This story took place in November 1998. My wife and I had been trying to have kids for a while, but with no success. Due to her family history, the doctors were pretty sure the problem was in my wife’s girl parts, but they wanted to rule me out.
The following is what has become to be known as “The San Diego Incident“. While some of the names have been changed (because I can’t remember them – not to protect anybody, that’s for sure), everything else is 100% true.
When I went to visit Kate in San Diego over Thanksgiving, one of the things I had to do besides go on job interviews and look for a house was to stop by the lab and give a sperm sample. I wouldn’t say I was dreading the visit to the lab, but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it.
I had a job interview in the morning, which went pretty well. As it turned out, it was in the same building that Kate worked. So, after the interview, I headed up to see Kate so we could get some lunch together.
She teased me if I was ready to go to the lab and give my sample. The torture had begun.
I tried – unsuccessfully again – to persuade her to accompany me on my trip to the lab, but it wasn’t allowed. I’d like for someone to explain that one to me someday. For some reason medical office protocol says it’s OK for me to go to the lab and commit a solo sex act, but if my wife joins me to facilitate matters it becomes obscene?
Lunch ended and it was finally time for me to head for the lab. This was no small feat since it was the first time I had driven by myself in San Diego. The lab was located downtown, and I found it easily enough, but I’m pretty sure the streets had been laid like Herodotus’ labyrinth. The four square blocks surrounding the building were a maze of one-way streets, road construction and missing signs. I soon realized I was running very late for my appointment and gave up, parked within sight of the building and walked the rest of the way.
I went inside and looked at the building directory for Idiot Laboratories. There were 4 listings for Idiot Labs – on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th floors. I figured I’d start on the 1st floor. I found the Idiot suite, but no one was there. Back to the stairs and up a flight to the second floor. I walked in and showed my paperwork to the receptionist.
Perhaps I’m better at reading forms than someone who sees them everyday, but it seemed pretty obvious to me what the paperwork was asking for:
Patient: David B—-
Test: Sperm Sample, Count/Motility
It’s not that tough is it? Well for this young lady it was. She studied the form very intensely, but was unable to decipher what I was there for. She called to her colleague a couple desks over.
“I can’t figure out what he’s here for.”
“Just a second,” said the colleague.
Twenty seconds pass. I explain to the receptionist that San Diego Fertility Center has sent me here to provide a sperm sample. She doesn’t hear me or doesn’t believe me.
Her colleague finally makes her way over, takes one look at the form and says “Here it is – he’s here to give a sperm sample.”
(It’s OK. Just pretend like I’m not here.)
“Does he do that here or upstairs?” asks the receptionist.
“I don’t know,” replies the colleague, “better call and find out.”
The receptionist gets on the phone and calls The One Who Knows Where Sperm Samples Are Given.
“I’ve got a patient down here who wants to give a sperm sample. Where does he go?”
I am directed to continue my trek upstairs to the fourth floor. I walk down the hall to Suite 413. Next to the door was a floor to ceiling window. Looking in, I can see that this room is about the size of a phone booth and filled with women.
I took a deep breath and opened the door.
When I tell you that Suite 413 was the size of a phone booth, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. It was small. The front part of the office couldn’t have been larger than ten feet wide by six feet deep.
There was a nurse sitting behind a desk. Another woman was leaning against the desk talking to her. There were four chairs lined up along the wall. The seats were all occupied by women waiting to do whatever it was they were there for. (Although I doubt it was the same thing I was there for.)
Everyone looked at me when I walked in, since the office was devoid of a television, magazines, Muzak system or anything else you might find in an ordinary medical office. In fact, the office was as empty as a campaign promise. It was so clinical, it was laughable. The walls were plain white and without artwork. The floor was plain white tile. It did little to set the mood for one who was getting ready to “get busy” with himself.
I walked to the nurse and presented her with my paperwork. I hoped she could read a simple form without creating as big a fuss as Dumb & Dumber downstairs.
I might as well have been hoping for a winter storm to dump 14 inches of snow on sunny San Diego. The nurse took one look at the form and said in a voice far too loud for such a small and crowded room:
“OK, why are you here?”
Panic started to creep in. I reached over her desk and pointed my finger to the line: Sperm Sample, Count/Motility.
“Huh,” she said, “So, you’re going to give a SPERM SAMPLE?” She turned to the woman leaning against the desk, apparently another employee.
“Does he do that here or downstairs?”
“I don’t know,” said employee #2.
“The people downstairs told me to come up here,” I offered.
Again, either she didn’t hear me or didn’t believe me.
“I better call and find out,” said the nurse.
I could feel my ears begin to burn as my face began to turn a lovely shade of crimson.
“Hi, Sue? It’s Linda up here in 413. I’ve got a patient here who wants to give a SPERM SAMPLE. Does he do that here or downstairs?”
I am sure I looked like a lobster at this point, my face was betraying me.
“Don’t know? OK, I’ll call upstairs.”
The women seated two feet behind me shifted in their seats. I couldn’t tell if they were embarrassed for me or were having a fun time at my expense.
“Hi, Juanita? It’s Linda down in 413. I’ve got a patient here who wants to give a sperm sample. Does he do that here or somewhere else?”
I have no idea why she insists on saying all of this in her playground voice. I’m beginning to suspect her intent was to make this as uncomfortable for me as possible.
“Well it says we’re supposed to get a count on his sperm and check the mo-, the mo-, mobility? No, oh what does this say?” She turns to employee #2. “Sharon what does this say?”
“Motility,” Sharon offers.
“Motility,” the nurse says into the phone. A pause. Then “OK.”
She hangs up the phone. “They don’t know either – can you believe it?” she asks no one in particular.
Do you know what Linda? I can believe it – I think to myself.
Linda the nurse picks up the phone once again. “Hi, Denise? It’s Linda down in 413. I’ve got a patient here who wants to give a SPERM SAMPLE. Does he do that here or somewhere else?”
I’m pretty sure she’s yelling the key phrases now to make sure no one within 20 miles of the Mexican border is unsure of exactly what I’m going to be doing in the next few minutes.
“Uh-huh. OK.” She hangs up the phone and looks at me. “I guess you do it here.”
Linda, the nurse, turns to Sharon and asks her: “Do you want to wait around to deliver it?” I quickly surmise Sharon is a driver. Great. That’s just the right amount of additional pressure I need – someone waiting like a runner in the next leg of a relay race, ready to sprint as soon as I pass off my cup full of seed.
“No, I’ll just get it on my next run,” said Sharon turning to leave.
Thank God for the small things.
Linda gets up from her desk and says to me “C’mon.”
I’m ready to walk down the hall to the collection room, complete with velour walls, mood candles and smooth sounds of modern soul. Instead we take two steps – TWO FUCKING STEPS – behind Linda’s desk. There is a small open room behind Linda, about the same size as an RV’s kitchen.
From one of the cabinets, Linda retrieves a cup about the size of a Big Gulp. She hands me a small piece of paper with instructions, along with the cup.
She gives me a quizzical look and asks “What, didn’t you bring a book?”
I am completely dumbfounded. I am in the middle of an historical narrative of the Battle of Hastings, but I left it at home. Besides, what good would military history do me in a situation like this?
My mind races and I realize she is referring to a porno magazine. I look at my empty hands and murmur “No.”
She rolls her eyes a bit and reaches past me to open a door. “Set your cup over here when you’re done,” she says and returns to her desk.
I can’t make my feet move. I’m standing in the doorway between the laboratory kitchenette and the mini-waiting room. Linda’s at her desk, picking up the phone. A couple of the women sitting in the chairs seven feet away from me are peeking at me as they pretend to look out the window behind me. The other two are very busy studying the plain white walls across from them.
I look forward into the open door and am aghast at what I see. It’s a handicap accessible restroom, completely done in sanitation-friendly white tile. Even the countertop is done in white tile. I force my self to go in and close the door, which, to my horror, has a gap of about two inches at the floor.
I set the cup on the countertop, steady myself with both hands and take a long look at myself in the mirror. Already I recognize how embarrassing a situation this is. But, thankfully, I also recognize the humor in it. I know this is so bad, it could not possibly be worse.
How wrong I was.
At this point, Linda has placed her phone call. Apparently she and her sister needed to discuss who is bringing what dishes to Thanksgiving in a couple of days.
“Hi Laura, it’s Linda. What’cha doin?”
A pause and I think to myself, how in the world am I going to do this?
“Oh not much,” Linda says in response to Laura’s question. “I’m going to leave pretty soon. I’m waiting on a guy who’s here giving a SPERM SAMPLE.”
Holy Christ. Is there anyone who she’s not going to share this with? I’m pretty sure I heard one of the women on the other side of the thin wall giggle.
“…well I was planning on bringing my green bean casserole and my macaroni and mashed potato special…” Linda goes on as I ready myself.
There has never been a setting less inviting, less conducive for what I had to do in the history of man. All that was missing were naked scuptures of the Golden Girls and my grandmother yodeling a lullaby while caressing my hair. That would have made this situation complete.
I called upon all my resources, my power of concentration to shut everything out and attend to the business at hand. If there was one thing I was absolutely sure of it was that I was not going to be unsuccessful. There was no way I would leave this room and make the announcement that I was unable to provide a sperm sample and I would not return later to run myself through the torture gauntlet again. Period.
So, somehow, someway, by blocking out the noise on the other side of paper-thin walls, the mammoth gap beneath the door, the cold, white sterility of the room, the green bean casserole and the waiting driver in the sperm relay, I was able to produce my SPERM SAMPLE.
I capped the specimen jar, checked myself in the mirror and – with speed Olympic sprinters would admire – deposited my sample on the kitchenette counter and made my way around Linda’s desk to the door.
“Done already? That was fast,” Linda said I as I walked out the door into the hall.
It was all I could do to keep my middle finger from sticking up from my tightly clenched fist.