Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
So far, The STI Project’s spent a lot of time writing about the positive aspects around contracting an STD (See: The Top 5 Reasons Living With an STD Has Positively Influenced My Life, for example), and how it doesn’t have to hinder opportunities and relationships, but to be truly authentic as I’m encouraging all of you to be, I have to disclose the things that have sucked as well (See: A Healthy Helping of STD Hate, for example).
Let’s face it, an STD isn’t lollipops and rainbows all of the time. Maybe they should be more appropriately compared to lemon drops – incredibly sour with a residual sweetness?!
In any case, I’m not seeing a line outside of my door of people eager and anxious to sign up for genital herpes or to ask me where they can get their HPV, chancroid, scabies, gonorrhea, etc. Can you imagine?
This is a story about being diagnosed with an STD for the first time.
At 15, I became sexually active in the traditional sense (vaginal intercourse with a male), however, I’d ‘fooled around’ by engaging in oral and manual sex prior to having vaginal intercourse too.
Consequently, I’m still unsure if I contracted herpes from oral sex or vaginal intercourse and I’m also not certain who to blame – but maybe that’s the point?! I have no one to blame but myself, and even more importantly, the blaming is unnecessary as it serves no beneficial purpose – rather, it provides me an escape goat for having been irresponsible with my sexual health (I didn’t practice comprehensive safer sex).
When I chose to share my body intimately with someone else, I was taking a risk. Often, the extent of the risks we take are unknown to both parties, especially when considering the most common STD symptom is no symptom at all. So, it’s even likely the person who originally gave me genital herpes was completely unaware they had it.
At 16, I was diagnosed.
In the week leading up to the infamous doctor visit, it was warm out, and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the genital area. I thought I might be having an allergic reaction to laundry soap, a bout of poison ivy, or any number of other things that were running through my head when I finally gathered the courage to show my mom the area.
She promptly took me to our family doctor.
I suspect, she had an inkling of what was about to happen next, yet, she refrained from saying anything specific in hopes her own fears would be dispelled.
After having moved from a very urban area in the heart of the city, the latter half of my childhood was spent growing up in a small country town. We had horses, lots of barn cats, and we raised a couple of sheep. Our family doctor, aptly named Dr. Bone, whom I now affectionately refer to as Dr. ‘Awkward’, had been treating my family for some time.
Dr. Bone (seriously) aka Dr. ‘Awkward’
Dr. Bone, er, Dr. ‘Awkward’ was missing half an ear, had a lazy eye, wore glasses, and was balding (hence, his new moniker) – all of which I previously thought added to his charm, but later, proved to make his diagnosis and lack of any bedside manner exceedingly more uncomfortable.
Having explained my symptoms, I undressed from the waist down and placed my feet in the stirrups. Dr. Bone took one short look at the offending blisters, stood up and told me I could get dressed and promptly exited the room.
I still wonder whether he went to tell the nurses, cried, washed his hands and arms profusely, or simply sat behind the door dumbfounded and unsure of what to do next.
When he returned, he said I had herpes, and frankly, it was the worst case he had ever seen before.
He gave me a prescription, I said thank you, and my mom went to the front desk to pay our co-pay as I made a beeline for the car.
To this day, I don’t know if Dr. Bone had actually ever seen a herpes outbreak before mine.
His general look, which, he could not help, of course, made the situation even more surreal for my 16-year-old self. I wondered if he had ever had sex at all. I wondered if he could even see what he was looking with his lazy eye and all.
I couldn’t relate to him, and he certainly gave no indication that he could relate to me.
My Scarlet Letter
I felt like a leper. I felt like a modern-day Hester Prynne.
My doctor’s stark reaction and subsequent inaction (his seemingly inept knowledge of STDs: the resources, support groups, help lines, statistics, etc.) are still disconcerting. Not only was I diagnosed with a life-long viral infection by a man who was missing half an ear, had a lazy eye, glasses, was balding, and named Dr. Bone, I was given nowhere to go and no information about my infection.
I’m telling you, I couldn’t even make this ridiculousness of this up if I tried…
To this day, I’m also not certain which type of herpes simplex I have (HSV1 or HSV2) – update: now, I know I have HSV2. I was not given a blood test (I’m not even sure they did those blood tests 14 years ago when this happened), and my case was not reported to the CDC (diagnosis by family doctors and those only diagnosed by sight are often not reported or part of the statistics on the CDC’s website).
To me, it makes no difference. It’s genital and it’s not going away; so here I sit, hanging out with my herpes of some kind, telling you a story…
Is There a Silver-Lining?
Long story short – the experience sucked.
I’ve since learned, others have endured similar visits – ones where they are told their visual symptoms are the worst the practitioner has ever seen and where they are given little or no information about their infection/disease and the external resources available to them. It’s evident this will not be the last we hear of stories such as my own, unfortunate as they may be.
All of this is highly disappointing; I feel for those people having to go through something similar. It only serves to further alienate the individual and makes an already devastating diagnosis that much harder to deal with.
Often, it is the stigma surrounding the sexually transmitted infection or disease that is hardest to live with, not the STD itself – most STDs are either curable or manageable with the right medication and/or healthy lifestyle habits.
**Full disclosure: I do not see people and their unique and distinguishing physical characteristics as I once did at 16. However, to tell this story as it felt at the time, I must mention what I thought about Dr. Bone’s appearance, because it had a lasting effect on how I viewed the experience for many years thereafter.**
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How does your story compare? What does this make you think/feel about the medical sector? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!