Rod Miller said he was frightened when he learned that the deep cut on his left foot from a rocky Rehoboth Beach jetty would require emergency surgery.
But his fear turned to surprise after the doctor at the hospital where he had sought treatment refused to perform the operation unless Miller could prove that he did not have AIDS.
"There is no reason to think I have AIDS, and I told him so," said Miller, a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, of the June 28 exchange with Dr. Robert Spicer, an orthopedic surgeon at Beebe Hospital in Lewes, Del. "Proving that on a Sunday afternoon turned out to be pretty impossible."
As it turned out, Miller, a 38-year-old District resident, did not need the surgery. But Miller said that he did not find that out until more than six hours later, after he was taken by helicopter to George Washington University Hospital in the District.
According to Benjamin Schatz, an attorney for the National Gay Rights Advocates in San Francisco, it is not unusual for doctors to refuse to treat people suspected of having acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The American Medical Association said yesterday that a doctor has the right to refuse treatment to any patient but that it encourages its members to follow federal guidelines on using protective gear for treating patients suspected of having AIDS.
Susan Peterson, a spokeswoman for Beebe Hospital, said the hospital is reviewing the case. Peterson said that the hospital "does not turn anybody away for any reason" and that doctors "have the right to transfer patients to other hospitals if they think it will be in the patient's best interests."
She added that the hospital has treated patients with AIDS.
Spicer referred all questions about the incident to Peterson, who said she did not know if Miller was refused treatment because he was suspected of being in a high-risk group for AIDS. But in an interview with The Whale, a Rehoboth Beach newspaper, Spicer said he began questioning Miller about whether he had AIDS after "observing him and his friends." After Spicer was unable to get the information he sought, he said, he indicated that he believed that a bigger hospital would be better equipped to handle people who are suspected of having AIDS.
Also, Spicer said in the article that Miller would be better off seeing a doctor in his home town.
According to Miller, Spicer began questioning him about whether he had any known ailments. "Finally, he came out with the question he was getting at," Miller said. "He said, 'Look, fellas, before I can go any farther I need to know if you have AIDS.' "
After Miller responded that he did not have AIDS, Spicer asked whether he had ever been tested for exposure to the AIDS virus, Miller said. Miller said that although he had taken the test, he had never received the results. The doctor then called the Dupont Circle clinic where Miller had been tested, and Miller's personal physician, but he could not reach them. Spicer then said he would have to refer Miller to George Washington University Hospital, Miller said.
Miller said he learned later that the medical record that Spicer had sent to George Washington had described him as an "admitted known homosexual," although Miller said that he had never stated that he was.
When he inquired who would pay for the $3,100 helicopter ride to Washington, Miller said, a hospital official told him that he would have to pay if his health insurance did not.