Friday, July 22, 2005


In Which I Am Certifiable...

As I scrambled to retrieve the phone (and towel), all the panic and blind hysteria I had successfully avoided during my accident of several months ago now came over me in a sickening rush. I had just received a receipt notifying me of a certified letter awaiting me at the post office. And the blood bank had just confirmed that certified mail was exactly how they notified donors if their blood screen revealed an STD or other communicable disease.

"Hello? Hello?" the nice woman on the other end called out.

"Sorry," I said, struggling to hold both my towel and my phone. "My hand's wet and the phone slipped."

The nice woman got all serious. "Did you just get a certified letter, sir?" she asked, not unkindly.

"Yes," I said miserably. "Except, why now? I mean, I donated, like, six weeks ago."

"Well," she said, "assuming the letter is from us, we did have a delay in expediting some of the blood screens, so it took about three weeks to notify people. Did you move or change addresses recently? That would cause a further delay."

I nodded stupidly, since she couldn't see me. I had of course just moved into the city about a month ago. Oh God, I've got something! Oh God, I gave it to Her Lovely Self! Oh. My. God!!

Then a sudden thought occurred to me. "Listen," I asked the nice woman. "Can you look up my donor record and see the results of the screen? I can give you whatever information you--"

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't have access to that information here. And even if I did, we're really not supposed to give it over the phone."

Numbly, I thanked her and hung up. Clearly, I was going to be a little late for work.

That was about as long a morning as I ever care to spend. I dressed quickly and set off for the post office at a brisk walk, figuring it would do me good to burn off the nervous energy, although it must be said at that point I was generating enough nervous energy to power a medium-sized city.

I felt awful for so many reasons, it was hard to know what to agonize about first. Bad enough that I was carrying around some infectious disease, but to have been so irresponsible as to sleep with Her Lovely Self while carrying it!! The guilt I felt was absolutely nauseating. When it came to theoretical dilemmas regarding my sex life, I had always imagined the worst possible fate would be getting someone pregnant. But my God, at that moment the idea paled in comparison to infecting someone with a potentially life-long, life-threatening disease.

And clearly, it was one of the biggies, had to be, because I had nothing in the way of symptoms. No unexplained or awkwardly placed rashes or skin eruptions, no physical signs of any kind. Of course I also knew that HIV and hepatitis and other diseases could be asymptomatic for months or even years. And I had given it to Her Lovely Self, I was sure of it (yes, there had been precautions, but as anyone who's ever read the fine print can tell you, no precaution is 100 percent effective, and the way my luck had suddenly turned, I was going to be in the percentage where it wasn't).

I got to the post office just a few minutes before 8, and realized to my ever-expanding dismay that this particular sub-station did not in fact open til 8:30. Another half-hour to wait. I threw myself onto the steps, stared blankly at the yellow postal slip, and tried to get used to the idea of what my life would be like now, here in my new alternate reality, Earth-H ("h" for "hell" of course. Or maybe "herpes." Who knew?).

I tried to imagine the conversation I soon would have to have with Her Lovely Self, and it was just too painful to contemplate. Then a new thought occurred to me: I would not only have to have this abysmal chat with Her Lovely Self, there were others I was going to have to track down and have this conversation with, including at least one woman who already had plenty of reason to despise me. Good God, I really am in hell, I thought.

At this point, I was just about physically ill. My heart was galloping at around 40,000 beats a minute, I had a terrible coppery taste in my mouth and I was dead certain that I was about 5 seconds away from vomiting right there on the post office steps.

At this point, another man arrived and with a nod of greeting, he joined me on the steps, waiting for the post office to open. He tried to chat with me, but I'm sure I wasn't the best conversationalist at that point. He saw the yellow slip in my hand.

"Certified letter, huh?" he said. "Rich uncle leave you his fortune?"

"I wish," I muttered. "But I'm afraid it's nothing but bad news."

"Oh," he said, faltering. "Well, maybe it's not..." but then he kind of trailed off and we stopped speaking.

Well, maybe it's not, I thought. Maybe it's not something life-threatening. Maybe it's just something that can be solved with a shot of penicillin or something. It's not often you find yourself hoping that you've maybe only given the love of your life a dose of the clap, but man, I was grasping at any silver lining I could find, however tarnished it might be.

I sat for the rest of the time with my head between my knees, struggling to get a deep breath. And not puke.

And then I heard somebody unlock the post office door behind me and I couldn't breathe at all.

Even though I had been the first person on the steps that morning, somehow a line had managed to form in front of me at the pick-up window. After about 17 years, it was my turn. With bloodless, unfeeling hands, I gave the attendant my yellow slip and my driver's license. She was gone an additional 8 or 9 years. My last hope--that it was perhaps some overzealous equipment manufacturer sending me a product for review and wanting to ensure that I got it--was dashed when I saw her return not with a box or parcel, but with a devastatingly slim, white business envelope with a Chicago box number for a return address. I saw with chagrin that the letter had indeed been mailed to my old apartment first, before taking another three weeks to find its way into my diseased hands.

I stepped over to a counter, coincidentally next to the man I'd briefly chatted with on the post office steps. He was putting stamps on envelopes, while I simply stared at mine. It was a bit of a Schrodinger's Cat moment.

As long as I didn't open the envelope, I wasn't a sick, diseased, sexually irresponsible pig who had ruined his own life and the lives of others (note that at no time did it ever occur to me that I had to have gotten whatever I had from someone else. Even under extreme duress, I was exceedingly egocentric). But once I did open it, well...

I closed my eyes and ripped open the envelope.

The man at the counter turned and stared--indeed so did every one in the post office--as my whoop of joy filled the cavernous lobby.

"Oh my God! Oh thank God!" I cried, reading the letter over and over.

"Good news?" the man asked.

"Yeah!" I shouted jubilantly, wiping tears from my eyes. "I'M BEING SUED!!!"

The man stared at me for several seconds as I hopped and cackled, then he quietly slid himself and his letters down the counter, far away from me.

The summons to appear in court read like a reprieve from the governor. It turned out that my Romanian friend, the man in the Cadillac who hit me four times on the night of my accident, was having some trouble getting any insurance company to pay out for damages to his car. Because the police had ruled it a no-fault accident, both my insurance company and the truck driver's insurance company refused to compensate the poor guy for his loss. After several months of trying to get them to pay up, the man's insurance company decided to take me and the truck driver to court.

And I couldn't have been happier.

Granted that legal mess was a bit of a wrangle to sort out (in the end, my insurance company had to abide by a clause in my policy that protected me from any legal action related to a car accident, and they settled it. Yay.), but it didn't matter. Once again, I had escaped a cruel and terrible fate. Even better, I had become so convinced that a cruel and terrible fate awaited me that when I got news of the lawsuit--a situation that would have caused me great dismay and stress under any other circumstance--I was actually elated. Best of all, I had escaped an inconceivably awful and relationship-ending conversation with Her Lovely Self. I was back on Earth-M, baby!

But just to be on the safe side, I went straight from the post office to the local clinic and got another blood test.

Hey, you can push my kind of luck only so far.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

A gripping tale, to be sure. Insurance companies suck generally (have been dealing with them the past few weeks, as you know...).
OK - I was *close*... closer than your brother, anyway...

[ducking and running]

luck's really all realtive, ain't it
VERY NICE... I so love your stories...
and just to let you know... I would never put you in the stupid catagory... Your just well odd to say the least... not stupid...
I can't quite explain it, but there is something very endearing about the way you write.
see that's the great thing about your take (somewhat) normal events, like a car wreck or an std scare and turn them into gripping tales. I've been in a few accidents (one fairly serious) and yup, I've felt the paralyzing fear of a potential std...where you REALLY start praying to God and make all kinds of promises you swear to keep if the test just turns out negative....but somehow my recollections of these events in my past just don't seem nearly as exciting as when you recount yours. Great story, keep em coming
This story is the definition of perspective.

I have two questions:

1. Isn't the 'sender' usually listed on a certified letter slip?

2. Did you ever tell HLS about this?
1. It was just a basic pick-up slip and isn't required to include any info other than that a letter was waiting for me at the PO. The return receipt--which is attached to the actual letter--has to have the full address (said the postmaster's nephew).

2. Of course HLS knows! What do you take me for? I told her immediately.

Immediately after our 2nd or 3rd wedding anniversary, I mean...
Whew. My husband has a theory that you should never sign for a certified letter! He says that it's never good news. (I think it could be worse if you fail to open one from, say, the IRS.)
That is one of the most hilarious blogs you have written yet.

STD. Its a mark of a man's journey.

A dark mark yes ... but a mark.
Nice use of Schrodinger's Cat there, MM :)
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