“A Mask on the Face of Death”
Richard Selzer is a prominent doctor and writer of collected works including essays. His essay “A Mask on the Face of Death” was written in 1988. It provides detailed information on the problem of AIDS in Haiti, its symptoms, healing and the way Haitian men get diseased. The essay shows that AIDS has no ethic, racial or economic prejudice, as it can be transmitted to anyone. Thus, Richard Selzer vividly depicts how men in Haiti acquire AIDS’s virus, by sleeping with prostitutes and having homosexual relations. It is important to note that it becomes visible that people in Haiti do not bother take some precautions against AIDS, which is shown in the talk of Selzer with the Haitian prostitutes. He asks them whether they would continue sleeping with men, even if they knew that they had AIDS (Selzer, 445). The three prostitutes start laughing at him. Earlier they said that there is no such a thing as AIDS. In their opinion it is a disease made up by American government in order to gain control over poor countries. Even in the modern world it remains a question of discussion whether AIDS really exists, but judging from the essay of Richard Selzer it becomes evident that the disease has already gained full power in different parts of the world, including Haiti.
Speaking about the politics of healing the disease among Haitian doctors, it is important to mention that a proper healing in local Haitian hospitals is something to be desired. After talking to the prostitutes, Selzer goes to the local AIDS clinic, where he tries to understand what measures are taken to help people overcome the symptoms of AIDS. He talks to Dr. Jean William Pape, who is the director of the clinic. It becomes evident that the local treatment is inappropriate and may not even be called treatment. Selzer describes common symptoms of AIDS meeting each of the patients.
Some patients are wobbly, panting with thin hair and skin covered in an itchy rash along with diarrhea. These are some of the signs of AIDS. The local doctor tells each patient to “eat like an ox”, which is a way of offering a hopeful goodbye (Selzer, 447). He lets the patients leave without any particular prescriptions or medications. The doctor also indicates that those patients won’t come the next day, which shows that he can see the deadly symptoms and there is nothing to do about it.
Other patients have different side products of AIDS, such as a huge tumor on the eye. The woman with those symptoms asks the doctor for some medicine, but he makes it clear that there is nothing to do about it. It is impossible to either cut away the tumor or prescribe some medicine, and chemotherapy will also be of no help. A curious point is what the doctor tells Selzer about further actions of that woman. He says that the next day she will climb the mountain and seek relief from the voodoo priest. It clearly shows that people in Haiti have no way to be physically cured. All they have to do is to seek the spiritual relief with the help of a voodoo priest. There is a rumor that in order to become a voodoo priest, one should have an anal sex with a man. It all shows that in Haiti sex with either men or women is a common thing for the local residents, as well as tourists.
One more patient is a frail man with pus dripping from the ear onto his cheek. This is known as toxoplasmosis of the brain, one of the affects of AIDS (Selzer, 447). Here, it is important to note that there are lots of mosquitoes in the hospital and no water. By writing these details the author wants to point out that the hygiene in the hospital is something to be desired, along with good treatment. In such a way Selzer shows that there is no particular way of healing patients with AIDS and eliminating their physical symptoms, and it leaves them no choice but to go to a voodoo priest for spiritual treatment.