Peeling Paint

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“Ma’am, I am calling about your test results. Do you have a few minutes to talk?” I could hear the kids, I knew each of them, talking and shouting in the background. She must be on her way home from picking up the kids at school.

“Sure! Go ahead.” She sounded happy.

Not for long…

I took a deep breath.

“You have an STD.” What a stupid, crappy thing to have to say to someone, particularly at the start of a brand new year.

“A what? That can’t be possible!”

One of the best things about being a family practice physician is getting to care for entire families and in fact, I had been seeing this family for several years: husband, wife, and all of their kids.

Sometimes knowing the whole family is a liability.

I knew when I saw the frothy vaginal discharge on her exam what it was going to be so when the test results (two separate tests, by the way) came back confirming, I was not surprised.

“Could it be something that was still there from college?”

“No ma’am.”

“How did I get this?” Her voice was strained.

“Well, it is a sexually transmitted disease, so…”

Silence. Even the kids were quiet now. Hopefully I was not on speaker.

“I haven’t been with anyone else, you know.”

“I understand. I have sent in a prescription for you. And since we see your husband, I will send one in for him, too.”

“Ok.” She said in a sad, quiet voice and hung up.

The next day, invariably with these situations, I will get an angry call from the husband. This was no exception.

“Look, I did NOT cheat on my wife. So YOU tell ME how the hell SHE got an STD!”

“I don’t know, sir. All I can tell you is that your wife has an STD. I cannot tell you who gave it to whom or why, however you should know that I got a letter from the urologist you self-referred to last month for testosterone supplements stating he had treated you for a prostate infection. This particular STD can cause prostatitis.”

Silence. A long silence.

“Which pharmacy did you send it to?”

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108 thoughts on “Peeling Paint

  1. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ so sad. As someone who had to get tested after learning about a partner’s infidelity, I can tell you that we patients always appreciate the support of good doctors and nurses (especially when they tell you that you’re not the first woman to have to get tested because of a cheating partner). And that phone call after the test is so terrifying. I was so relieved when they told me I was okay that I could have kissed the persob through the phone. I hope your patient gets better soon and hopefully has better health in the future.

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  2. As uncommon as this may be, we actually ran into a similar situation in my oral surgery office–the doctor had to diagnose and then tell a young mother what the lesions were in her mouth and how they probably manifested…I was the assistant that day and awkward is only one word to describe the moments during the conversation.

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  3. I feel wrong “liking” this post. I once had a patient in labour who was currently being treated for an STD and it was made very clear to us that she didn’t want her “partner” (AKA, the father of the baby) to know about it. I’m glad my shift was over before she delivered… I couldn’t even look her in the eye. All I could think of was the inevitable storm that that baby was being borne into.

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  4. What’s worse than the story is that you said, “…invariably with these situations…” meaning, you’ve had practice at this. People. Ugh. :::snuggling into my Misanthropes Anon jammies on this cold night::: You know, I sometimes whine about not having a relationship with a man at this point in my life but then, I remember the ones I did have, I read posts like this, and I am reminded once again of the benefit of… wait for it… you know what I’m going to say…

    cats.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You handled the situation admirably. Still, I can’t help but imagine the moment after. Her, trying to process the news, anticipating a different conversation then trying to pretend all is normal and encouraging the kids to get started on their homework.

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  6. I love your stories. I can relate to this one a lot. I once worked for the American Red Cross as their donor health counselor. I had to counsel people who donated blood and tested positive for STD’s. The conversations I had. I am a certified HIV/ AIDS counselor but couldn’t do it anymore after my husband died.i loved the job but couldn’t do it after my husband died. I had a breakdown which I got over finally. Thanks for sharing your life with us my friend. Hugs, Barbara

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  7. I worked at an urgent care center. We had this happen so many times. Many times the patient would be a newly diagnosed pregnant woman. Once it was an employee who thought they had a urinary tract infection. It was awful for everybody.

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  9. This is so tough. Everyone always thinks it won’t happen to them- I am talking about the STD transmission, here. I always tell me class that infectious agents are very egalitarian in choosing their host environment- any and all will do, as long as it suits the agent’s survival. You are simply playing with the odds when you don’t protect yourself from exposure.

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  11. Wow. How often in medicine you must be put in uncomfortable situations like this. I can’t imagine that it ever gets easier. Also…I feel for those children chattering in the background…their lives will be forever changed as well. Hope it was worth it, husband. (Dumbass)

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    • I have had it twice in the past month. Both cases have really bothered me. Of the cases I have seen in the past two years, testosterone supplementation was involved. More risky behavior? Dunno.

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      • Well isn’t that interesting! Mid-life crisis? Lol!! I find it more interesting that the poor fellow tried to hide it from you by going to a Urologist without a referral from you only to have the specialist write you back a consult note!! Haha!!

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  12. I marvel at the way good doctors handle such uncomfortable situations. My daughter is spending this month at a pediatric ICU as part of her residency program. In one week, she’s dealt with four child abuse cases. You see so much dysfunctionality, that I’m sure sometimes a simple sinus infection makes your day.

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  13. Naturally, I am reading your posts backwards so I started out with your post about contraception and then read this one about the STI. I will therefore reiterate my previous comment: that if more mature people can’t have the willpower and morality not to have sex outside marriage, particularly unprotected sex, how can young people be expected to find that strength, especially with limited or no education about their options.

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      • Even with my exposure and I used to do market research interviewing for work right through uni and quite often they’d send sanitary pads out to people and we’d have to go through the surveys with people. I was 18, 19 and it was rather confronting but talking to my own daughter about all of that terrifies me. I think for me, there is this lack of language. Not knowing how to put things, especially as most of us didn’t have the best role models ourselves. I think most parents gave us a book to read and some pads in the cupboard just in case and that was about it. I really would like to be more of a mentor for my daughter and communicate. Golly, I can write about so many things on my blog. Maybe I should start off by writing her a letter to formulate my ideas. Defintiely need to do some research and I have a few savvy friends I could ask.

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