Rushed to the ER With Herpes
It is and isn’t a big deal
Content warning: descriptions of my herpes
For context, because I am gonna start talking about my dick and some bad things that happened to it, I am a trans man.
So, the first time I got an STD it was pretty traumatic.
Most folks consider it more appropriate now to say STI instead of STD, because there’s less stigma attached to the concept of infection, vs. disease. Reducing stigma means people won’t be too ashamed to get tested and treated. But then again, maybe we ought to be reducing the stigma against the concept of having a disease, to begin with.
I’ve gotten them a few times after that and it’s never been such a big deal, because instead of worrying about it at home I go to the fucking doctor at the first sign something’s up. The longer you wait, ashamed to bring it up to someone who deals with this shit on a daily basis? The more you suffer.
It’s harder to do that if you have a tight work schedule; if you don’t have insurance; if you don’t have access to a doctor at all.
So how did I get herpes? Well mostly because I somehow managed not to already have it. I was pretty pissed at the guy I probably got it from and now I’m ashamed of that because seriously everybody already has herpes. Around 66.6% of the world’s population under 50 have HSV-1 and around 13.2% aged 15–49 have HSV-2. And while most people consider HSV-1 oral herpes and HSV-2 genital herpes, this is not always the case. You can get either type in either place. I learned this because I turned out to have had genital HSV-1.
I’m embarrassed now when I see the guy because I had a friend tell him off for giving me herpes, and there’s no need for that kind of shaming. And it’s generally not even a big deal. And I probably got it — since it’s most likely to have been transmitted orally — from an entirely different person, anyway.
But I, despite having access to an incredible LBGTQ+ health center, decided to text a doctor and ask him to prescribe me some antibiotics. I was convinced it was just a UTI, even though I’d never had one before.
So a week goes by and the antibiotics have clearly done nothing. In addition to having enough discharge I thought I was pissing myself at first I start getting a fever. I fail to advise my friend that after a few days the fever isn’t going down. I’m pretty dehydrated and haven’t really been eating.
By the time I text him again my local doctor’s office is closed. My doctor friend advises me to get on the train and go to an urgent care place in the rich part of town. Or maybe that was my idea. I don’t remember.
I haven’t realized this yet, but my health insurance has expired. The place is charging me upfront hundreds of dollars. My friend is helping me cover the bills, likely to make sure I don’t go home and die of dehydration. Imagine dying of herpes. But if I’d been on Medicaid — like I was like a week before — it would have been free.
My fever has gone down to 100.5 F by the time I get there.
This is where things get nasty; because they have to examine my genitals. I’m pretty sure they’ve never seen a trans guy’s dick before. But while I’ve been on the train to this place, unbeknownst to me, I’ve become totally fucked up with sores.
So when the urgent care doc asks in a strange tone, “Did you… examine your genitals before you came in?”
I’m like, “What? They look fine!”
And then I look down and I see what he sees. It looks like my dick is growing mushrooms. Fuck, I put a lot of effort into being okay with my genitals, and now they‘re covered in infectious sores. The doctor clearly thinks I’m unaware of this because I’m too dumb to look at my own genitals, not because all this happened while I was on the way there.
And he says, “No, you’ve got a lot going on down there.”
And they do a gyno exam. Not gently. At one point they throw a speculum on the floor and get another one. They clearly think that what they are doing is painful because of a medical condition I have and not because testosterone causes vaginal atrophy and they’re being pretty fucking rough.
And after all that they tell me I probably have gonorrhea and herpes, and that they’re sending me to the hospital.
A few minutes later an ambulance shows up outside. EMTs are rolling in a gurney. They’re confused to see me on my feet, waking out.
I get into the ambulance. The EMT explains: “They said you had a fever of 105."
I go to the hospital. They give me an IV and after a few hours, a doctor comes in and says he’s confused about why I’m here: there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with me. I repeat the tentative diagnosis given by the urgent care staff. He is skeptical. I finally get him to agree to actually, you know, look.
“Yeah, that’s herpes.”
I realize later that the guys at the Urgent Care have probably never seen a trans man’s genitals before. They probably think they’re seeing extreme swelling in addition to sores. The legit hospital doctor knows he’s just seeing herpes.
My blood tests had come back negative for all STDs, including herpes. They ran some more and came back positive for HSV-1.
I got prescribed Valtrex and some kind of antibiotic. They told me the antibiotics I was on don’t work in the city anymore: everything’s resistant, but only here. They cost $300. With insurance, it would have been maybe $4. At my own pharmacy, I could have gotten a sliding scale discount, but it was after midnight, my pharmacy was closed, my phone was dead, and I needed to go home and lie down.
The doctor had to be talked into prescribing me anything at all, perhaps convinced that the herpes would get better on its own. Maybe it would have. Maybe I didn’t have to go to the hospital, I just needed to drink some water. Maybe the Valtrex didn’t do anything.
And for a week I pretty much stayed in bed drinking juice I ordered on the internet. I ordered some kava drinks from a café around the corner. I wasn’t really into it.
I took a week off work. The sores had crusted over and I could barely walk. My boss took it out on me by promoting my new co-workers, to make them my supervisors. A customer who heard I’d been sick brought me a couple of bottles of Tropicana.
The last nasty thing I’m gonna say here is that when you’re covered in sores in your genital/ anal area, they can fuse together as they heal. It’s called adhesion. I’d sort of grown a hymen, once healed, made out of herpes.
I thought of asking someone if they’d like the privilege of taking my renewed virginity, but then thought: they will probably think that’s gross.
I had to grow a whole new gentio-anal skin basically. Like the entire area was volcanic rock, molten and remade.
I never had another outbreak again. With genital HSV-1, apparently, that’s common: it’s usually not a severe form of herpes. I got on PrEP later so I get tested regularly, but they don’t even normally test for herpes. It’s sort of not considered a real thing. Not something you have to disclose to a partner — unless you’re having an outbreak. Two-thirds of adults have it already, after all. It would make more sense to disclose not having it. But it still freaked me out for a long time, because I’ve got herpes living inside me forever now.
And when I was almost healed, and feeling pretty bad about my body, feeling afraid that I’m going to give other trans people herpes and make them go through what I just did: my Daddy took me out to the sex maze to suck some dick with my pants on, to cheer me up…
And I got gonorrhea.