Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Bed

It seems I always have my best ideas when I'm lying in bed, shortly after I've laid down to sleep. But I stir and roll until I realize that sleep is currently unattainable, so I open my laptop and start writing. Perhaps I will write my book completely while in bed. That's a good title, right? In Bed by Curtis W. Creekmore. Best seller.

In a related matter, let us discuss sexual health. Spring has sprung: flowers are in bloom, a light coating of pollen covers everything stationary, and hormones are raging. This post will be an advisory to all those who are sexually active.

Even before the first time I ever went to get tested for a broad array of STIs, my friends had already told me horror stories. The test for HIV and syphilis was easy; two test tubes of blood drawn from your arm and you're all set. But for gonorrhea and chlamydia, the collection method was slightly more... invasive.

For those of you unaware of the particulars of this test for a male, he is made to stand in front of a nurse who shall be no younger than 65 and always female, drop trou, stare at the ceiling and wait for the world to end as she takes her wrinkled, red-nail-polished fingers and opens the urethra so that she may insert a seemingly foot-long (but in actuality, less than an inch) cotton swab into the penis, twist it twice, and pop it out, collecting cells for her microscopic endeavor.

I was absolutely terrified. This would not be a pleasurable experience, so I wanted to avoid it at all costs. In searching the unending abyss that is the Internet, I found multiple sites indicating that gonorrhea and chlamydia could be tested through urine. Huzzah, I thought, a loophole to this penile torture.

The morning of, I woke up rather early. My friends also explained that the free clinic I would be using functioned on a first come, first served basis, so I would need to get there before it opened so I could get an early number, or run the risk of not being seen that day. Knowing that I would have blood drawn for the HIV test, and remembering from earlier years when I had my cholesterol checked, I did not eat breakfast so that it wouldn't negatively affect the test results. I also remembered not to pee that morning, so that it wouldn't be so difficult to produce a sample once I was asked.

I was the first to arrive to the office, 15 minutes early. At 8 AM sharp the doors opened, and the parade of patrons that flowed through the door amused and confused me while making me feel completely uncomfortable: women who had clearly come in from working the streets the previous evening, men high as kites from whatever they had snorted/injected/smoked before arriving, and the two other gay white college kids who had come to get tested anonymously, with baseball caps pulled low over their faces and their hoodies pulled up around their cheeks.

My number was called and I headed to the back. A short question and answer period with a worker ensued, discussing my sexual history. If I thought sitting in a waiting room full of prostitutes and drug addicts was uncomfortable, this was nearly unbearable. You don't want to lie, but you also don't want to share the deepest recesses of your soul with a gruff stranger, pen and pad in hand, ready to chronicle your sordid past. After the inquisition, I was ushered to another room where Nurse White was waiting.

Per the standards listed above, Nurse White was in her mid-sixties. She explained that today was her final day before retirement, and that I was not to muck it up. Be careful what you wish for, my dear.

She inserted the needle in my arm to draw the two vials of blood and began describing the subsequent procedure. I proudly declared that I already knew it and had come prepared. I asked if I could simply produce the urine sample to be tested, but she declined, stating that urine samples take far longer to test, and that the swabbing would be immediately reviewable.

It was as if my heart had been wrenched its comfy chair in my chest and skidded its way through my vein in to her evil little vial. There would be no peeing in a cup today. She quickly snapped the tourniquet off my arm and asked me to stand and drop my shorts so she could complete the secondary test. Upon standing, I felt somewhat woozy, but blamed it on her having taken a few vials of blood. I chose a particularly lovely ceiling tile to focus on as her gloved hand guided the swab into my pe-

I woke up staring at a different ceiling tile, along with the faces of three nurses screaming my name. I came around, and was able to respond to their frantic calls. Apparently during the procedure, I had fainted while standing. The good news was, being as graceful as I am, I managed a half twist in mid air and landed on my back instead of smashing my face into the tile floor. Two of the nurses gave me a 10 on the landing; Nurse White was representing Russia and only gave me a 6.5. The bad news was my once full bladder had decided that since my mind was no longer in control of my vital organs, it would go rogue, and had begun to slowly release its contents. Thankfully I had also managed to pull my underwear partially back up, and once I regained complete cognizance, immediately stopped the flow. The nurses helped me onto the paper-covered hospital bed and brought me apple juice and some crackers. They immediately began a barrage questions, including asking what I had eaten that morning.

"Nothing," I said. "I didn't want it to impact the results of the blood work." They laughed and said that was only for cholesterol tests, not for HIV.

Well, piss. Literally.

I was able to go to the bathroom while I waited for the results of the swab and cleaned myself up a bit. I returned to find that the results had come back negative, and I was good to go home. I thanked the nurses for their help and told Nurse White that I hoped I made her final day of work an exciting one. She warily smiled and nodded as I turned to leave.

So, a few tips*:
- If you are sexually active, get yourself tested every three to six months. Your local health department or HIV/AIDS education organization will often do these tests for limited costs, if not for free.
- Always use condoms. Always. Though the transmission of HIV is limited through oral sex, it is still suggested that you wear a condom or use a dental dam for that as well. Other STIs are just as easily transmitted this way.
- Have the difficult discussion with your sexual partner(s) about their sexual history. Stigmatizing or avoiding this conversation can lead to catastrophic results.
- Know the symptoms of different STIs, and also realize that some people go symptomless for years.
- Be aware of the statistics of STIs. Some of them are staggering.
- More than anything, be safe and have fun!

*I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice. These tips are from years of experience, personal research and advice from a layman. If you suspect that you have an STI, seek medical assistance. 

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