Thanks, Ms. Livingston

September 19, 1994|By H. B. Johnson Jr.

I FEEL great!

The walk up the hill from my friend's house on West Lexington Street had left me exhausted by the time I reached Pulaski Street. But I was lucky. The bus was just stopping when I arrived. I hopped on, paid my fare, and dropped into the first seat beyond those reserved for the elderly.

BEverything was fine until I realized that the air-conditioning was on. The weather outside was warm, but not that warm!

As almost any person with AIDS will tell you, cold temperatures play havoc with us physically. When I'm in an environment that's 50 degrees or cooler, a number of things happen: My stomach reacts violently.

Chills run up and down my spine, sometimes persisting for days. My neck becomes stiff, almost impossible to move, and my legs feel as if they are made of lead.

While I seem to breathe better when the air temperature is cool, if I become overly cold my breathing becomes labored, as if the air is stuck in my lungs. At such times, my feet and legs turn chalky and they itch terribly.

So a simple air-conditioned bus ride across town may result in me having to take to my bed.

Despite all of this, I feel great. Why?

I'm happy because, after nearly 10 years and the loss of her brother, her middle son, and her daughter-in-law, a sweet elderly lady is fighting back. Her name is Ethel Livingston, and she lives in Baltimore County.

I can understand her long and painful silence. People are no less caring in the suburbs, but they are less used to the plague that has ripped through many households in the city.

Ms. Livingston's brother and sons were born with hemophilia. This means they had to take blood products in order to stay alive. It was these supposedly life-giving products that have killed or debilitated Ms. Livingston's relatives, however.

The human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, had wormed its way into Ms. Livingston's family by concealment in God only knows how many loads of contaminated blood products; and it has stayed there in her family's blood stream to wreak havoc. Her youngest son, whose wife already died from AIDS, is wasting away from AIDS; and her eldest son is HIV positive. The Livingston family had suffered in silence until last week, fearful of discrimination that would surely follow disclosure.

It took a special kind of courage for that silence to be broken, and that courage is not a virtue reserved for Ms. Livingston. We all have that special kind of courage. But we don't always dare to use it. When we do, there is delivered to those around us a sense of joy and power that has its own brilliance and that is positively contagious. Ms. Ethel Livingston has delivered! Ms. Ethel Livingston is a champion! She has chosen to stand up and fight.

Ms. Livingston and eight other brave Maryland women, mostly relatives of hemophiliacs who have been stricken by AIDS, were among the 100 people who protested last week the "hemophiliac holocaust" at the National Academy of Sciences.

Others went inside to testify about the horror of the disease for the government panel that is investigating how these innocent people were hurt by infected blood in the nation's blood supply.

By the time my bus reached the campus of Coppin State College, which is about a 20-minute ride, I had all but forgotten about my own discomfort. The news about Ms. Livingston and the rest did that for me. Hope, again I see, is a very warm and joyous thing.

I left my newspaper on the seat for the next person.

H. B. Johnson Jr., a poet and playwright, writes periodically on living with AIDS.

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