Last winter, I began experiencing shortness of breath and a burning sensation when I inhaled. I went to see a pulmonologist who confirmed I was not, in fact, suffering from lung cancer (as I had so convinced myself) but, instead, acid reflux. He prescribed a regimen I never followed, a decision that landed me back in my GP’s office last week, this time CONVINCED I was dying.
My doctor wasn’t buying it and suggested I “speak to someone” about how to better cope with my stress. I wasn’t buying that either and asked him to order a panel of blood work to prove me wrong. Then, like the responsible, sexually active divorced woman I am, asked him to throw in an HIV test for good measure as I always do whenever I have blood drawn.
A couple of days later, I called my doctor’s office to get the deets. According to the nurse, she couldn’t give me the results over the phone because the doctor hadn’t yet read them. But being the hypochondriac I am, I immediately suspected from the tone of her voice (in reality, there was no tone) that she was lying, that she could actually see the results (even though she said she couldn’t), and knew for certain I was screwed (no pun intended).
But I played it cool and agreed to wait for her call. At the end of the day when I hadn’t heard back, I called the office again. This time, the nurse requested I hold for the doctor.
“That’s it,” I thought. “I’m finished.” Doctors only get on the phone to deliver bad news.
My mind raced. I had ignored the signs for months, the nondescript symptoms, and now my luck was about to run out. What will it be? Esophageal cancer? Stomach cancer? Ovarian cancer?
Then it hit me. “Wait a second. No… It can’t be. Maybe I have…”
I thought back to that broken condom. And then to the one that got “lost” (talk about a mood killer). To that once faithful but soon-to-be ex-husband whose wife had cheated on him, and to that dude I had been seeing who was “insulted” when I questioned him about his HIV status. Had he doth protest too much?
My train of thought was abruptly broken when my doctor picked up the phone. Immediately, he began rattling off my results, spewing medical gibberish I couldn’t possibly comprehend nor wanted to.
“What about my HIV test?” I interrupted, abandoning for the moment my cancer fears.
“I’ll get to that it in a minute,” my doctor cryptically responded. Or at least I imagined he did.
He really didn’t. As it turned out, he was reading the report for the first time with me on the phone and reading it in order, no less. Like a normal person. Go figure.
But he wasn’t “getting” it. “Getting” me. What he failed to appreciate was that I needed to find out how this book would end before I would allow him to read it to me.
So I interrupted again, this time more forcefully.
“Do you have my HIV results?” I practically shrieked.
He paused, likely as he looked for the information I was demanding. Instead, I imagined him taking the time he needed to compose himself before giving me the bad news.
“You’re negative,” he finally replied, adding, “Can I continue now?”
“Sure,” I said. “But you need to start from the beginning since I didn’t hear anything you just said.”
My doctor laughed. I laughed. We laughed together.
Until he let me in on what he was really thinking: “The reason why you’re so worried about HIV is that you’re not being completely honest with me about your sexual history.”
I stopped laughing.
Not being honest with… him? What, were he and I now dating or something?
At first, I became defensive.
And then I thought about it. My “number” is altogether irrelevant. That’s because it only takes ONE.
My doctor assured me I was healthy. At least physically.
In fact, at that moment I never felt healthier, having gotten so fired up I nearly forgot why I had come to see him in the first place.
There I was, being cautious. Responsible. And suddenly feeling slut-shamed as a consequence.
My doctor claimed he was only joking. Only I didn’t think he was very funny.
Safe sex (really safER sex) is no laughing matter. Contracting an STD is something I do worry about. Something we ALL should worry about, especially as many of us get back on the proverbial horse after leaving the presumed safety of our marriages behind. Recently separated Cal Weaver, played by Steve Carell, summed it up perfectly in the 2011 film, Crazy, Stupid, Love when he said, “I’m a little worried you have AIDS,” to his first “hookup” post-separation. The scene, meant to be funny, does hit home.
There is one thing my doctor does have a right to be concerned with, and that is I do need to take my stress level down a notch. I’ll give him that.
Except not when it comes to my sexual health. About that I will remain vigilant.
So to you, dear doctor, and anyone else who implies being concerned about STDs is synonymous with promiscuity, I say, “Go fuck yourself.”
All I ask is that you are careful when you do.
How has dating changed since your divorce?