Robert Reynolds reviews 'Tell Me I’m Okay: A Doctor’s Story' by David Bradford

Midway through this account of his life as a gay doctor who specialised in sexually transmitted infections, David Bradford diagnoses his first case of AIDS. It is February 1985 and Bradford is the director of the Melbourne Communicable Diseases Centre (MCDC) and the chief venereologist of Victoria. His patient James is a working class Maltese-Australian man in his late twenties whom Bradford had met while conducting a clinic testing for syphilis at a gay sauna. James, a good-looking and popular patron, presents with troubling symptoms: black spots on his skin; swollen glands; weight loss. He is terrified. Bradford gently breaks the probable diagnosis of AIDS. ‘James looked like a scared school boy.’ He departs with a referral to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital and Bradford’s home phone number. Bradford watches him leave and then takes a moment to collect himself. ‘I trembled for the future. Was James the first of many? Was my practice now to become an endless succession of gay men turning up with AIDS … Was my lot going to be to provide a medical service for my patients as they gradually became weaker, and eventually died because their immune systems had shut down completely? What a grim outlook I was facing.’

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Published in August 2018, no. 403

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