YOU HAVE worked with Janice for several years. She sits facing you, her desk flush with yours. Not only have your years together been mutually rewarding professionally, but also out of this good working relationship has grown a friendship.
That is why you are somewhat concerned over a change in her appearance. Recently, Janice's skin seems dark and dry, her face is getting thin, and she appears to be taking a lot of pills. Your inquiries about her health have been met by silence, a blank far off stare, and ultimately a not so convincing, "Nothing. I'm fine."
Then one day Janice dumps five pills into one hand, and is about to put them in her mouth, when the phone rings. After the phone call, she abruptly leaves for one of her now frequent trips to the ladies room, leaving her pill bottle on the desk.
You are determined not to see it. Janice is your friend. Somehow, simply considering to read the label on her pill bottle seems to violate a sacred trust. However, you cannot contain your curiosity. You read the label. You see the medication is AZT, which is prescribed for people with AIDS or those infected with the virus that causes AIDS. What do you do?
If it were any other terminal illness, the answer would be simple. But AIDS still manages to raise moral questions about its victims: What did he or she do to catch this dreadful disease?
What you should do is support her. Do everything you can to convince her that you are there for her, for she needs you now more than ever. Obviously, she is suffering not only from this fatal disease, but also from a meaningless guilt which also affects her health. Try to get her to talk about it. Let her know it really doesn't matter how she contracted the disease. Your moral judgments (or anyone else's) cannot save the life of anyone dying from AIDS.
In the workplace, there are many secret cases of AIDS and HIV infection. We need to help those people come out of the closet. This is the duty of every employer and employee alike. We must meet this human tragedy called AIDS with the full force of that power which is our collective humanity.
What little time one has left should not be spent in dark secrecy and guilt. No human being deserves an ending like that.
And, remember, none of us knows where AIDS will strike again.
H. B. Johnson Jr. occasionally writes on living with AIDS.