Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's time for a health check-up

Unfortunately, when meeting other guys for fun, there’s always a risk of picking up nasty diseases. HIV is top of the list in terms of diseases to avoid of course; I think the others are mostly curable.

Anyway, following my revelation to boyfriend number 1 that I’d been on holiday in Asia with boyfriend number 2, he had found a doctor and asked how ‘clean’ I was likely to be, and whether I was likely to have any sexually transmitted diseases.

“I told a doctor that you’d been seeing a guy in Singapore”, boyfriend number 1 told me back in July.

“Uh huh”, I said, not paying much attention.

“Apparently there are all sorts of nasty diseases out there in Asia, more than we’ve got here in the UK”.

“Err, really?” Perhaps I should pay attention for a minute.

“Yes”, continued boyfriend number 1, “the doctor said I shouldn’t even touch you with a barge-pole at the moment.”

I wasn’t particularly worried because boyfriend number 2 is one of the cleanest guys I know. None the less, it’s been around six years since my last HIV checkup, so I decided I was due for another one.

But where to go? In the UK, some hospitals have special clinics for sexually transmitted diseases which by law are guaranteed to be 100% confidential. I recall being told when I was at university that some astute politicians pushed through the laws that established the clinics with their strict code of confidentiality many decades ago. Of course, I’ve always thought that the politicians probably set up the clinics like that because they wanted to get confidential treatment for all their own nasty diseases. But in any case, it’s an sensible arrangement.

My first thought is to try the clinic that I went to last time, if it’s still there. I find it on the internet without much trouble (Barts and The London). The first thing I notice is that the naming of these clinics has had a makeover - they’re now called Sexual Health clinics instead of Sexually Transmitted Disease clinics - how nice! Although both the clinics mentioned on the web site are quite conveniently located for me, they’re mostly walk-in and wait clinics. For the walk-in service, given the high demand they recommend that one needs to allow 4 hours for a visit. I can’t afford that much time! During September, I try to get one of their few appointments without success.

Eventually I find a clinic slightly further away which will give me an appointment for a “full screening”. I have to wait a couple of weeks to be seen in the Men’s Clinic, but apart from that it sounds ideal. So I wait two weeks for the appointment.

On the day I arrive early to give me time to fill in their new-patient questionnaire. Sitting in the waiting area, there’s lots of gay oriented reading material (boyz, Positive Nation). I’m in the middle of a juicy article discussing the merits of different forms of lubrication when I get called in for my consultation, right on time.

The doctor who sees me is around my age, or perhaps a bit younger. Definitely gay.

“So you’re here for a full screening”, he starts, “we’ll test you for all the major stuff including HIV. What result are you expecting?”

“Err HIV negative hopefully”.

“OK sure. So how many men do you have sex with?”

“It varies, but I probably meet on average around 1 guy a week, often from the internet, maybe fifty in total so far this year”.

No reaction. I guess he’s heard it all many times before. I can’t help myself wondering whether the doctors who work in this area can actually enjoy their own sex lives.

“Do you meet any guys from abroad?”

“Yes, especially when I’m away on business”

“Oh really”, he says, starting to get a bit more interested. “Where do you go?”

“All over. Singapore, New York, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Tokyo, ... ”

“What about sub-saharan Africa?” he interrupts.

“No, I don’t think so.” Not recently anyway!

“Well”, he says with a glint in his eye, “I’ll be particularly interested to see if you’ve picked up any Hepatitis B infections on your travels”.

It’s a good service, but suddenly I feel like a laboratory animal, I’m just something being investigated for particularly interesting infections. I won’t be particularly interested if it turns out that I do have anything, I’ll just want it cured!

Next he has me lie back on a couch with my pants and undershorts down so he can inspect me. More feelings of being a laboratory animal as I get examined in all my most intimate areas by hands wearing those clinically white plastic gloves. Luckily he doesn’t find anything to worry about.

The last step is for all the tests. While I'm waiting, I spot an ominous looking door with the word phlebotomy on it - what on earth does that mean? Soon a male nurse takes me into a room and takes several large vials of blood from inside the bend in my elbow. But the worst is yet to come.

“Take your pants down and pull back your opening to your penis please”, he says with a smile, in one of those 'matter-of-fact' voices that only people who've done this sort of thing for too long can manage.

“Errr, OK. Will this hurt?” I ask.

“Not much, don’t worry, it’s all part of the service”.

He then proceeds to scrape a tiny plastic spatula along the skin on the inside of my penis, i.e. along the inside of my urethra.

“Ohhh that does hurt”, I say.

“Don’t worry, only two more to go”.

The second one is the same size as the first spatula but it’s the third one that really frightens me.

“That’s looks like a fluffy version of one of those umbrellas you get in cocktail drinks”, I say, “where exactly is that going?”

He doesn’t answer, instead he just thrusts the thing deep down inside my penis and swiftly pulls it out.


“OK, that should do for now, all done”, he says smiling.

"By the way, what does phlebotomy mean?" I ask while I'm getting dressed.

"It just means taking blood", he says with a grin, "so I guess you could say you've just been phlebotomized!"

It takes just over a week to get the results, but luckily they’re the results I wanted:

Chlamydia - negative
Non-specific Urethritis - negative
Gonorrhoea - negative
Syphilis - negative
HIV antibody test - negative
Hepatitis A & B – negative

The only follow up recommended is a course of vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B, apparently recommended for all men who have sex with other men.

I can't help wondering why they put the HIV test fifth in a list of six – that’s the one that everyone wants to know most? Anyway, I hope the doctor wasn’t too upset that I didn’t have any particularly interesting infections!


Anonymous said...

hmmm.... wondering whether all those invasive procedures were really necessary. we have essentially moved to urine-based testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea rather than urethral specimen, here in sydney, except for sampling the anal/ oral area. (which you did not mention amongst your battery of tests).
Dr harry_d.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm phlebotomophobic! Just thinking about that test makes me feel sick :-( Good luck with your next test.

GBD xxx

Adam4Adam said...

Good luck to your test! take care of your self always ;)