he Least Of These My Brethren presents a harrowing, compelling look into the daily life of a dedicated attending physician in New York City's largest designated AIDS center. Dr. Baxter recounts heart-wrenching and graphic stories with humanism, dignity, and decency.
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In the decade and a half that AIDS has been with us, Americans' attitudes about the disease and those afflicted with it have largely been shaped by films such as An Early Frost and Longtime Companion, the plays The Normal Heart and Angels in America, and the overwhelming symbolism of the AIDS quilt. For the most part, these expressions of popular culture focus on a fraction of the AIDS population, those sufferers who are easiest for mainstream Americans to identify with. Dr. Daniel Baxter puts a new face on the AIDS crisis in The Least of These My Brethren, a chronicle of the years he spent treating patients at the Spellman Center for H.I.V.-Related Diseases at St. Clare's Hospital in downtown Manhattan.
Baxter's patients are drug addicts, prisoners, and prostitutes, people with already broken lives for whom AIDS is just one more trouble to add to the list. There is nothing noble or cinematic about these victims. As they file through the halls and wards of the Spellman Center, Baxter describes their ailments that: AIDS-related lymphoma, rectal bleeding, tuberculosis, and much, much more. Baxter notes in his preface that "We are all ultimately H.I.V. positive in this cumbersome experience called life;" in other words, death is our common fate, the experience that unites even the most disparate individuals. In this shared inevitability, even the most fortunate among us can find empathy for the least.From Kirkus Reviews:
A doctor with a conscience celebrates the preciousness of all human life in grim stories of death and dying among society's outcasts. The site of these graphic accounts is one 17-bed unit at the Spellman Center for HIV Related Diseases at New York City's St. Clare's Hospital. For over three years Baxter was a physician at this ``improbable crucible of despair and hope,'' treating paroled rapists, homeless alcoholics, drug addicts, and drag queens under third-world conditions--cockroaches and rodents in filthy rooms where ceilings seem always to be crumbling and the plumbing doesn't work; doctors in other parts of the hospital refuse Baxter's requests for consultations with his patients. He describes his typical workday with its multiple frustrations and seemingly insoluble problems, and the routine of Sister Pascal Comforti, director of pastoral care, whose problems with patients and their often fragmented families seem even more difficult than the author's. He presents dignified, compassionate portraits of patients (with names changed), including foul-mouthed Rosa, found comatose and half-naked in a subway tunnel; Sarah, who has sex in the hospital stairwells and smokes crack in the linen closets; Todd, a partial transsexual who refuses a needed medical procedure that he fears would mar his beautiful breasts; and demented Enrique, an ex-prisoner with both tuberculosis and AIDS. Baxter takes his title from Matthew 25:40, in which Jesus says to the righteous: ``Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'' These words explain for Baxter why caring for such people is so necessary. Among the lessons he draws from his patients is that we are all living on borrowed time, and that if the ``least of these'' can face death without fear, so can we. Intended to inspire, this powerful book succeeds more often in shocking and angering the reader at the harrowing conditions to which these patients are subjected. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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