Another epidemic? We cannot handle it, can we? We are anxious, depressed, addicted, overweight, sedentary, vaccinated, and even dysphoric?
As Popeye the Sailor used to say, “I can’t stands no more!” Could we be about to receive a surprise from the past?

Was it on the 5th hole or the 18th? I cannot remember. But I was stunned when my older friend and one of my favorite golfing partners said, “There is something I need to tell you that I have confided in no one else. But you helped me through my cancer, and I know I can be honest with you.” Alarmed, I had no idea what was coming. Was his cancer back? Was his wife of many years suddenly ill? But I knew it was not going to be good.

That is when he added, in almost a hush, “I have gone blind in my right eye.” Relieved, I laughed, “You only need one eye to putt. You are fine!” But he quietly answered, “When I saw my ophthalmologist last week, he got some tests and said he would call with the results. He phoned this morning and said my vision would never come back. And that was not all.”

Confused, I asked, “Charley, why are you whispering on a par 5 with just the two of us? Why are you blind in that eye?” He looked at me with a pained expression, clearly dreading what he was about to say.

“Doc, I have syphilis, and that is what has ruined my vision,” he muttered. “And now I have to go home and tell Becky that she may have it too. After 45 years, I have to tell her that I sowed some wild oats years ago. She will be devastated, and I am so embarrassed. How could this have happened without me knowing?” 

A surprise from the past, I thought…

While Charley was a successful New Yorker who shopped at Tiffany, ate at the nicest restaurants, and played at the best golf clubs, he was totally uneducated about this sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is occurring in epidemic proportions in Europe and the US. The long latent period of syphilis that lay in wait for Charley is not unusual.

According to the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, in 2022 (the last year of available data), 207,255 cases of syphilis (in all stages) were reported in the US. The last time syphilis was that prevalent was in 1950. That’s right, seventy years ago. Despite readily available screening and treatment, a disease that had historic lows in 2000-2001 has increased every year since. The national rate of the most infectious stage of syphilis has risen to 17.7 per 100,000 population.

Why should we care? Because the highest rate of STDs occurs in the 15-24 age group, and we may have family members that age? Because both women and men carry the disease? Because it cuts across the heterosexual, homosexual, transgender populations, and all ethnicities? Because we care about our communities and can help spread the word? Or because we could be like Becky or Charley?

Are you at risk of getting a surprise from the past?


*Names changed to protect identity