Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Have Syphilis

Those were the first words from a young flight attendant as soon as we had exchanged greetings.

Earlier, he had told his supervisor of a groin rash. I had popped a tube of antifungal cream into my bag and driven off, expecting an uncomplicated visit.

I asked how he knew this, confident that he had searched the internet and received the usual terrifying and wrong information.

“My boy friend has the same sore. He went to a clinic. They did a test and said he had syphilis and gave him a shot of penicillin.”

I couldn’t argue with that. He would need the same test and injection. Since he was flying back the next day, he could take care of it then.

“I can’t!” he pleaded. “I don’t go to Australia for two weeks.”

His destination was Cairo because he worked for an Egyptian airline. On sexual matters Arabs are less easy-going than Australians, and he was frightened of the consequences if his employer found out.

I encounter this now and then. Even in the US where discrimination is illegal, employees worry. I rarely encounter syphilis, so I don’t carry injectable penicillin, but I handed over an approved alternative treatment, and he promised to follow up with his doctor in Australia. Later, writing my medical report, I worked hard to write an accurate if ambiguous description of an acute bacterial penile infection.  


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