At the age of 28, while living in Spain, I experienced a sudden burning, painful sensation on my right thigh. It itched, and the more I scratched at it, the more it spread. It was so painful that I went to the emergency room. There, a doctor checked my leg, asked about my symptoms and a bit about my personal life, and then said: You’d better talk to your boyfriend and ask him who he’s been sleeping with besides you, because you have genital herpes.
My jaw dropped. I only knew then, that word meant STD! I was in tears. I felt dirty. I was in shock, and I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. There was no Google back then to do some research, so I just believed what I was told. I headed to the pharmacy, hoping they wouldn’t call out over the megaphone: Herpes medication for this slutty whore! Of course, that didn’t happen, but I was still overcome with shame. I got the medication and headed home, crying.
I remember the tasteless jokes back then. What’s the difference between love and genital herpes? Herpes lasts forever! Ha, ha! I didn’t find them so hilarious. It felt like I’d been handed a life sentence. Curiously, my then-boyfriend didn’t have any signs of herpes. So I was brave enough to ask a former boyfriend, just in case. But no, everyone was clear. I wondered, how on earth did I get herpes? Like the Virgin Mary got pregnant?
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Since that day, up until a couple of years ago, I always believed I had an STD. Yet, I never had any flare-ups again after that first episode.
It wasn’t until I had a check-up here in the U.S., that a doctor asked me if I had any pre-existing conditions—a scary question! Um, yes! Genital herpes. When I explained my history and symptoms she told me news that shocked me more than the original diagnosis. I had herpes zoster…also called shingles. It wasn’t a sexually transmitted disease!
The last 14 years flashed before my eyes! I could almost see the Spanish doctor’s face telling me to go grill my boyfriend! I was happy and relieved to know, but I was also very angry. I had spent the last 14 years thinking I had herpes and that I could transmit it to others. It had been the biggest sexual turn-off of my last decade! Having to admit to someone early on that you have a sexually transmitted disease is no easy task. I was so ashamed that I often, would just skip the whole relationship deal so I didn’t have to explain my STD.
I wish I had double-checked, but back then I would never have questioned a doctor’s diagnosis. When we go to doctors we trust that they know more than we do. Yet wrong diagnoses happen all the time.
Of course, as I said, had I been able to Google what herpes zoster was, my life would have been just a tad easier in the sexual arena. Believe me, now I Google every diagnosis and double-check what the doctor tells me.