Whore Next Door: Sick Puppy

Sometimes, just seeing the doctor can be an ordeal.

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

It’s that time of year again, when pho shops from Civic Center to the Sunset see a parade of chicken-soup-starved zombies shuffling through their doors, and riders consider ways to make wearing a face mask on Muni look cute. There’s a nip in the air, along with a cornucopia of germs — cold and flu season hits hard in a city as little as ours. Meanwhile the Republican Party and the president-elect hatch plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, which could leave millions without access to affordable health insurance.

And yet, for those fortunate enough to have health insurance, it’s still an uphill battle to receive adequate care. For sex workers, going to the doctor can often be more than just uncomfortable and annoying.

When I’m not being seen at St. James Infirmary, the local peer health clinic for sex workers, I remember why I hate going to the doctor. Disclosing my sex-worker status is always stressful, because no matter how competent a provider may be, they’re not always great at hiding whatever biases and misconceptions they may have about my profession and my health.

The stigma is institutional as well as personal. We are automatically considered a “high-risk” population — which is why we usually can’t, for example, give blood at blood banks.

I’ve had medical professionals ask if my job was a form of self-harm, and interrogate me about whether or not I was “practicing safe sex.” I don’t imagine that doctors ask such questions of patients who work in food service — which causes substantial stress on the body — nor do they inquire of professional welders if they are “practicing safe welding.” It’s these patronizing double standards that make the whole experience feel more akin to trauma than healing.

After several less-than-stellar experiences, I now try to come out to my doctors as soon as possible, just to get it out of they way and find out as swiftly as possible if I need to change my provider.

During my first appointment with my current doctor, I told him I was a sex worker because it was pertinent information for the prophylaxis he was prescribing me. He had seemed unconcerned, and we chatted about the adult industry’s recent defeat of Proposition 60. I was optimistic.

Flash forward to earlier this month: I’d been sick for more than two weeks when I finally got a chance to see my doctor. I couldn’t get an appointment with him the day I came in, dehydrated and dry heaving; the front desk told me I needed to wait until the following morning. (Typical HMO!) So I went to urgent care instead, and they immediately put me on an IV and prescribed antibiotics. I was one sick puppy.

A week later, I followed up with my primary-care doctor, and his first question when he sat down to treat me was, “Why are you getting sick all the time? Maybe you should get a new job.”

I’d been feeling nauseous all morning, but in hindsight, I wish I’d had it in me to just puke on him right then and there.

I already had a fever, but I grew hotter as I stood up and told him that if that’s how he felt, I’d have to leave.

He apologized and said he was only teasing. I told him that was nothing to tease about — that sex workers face an entire world of people and systems that tell them their work isn’t real work, and that they, in turn, are worthless.

Again, he apologized, reminded me he voted no on Prop. 60, and that he even had a former patient who was a gay adult-film performer. Then he asked if men were less likely than women to get infections in the industry, and offered me a Pap smear.

I told him that if he would like to hire me for a cultural competency training for him and his staff on how to interface with sex workers, he could do that, but for right now, I’d prefer to focus on just my body, and not on educating him about my demographic — and no, I would not be letting him touch my vagina.

I think he knew I wouldn’t be back. He wrote me my prescription and started to leave, but before he walked out the door, he leaned in for a weird, nonconsensual hug, to make sure there were “no hard feelings.”

If you want to get me anything for Christmas, please make a donation to the St. James Infirmary so more sex workers in this city don’t have to deal with this hurtful nonsense.

Get well soon, San Francisco.

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