You’re pulling some sort of stirrup thing out of the examination table. My feet go in there? Okay, I can do this, this is fine. Just ten minutes ago we were talking about extracting my ovaries. This is nothing. There’s a sheet over my legs and everything. My endocrinologist recommended you specially—said you were “professional.” I guess cold and terse are professional.
What’s that thing? It looks like the edge of a giant blue butt plug. Must be the speculum. Do you really think that’s going to fit? I’ve never been able to get more than a finger in without searing pain and you’re just shoving—
Oh god oh god oh god it’s not working it hurts oh god why don’t you stop stop stop stop it it won’t work STOP IT
My face is contorting in ways I never knew it was capable of. My hands are claws, grasping at air, desperately seeking something to grab, like old soldiers who bit leather belts or bullets. I need that control, that escape, but I can’t reach anything from here. I could ask but I’m so scared of looking weaker than I already do. It’s a goddamn pap smear, not a war wound; the only thing I’ve been fighting is my own body.
You’re giving up. You’re finally giving in to what the rest of us learned in preschool—you can’t shove a thick cylinder into a tiny hole that has become near microscopic out of stress. There’s a smaller speculum and that hurts too but it’s okay, I can do this, I’ve had three surgeries and a battery of nerve tests and this is supposed to be routine.
Now you’re holding up a pair of what might be scissors, except that they’re as long as my forearm and they’re headed under the sheet. What are those? You didn’t tell me about those! “I just have to clean up a bit.”
You are not cleaning up. You are taking your sweet time scraping away at my insides. I can’t hold back the screaming any longer. Downgrading it to a high-pitched moan is about the best I can manage. And you want me to control my breathing so I don’t pass out. That’s nice. Maybe if you FUCKING TOLD ME WHAT YOU WERE DOING I COULD CALM THE FUCK DOWN. Maybe your fucking failure of a fucking medical school (where you clearly skipped all the fucking lessons on what a fucking bedside manner is) explained that hyperventilation is a perfectly rational thing for your body to try when it is being threatened. More air means more gas to get the fuck out of there. And you, sir, are most DEFINITELY threatening my body right now.
Allow me to put this in perspective for you. After more than two years on testosterone I start bleeding again. I go see my endocrinologist, worrying that I might have cancer. He sends me to see you. I have never had an internal genital examination before, and now you want me to undergo a pap smear and an endometrial biopsy in the same visit. Do you know why I haven’t had a pap smear before? I’m not stupid. I know I should be getting them. But my vagina brings me a great deal of physical and psychological pain, and I have been—correctly, it seems—reluctant to trust a strange physician with those particular agonies.
So when you finally take the scissors monster out and piss around for a few minutes readying the q-tip from hell that you need to check my uterus for cancerous cells, please excuse me while I make a scene of myself.
And now without any warning whatsoever I can feel something indescribably wrong. At some point the probe must have gone in and now it is wiggling around in an organ that has never felt the sensation of touch before. It’s not cold but my teeth chatter fast and loud enough that I worry I’ll damage them.
Finally it’s over. It’s all out of me. I sit up, perfectly composed, and tell you that I feel just fine. Yes, I’ll be back in two weeks for my test results. Yes, I’ll fetch some ibuprofen right away. Thank you for your service.
When I stagger out to the front desk to schedule my follow-up appointment I am shaking badly. So badly, in fact, that I’m sure half the waiting room thinks I’m a junkie. My face is a jack o’ lantern grin of agony.
I am in a great deal of physical pain. My insides are cramping up. Worse, I feel violated. I cannot think of a better word than that. A part of my body that disgusts me has been probed without any care for my well-being. I cry myself to sleep that night, reliving every second.
On top of it all, I am ashamed. I screamed. I cried. I shook like a leaf. I am afraid of sex now. I want to curl up into a ball and squeeze the lingering cramping out of my body by sheer force of will. I can’t stand having such a strong reaction to such a simple test. I bet that I’ll be mentioned as an example of a terrible patient who couldn’t suck it up and act like an adult. “I had this patient today, a man, and he made quite the scene in my office. I’ve had patients giving birth who raised less of a stink than he did! I stayed out of pediatrics for a reason.”
My partner tells me not to blame myself, that I should raise a formal complaint, that my doctor was completely unprofessional. Still, though, I can’t shake the shame of breaking down during a routine procedure that so many coast through every day.
But routines are not always routine.
Image of gynecologist cabinet courtesy of Shutterstock