In the short story “Your Father’s Heart” (Malgorzata Nowaczyk, Intima, Spring 2016), a fourth-year medical student grapples with the challenges of her clinical responsibilities. Her first night on call she is assigned the care of a man with AIDS. He is rail thin, on the slow train to death. He was once a person just like her, but now he seems frightening, repulsive, and dangerous, although endlessly pitiful.
At the time, there was a great amount of fear and stereotyping: Prick yourself with his blood and like him you will be the contemporary equivalent of a leper.
These are the days before treatment and the afflicted are terrifying.
To the world a person infected with a lethal, infectious, and untreatable illness becomes something other, and once otherness occurs, and once that person is no longer eligible for actual personhood, then they can be discarded without concern.
In times of fear, the great diversity of mankind merges to a single entity and flees from others, then toward the combined goal of human survival. It is at times like this when great change can occur, but whether the change that follows constitutes an improvement is open for debate.
It is precisely this issue that I address in my own story “Bones in the Sand” (Spring 2017). In this case, a new and untreatable pandemic resurfaces from the past. A general public previously averse to all forms of genetic manipulation grows obsessed with the only available prophylactic: vaccination with a component of the HIV virus. In a remarkable turn of events, that which was previously anathema is now required to prevent the new anathema. The definition of other is overthrown. Evil becomes good. Life becomes death becomes life once more.
Otherness is rebranded and perpetuated.
Which is important because the definition of otherness is fluid. "Otherness" can be a dangerous commodity.
Liz Fyne has an M.S. in neuroscience and she spent over fourteen years doing biomedical research, including six years working in a translational HIV cure lab. She has two short stories published in anthologies (2015, 2017). A third story was published in 34th Parallel Magazine (2016). She is also author on multiple scientific publications and a peer-reviewed book chapter.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine