There is a stigma associated with all things sexually transmitted that are a disease and yep, you guessed it, it’s nothing good. Here’s the story of how one young woman’s first chance at love brought her a close brush with the stigma associated with STDs and the thought of facing death.
I’d just broken up with my ex of a few months and decided to get tested just to know and to be safe. A part of me wanted to know. I was scared of not knowing. It had been over a month since we had done anything close to intimate because things had unraveled so far, but still. I wanted to be prepared in the unlikely event of, and it’s what you’re supposed to do, right?
So I went to the clinic on a Monday and had blood drawn for the tests. They told me to give it a week before hearing anything back from them, knowing that of course, no news was good news, and I could check my results from the test online.
Two days later their office called and left a message, saying they needed to discuss my test results. My stomach sank. I was on a lunch break and hadn’t expected a call back from their office because I just knew everything was okay. No symptoms, nothing from the little I knew were the signs of someone infected with an STD, and my ex-boyfriend had sworn he had been to the hospital on occasion, and nothing had ever been found. I braced myself, preparing for the worst . . . That one of those tests had come back positive, and I had received an STD from the first person I’d ever fully given my whole heart.
The nurse’s words confirmed my worst fears. One of the tests had come back positive. I asked a few questions about how this information would change my life and what to expect. She was helpful, but brief in her responses. When we got off the phone, I took a minute to gather my thoughts. I still needed to eat right? So I picked up lunch and returned to the office. Honestly, at the time I was thankful that the positive results were not life threatening, although certainly life altering. All I could think about was protecting my family and the ones I loved from getting something I received. And that I would never again trust my heart to anyone.
I spent the rest of the day researching and bemoaning all the ways my life would now change, researching STDs and their symptoms. I found hope in the fact that I still had never experienced any of the symptoms and after obtaining a better knowledge, I decided to call the doctor’s office back and ask more important questions, such as: “What type of test was performed?” “What were the actual test results (numerically, as blood tests are designed to count the levels of antibodies your body naturally develops to fight off a virus once detected)?” “What medications should I take?” “What might it mean if I haven’t experienced any symptoms?” And hopefully, “Could being on medication interfere with the results (typically no for blood tests, but yes for drug tests)?” I called and left a message with the office but didn’t receive a call back that day.
At the same time, I started to experience symptoms of an STD that was fatal. I hadn’t been feeling well just the past weekend; it was minor and something I thought would simply pass. However, now I saw a visible sign that something wasn’t right with my body. I immediately went to the hospital and was seen after a 3-hour wait. I mentioned that one of my tests had come back as positive for an STD and that I had finished medications for another infection. I talked and waited the entire time trying not to burst into tears. I’d already done that when abruptly requesting to leave work with my supervisor because I had feared the worst.
The physician came in and examined me, then calmly explained that I had a yeast infection in my mouth (pretty scary at first, considering my current predicament of just learning I tested positive and that I’ve never seen my tongue turn white with bumps before!). The nurse who discharged me sat down right next to me and kindly took the time to explain how everything I had experienced had been the side effect of the medication I finished taking about two weeks ago.
I was stunned.
I’ve never had to worry about much more than treating a UTI and had never experienced side effects from taking meds. And even after reading all of the side effects, if I was going to experience any, why hadn’t it happened while I was taking the medication or even the week after? I hadn’t even thought two weeks afterward to tie any signs of infection back to the medication I’d already finished. After paying a hefty bill, I left, exhausted and relieved. This gave me hope again that the positive results from the tests were wrong.
I planned to call the doctor’s office the next morning, but they’d already beaten me to it once I went on break. When I returned the call and got connected to their lab, I was informed that there had been a mix-up with the lab results, and they requested that I come back in to draw another blood sample. Initially, I agreed to go back but after the whole experience of being proactive backfiring and learning more about the incubation periods for the antibodies of the virus to become detectable in a person’s blood, and still having experienced no symptoms, I called back and canceled the appointment. I’d read earlier that morning (yes, I was still researching!) that if you are not experiencing any symptoms, it’s recommended that you not get tested, because of experiences like mine where someone receives a false positive result. Even if you get a positive, you should get a second test just to confirm the results of the first test, after making sure you’ve waited long enough for the results to be conclusive.
As for me, I learned a few things from this whole experience. First, even during my research, I read over and over again how people have STDs and never know it because they don’t experience symptoms or get tested. However, if you get an STD chances are very likely that you will experience something that is enough for you to know you need to see a doctor. I learned that it’s not always good to be so proactive and create a mountain (a costly one at that) unless there is an apparent, good reason to do so. Although my intentions and concerns were legit, I had no solid reason to put myself through all that. I wish now that I would have trusted my body to take care of itself or at least given it a week or two to clear up, rather than taking those medications. Doing so timely set off an entire train of events that had me stressed about how my life could never go back to being what it once was.
Second, I had spoken briefly with an attractive young man, not too long ago, who’d contracted the same STD I thought I had. I remember politely commending him for being honest and upfront about it and wishing him well. At the time I still hadn’t stepped out into the dating scene, and I thought I didn’t want my first real date to involve taking on that sort of circumstance. I’ve always respected individuals as people, no matter what their story may be, but my whole scare with STDs has given me a new appreciation for people who live with chronic and life-threatening conditions. I don’t think I will soon forget the feelings from believing I was slowly dying on the inside from an infection. On the way to the hospital, I remember telling myself that I wasn’t brave enough to face this. I remember wishing the positive test results were all I had to worry about, and not about slowly being killed from the inside. I remember thinking of my father and apologizing to him for not being smarter about my decisions, the thought of being the first in my immediate family to die, and the hurt I’d inflict on my family because of my decisions. During that time, although I was so afraid for myself, I was eaten up about how my poor choices would involve and hurt the ones I loved most.
It was a real eye opener.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but all the same, I learned more about myself and about appreciating life in those few days. I’ve taken some risks in my past relationships and made mistakes. I’ve paid the consequences for those mistakes, but I’ve also grown from them. If I had not taken the risks, even if I hadn’t been so proactive about getting tested, I’d have never experienced what it’s like to be someone faced with such a position. I would not be able to share this with you.
Having an STD doesn’t make an individual any less of a human being, and if you do the research, you see that STDs are a lot more common then you might think, and that’s only based on the results of the ones that we do know about. Living with an STD changes the way a person may have to live their life, but they shouldn’t be judged or frowned upon because they are sick and hurting. Or even because they made a bad choice, because we all do it. I’ve never looked down on others, but this experience has taught me to value life more and that the stigma that society places on something like having an STD can be so wrong. Even just the anxiety of possibly having an STD is bad enough, but to live with one I imagine is hard enough without being shunned.
So just remember, the next time you meet someone with or hear about STDs, these are real people just like you and me. It could be you one day. You go from being healthy one day and the next you realize the quality of your life is changing. Having an STD doesn’t change a person from being who they are, and more than ever they are going to need a system of support. I just hope in this world of growing respect for preferential differences that we will one day learn to accept and respect those who may not have even been given the choice on whether or not they came in contact with an STD. I hope one day they too can openly share their status and not have to worry about being treated any differently than human.
SEXUALLY SOUND ADVICE FROM THE CONSERVATIVE:
1) Having unprotected sex (ANY skin-on-skin contact) with someone you really don’t know isn’t cool, smart, or safe! Once you contract an STD, it’s for life most times. Don’t let one instance of pressure or glee make you regret a decision that can have life-long consequences!
2) Unless you start experiencing symptoms of STDs, more often than not you don’t need to get tested. You don’t want to risk getting false test results or an unnecessary prescription! Also, it’s very expensive and insurance usually does not pay for the cost of the test. One more thing on tests, they usually only test for one certain STD. The only way to be sure is to get tested for that specific STD.
3) If you are experiencing, symptoms do some research. A quick web search can provide you with the best time to get tested. Different STDs have different “wait periods” before it even makes sense to get tested. Once you’ve waited long enough for the test to pick up an accurate reading, get tested. Getting a second test to confirm the first is highly recommended if you have doubts.
4) Ask the right/important questions: What type of test is being performed? What were the actual test results (numerically; blood tests count the levels of antibodies your body produces to fight off the disease)? What medications should I begin taking? Be sure to ask about any known side effects of the medication that are common to occur.
5) Research, research, research! This is your health/life we’re talking about. Knowledge is power, so make sure before you act on anything you’ve armed yourself with relevant information and are comfortable with your decision.
The information provided in any post is provided from an individual(s) experience and should not be used as legal or professional advice.
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