Our story begins with a simple blood test. For all the impact it would eventually have on our family, there was no fanfare…..no banners or trumpets. There was no moment of clarity, until it was much too late. Just a blood test. Unlike results which announce a happy event, such as the impending arrival of a baby, or total devastation as in a cancer diagnosis, the blood test submitted by my husband in the fall of 1997 would begin as the ultimate test of trust, and eventually challenge all that I knew about comfort, strength and self sacrifice.
It had been a whirlwind couple of years: My husband was a Sergeant in the United States Air Force, and, after spending a year away from me and our two small sons, we began a new chapter in a small community south of Colorado Springs, Colorado. It had been an adventurous summer getting to know the area, and we loved the mild weather and beauty of the outdoors. We had weathered the Blizzard of 1997, and were now settling in to the rush of the holidays, and all the fun and anticipation that brings to a family with young children.
It was during this time that he wanted to kick his blood donations up a notch, and decided to donate plasma. This screening process took more time, and had to be completed in advance. With my blessing, he completed the questionnaire and submitted a blood sample.
Since so many years have passed, it is hard to remember the exact wording of the form letter we received a few weeks later. However, the word “syphilis” jumped out at me almost immediately, and flooded my heart with a numbing mix of anger, suspicion and hurt. When he got home from work, we read the letter over and over. It made no sense. The implications were devastating, and it seemed that there would be no logical explanation. Each of us, knowing our own innocence, blamed the other. I wondered if we could ever repair the damage. We thought of our recent past: we had just spent the last year apart, he in a place that was legendary for breaking up marriages. I had been the sole parent of a 5 year old and a newborn. The math did not add up in his favor.
Ultimately the decision was made to see a doctor. My bloodwork came back normal (was there any doubt?). His came back negative for syphilis (I had no doubts, really I didn’t). However, there were several markers in the results that prompted further testing. One of the markers that would give a positive syphilis result was testing as abnormal. The doctor ordered more bloodwork. At that point we were just puzzled, but not concerned. For reasons that were unclear to us, he was referred to a neurologist. During the course of a series of visits, and many, many tests, we began to think that doctors would never figure out what we were dealing with.
When you are on the cusp of something so rare and unpredictable, you don’t start to worry right away. I mean, how bad could it be? You try to relate it to medical things you know about. And then you wait. In our case, with two young boys to raise, we had no choice but to jump back into family life with all we had, and wait to see what happened next.