Sexually transmitted infections have this stigma that follows them around like white on rice. If I were to tell you about the disease I have, you would probably label me a whore, a slut, or a promiscuous girl.
How would you label me if you found out I contracted this disease from a source other than sex?
That’s right, I didn’t have sex, not even once. I caught an what’s typically an STI from, “recreational water.”
AKA: A hot tub.
This whole thing started in Mexico. I was there for seven days, and by the fourth day, I started noticing red bumps along my bikini line. I honestly didn’t give this a second thought because I’m a frequent victim of the dreaded razor burn.
The pain kicked in on the fifth day, and by the sixth day, I was on the phone with my doctor. There wasn’t much the doctor could do for me since I was overseas, so, for the time being, I followed the doctor’s instructions to the best of my ability (keep the area dry and cool).
On the seventh day, the pain was excruciating. Luckily, this was the day my trip ended.
The flight was horrible, the layover was unbearable, and by the time I got home, I knew something terrible was festering down below.
I grabbed a hand-held mirror and peered below to check things out. Several red bumps were flaunting their red ugly faces, blistering and oozing like they were taunting me.
I never had an official test from my doctor.
When I called to make the appointment, they asked what my symptoms were and I told them about the red bumps.
The nurse on the other end of my line was short with me. “It’s probably ingrown hairs,” She answered in a rushed tone.
I knew they were wrong though. I’ve had ingrown hairs many times before, so I mentioned the oozing, white crusted blisters that were forming.
“Herpes. You have herpes. I can have the doctor write you a prescription to help with the outbreaks if you’d like.”
I hadn’t had sex though, so I knew it couldn’t be herpes. The nurse grudgingly put me down for an appointment at two weeks out, just to be sure her over-the-phone diagnosis was correct.
Spoiler: it wasn’t.
I tossed my underwear aside, threw on a dress, and tried to sit as wide-legged as possible to carry on with my day. I felt miserable, but I had no idea what was coming.
Night rolled around, and the constant worry multiplied by curiosity had me checking myself once an hour (making my anxiety skyrocket).
I waddled into the bathroom and grabbed my hand-held mirror, I squatted into position and peered down at what was manifesting down below.
I felt my chest cave in at the sight.
A bush of thick, black hair was starting to pop out of each blistering sore. The veins beneath my skin ran black as they webbed between each new blister. My groin was starting to look like a sick game of connect the dots.
Each blister was the size of a quarter, and the thick hair stuck out to about 3 centimeters.
I glided my fingertip over one of the hairs, and it pricked my skin so hard that I nearly started bleeding. These hairs weren’t like normal pubic hair, they were sharp – like needles.
Panic started to set in. What was wrong with me?
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a perfectly good explanation for this. I vowed to call the doctor in the morning.
When I woke up the next day, the atrocity had spread completely down the insides of my legs and up my torso. Each one had the patch of black needle-like hair sticking out.
I was mortified.
I immediately called to make an appointment with my doctor, and they squeezed me in at the last minute.
“Well, I was afraid this might be the case…”
I pulled myself to a seated position as my feet dangled nervously from the stirrups.
“What do you mean?? What is wrong with me?”
The doctor sat in the middle of his rolling stool, feet wide to the side as he pulled the gloves from each hand. A snap and a jiggle rung in my ears as the doctor discarded his tainted gloves, the gloves that had touched my sores.
He rolled over to his computer and began to speak to me as if this wasn’t the end of the world. Of course, he had nothing to worry about, these sores weren’t covering his body.
“It’s a new sexually transmitted infection that has been showing its face in our office. It seems like it’s a form of Morgellons, but we can’t say for sure. There have only been a few cases of this. It seems to be spreading like wildfire though. It’s a good thing you came in.”
I felt the flames of hell beneath my skin as my face grew hot. How was this possible? I hadn’t had sex in a long time. There had to be another culprit. I scooched to the end of the table and held the paper cloth securely over my naked waist.
The doctor typed away on his computer as if I were just a statistic to him, then he turned to me and tried to act concerned for my partners.
“You will want to call everyone you have had sexual relations with recently to let them know, as this is pretty serious.”
I scrunched my nose at the thought. This doctor had to be out of his mind. There was no way I had an STI.
“Doctor, I haven’t had sex. These sores started in Mexico. Can we run a test or something? It’s not possible for me to have an STI.”
The doctor fiddled with his wristwatch as he checked the time. Another hard reminder to me that I was just a time slot in his very busy day.
“You went swimming?”
I shook my head yes, “We were in the pool and the hot tub.”
The doctor perched his eyebrows up, then filled me in on the horrifying news.
“Sorry, sweetie. These kinds of diseases aren’t always transmitted through one medium.”
My ears were ringing and my face was a shade of red I have never seen. Why hadn’t they taught us this in health class?
“I don’t understand, doctor.”
“With this virus, it can live for 48 hours outside the human body. The virus most likely hung out in that hot tub for a period of time while it looked for a new host. The heat and humidity of the hot tub create the perfect environment for the virus to thrive.”
I clasped my hands together to try and keep myself from falling to pieces. A drip of sweat fell down the nape of my neck as I tried to process the information from the doctor.
“Who in their right mind would feel like getting in a hot tub with these gross sores? I can’t even wear underwear, let alone feel comfortable in a swimsuit.”
“Some people are asymptomatic. They don’t even realize they have it themselves. The problem is that they can still spread it. We think that’s why people are contracting it so fast.”
My bottom jaw hung open, I couldn’t speak. I tried to stammer out a response, but all I could think about was getting these sores to leave my body.
“Is there a cure?” I choked out.
The doctor jotted down something on his ink pad, then tore it off and handed it to me.
“No cure, yet. We haven’t done enough research on it since it’s so new. We do have a treatment plan though, I wrote you a prescription for Hydroxyzine. It will help with the itch, at least.”
“Oh. You’re lucky that hasn’t set in yet. I would go to your local drug store and pick this up. Trust me, you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with no medication when the itch sets in. You see those needle-like hairs? Well, once you start scratching at the sores, the needles can give you a small cut. Each time a new hair makes a cut, a new blister forms.”
And with that, the doctor exited the room with a slam to the door. I was left with nothing but my sores and the prescription in hand.
I was so embarrassed. My life was basically over at the ripe age of 23. Who would ever date me now? I felt worthless, disgusting, and branded for life. My friends would pity me, my family would be disappointed in me, and my future of dating would be nonexistent.
I fought back the tears.
Since my last doctor visit (a year ago) the sores haven’t gone away, but they’ve at least stopped spreading (they cover about three feet of my body, between my knees and my belly button).
I’m trying to stay optimistic about this, I’ve been volunteering to do a few case studies with experimental medication. They haven’t found a cure yet, and I’ve had a few odd side effects from the different medication trials—constant migraines, nausea, bloating—but I know it will all pay off once they find that magical concoction of chemicals to get these needle-like, hairy sores to disappear forever.
The last time I checked the web, they have reported 5 million new cases. That is quite the jump from 1 million cases just last month, and a mere 100 cases when I was first diagnosed.
If you’re reading this, and you have what I have, just hang in there, I’m sure they will find a cure soon.
As for me, I’m trying to get back out there in the dating world. I know that I can find happiness, a lot of people have gone on to date others after contracting an incurable disease.
After all, we shouldn’t label people.
Let me tell you though, it isn’t easy.