Guy Vandenberg had been working as a nurse for a few years at San Francisco General Hospital’s famous ward colloquially known as “5B,” the first AIDS ward unit in the country, when he discovered his partner, Steve Williams, was ill.
Williams began to lose feeling in his leg, until one day he couldn’t get out of bed. At first, doctors thought it might be cancer. But after more testing, Williams was diagnosed with HIV. It was the 1990s, and antiretroviral drugs were starting to advance, so Williams felt relieved when the test came back positive for HIV, which he saw as treatable.
“I was kind of happy that I didn’t have cancer,” Williams said. “I knew that there would be drugs that could help people get over the effects of HIV.”
But that sense of relief soon faded. After receiving medication, Williams had an adverse reaction and fell into a coma that lasted for three months.
“I was angry, as if I had some kind of right for HIV not to come into our house,” Vandenberg, who had devoted his life to caring for HIV/AIDS patients and hospice patients, said. “I was terrified and also determined.”
After Williams recovered from his coma, he knew he wanted to become an activist, convinced that the issue is just as important as other national discussions. The couple now travels all over the world to speak and raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“The parallels are there — like the way we look at immigration, the way we look at homeless people. There could be another virus tomorrow,” Vandenberg said.
William and Vandenberg are featured in a new documentary, called “5B.” To find details on where to stream “5B,” head to: 5bfilm.com/#ondemand