Facing Fears

It’s been a long winter. I’ve had an on-again, off-again, annoying-as-fucking-hell cold for most of it. It’s never been more than an extreme annoyance, but it’s been there almost constantly for the past several months. Late last week I scheduled an appointment with my doctor for mid-April (the earliest she could see me), and crossed my fingers hoping that I could hold on that long.

And then, this past weekend, it happened: I went from mild discomfort to abject misery in a matter of hours. Saturday and Sunday I mostly stayed at home, fighting off fevers and hoping that if I could just lay low I’d be fine to go to work Monday.

No such luck. I woke up around 5am Monday morning knowing two things with absolute certainty: one, that I had less than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it through a day of work, and two, that if I wanted to make it to any other days of work this week, I needed pharmaceutical assistance ASAP. I was a kid with allergies: I know what a sinus infection feels like, and I know they don’t go away on their own.

Only…I don’t like doctors’ offices at the best of times. Part of that comes from the fact that I worked in a hospital for nearly five years and became very disillusioned with medical institutions in general. Part of it comes from the fact that I am trans and my legal name doesn’t match my presentation. When I’m sick, I like the thought of going to the doctor even less: I don’t have the energy to advocate for myself. It’s scary.

But there was no getting around it. I was getting worse, not better, and I knew I didn’t have enough sick time or PTO to cover more than the one day off from work. So I poked around on the internet and found a Minute Clinic near home, emailed my bosses to tell them I’d be out for the day, and tried to get a bit more sleep before facing my fears.

I dragged myself out the door and onto the train before I really had time to process what I was doing. By the time I got to the sign-in kiosk at the clinic, I was feeling pretty delirious. I grimaced as I typed in my legal name and gender, wishing I was at my usual clinic where I don’t need to deal with those questions anymore. I tried to smile when the nurse practitioner came out and called my back, thankful there was no one else around to hear her call my name.

She asked about prescriptions. I listed my psych meds, and left off the hormones. And then she asked about when I had my last menstrual period, and I realized I couldn’t dodge that bullet, so I backpedaled and disclosed the fact that I am transitioning and on testosterone. To my surprise, the nurse said she wondered, but didn’t want to say anything because she didn’t want to offend me either way.

The exam itself was painless enough, and quick; she concluded that yes, I did have a sinus infection, and wrote me a prescription for antibiotics. And then she asked if I had a different name that I went by, added a note to my file saying I used the name Alyx, and then told me that if I ever come back, I can check in under whatever name I want and just tell whoever’s working that I’m in the system under a different name. While I don’t know if her coworkers are as understanding, I was impressed and grateful.

(A side note: the pharmacist was not so understanding, and more or less shouted my legal first name when my prescription was ready, which was totally unnecessary as I was sitting RIGHT THERE. But oh well. Clearly, I can’t win them all.)

It made me think about the fact that so many trans people (including, at times, myself) go without medical care rather than dealing with the pain and shame and frustration that we often find attached to medical settings, and how lucky I was that things went well. Of course, this mostly just made me angry, because I shouldn’t have to think about how lucky I am that I was treated like a human being. That shouldn’t make me lucky. That should be commonplace. I’m all for gratitude, but I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by it simply because a medical professional treated me humanely: this is something I should be able to expect. I don’t know how to make the medical community a safer space for my trans siblings. I am encouraged by the progress I’ve seen, but it’s not enough. The entire healthcare system in the US is broken, and as we work to fix it, this is something we need to be aware of and work toward.

(To end on a happy note: the antibiotics are working, and I feel much more human now. Hopefully I’m done being sick for a very long time.)

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