“Hi Stacy, it’s Chi from the National Marrow Donor Program. I have a question about your pregnancy test.”
Pardon me, I just lost bowel control.
One doesn’t have questions about a pregnancy test. It’s pretty much a binary, foregone conclusion: Yes / No. On / Off. + / –. You either are or you aren’t.
Given that my husband has had a vasectomy, and that I have had a uterine ablation which rendered my insides a rocky place where a super-seed escapee from a statistically improbable, failed vasectomy could find no purchase, Chi’s question about my pregnancy test means we have bigger problems than my making a bone-marrow stem-cell donation for an anonymous cancer patient:
Baby Jesus is second-coming out of my vagina. Prepare for the Apocalypse… NOW!
“Was there, uh, a problem, Chi? Something unexpected?”
“No, no, we just need to schedule you for another pregnancy test before the donation.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m supposed to have another test the day I start getting the marrow-stem-cell booster shots.”
“No, you have to have another one before that. Can I put you down for this Thursday?”
Jesus Christ. And here I was so excited when the National Marrow Donor Program called me back… and asked me all 40 intrusive questions all over again. The answers had not changed – I still hadn’t had sex in exchange for drugs or money – but the patient’s status had changed. Six months later, he was now able to accept my gift if I was ready and able to give it.
I get it. I understand. A pregnant woman cannot take the bone-marrow stem-cell stimulating drugs, nor can she donate stimulated stem-cells, thus the need to separate the “you ares” from the “you aren’ts” because clearance for a donor to donate is basically a point of no return for the transplant recipient. Still, it’s frustrating not to be treated like a responsible adult … four times. Then again, I’m paying for the sins of irresponsible adults… or overzealous legislators… or maybe a little bit of both. Better me to pay than the transplant recipient. I scheduled the appointment to take the test.
Three hours later, my colon still recovering from its earlier jolt, I get another call.
“Hi Stacy, it’s Robin with the marrow donor program at Mayo Clinic. We have a question about your herpes test.”
I get up from my chair with an urgency reserved for a mad dash to the bathroom. I walk outside to spare my co-workers anymore trips inside my vagina.
“Um, yeah, I tested positive for genital herpes back in 1997… or maybe it was ’98. Was there a problem?”
“Well, you don’t have herpes.”
“What do you mean, I don’t have herpes? I’ve had it for the past 15-or-so years. ”
“I mean, we tested you for having an outbreak right now… which you said you were concerned about at the physical on Friday… and we tested whether you’d ever been exposed to herpes. You were negative on both fronts.”
“Huh? I mean, I guess this is good news, but it’s weird because I’ve had symptoms off-and-on ever since I was first diagnosed. There’s no chance this could be a false negative?”
“It’s not that kind of test. It tests your antibodies. It’s either yes or no. Do you have your medical records from the doctor that tested you? Or your current gynecologist?”
“I think so. I can check at the house.”
“You can fax them to (480) FAX-FAX-FAX – FAX-FAX – FAX-FAX.”
I went home and rummaged through the file cabinet. Somewhere between pay-stubs from 2007 and a dental bill from 1999, I found six Xeroxed sheets of chicken-scratch from Dr. Herptest. I also learned that you don’t have to keep the Explanation of Benefits confirmations from your insurance company for seven or 17 years.
I called my current gynecologist, whose records department asked me to fax them a records release so they could fax my records to the Marrow Donation coordinator at Mayo.
And this is where I digress: These are medical professionals who do surgery with lasers and robots. They rendered my uterus inert in an afternoon with a painless in-office procedure. They can implant microchips in paralyzed people’s brains so they can “think” their limbs to move.
AND THESE PEOPLE ARE STILL USING FAX MACHINES?
Ensconced in my cubicle with my reproductive history splayed beneath a flimsy fig leaf of a coversheet, my phone rang. My buttcheeks clinched.
“Hi Stacy, it’s Robin again. We can’t make anything of these notes from your former doctor – I think he drew some sort of picture – and it looks like your current doctor didn’t re-test you. Just so we can resolve this and clear you for the donation, we need you to come in and have a pelvic exam.”
“So even though you say I don’t have herpes, I’m still not cleared to donate marrow?”
“No, that’s the frustrating part. If you’d tested positive for herpes, we’d be able to clear you, but because this result is different than what you reported – and because we don’t have definitive records – we need to check you out, just to make sure.”
“When do you need me?”
“Can you make it on Thursday at 1?”
“Sure – I’ll come by on my lunch break – and while you’re in there, can you schedule a pregnancy test. Chi has me scheduled to go take another one at a different lab that morning.”
“We’ll take care of it. See you on Thursday.”
And now a little medical digression WHICH IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR DOCTOR OR YOUR OWN HYPOCHONDRIAC GOOGLE-MED RESEARCH BECAUSE I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL: For the past 17-or-so years, I (thought I) had genital herpes – along with 25% of the population. No shame, just bad luck. If you’ve had sex with four people, the odds could be against you. You can get it with militant condom use. It’s not like it’s cooties or anything: It’s just a series of awkward conversations and uncomfortable lesions, which typically popped up when I was putting in a lot of mileage on my road bike. When I was originally (mis)diagnosed and tested by Dr. Herptest back in Texas, I had been training for the Hotter N’ Hell Hundred.
I went back to Mayo Clinic where Shelly, the gynecology physician’s assistant, engaged me in another rousing round of: “20 (Incredibly Intrusive but Necessary) Questions.”
“Have you ever tested positive for an sexually transmitted infection?”
“Um, besides the one that I initially tested positive for and now have tested negative for? Uh, no. I’m clear… and in the past five years, I haven’t had sex in exchange for drugs or money, even just once… nor do I think I’ve ever had sex with someone who has exchanged sex for drugs or money, even just once, but definitely not in the past five years.”
She rolled her eyes. A comrade in arms.
“Oh, and for the record,” I added, “I know I’m supposed to waste someone’s money today by submitting to another pregnancy test, but my husband’s had a vasectomy. I’ve had a uterine ablation – and I know that’s not a form of birth control, but it makes conception extremely difficult – and, sorry for the overshare, but we have not had conjugal relations since Friday when I took the first test, so I think I’m good.”
She apologized for the additional diagnostic intrusion into my innards and sent the eye-rolling request to the lab for the mandatory pregnancy test. Then she intruded my innards, just to rule out any other abnormalities.
Based on my described symptoms – the lesions do not occur in the same place every time and they pretty much always arise when I’m doing heavy mileage on my bike or training for some-such adventure – she diagnosed folliculitis, prescribed some antibiotic cream and encouraged me to come in for a biopsy next time they pop up.
“Normally that’s how we diagnose herpes with a positive test… and your doctor didn’t do a biopsy?”
“Not that I know of.”
“You’d know. Either way, the good news is you don’t have genital herpes.”
Who knows what Dr. Herptest tested? 80 percent of the population has the oral version of the herpes virus (myself included). The odds were in his favor on that one. So I guess I will just chalk this up to a medical mystery for which I offer a hearty, “THANKS, ASSHOLE.”
For the past 17-or-so years, his misdiagnosis hasn’t really impacted my life beyond several hundred dollars wasted on Valtrex and some awkward conversations. There was no need for my current (AWESOME) gynecologist to re-test me because the genital herpes test is like the (four) pregnancy tests I have to take: You either have it or you don’t!
And, here I thought we were being models of sexual health because Pat never had any of these lesions in 16 years of marital and pre-marital relations.
If anything, I’d consider my newly found negative herpes status to be lagniappe from the marrow donation adventure… not that it’s changed who I am or how I live. Just that it’s changed how I answer one awkward question on the donor worksheet.