When I left the hotel bathroom, the welts on my arm were redder than blood. I sat down on crumpled sheets of my bed and quietly pulled on the elastic waistband of my boxers.
“Shit,” I mumbled as I looked down. There were red bumps on my dick.
For the past five months, I convinced myself the two reddened oblongs on my shaft were the result of me having some rough unprotected sex. But they were still here. They continued to stare at me angrily every time I looked down. There were bright scabs scattered across my arms and legs, my back, feet, hands—pretty much everywhere on my body. And they were getting worse.
This wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to come to terms with during a spring break trip in Spain with my mother, Debra, my high-strung, slightly overbearing travel companion. She was lying on the other bed during my self-examination, flicking through the TV station and pestering me about those damn bumps on my arms.
“I remember that we thought you had bed bugs and you called the school and they said you didn’t have bed bugs,” she told me over the phone a few days ago, reminding me that this event had been a growing development.
Debra reminded me prior to that night we had taken a few pictures of the bumps on the arm, legs, and the shaft of my penis. “We were sending pictures to Howie [the family dermatologist back in Texas] and he wrote back, ‘It’s bed bugs.’ Except the school checked and said you didn’t have any.”
I thought I was a giant walking cesspool running around Spain with some unidentifiable disease.
“They got worse and then they got worse, and then they were covering large portions of your body in certain areas,” she said. “And so you were getting a little hyper sensitive.”
Wait, I was hypersensitive? I remember Debra bat shit hysterical, screaming, “You could have AIDS! Herpes! Syphilis! Ebola! HIV! Cancer!” along with 10 other possible life-altering diseases, interrogating me on “just what the hell [had I] been doing all this time in New York,” and dogging me with questions about my social life and making me confess about having “a lot of unprotected sex” with my girlfriend and that “I had been ‘experimenting’ with drugs aside from weed.”
We quickly hopped in the cab, and sped down the empty Ramblas to the hospital. I thought it was her idea, but apparently, it was mine since I was more sensitive and the freaked out one in this sit-com-esque narrative—go figure considering there were red scabs literally all over my body).
“Before we were going, I said ‘If you have any disease or something, name it. They could throw us out of the country,’ ” Debra later told me over the phone. “I said ‘Just remember we might have to leave tomorrow,’ so we agreed and said ‘Okay, but we’d feel better going.’”
At the hospital, Debra and I were taken to the less crowded front desk of the lobby and filled out paperwork, struggling to describe my condition in Spanish. Suddenly we were whisked into a room with three young doctors who I attempted to communicate through my broken college-level Spanish what had happened.
“That’s when I flipped out, in front the doctor,” Debra told me, admitting she was actually trying to help by listing off possible diseases that could have explained my immaculate venereal conception.
“Guttate,” the lead doctor said to me, trying to stifle his laughter at my mother and I going back and forth about my condition while my pants and boxers were around my ankles. I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say, although he was gesturing a teardrop-shape. A quick Google search of the keywords “guttate” and “teardrop” on my mother’s iPhone translated the doctor’s symbolism: I was essentially suffering from a mild case of a genetic skin rash: psoriasis guttate. Not at all like the string of life-altering and death-affiliated diseases Debra had suggested. Although she was spot on that my condition wasn’t curable, I had the glimmer of hope that my disease could enter remission. And that I wouldn’t die from it.
“Well, this is better than AIDS,” I jabbed cheekily at Debra.
Pulling up my pants, I shook the lead resident’s hand with my free arm, laughing at the absurdity of the night. We left with a prescription and without paying—I still have no idea how free healthcare works in Europe—and took the cab to the nearest open pharmacy. Within six months, the psoriasis receded thanks to cream and UV light treatment. But to this day, I check every morning to make sure there are no red bumps on my dick.
Matthew Sedacca is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and a freelance writer. Originally from Houston, Texas, he has written for publications like Eater, VICE, and the Diplomat.