Yeah, so… hepatitis.
When she said this, I asked the doctor to repeat herself. Surely I must have missed something. After two weeks of treatment, why was this just coming up now?
Actually, in case that seems like I was taking this calmly, let me clarify. My reaction was more like:
Seriously, what the fucking hell was this new twist?
The doctor seemed a little taken aback, as though I should have already known. She backtracked a little and cautiously explained that I’d apparently given permission to run blood tests for the most common communicable diseases including HIV and hepatitis, and the test for hepatitis came back inconclusive with indications for hepatitis A and C.
The test was run just prior to my surgery and the result should have been communicated earlier, she said, and she’d been under the impression that someone must have spoken to me already. The chief surgeon had evidently overlooked it, as had the intern that had signed me out the following day.
I don’t remember anyone talking to me about tests, but if someone had asked I’d most likely have said yes. After the weeks of being in limbo and not knowing what was going on, of course I would jump at the chance to leave no stone unturned.
But I could not, for the life of me, understand this diagnosis.
She went on to tell me that the test result suggested that I’d been infected with hep A as a kid, probably from eating raw or insufficiently cooked shellfish like mussels or oysters, or from unwashed contaminated fruit or hands. Whatever the source I could have had it unknowingly with no visible symptoms. Lots of people have it, she said, especially in the Mediterranean region. It basically turns you yellow, infects you for six months and can often leave you without any lasting negative effects. And it could be that I just have the antibodies and not the actual virus. Not anymore.
That still didn’t make me feel any better. But ok, I said, if the hep A wasn’t such a big deal (which I wasn’t really buying), then what about the other hepatitis I apparently-maybe-probably had: hep C?
Visions of Pam Anderson, cirrhosis and liver transplants danced through my head.
I’d expected this last appointment to be the ending of an unpleasant chapter in my life that I’d hoped to quickly put behind me. Instead, it looked like I could be just at the beginning of something terrible. I possibly had two forms of hepatitis that had somehow escaped detection until now, and that was a lot to mull over.
If she hadn’t so casually blurted it out as though I already knew, shocking the hell out of me, I think my doctor could have made the next 36 hours a bit easier for me. As it was, I left the hospital with my mind racing in all directions, none of them good.
This news is what finally tapped out the last of my patience and my sense of humor. Up until then I had approached this whole awful situation as positively as I could, trying to see it as a false start rather than a disaster or failure. But being told so blandly that I possibly had two forms of what can be a chronic disease that can lead to liver failure, transplant or death really shook me.
I sat on the train home fighting tears. I asked myself, what would I do if this turned out to be true? How would this affect my life? Was Oliver infected? Was this my fault? Could we even have kids if I was positive? If no, would we be ineligible for adoption because of the dangers of transmission? Could I really handle this? On that afternoon I certainly wasn’t sure if I could. But there was nothing to do but carry on and wait for the results of the much more precise follow-up test.
My doctor said it would take up to 36 hours for the results to be delivered. It was a Thursday. She promised she’d really try to give me an update as soon as possible and not leave me hanging the whole weekend.
When Oliver got home it was to find me on the couch, a mindless comedy playing on TV and a big glass of wine in my hand. I wasn’t sure what to say yet, so I waited and did my best to escape reality.