On Tuesday night at the Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union, Director of Health Services Dr. Birgit Pols shared her personal experiences treating AIDS at work and parenting a child with AIDS. Pols’ talk introduced the AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibit, which will be on display at the gallery until February 9. 

Pols began by talking about being a medical student in an age when AIDS was not yet a major problem. In fact, AIDS was so rare in the late 80s that it was not even discussed in medical school.

“When I was a senior in college, the [Center for Disease Control] reported on AIDS for the first time,” said Pols. “I started medical school the next year, and not once through my entire medical school career was AIDS mentioned in the classroom.”

Disappointed by this hole in the curriculum, Pols and a few of her classmates gathered every Friday to learn more about AIDS by talking to those in the community diagnosed with the condition. A significant number of those sick were members of the LGBTIQ community.

Pols also recounted her relationship with Greg, an AIDS patient who she met while fulfilling her residency in South Carolina. Greg was openly gay and as a result suffered from bias throughout the duration of his treatment at the conservative facility.

“Homophobia prevailed [at the hospital], and gay AIDS patients seemed to provide permission for bigotry,” said Pols.

When Greg died some time later, Pols reshaped her professional and life goals to focus wholly on working with HIV/AIDS patients.

“Caring for [Greg] changed not only my career goals, but my life,” said Pols. “I became identified as ‘the’ doctor for taking care of people with AIDS who couldn’t afford private healthcare.”

While working in this capacity, Pols also served as Volunteer Director and Board Member of the Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (PALSS) and the Medical University of South Carolina’s State Policy Committee.

The fear and discrimination aimed towards AIDS and the LGBTIQ community, resulted in a certain amount of discrimination against Pols and her mission, which often made it difficult to find employment.

“When I finished residency training, I was one of the most decorated residents to have ever graduated from the program, but while my colleagues had no trouble finding jobs, I was truly surprised not to receive a single job offer,” she said.

Pols also discussed her experience caring for an AIDS-stricken child, Cory, whom she and her partner adopted when no one else stepped forward. Despite constant care and frequent hospital visits, he died of AIDS-related complications.

Pols wrapped up the talk by pressing the need for constant efforts against HIV/AIDS. The number of those infected has remained largely stable since the 1990s, and even advances in medical technology have done little to help.

Bowdoin will showcase a part of the narrative AIDS Memorial Quilt in the Lamarche Gallery on the second floor of Smith Union until February 9. Each panel of the expansive quilt—a part of the NAMES Project foundation conceived and established by gay activist Cleve Jones—tells the story of an HIV/AIDS victim and his or her family, friends and loved ones.

Knowledge of the quilt spread across the country resulting in a huge public response. Since its conception in 1985, the quilt has increased to over 48,000 three inch by six inch panels and raised over $3 million for institutions working to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“There are stories like the ones I’ve shared about Greg and Cory behind every one of the 24 quilt panels here, of the more than 48,000 panels that did not make their way here, and of the more than 39 million people around the world who have died of AIDS,” said Pols. “But no matter how tired or overworked we are, we can always do something, even if that’s only to be open.”