My name is Ellen Matzer. I am almost 62 years old. I have been a nurse for over 4 decades. In addition to my decades as a critical care nurse, I was fortunate to chose to work with patients with HIV/AIDS when contributions to human health were most crucial. While I was never an activist, I wanted to make a difference when it counted. In the late 1970s, through the 1990s, it counted. Why did I choose a part of nursing that lead me to a place that was controversial, painful, where there was never a good outcome? This was a path that was devastating, heartbreaking, sometimes frightening. It always made sense to me. This is where nurses could make the biggest impact, have the most advocacy. I wanted to soothe, take away the pain, make the transitions easier.
AIDS struck down people in the prime of their lives, It devastated families, reduced young men and women to a debilitated, helpless state no one had ever seen before, except maybe during the holocaust. Many of a generation had no hope of living up to their potential. Spouses, parents, brothers, sisters and children were lost. There was no cure, no treatment. This was a disease in which nursing care was the only thing that could walk people through this illness with grace and dignity. Still, many chose not to, however there were many, like me, that chose to, that were not afraid to get involved, to touch, cry, bathe, feed, carry, comfort and watch the death of many young, productive, once lively individuals. I wanted and needed to be part of this. In the 1980s this was the ONLY place for me. There were other nurses that rose to the occasion as well all over the united states. I knew I had to be there at the beginning, I had to see the evolution, the hope and the devastation. I had to learn, lead, educate, advocate. While AIDS activists rallied for attention, funding, an end to the stigma, bias and hatrid, I was on the inside, caring, medicating for pain, cleaning up the diarrhea, bathing, coaching people to breathe, controlling the shakes of the once strong and capable people who were now ravaged by the sequelae of HIV infection. It is now my time to tell my story of being ON THE INSIDE.