Back in the early spring, Dan and I were watching a Yankees game together and some commercials came on. One that tends to play in heavy rotation is an ad for Valtrex, a medication to help control genital herpes.
I watched the ad, turned to Dan and said,"I am REALLY glad I don't have herpes."
So I try to explain: "I mean, just think about how horrible it is... it's a terrible virus, it never goes away and then you have to think about it for the rest of your life: am I having an outbreak (I learned this terminology from the ad- your pharmaceutical dollars at work!)? Am I in the clear? Is it okay for me to have 'contact' with my partner or should I wait until my outbreak calms down? Think about when you're dating someone... what if you have herpes and have to tell them? What an embarrassing conversation to have... here you are at a nice restaurant, just finishing up your glass of a really nice Merlot and you have to say, 'Uh, I really like you and think you should know before we go any further that I have a permanent disease that affects my, um, private parts and I could possibly give it to you, you know, if we, uh, proceed any further...soooooo, are you cool with that? Or... not?'
It's just so awful.
Every time I see these ads I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I don't have herpes."
Dan stared at me in a stunned silence and then busted out laughing, which is hard for him because he doesn't make any noise when he laughs. "I have seen that commercial a hundred times and never, ever thought about it."
"Well", I say,"maybe you should be a little more grateful that we don't have to think about it."
I feel the same way about the NYS Smoker's Quitline ads. The stories they profile are so sad, and you can just feel how badly people want to stop smoking yet they are seemingly powerless over the grip that nicotine has over them. The smokers look so helpless and bereft.
The next time that ad comes on, I say to Dan: "And smoking, too... I'm really glad I don't have to quit smoking."
I think I am going through empathy withdrawal... too many years as a social worker sitting with people who were sick and hurting and dying and now I don't have enough sad things in my own life to empathize with, so I am left with the nice looking, white, middle class, conservative couple in the Valtrex ad who say as they smile and look directly into the camera without a hint of embarrassment:
"I have herpes..."
"... and I don't. So we use Valtrex to control outbreaks..."
Makes me shudder with gratitude.