Sunday, November 11, 2012

the STD test

My friend messages me. He tells me that he thinks he might be showing symptoms for STDs. I call him and ask him what happened. He tells me a story. For the next 10 minutes or so I call him an idiot and bash him.  Just a few minutes later, I realize I am not helping and I tell him that he needs to get tested, and the obsessive compulsiveness in me tells me I should get tested with him. After all it’ll make a good column entry.

For all intents and purposes, let’s call my friend Tehan.

That night I ran a Google search about getting tested for STDs in Sri Lanka. The search results didn’t prove to be that helpful. There was a National STD/Aids Control Programme website which only had various statistics but no site gave details about procedure of getting tested.

The next day I went to Tehan’s place and asked him to make a call to the helpline of a leading private hospital in Colombo. Tehan turned the loudspeaker on as the phone rang. A receptionist (with a fake accent); probably in her early thirties, answered. ‘Hi I want to get tested for STDs, can I know the procedure please?’ The receptionist asks for his age, and asks if he thinks he has any symptoms. She laughed as Tehan described the symptoms. Tehan and I exchange a look. There is a mocking sort of voice in her voice when she replies that he will first need to consult a specialist at the OPD. Tehan says he will do that tomorrow, thanks her and hangs up.  Tehan tells me that he’s broke and says that he’ll do it after he gets paid at the end of the month. I tell him we can’t delay these things and that I will pay for him. After all, in a country that boasts of affordable health care for all, how expensive could a simple medical consultation be?

The next morning Tehan and I visit the hospital and made a consultation with a doctor in the OPD. The cashier gave an awkward smile as Tehan told him the purpose. As we leave she whispered something in the ears of her colleague and they both giggle. We sit in the queue and at least 25 minutes later, the nurse calls out ‘Mr. Gunawardena.’ We enter the consultation room and Tehan sits down next to the doctor, I keep standing. The doctor is a lady of at least 60 years. She looks up and asks Tehan what the problem is. Tehan says he wants to get tested for STDs and describes the symptoms. The doctor shrugs and looks at us from head to toe, first Tehan, then me. Next she bombards him with a series of questions. What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you? Still studying, ah? Tehan is taken aback, but gives answers to each of her questions matter-of-factly. ‘Tehan’, ‘Nugegoda’, ‘21’, and ‘yes still studying’.  You better consult a male doctor for this.’  She recommends a doctor and we are asked to come and see him at 6.15 in the evening. We are refunded the OPD consultation fee. We returned in the evening at 6.20. We are number 7. The doctor is still not there. He comes 35 minutes later, at 6.55. We wait for another 40 minutes or so, as he consults the 6 patients before us.  It’s time for us to go in. This time, the doctor seems laid back and complacent as Tehan described him his worry. Tehan is prescribed some medication, and if they don’t work, he is asked to follow several tests.

Let's face it- young people are sexual. Once upon a time, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were funny. But when someone you know may have contracted it’s far removed from the humour of secondary school days. Even today, STDs are spoken about in hush-hush tones; told only after you swore on your grandmother’s grave to keep the secret.  What’s worse is when those who are there to help patients, such as doctors, nurses, and sometimes one’s friends and family, too judge you or stigmatize.

For Tehan’s test results and more, keep reading the Activist.

Originally published on the Nation:

1 comment:

Bob Woolmer said...

I sent your articles links to all my contacts and they all adore it including