Thanking an HIV Pioneer: Dr. Paul Bellman

Dr. Paul Bellman, a longtime AIDS physician in New York City, is closing his practice.  This news marks a community loss, as well as a challenge for me, as Paul has been my physician the past few years,  ACT UP veteran Mike Petrelis wrote a lovely tribute to Paul on his blog recently

Paul is one of an increasingly rare breed: a clinician who truly listens to and seeks to learn from his patients.  He was engaged in research. He wasn’t afraid of smart experimentation. He possessed the healthy skepticism borne of many years of witnessing many “conventional wisdoms” in AIDS treatments get overturned. 

In my new memoir Body Counts, I write about pioneering doctors who treated people with HIV.  Chief among them are Dr. Nathaniel Pier, who diagnosed me, and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a renegade in epidemic treatments who treated me for years.

We as patients may not know chemistry or science to the same extent as our doctors. But those of us who have lived with HIV for 20 years-plus know more about surviving the disease than do many physicians treating people with HIV today.  Survival is more than just taking pills; doctors like Paul Bellman supported that truth and supported his patients both mentally and physically.

With Paul’s guidance and support, I now take an anti-retroviral combination that is less medication than anyone else I know currently on such treatment. I tolerate it better than any regimen to date and experience almost no day-to-day side effects. (More on that later).

I want to salute Dr. Paul Bellman and that rare breed of HIV doctors who seek to learn from their patients as much as they educate and treat them.