‘I Love Lucy’: Desi Arnaz Was Told He Had Syphilis After a Terrible Mistake

Desi Arnaz wrote about a frightening experience he had at the beginning of his career. The I Love Lucy star was told by a doctor he had syphilis. The shocking diagnosis rattled Arnaz, and he feared the worst. However, he found out later a terrible mistake had been made.

Desi Arnaz became ill  

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Phil Burchman/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Before Arnaz met Lucille Ball, he had a health scare. Arnaz noticed his toe began hurting while he was on his way to a performance. He said the toe had been bothering him for a few days, but he ignored it. When he removed his shoe and sock, he saw the toe was blue. After Arnaz went to the hospital for an evaluation, the doctor told him he had blood poisoning and that it was spreading. He was in danger of half of his foot becoming infected if treatment was delayed.

Arnaz stayed in the hospital, but the doctor allowed him to leave for a short time so he could perform. After the performance was over, an ambulance picked him up and brought him back to the hospital. After three days, Arnaz’s foot was better. Unfortunately, he wasn’t completely out of the woods.

Desi Arnaz was told he had syphilis

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Arnaz’s doctor wanted to see him. Arnaz was confused because he was feeling better. However, the doctor insisted that Arnaz return and meet with him. When Arnaz arrived for his appointment, he noticed that the doctor looked “somber and sad.” He knew something was wrong when the doctor told him to sit down.

After Arnaz sat down, the doctor delivered the news, telling him he had syphilis. The doctor said he had to test Arnaz’s blood because he had blood poisoning. According to the doctor, the test was positive for syphilis. Arnaz, who was 22 years old at the time, was shocked. He said he couldn’t figure out where he got the infection. He was afraid the infection would eventually lead to his death.

“This doctor was sitting there in front of me, telling me I had syphilis,” said Arnaz. “In those days that was worse than death. There was no penicillin cure yet—nothing.”

 Desi Arnaz discovered a mistake had been made

Arnaz was so distressed that the thought of jumping out of the window passed through his mind. “I have never come so close to jumping out of a window in my life as I did that day,” wrote Arnaz. “But I just couldn’t believe what I had been told. I couldn’t accept it.”

Arnaz told his doctor he had never been with “that kind of girl” who would give him a sexually transmitted infection. The doctor told him he could get syphilis just from kissing someone if either of them had a break in their skin. Arnaz said he was still in disbelief.

“I still don’t believe it,” said Arnaz. “I don’t remember any bloody-lipped broad kissing me, and the girls I’ve had affairs with—during the last six months or so—are all pretty nice.”

Arnaz asked for another test. Much to his relief, the second test was negative. There was a mix-up with the vials of blood, and the first blood sample was from another patient. After this incident, Arnaz had a syphilis test every six months for a year and a half.

RELATED: ‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Wasn’t Desi Arnaz’s First Love

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