I don't blog much because I'm not much of a journaler when it comes to myself, and that's why I only update this thing every once in a blue moon. I tend to live in the moment and I don't feel like the public would want to hear about every little mundane detail of my life. Besides, that's what Facebook and Twitter are for.
As for opinion pieces, when I try to use this medium to express myself on topics like toxic masculinity, police shootings, gender dysphoria, the Big Orange Asshole in the White House, you know, things like that, it tends to attract the kind of people that want to argue with me about those kinds of things.
Aggroverts. Also known as "trolls".
And since I know aggroverts are fucking wrong, and not only wrong, but intentionally wrong, wrong on purpose for the full intent of antagonizing people with weaponized ignorance, and not only that, but dangerously and obnoxiously ignorant besides, I don't feel like expending the effort in ignoring or engaging with them, because it sucks my creative juices out like a--well, like a psychic vampire, which is exactly what they are. That's what an aggrovert is. Extroverts recharge by being around other people. Introverts recharge by being alone. Aggroverts recharge by antagonizing others.
So I don't tend to want to express my opinions here because I just don't have the time or energy for aggrovert bullshit. It's like my last marriage--eventually you learn to keep your mouth shut because it's just easier that way.
I'm far, far better at chronicling the lives of fictional people, because I can fill their time with far more compelling moments and incidents than my own. Not to mention, the kind of readers my stories tend to attract are the kind of people I'd much rather engage with as human beings, people who share my sense of decency, and of right and wrong. People with consciences. So I don't get nearly as much trolling from them.
Anyway, I thought this thing with PP qualified as a relatively interesting Life Event™, so here it is. I hope you dig it. It might be construed as an opinion piece, and if so, and you don't agree with it, I'm so sorry. Good luck and godspeed, sailor.
Thank you for agreeing to share your patient experience with us. XXXX, our communications director has asked me to take the lead on contacting you because we have an opportunity to share your story at an event I’m planning on July 13th.
I see below that you (like many writers I know) find your strength in sharing written stories and might find oral story telling a stretch goal. I have worked with several patients to get their stories out into the world, both written, and live. There is nothing more powerful than a story shared in first person that is experienced simultaneously by an audience. Without exception, the folks I have coached to be speakers have come away energized. And, our guests are exceedingly forgiving of non-professional speakers – and in fact prefer them.
I would love to talk with you by phone, both to hear your story, and share a few of the possible ways we could utilize it. I’d be happy to travel to the Petoskey region to meet one on one if you would find that more enjoyable. In the meantime, if you would like to share your story in writing, I would be very happy to see it.
Patient stories are powerful tools, both to share with policy and lawmakers, the public, and especially with donors. I look forward to working to hearing yours.
Sincerely, a fellow writer,
XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX (she, her, hers)
Regional Events Manager
NEW email address: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX@ppmi.org
My name is Sam Hunt--though you might know me from my horror and fantasy novels as “S. A. Hunt”--and I’m a veteran. Operation Enduring Freedom, 2010. I was a military policeman and a transport coordinator (a glorified airport ticket agent crossed with a 911 dispatcher).
I grew up way out in the middle of the woods, in the Appalachian mountains, miles and miles away from everything. My closest neighbor wasn’t even in earshot, but we got to get to know them at the semi-regular family reunions, because everybody in a mile radius was related to each other. Which, as you can imagine, makes it hard to find a date, Jeff Foxworthy jokes notwithstanding.
So when I said that it “depends on where you live,” while a fraction of veterans can find satisfactory service, a lot of us can attest that many VA clinics are notoriously hard to get in touch with, much less get on a waiting list to be seen, especially if you live in a rural area. And even if you do get on a waiting list, it might be six months to a year--or more!--to get into an examination room. That's bad mojo if you have a serious condition like diabetes, an infection, or suicidal ideations.
As for me, I couldn’t even get that far. There were three potential VA clinics in my area: one in Anniston, Alabama, where I used to live before my 2011 divorce; Rome, Georgia, which was a 40-minute drive through the mountains; and Atlanta, Georgia, which was more than an hour away in the largest city in the state, with the worst traffic. I first started trying to contact them in 2013 for two reasons: one was the intermittent depression I’d suffered from in Afghanistan, which they’d given me Zoloft for in Kabul. I was trying to contact the VA to re-up my prescription for that. I was also seeking treatment for the back injury I’d suffered overseas.
Neither ended up happening. When I called the VA in Rome, they would just shuttle me through an automated phone system to the VA in Atlanta where nobody would answer the phone, and I didn’t have transportation to Atlanta anyway. The clinic in Anniston picked up, but when I asked about being seen, they told me that the were “full” and were “no longer accepting patients.” How is a clinic “full”? It’s not a Motel 6, or the crosstown bus.
At any rate, I eventually gave up.
In the meantime, I met a wonderful woman on the internet, Jessi, who told me that I might have an easier time getting in touch with the VA up here in Michigan. That was one of the deciding factors in me moving up here to Petoskey last September.
It was about this time that I discovered a tiny bump on my right testicle, but considering how many times in the last 30 years I'd suffered some kind of blunt force injury to my body--particularly my crotch--I didn't think much of it. To be honest, at the time it was so difficult to locate that I had convinced myself that it might just be part of the epididymus, the tubing from the testes to the body.
To my only slightly surprised chagrin, I had the same level of difficulty contacting the local VA, if not even more roundabout of a way. Jessi and I went to what we thought was the VA clinic in Emmet County only to find a non-descript office building full of admin offices. There was a VA entity there, but it was an admin office in the basement, not a clinic, a single guy whose purpose it was to handle things like medical records and disability payments. He gave us the number for the actual VA clinic, but every time I called it, it rang and rang and rang. Nobody would pick up.
So that winter, when the mystery lump on my right testicle started getting larger, I was at a loss as to where to find a cancer screening that I could afford.
In the meantime, my girlfriend and I had been discussing Planned Parenthood regularly, because we had been talking about birth control. I was doing my own research on them, and one day I was investigating them on Google when I found out that the local Planned Parenthood clinic does cancer screenings, including testicular cancer. I was thrilled.
Over the winter I had grown increasingly more anxious about the lump on my testicle as it slowly, so slowly, grew more and more defined--was it cancer? Was it? Did it feel like cancer? I Googled it a million times and every time, I found diagrams and descriptions that made it very much look like yes, I have testicular cancer, just like Lance Armstrong and so many other men, and if I didn’t get help soon it was going to spread to my lungs like this article I'd found on the internet, and I’d develop a cough, and by the time I finally got into a clinic and got seen they’d find out my lungs were riddled with dark masses, and it would be too late to operate, and God in Heaven help me, I was going to die slowly and in agony.
One brisk day a few weeks before the snow started to fall, I hopped on my bike and went to Planned Parenthood in Petoskey. When I got there, the office was closed because they’re not open on Wednesdays. I tried again a couple of days later. This time the office was open.
Here goes nothing, I thought, tromping into the waiting room.
I felt like an interloper, a castaway on the shores of the island of the Amazons in Wonder Woman, here’s a man in our midst, what’s he doing here? A thousand made-for-TV movies from the Lifetime Channel ran through my head, movies about dastardly stepfathers and scheming husbands and sinister boyfriends. I felt like I was behind enemy lines--or, rather, an enemy behind the frontlines. I calculated every one of my movements so as not to seem threatening or untoward, taking the time in the lobby to laboriously pull off my helmet, my gloves, my scarf, and my jacket and let everyone see that I was here, and I had no weapons on me, and, no quick movements. It seems silly in retrospect but I honestly had no idea what to expect, and I am nothing if not self-conscious.
The receptionist seemed a tiny bit bewildered to see me standing at the window. I asked, "Do you do cancer screenings here?"
She said, "Yes, I believe we do," and a serious, official-looking woman came in the front door and went around me, into the admin area. "What kind of cancer screening?" asked the receptionist.
"Testicular," I said, feeling simultaneously gross and embarrassed.
The newcomer entered the office behind the window. "Can you do a cancer screening?" the receptionist asked her.
"I have time, yes," the woman said, and peered at me through the window, sizing me up. I was amazed. I figured I'd be setting up an appointment today and coming back a couple of weeks later. I didn't expect at all to be seen today, much less before the weekend. "I can do it, sure. Come on in." I followed her into the back, where a third woman, very pleasant and conversational, took my vitals.
"Very low BP," said the nurse, in an impressed tone, as she watched the computer screen next to me. "You must be very relaxed."
In fact, I was pretty nervous. Not as bad as I would have been if I'd been there for a blood draw, but still anxious. "No, I just have naturally low blood pressure." I jabbered a tired old anecdote about how garlic makes me dizzy.
"Are you here for an STD test, too?" she asked.
"I . . . don't reckon I am?" I wasn't sure what to say, or if there would be an extra charge, or what. "I don't know?"
"It's no big deal. Just a quick blood draw." Ugh, there it is. The needle stick. She told me how fast the results would be back, and that I might as well get tested while I'm here. I agreed to it.
To my relief, it wasn't too bad and was over in a flash. The nurse left me to disrobe, which involved pulling my pants down to my knees and covering my now-naked lap with a cloth, then lying on my back on the table.
A little while later, the doctor I'd encountered in the lobby came back. "We're just going to take a peek and see if we can find the lump you were asking about," she said, pulling a chair up to the examination table. The cloth still lay across my thighs and as she approached me, pulling on a pair of exam gloves, I had the sudden feeling I'd captured a particularly gnarly insect under a newspaper and she was about to pick up the sports section and tell me what kind of insect it was.
She lifted the cloth, exposing me to the harsh light of day. I felt like the world's laziest subway flasher, and I could tell that it was weird for her too, but she was professional about the entire thing.
I'll spare you the gory details. To sum it up, with a little searching and gentle manhandling, the doctor found the lump I was talking about and soon I was standing at the receptionist's counter, ready to go. Due to the paperwork I'd filled out concerning my financial condition--one bad day away from living in a tent down by the river--the office waived my fees, but requested that I donated an amount of money of my choice to Planned Parenthood itself in lieu. I wasn't sure at all what my fees would have been, but forty dollars seemed both affordable and sufficient.
To my immense and delighted surprise, the doctor that had given me the examination emailed to tell me that she'd managed to contact the VA in Cheboygan and set up another testicular screening. I was amazed. She had been able to get through where I'd found only a stone wall. I thanked her profusely and finagled a ride north from my girlfriend's mother.
The blizzardy, windswept and snowblown trip to the Cheboygan VA proved to be fruitless, because they only made the most cursory effort to investigate my testicular lump, choosing to almost wholly focus on my now-intermittent depression. But after a couple of months of email tag, phone tag, and basically whacking the VA like a pinata, I got them to agree to send me to the local hospital in Petoskey. That January at six in the morning, I hiked through a mile of knee-deep snow wearing half my wardrobe and finally received the testicular ultrasound I'd been begging for all winter.
The results? The lump I'd been terrified of for months turned out to be a relatively harmless "spermatocele," a fluid-filled cyst lodged in the vas deferens. The left testicle was peppered through with tiny “microliths”--stones.
That sounds horrible, but it's one hell of a lot better than cancer.
The STD tests came back clean, by the way, which I'd expected, since you can measure my sex life in the fossil record.
In the end, things turned out well. If Planned Parenthood hadn't been there for me, I probably would have ended up at an urgent-care clinic and paid through the nose for my examination. I don't have health insurance--both because I can't afford civilian health insurance, and because I hypothetically have the VA. Without Planned Parenthood, I might not have been examined at all.
There are a lot of people out there, men and women, who don't have my resources as a service member or my privilege as a white male from a family above the poverty line. People who, without Planned Parenthood, wouldn't be able to get into a doctor's office at all. I can't imagine how much of a pickle I'd be in if I were a woman with a pregnancy with life-threatening complications, or God forbid, a pregnancy resulting from rape.
And that's not even counting the necessity of testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, both on a personal level, and in the broader scope of society. It's our responsibility as a modern nation in a first-world country to maintain a certain level of vigilance when it comes to sexually-transmitted diseases, because HIV and gonorrhea don't know what race or class look like. Geography doesn't even matter to the spread of disease, because to a virus, it's a relay race, a slow-motion marathon, and it goes where it wants to, and where it wants to go are places where people don't take care of themselves and can't take care of themselves.
Poverty is society's autoimmune disease. Poverty weakens and endangers society as a whole, because the inability to afford healthcare creates a back door through which disease and tragedy can get in and do damage to all of us from the inside, regardless of fame or financial status. Planned Parenthood is the vaccine against that. It may not be the only one, but I think it’s the best one.
So that's why I believe in it. That's why I'll put my chips on Planned Parenthood to the end. The far-right can make up all the lies it wants to about abortions, but I know the truth. I know the good this organization can do, and does do, every day, for both sexes, for all sexes, not just the binary, in every place you can find one of its offices. It benefits everybody whether they know it or not, whether they want it to or not.
This is exceptional. You’ve painted a vivid picture of what disparity people find in their health care experiences. Your voice and perspective as a male patient is unique and comes through with intense clarity. We will make sure that your story is used in Harbor Springs – and I expect to find other places that it will be a valuable tool as well.
I so appreciate your investment and energy in putting this together and see more clearly that asking you to speak or attend a huge event is the wrong use of your talent.
I’m percolating a thought that our advocacy team might find this a powerful tool when talking to some of our legislators. Would you allow me a grace period until after the event to connect with them?
I want to thank you again for sharing in your own words. You have done a great service to Planned Parenthood. I’m so glad that the Petoskey staff (who are among the most stellar) provide you unexpected and exceptional care.
XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX (she, her, hers)
Regional Events Manager
NEW email address: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX@ppmi.org