When I was admitted into the internal medicine residency program I enumerated in my head all the diseases that I no longer had to learn and memorize, stashing such exam committee darlings as Kawasaki disease, placenta previa, and comminuted fractures into the archives of my rapidly degenerating brain. This list became even longer come medical oncology fellowship, because for the life of me I could never keep the types of leprosy or the natural course of syphilis in my memory for more than five minutes. So it was pretty jarring when I woke up one morning to a text message that said: “Help, I have rectal gonorrhea!”
It was an old friend from moonlighting, Dr. Tommy A, who, in life and in text messages, had a penchant for sensational entrances. I would have recommended that he immediately haul himself to the STD clinic, had he not, at one point or another, also diagnosed himself with lung cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and oropharyngeal candidiasis from HIV-AIDS, solely on the basis of his tongue not being as bright red as he wanted it to be. Back when we were moonlighting as general physicians in the ER he would drop everything in the middle of a procedure, so he could palpate his own neck in search of tumors. More than once we had caught him listening to himself with a stethoscope just in case his lungs were filling up with malignant fluid. I guess he had already made the rounds of all the available cancers, that he decided to slowly graduate into infectious diseases.
“You remember Ulysses,” he went on, “the hot cousin of Gemma, the girl who wore the tacky yellow culottes during Alfred’s despedida…”
I was already running a bit late, imagining the patients tapping their feet, waiting for me to hook their chemo. But Tommy’s story was proving to be, in equal parts, entrancing and irritating.
“Of course, Ulysses,” I replied while combing my hair, pretending to remember. “You mean you had unprotected sex with him, and now you think his semen inside your asshole gave you an STD?”
Not beating around the bush saves time.
“Well! Let’s just say it’s a long story. If you have a few minutes…”
I did not. Any other day I would have relished this sizzling gay rom-com slash medical mystery gone horrifically wrong, but I could only mumble tokenistic niceties—”Uh-huh, uh-huh”, “That’s horrible”, “No way!” Not to invalidate his anxieties, but he had been a recidivist in making google diagnosis and histrionic catastrophizing.
It was an accusation that he found to be terrifically insulting. He claimed that he had never relied on just about any random article online, because only peer-reviewed, legitimate medical journals were permitted to feed his hypochondria. I promised him I would reply later in the afternoon, but keep ‘em text messages coming, the more detailed and more graphic the better!