Your Life Has Meaning

4 Jul

I read those words this week by Father Richard Rohr, as part of his daily inspirational message. “Your life has meaning”. Some days it’s very hard for me to feel as if my life has had meaning, then I remember

Early 1990s. Weren’t we gorgeous?

I used to work for the City of Austin in the sexually transmitted disease clinic. I gave people the news that they had HIV or some other infection they picked up along the way. I interviewed them as to their sexual partners and who else needed to be tested to stem the spread. I jokingly called myself a sex detective. The official title was Disease Intervention Specialist.

Assured of anonymity, people still reluctantly gave over information. I frequently looked for contacts with very little to go on. No name, sketchy address, and sometimes not even that much. FYI, your neighbors will tell anyone your business, where you work, when you’ll be home, at least they did in the 90’s.

1996 Master’s of Education, University of Texas

I think the most amazing experience I had was finding a young girl. A guy came into the clinic with symptoms of gonorrhea or chlamydia, I don’t remember which. The problem is, men are way more likely to have symptoms (discharge, burning) and women can have a silent infection that is only uncovered in a routine physical.

He had gone to a party the previous Saturday with people he didn’t really know, in a part of town he wasn’t familiar with and had sex with a girl who’s name he couldn’t remember, Sara or Susan or something. Sigh. Finding her was a true needle in a haystack.

I asked him all the usual interview questions and was getting nowhere. He then remembered that she might have been a high school student in Georgetown, a community outside of Austin.


His information didn’t really narrow the field much. What to do? My memory is a bit sketchy on the details, but I got the idea to call the school nurse at Georgetown High School. Those were the days when schools had their own nurses. I told her who I was and the oh so familiar story of the Saturday night party. And much to my amazement, a student who fit the description had been in her office that morning complaining of burning in her nether region. Bingo, mission accomplished.

My creation on Procreate.

I rarely saw clients more than once. I tried to convince them to be safe, selective and sober. Looking for contacts, I thought nothing of walking into a crack house, homeless camp or neighborhood that most folk didn’t know existed. I tried to treat everyone with respect. I really loved my job and felt like I was doing work that made a difference.

Today, living in the jungle in Mexico, I have my memories. Soon we will be heading north to see children and grandchildren. Just maybe I have made a difference there as well.


9 Responses to “Your Life Has Meaning”

  1. Becky July 4, 2021 at 12:18 pm #

    You have definitely made a difference in my life.
    And if I haven’t told you lately, thanks for loving me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lois Leahy July 4, 2021 at 4:12 pm #

    Alex, that’s the difference between people who love their jobs and hate their jobs. Wow! Great story! Lois

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jack Scott July 5, 2021 at 5:12 am #

    Thank god for you and for people like you who did the job you did. It made such a difference then and and still does now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • afish25 July 5, 2021 at 6:36 am #

      Thank you. When they were talking about contact tracing for Covid, I knew the job it would be. A tough one. I also entertained the idea of being a private investigator. Hahahahaha


  4. Shirley Broussard July 6, 2021 at 9:26 am #

    Wow, Alex!! Your comments about the DIS work brought back a ton of memories….. not all pleasant! That was by far the most difficult job I’ve ever had, multiple and constant challenges from all directions working in crazy City of Austin/Travis Co world but overall yes, very rewarding work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • afish25 July 6, 2021 at 10:33 am #

      I have never forgiven you for hiring me and then quitting 😆. They offered me the supervisor job which would have sent my life in a whole different direction. I was ruled by fear and lack of self confidence. I’m glad we have stayed connected all these years.


  5. rudeinnewyork July 6, 2021 at 12:20 pm #

    I got the VD scare treatment in Navy Bootcamp in 1961. They did a good job a stating explicitly the risks. Later in the Philippians, feeling alone, I let my guard down and found myself at the Sickbay. The Corpsman was irritated and said, a second time and i’ll put you on report – “explain yourself to the Captain”.

    So you can see how mystified I was in San Francisco, later, and no public health follow-up was active. A person privacy was protected and thus AIDS spread quickly. Walking the streets of SF and seeing single men hanging out in empty closed store fronts seemed so lonely and demeaning.

    From where/who came this decision to ignore the risks and social consequences?? I suspect some friends I knew back then are gone now. Changed marriage laws have greatly helped.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Emilie July 6, 2021 at 7:49 pm #

    Sounds like a fascinating job. Good for you!


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