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August 10, 1994

My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS

Author Affiliations

Veterans Affairs Medical Center Wilmington, Del Jefferson Medical College Philadelphia, Pa
Veterans Affairs Medical Center Wilmington, Del

JAMA. 1994;272(6):491-492. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520060091041

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A young man travels by car from New York to Tennessee to see his parents. This is no ordinary visit. The journey ends in the emergency room of the Johnson City Medical Center (the "Miracle Center") and results in a brilliantly executed code blue. Death comes three weeks later. AIDS has arrived in rural Tennessee. After a serious debate, it is decided to reuse the ventilator rather than to incinerate or bury it. The machine is "opened up, its innards gutted and most replaceable parts changed." It is then gas disinfected several times before it is used much later.

Thus begins a remarkable true story. The author, Dr Abraham Verghese, whose parents had emigrated from India to Ethiopia to teach physics ("their marriage had something to do with physics"), finds his medical studies rudely interrupted by the convulsions surrounding the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. He arrives in America, where

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