When Were You Last Tested?

It’s October 2020. That means isolating at home and when we must go out, masks. I used to use isolating and quarantining interchangeably, but I recently learned that quarantining is the two-week period one must remain in timeout — penance for becoming infected. Otherwise, we can also be SIPing: sheltering-in-place.

But we’ve dealt with this before, haven’t we? In fact, our unique circumstance of having OCD and being gay gives us an advantage. It’s taken a lot of time to get over my fear of other people as disease vectors. Though I was never one of those super-clean ones, I am fastidious and have spent much time thinking about the concept of being contaminated and spreading disease. It’s amazing how quickly I can fall back into that paranoia, which I see now as a survival mechanism that is normally too extreme for society but is now just right.

And being gay, well, I’d say most sexually active gay men know that we are in the “high-risk” group. Regular testing has been destigmatized in our community, but I was quick to learn that that wasn’t the case outside the rainbow. While we know to get tested for diseases every 3 months, I suppose that concept is less important in a mostly monogamous society. So when I told others I was getting tested for Covid, the knee-jerk doubt and recoil kicked in for many.

“Is there a reason you’re getting tested?” they say in a delicate tone, with the speaker taking a half-step back.

“I’m not doing it for funsies,” I say. “It’s been 6 months and I’d like to know that I’m not an asymptomatic carrier.” My mother and I are taking care of my octogenarian grandma (her mother), and I don’t want to give it to either of them. I love grandma dearly, and could you imagine the eternal hounding that would follow if I inadvertently killed her?

The actual test is quick. It’s a makeshift medical drive-thru, and I like the hastily put together signs and directions. “Testing →,” printed on regular white paper and stitched together with clear packing tape, all tacked onto a plastic signboard. We find ways to cope and respond. It doesn’t have to be pretty; I have the information I need. I turn into the receiving bay/testing site and sign a few documents. The people working there all have masks and faceguards and about 75% of a hazmat suit on. The tester comes by and tells me to face forward and keep my head still. The swab looks like a tiny silver Christmas tree attached to a metal stick. I would’ve guessed it was a brush cleaner for a straw.

I wasn’t completely wrong. She stuck it up my nose, and then further until I could no longer call it my nose and switched to nasal cavity. And then she spun it around. Oh she’s going for that BALF, isn’t she, I thought. What did it stand for again? Brachialveolar lavage fluid? Bronchoalveolar. That’s where they test the patients for the virus. I actually don’t know if that was what she was going for, but it kept my mind occupied during the 10 seconds of discomfort. It felt like when you snort water while swimming and the back of your throat burns. Tears welled up, and after she pulled the swab out I let out a violent sneeze, which was probably the wrong thing to do.

The results came back the next day, negative. That would calm the doubt for a while, but I never knew for how long.

“When were you last tested?” is a common question within one of my particular social groups, and it’d be good if it spread to more. We gays are proud of knowing our status, and it wasn’t hard to add another disease to the list. But with the rest of the world, I can see that they still have that sense that it could never happen to them. “Me? Never.” They are convinced of their immortality, or that it does happen, but to other people.

I’ve felt that myself. The first time I got a cold sore, I couldn’t accept that it was a cold sore. I had fooled myself into believing that it was impetigo, a disease that presented similarly, but affected mostly children. Even now I write cold sore and not herpes, not HSV-1. But I have it, and the virus is wound deep within my cells. I tried a bunch of creams to no avail, and then the doctor prescribed me some acyclovir and it was gone within a few days. And as acyclovir is a treatment for cold sores, I accepted the scientific fact that I had herpes. It was hard, but then again, realizations are.

It is easier to not know. But while too much information might be bad, too little information is worse.

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Jon Lang

Jon Lang

A steak pun is a rare medium well-done