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5B (A Movie Review)


5B (2018)

Featuring Alison Moed Paolercio, Cliff Morrison, David Denmark, Mary Magee, Lorraine Day, Sasha Cuttler, Guy Vandenberg, Paul Volberding, Rita Rockett, Hank Plante, Steve Williams, Mary Asbury, Leah Cleveland, Harry Breaux and George Kelly.

Directed by Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss.

Distributed by RYOT. 95 minutes. Not Rated.

Full disclosure. I am a nurse. I have been a nurse for over half of my life and my first jobs were post identification of the virus that we now know causes AIDS, but before there was any real form of treatment. I worked on an ICU step down unit that was also an overflow unit for end stage AIDS patients.

I have worked with HIV+ and AIDS patients, and their partners and families. I have been to life celebrations, attended AIDS walks, and cried at the AIDS quilt. With all of this personal life experience, I had prepared myself for tears watching 5B. As I was reminded of the history and horrors of the days before treatment options, I felt so much more.

5B stands for the name of the innovative, compassionate, labor of love created by staff at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983 – a nursing ward that was patient centered, humanizing, and respectful to the men dying of a mysterious disease that had no known cause. A disease that drove fear in both the non-medical and medical communities alike.

The brave men and women, nurses and doctors, community volunteers and technicians of ward 5B came together to provide care with dignity. This was in spite of the knowledge that 100% of cases were fatal and that there were no guarantees that they would not contract the disease themselves. These warrior care providers stepped up for their neighbors and created an environment of compassion.

Nurses, at their best, are story collectors, open to hearing and retelling human stories of their patients and their patients’ families. It is how we cope with tragedy and grief; how we share joy and the human experience. It makes us better nurses and better caregivers.

5B shares these stories, of patients, family members, and caregivers as well as the stories of those filled with fear and anger. It weaves a story of our recent history, filled with real time news coverage that is irrefutable.

5B flows well as a historical documentary, starting in 1970’s San Francisco, the golden age of gay pride and quickly moving to the early 80’s. The mood rapidly changed from party to pain, as gay men began presenting with rare, inexplicable cancers. Communities were dying within months of diagnosis.

The film takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions through the telling of stories like the 5B nurse who suffered an unfortunate needle stick and bravely refused to allow herself to become the politicians’ “innocent victim.”

The coverage remains relevant and important 35-plus years later. Not only are people still dying from AIDS today, there seems to be a resurgence of fear and hatred pointed to marginalized populations in present day America.

5B shows how truth was twisted and ignored due to fear. Politicians and media helped shape stories driving fear into the American public through their coverage – something that we see in our headlines and political talking points every day today.

5B is a compassionate, entertaining, important documentary celebrating caregivers and keeping the realities of the time from being forgotten, and consequently, from being repeated.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: June 14, 2019.

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