Firing Line

A UM nurse told a patient about a positive preliminary HIV test result -- and that was the last thing she did

Dr. Lawrence Feldman, a Miami physician who specializes in treating AIDS patients, questions whether the nurse's actions really made a difference, in light of the patient's preoccupation with the test. "I don't think her feelings would have changed until she knew she was negative," he says. "What harm was really done? The patient had a right to know the results."

Paul Crockett, a well-regarded local attorney who wrote a 1994 book called Gay Law 101: What Florida's Gays and Lesbians Need to Know About the Legal System, says the incident illustrates the tension that has arisen within the medical establishment as a result of new laws governing AIDS treatment. "Yes, she broke the law and there are serious consequences," Crockett notes. "But the circumstances put her in a very difficult position." Not only does the requirement of concealing test results run counter to many physicians' belief in the compassionate power of honesty, he points out, but the law itself is inconsistent. Only the release of positive results is prohibited; Ekalo's actions would not have been questioned had she revealed that the results were negative. "It left a very thin line for this nurse to walk on," Crockett notes, adding that he knows of no other health professional who has been fired for a similar transgression.

Ekalo, who is accustomed to comforting patients who have just learned they have cancer, says she thinks AIDS should be stripped of its marginal status. "I advocate that we relook at the laws governing HIV testing and stop looking at the disease as a stigma," she asserts. "What's the big deal of having HIV? It's a lethal disease like many other diseases. We're not afraid to tell a patient they have cancer.

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