I mean, a few weeks ago I made a veiled reference to being sick, but it not being too serious. Well, I wanted to make sure that was entirely true before I told you the whole long, drawn-out story. And lucky you, that time has come!
It started at work, as I sat typing at my laptop – suddenly, I could feel my left forearm tingling along its underside…nothing painful, just this strange numbing sensation I’ve never felt before. I stopped typing and thought to myself, “Um….am I having a heart attack? Really? I don’t have time for this.” After a few confusing, stressful moments of uncertainty, the tingling lessened to just numbness and I tried to go back to work. That was tougher than I thought, since my wrist began throbbing with a deep-rooted ache, like I imagine arthritis must feel. It was 4pm by this point, so I just wrapped it up and headed home.
That night, my left forearm became extremely sensitive. I could feel everything, from the blowing of my apartment’s ventilation system, to the individual threads of my long-sleeved shirt. I had to sleep on my back that night, since laying on my side or stomach caused my arm to hit the sheets, which was painful. Something, clearly, was up.
In the morning, I noticed a small patch of what looked like razor burn or tiny whiteheads on my forearm. There was also another patch under my left armpit and yet another on my left trapezium. The stinging pain along my arm was lessened, but had been replaced by a burning sensation in one highly localized spot on my upper left back. It felt like someone putting out a cig butt on my trap. I did a quick mental inventory – was I suddenly allergic to something? A new detergent, the new shirt I wore the day before? Now, I don’t get sick. I don’t get weird rashes. When someone like this happens to me, I can assume it’s fairly serious. I made a quick phone call to schedule a same day appointment with my doctor and luckily, got one.
It took my doctor about three seconds to look at my arm and back and say, “You’ve got shingles.”
I’ve had second-hand experience with shingles via my stepfather when he was dying of lung and brain cancer. The chemo had weakened his system so much that he developed painful shingles. Shingles are a side effect of the chicken pox virus, which continues to live dormant in the nerves of everyone who’s had the chicken pox or the vaccine. This virus can be reactivated due to a number of reasons, such as stress or (DUN DUN DUNNN) a compromised immune system.
My gay-friendly gay doctor told me this, then gave me that gay-friendly gay doctor look that only gay-friendly gay doctors give their gay gay gay-ass patients. “I’m sure it’s no big deal,” he began, measure his gay words, “but I think we should have you take an HIV test.”
Cue another quickie mental inventory, this time running down every sexual liaison I’ve had over the past three years. Luckily (???), it wasn’t that tough to run down. No red flags flew up, no unsafe “puttin’ just the tip in” memories came to mind. That didn’t stop me from freaking out hardcore, as I walked down the hall to the lab to have my blood drawn.
Afterwards, it was back to the examination room where the doctor told me he’d see me in two weeks for the results. Okay.
Wait a minute. Two weeks? TWO WEEKS?!? Had I been magically transported back to 1985? And if so, can I grab a pair of Z. Cavaricci’s and a vinyl copy of the Power Station LP to bring back with me when my test results are ready?
I left with both a prescription for an antibiotic and newfound doubts about my doctor. Why not just do one of those new oral swab tests and get the results in 20 minutes? What’s that? Oh, you can’t bill the insurance company for the doctor’s time, the lab tech’s time, the lab tester’s time, etc. that way? Got it.
Back home, I took the first dose of pills before reading the restrictions. “MAY CAUSE HEADACHES, NAUSEA AND VOMITING FOR THE FIRST THREE DAYS AS YOUR BODY ADJUSTS TO THE MEDICATION.” Greeeaaat. I spent Friday night wide awake from a combination of stressing out over my test results and a stabbing headache centered directly above my left eye. Things just got worse the next day.
Saturday was spent lifeless on the couch, my zombiefied half-sleep interrupted a few times only to race to the bathroom to vomit. It was definitely a case of the cure being worse than the disease. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be this bad, or if I was having some sort of bad reaction to the medication, when I remembered a good friend was once put on the same type of antibiotic. I stumbled for the phone, got his voicemail and left a message saying basically, “Hi, it’s John. I’m on Famvir and I think I’m dying. Is that normal? Seriously, call me back.”
He didn’t call back.
In fact, no one called the entire weekend, which made me realize I could die right there on my couch and not be discovered for weeks, much like a creepy neighborhood cat lady. “Oh, he kept to himself and was very polite. It’s so sad,” my neighbors would say. I saw the headlines – MAN DISCOVERED DEAD ONLY WHEN STENCH OF ROTTING FLESH AND OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE LEFTOVERS OVERPOWERS NEIGHBORS. Being single kinda sucks when you’re sick.
Sunday morning finally dragged its ass into view and I couldn’t take the stress any longer. I got my Google Fu on and searched for “HIV oral test long beach”. Now, I’m not too big on the concept of God, but something fate-ish was going on when the results showed that not only did the local HIV Task Force offer free oral HIV tests with results in 20 minutes, but the only day they did it was on Sundays starting at noon.
It was Sunday at 11:50 a.m. when I read that.
I got to the testing site about 15 minutes later. Testing and counseling was done in a converted RV parked on the road in front of the local gay-owned thrift store. I walked up to find six guys already lined up outside the RV, patiently waiting their turns, looking down, at their cell phones, in the shop windows, anywhere but each other’s eyes. I signed in on a clipboard and got in line. I knew I was feeling somewhat better when I noticed one of the guys in line was a totally hot Mexican guy of about 25 with a killer ass. Hey, if we both get good news today, let’s go celebrate! Yeah, that’s more like my old self.
An hour later, it was my turn. I tried not to notice guys as they went in and came out after hearing the news – I was nervous enough for myself without taking on the stress of strangers. I had no reason to believe I was HIV positive, but what else could have caused shingles, such a random affliction usually tied to suppressed immune systems? I knew one thing – there was no way I was going wait two weeks to find out.
My counselor was a nice guy who asked the normal rundown of questions – Was there any particular reason I was getting tested today? Had I had an unsafe encounter that left me worried about my status? I was brutally honest and told him I couldn’t think of anything, but I had shingles and it just didn’t make any sense. His brow furrowed and he said, “Hmmm…shingles. Yeah, that’s usually one of the first signs.” Gee, thanks, dude. He handed me what looked like a pregnancy test, but instead of peeing on it, I was to rub it across my upper gums, flip it and rub it along my lower gums. That’s it.
I think he could see me bouncing off the walls in my eyes, so he tried to assure me there was nothing to worry about. In fact, one of his sisters got shingles once. That helped a bit, but I think I OD’ed on WebMD over the weekend and got all sorts of scary scenarios in my head. That’s when he said the results were ready.
He returned to his seat with the stick and said we had another thirty seconds. Fine. Then his cell phone rang. His ringtone was Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.” Great, I thought. I may be getting the gravest news of my life and that skank will be the soundtrack. I figured the ringtone would end soon and the call would go to his voicemail, but…
HE PICKED UP THE CALL.
“Hello? Oh, hi, hun. Nothing, how about you?” (Nothing???) “No, get the frozen chicken, that’s fine. And some veggies. No, frozen’s good. Yeah. Okay, love you, too. Bye!”
I sat, stunned. Did he just take a fucking personal call right before giving me my test res---
“You’re fine. It’s negative. Seriously, why did you even waste my time?” he winked.
All is forgiven! I thanked him and headed out, already feeling ten times better. My arm continued to tingle and my back kept burning for about a week afterwards. By the time came for my official test results two weeks later, I was fully back to normal.
“Well, you’re negative,” the doctor reported. I told him I knew already because of the first test I took when I couldn’t wait any longer. “Gee,” he responded, “there was no need to do that. Sometimes shingles just happen. Stress, any number of reasons. I just wanted to be sure.” Argh.
So, I’m back. No cancer, no diseases, no crippling nerve conditions.
Oh yeah, the friend I called for advice on the medication? He finally called me back, three days later. “Um, why didn’t you call me back until now?” I asked.
“Oh,” he mumbled. “I was depressed.”
“Well, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ was on TV and me and my boyfriend were watching it, and I asked him about it and he had never heard of it before. He never heard of the book or Ayn Rand. And I just started thinking about how little we have in common and how few friends I have a lot in common with and it just really depressed me for a few days.”
Well, at least it was something important.