives of the nurses when they were off the clock? Did they isolate themselves as many of the COVID-19 healthcare workers currently are?


    Response to Angel,
    “These surveys asked questions such as ‘have you worked as a florist, hairdresser, etc.’ in an attempt to judge masculinity and avoid providing coverage to homosexual men.”

    I agree with many of the arguments you made in your post. Especially the quote above. I was shocked and yet, not surprised, that an insurance company had the right to ask such questions and make a judgement off of it. One way to look at this is to see how our country has changed since the early 80s. An insurance company (I hope) would never get away with this type of prejudice, judgement and discrimination. However, in some degree we (as a society) are acting out in other ways. For example, the discrimination made towards the Asian population during COVID-19.


    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.


    Response to amacha:

    I think two really great points are brought up here. The intersectionality of discrimination was not really touched on in the film at all, and I’m glad you brought to my attention how even within the AIDS discrimination, there was further stigma and consequences for certain demographics. I also liked how you brought up the healing portion. It is definitely counterintuitive to think of healthcare professionals as not there to cure, but instead to just care for those they are with. It shows a broader aspect to their job and to them as individuals, as they had to reprioritize.


    (response to Angel)
    Hi Angel! You make a lot of great points in your post. I was also shocked to see how insurance providers discriminated against LGBTQ people. Although we know that this discrimination exists, to see it done so blatantly and artificially – asking questions about if one is a hairdresser or florist, for example – is very eye-opening. It also reminded me of how gay men are discriminated against regarding blood donations. Even during our current pandemic, gay men are still unable to give blood in the same way straight people are able.

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