Last Tuesday, I finally arrived home at around 10pm after a long day. I turned on my Christmas lights (definitely still up), and sat down on my little stool to sort the mail before retiring to my bedroom. As I tore through it, I fumed inwardly about how junk mail should be illegal, and ended up throwing away everything from the pile but one boring white envelope. I carried it with me into my bedroom and set it down with my phone.
I started getting undressed for bed, but got distracted by the front of the letter. It was from the organization I had donated blood to in December. It was my first donation in many years, and I had been terrified to do it. But I have a guilt complex so when my co-op had a blood drive, I went in and made myself donate (I did not faint, and I was very proud). I figured the letter was some kind of thank you note or a plea for a donation, or maybe just a letter to say hi.
It was not any of those things.
It was a letter advising that they had disposed of my blood.
I had tested positive for syphilis.
My first reaction to this was, “Is this the Oregon Trail?!”
My second reaction was, “That is not good.”
And my third reaction was, “What the fork am I going to tell my boyfriend?!”
I read the letter more closely. Upon further inspection, the letter specified that this was not a medical diagnosis and false positives were common– I needed to go see my doctor to be “officially” diagnosed. (Also, the blood company would not be responsible for any testing or medical expenses. Rude.)
I spent a few minutes in abject panic before I managed to take a few deep breaths and put on a robe (Robed panic is significantly better than underwear panic. This is widely agreed upon). Coming to the realization that I was not going to be able to hyperventilate this problem away (it has never worked, despite my repeated attempts) I popped an alprazolam, texted my besties, and started thinking about this logically.
My slightly more organized thoughts were as follows:
- I don’t know a lot about syphilis but I know it’s gross. I don’t think I’m gross. Wait, am I gross?! Keep it together.
- If I have an old timey sex disease, someone had to have given me an old timey sex disease.
- I did not have an old timey sex disease (or any form of modern, future, or baroque sex disease) in March, 2017.
- If someone gave me an old timey sex disease, it happened in the last year.
- There are a limited number of suspects on that list.
- Like, really limited.
- Did I have a dissociative fugue and time travel to 1843?!
It’s important to note that by this time in my panic, I was deep in a group chat that involved, among other things, discussing cholera and diphtheria as possible next old timey disease choices, my new old timey nickname (Arabella), and Famous People With Syphilis for $400, Alex. I will say it was briefly comforting to know I was sharing a disease with Beethoven and Abe Lincoln. Then I found out that Hitler and Al Capone also had syphilis and that ruined my small silver lining.
My boyfriend (when I finally managed to tell him half an hour later) was unsurprisingly kind about it, because that’s how he rolls. He reassured me: A) Syphilis is Curable and B) He did not think I time traveled to cheat on him with a stranger from 1843, thus bringing this old timey sex disease into our lives. (He also also did not think it was a ghost of some kind, a dissociative fugue, or that I had cheated on him in our own time, a possibility I had not even considered).
After copious reassurances from no less than 5 individuals, I went to bed.
The next day my best friend graciously agreed to move our usual Wednesday lunch so that I could go to the walk-in clinic on my lunch break. I arrived at my pleasant mall doctor’s office armed with my $25 copay and the paperwork that had worked me into an incredible tizzy.
I waited for my turn, clocked in a ridiculous blood pressure reading, and told the nurse my struggle. She was sympathetic, which was nice, because I was probably coming off as more distressed than jeans in the 90s. The doctor said that this particular organization had been spitting up a lot of false positives, but it was important to test anyway. In a weird echo, she reassured me A) Syphilis is Curable and B) it really does still exist in 2018 (no time travel needed).
The nice folks in the lab stole some of my blood, and I went back to work with my neon orange bandage.
It was a good 48 hours of fretting repeating, “Oh my gawwd, how could I have possibly gotten syphilis?!” and refreshing my online test results page before I finally got a message from the doctor.
I am proud to say that I do not, in fact, have syphilis.
I do, however, feel like have a pretty good case to sue the blood donation people for my $25 copay and significant emotional distress. I just googled it and it turns out this is a real thing people do. Unlike in my case where they told me I had a curable disease and I was able to be tested within 12 hours, some folks get false positives for non-curable diseases and might not have the time or funds to get tested immediately. Can you even imagine getting that letter?! I admit our culture is overly litigious, but that is a solid reason to bring a lawsuit.
In my case the blood organization is a non-profit, and I am not quite that desperate for cash. Not quite.
The true good news here is I never have to feel guilty about keeping my blood all to myself ever again: I am blacklisted from donating. Because in their eyes, I will always have an old timey sex disease.