Interview History--James R. Groundwater

James M. Campbell is an internist with a thriving private medical practice in downtown San Francisco. He was interviewed for this oral history series because from the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, he provided medical care for gay men, a distressing number of whom went on to develop the new immunological disease. He was in the battle lines in the effort to define the new syndrome and implement diagnostic and treatment procedures.

Campbell's story is that of a primary care clinician diagnosing, treating, counseling, and caring for patients with AIDS. He provides a poignant picture of what it was like for a physician, before the syndrome was well defined and before there were many effective treatments, time and again facing patients complaining of puzzling symptoms and all-too-frequently declining and dying of them. He provides a glimpse of the hectic schedule, as the epidemic advanced and the numbers of AIDS patients relentlessly grew, of a physician in the trenches, grappling professionally and personally with patients' medical and social problems and attempting to keep abreast of breaking medical information on AIDS.

Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights has a high-profile role in these interviews. At the outset of the epidemic, Campbell assumed the self-appointed role of tracking the medical literature on AIDS and attending conferences, his education at Yale and Columbia showing through in the guise of educator/informant for his medical colleagues. It was he who reviewed journal articles and AIDS conferences for The BAPHRON, BAPHR's newsletter and, with his gay physician colleagues, served as advisor and information source at a time when information about the disease was scarce and hard to come by.

Campbell was engaged in the many iterations of BAPHR's safer sex guidelines, distributed in several versions during the 1980s. For him it was particularly upsetting to attempt to establish guidelines for personal safety in the face of uncertain etiology and the gay community's newly won sexual liberation. Campbell also co-edited Medical Evaluation of Persons at Risk of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, a booklet produced by BAPHR in a number of editions, which was intended "to alert health professionals throughout the country to the protean manifestations of AIDS in its earliest stages, so that proper treatment, referral and counseling can be implemented without delay."

I2. Introduction, 1985 edition.

The Oral History Process

Two interviews were recorded on May 16 and June 26, 1996 in Campbell's busy medical practice. Fully engaged in the interviews, particularly in the discussion of constructing safer sex guidelines, he was intent on conveying his dual and sometimes conflicting interest in preserving health and freedom of sexual expression. He returned the interview transcripts in record time, making a few changes and additions.

Although Campbell has seen his primary role in the epidemic to be that of physician and educator and has used his medical training to distance himself from his patients, his emotions nonetheless run deep:

I love to see plays or movies or pieces of art that have to do with the AIDS epidemic, like the quilts and the play Early Frost. Some of these things that have come out are very, very important for me to see, because I can sit back and be a spectator and become emotionally involved. I don't have to play my role as doctor, and I can sit back and cry about things.

The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to augment through tape-recorded memoirs the Library's materials on the history of California and the West. Copies of all interviews are available for research use in The Bancroft Library and in the UCLA Department of Special Collections. The office is under the direction of Willa K. Baum, Division Head, and the administrative direction of Charles B. Faulhaber, James D. Hart Director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Sally Smith Hughes
Research Historian and Principal Editor
October 1999

Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley