[CW: sexual assault]
I’ve had six pap smears and one colposcopy. Seven times speculums have been introduced into my body. The colposcopy (which is to test for HPV after an abnormal smear result) was done under anaesthetic, due to the pain involved during regular exams.
So I can remember six glorious experiences. Only one of which wasn’t horrible.
Doctors, you need to do better. It can’t be that I’ve just happened to get three uncaring physicians. (One person did three of my delightful procedures, another did two.) And I do give them credit—they were each awful in their own distinct ways.
If I’ve had to deal with this level of callousness, then other people have, too. People have to deal with this every day.
So named because he was the only male doctor I’ve seen for gyno reasons. (Did you think all of them would be men since they’d been terrible?)
I can’t recall how old I was—due to sexual assault and mental illness my late teen years 16-19 blur together. This happened after my assaults and molestation and I was probably 18 or 19. Possibly 20.
There was a nurse in the room with us and all I recall was bursting into tears during the actual speculum part of the exam then, as I was crying, him putting his finger in my rectum as I sobbed. He didn’t tell me he was going to do that and because there was a sheet covering my lower body and legs the nurse couldn’t see it.
He’d been a long-time friend of my mother’s so for years I thought that must be part of the exam until no other doctor ever did that.
The doctor and nurse were both very consoling and calm and saying how it’s humiliating and the nurse said, ‘You never really get used to it—even after you get married.’ Because I come from a place where people stay virgins until marriage. Whatever, lady.
Several years go by before I wanted to have another pap smear. Even then, I didn’t want to, but I thought I should.
Nurse Doesn’t Listen
I’m not sure of this person’s title. She may have been an RN or a PA. I don’t know.
I do know I told her I didn’t partake in penetration (and hadn’t done so) and so needed whatever speculum she used on virgins.
We do the exam and it hurts like hell. I nearly pass out.
This is when she informs me she used the regular speculum because ‘You’re a grown up now—you can use the regular speculum.’
Sidebar: I don’t have vaginismus, for those of you wondering, I’m just unaccustomed to penetration.
Those results came back fine and I was relieved not to need another smear for years.
But years do pass and I needed to see her again.
I know it seems insane that I would return to the same person. Life is difficult for me to manage. I thought if I explained about the previous time and made myself really clear, she’d listen.
Nurse Doesn’t Listen Round Two
My husband went with me this time, as I was married, but we explained we were asexual and didn’t have sex and last time, etc.
I don’t know which speculum she used but I thought I was going to faint and informed her of this.
Her response: ‘You’re not going to faint.’
Weirdly, she did tell me to lie back and rest a bit, though. If she really thought I wasn’t going to faint she would have hurried me along.
What? Is just saying ‘You’re not experiencing the things you’re experiencing’ supposed to work?
Then there was a reprieve! I got a doctor would was good and listened. The experience was still difficult and painful, because trauma and such, but…
Doctor This Is How You Do It
She listened to how things had gone at the previous place and that I was small and nervous and so on.
Her approach was military-like. Got in, did what she needed to do and got out again, while just asking questions about what I did and my hobbies to distract me.
It was the most pleasant unpleasant experience you could have.
Alas, my insurance changed and I had to switch providers.
We return you to our previously-scheduled horror-show.
Doctor Stunningly Beautiful but Cruel
This doctor was a doppelgänger for an actress I had a crush on for years—someone who was my ideal of beauty. When she left the room the first time I turned to my husband and said, ‘Is it just me or does she look like [Probably Very Nice Actress]?’
Him: I was just thinking that!
That didn’t stop her from being the worst of the bunch.
You might ask yourself how a person could top the crew I’ve listed above, well, hold on to your britches.
The first round doesn’t go well because it never does and I nearly pass out. They do bring me orange juice and crackers, though.
There’s some abnormal cells and they need to do a colposcopy.
Dr Maleficent (she doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie, it just seems like a good name) did the colposcopy, but that was under anaesthetic, because apparently it was unpleasant even for people who handle smears well, so no thank you. The bill for the anaesthetist was $1000, though, which they didn’t tell me about beforehand and yes it was with the ACA. Don’t need health care in the States, kids.
The colposcopy came back and yup, I had the HPV. I’m not thrilled with how this is handled, as I find out through my insurance provider rather than the doctor’s office. So that’s how I found out I had HPV and when I had to come to terms with something I had been in denial about for many years—having been sexually assaulted.
We finally have a face-to-face meeting about this after I’ve processed and written about it and done my own research and cried and all sorts of things. She’s telling me how it’s spread and talking about sexual activity and I tell her I got it from an assault. It’s the first time I’ve said this out loud to another person. So she knows and I assume it goes in my file.
During this conversation I also learn I’d need smears every six months for 18 months to 3 years to keep an eye on the cells
This was when I decided to take up medicinal masturbation, so I could at least get through each smear without wanting to die.
The next smear came up. I’ve been fiddling with myself even though I didn’t really want to and it was less terrible. Dr Maleficent exclaimed, ‘You’re getting better!’ Like I’m improving at being able to take a stranger touching me somewhere I really don’t want to me touched.
She knew how I contracted HPV. She knew I had no other, positive sexual experiences and she congratulates me on getting better! at dealing with pap smears.
Then, the second the exam is over, she’s off, out of the room. To see another patient, I guess. They must be busy, I figure. Nope. She’s just chatting in an empty room with her nurse. Really? You couldn’t sit and make sure the assault victim was okay after that?
Trauma Doesn’t Vanish in the Exam Room
Just because you’re a doctor and you’re trying to help or don’t mean any harm or aren’t even doing anything you consider sexual doesn’t mean the person on the table in front of you is experiencing the situation the same way. After awhile all bodies probably look like lands to be mapped or mysteries to be solved, but we’re individual people with fears and traumas and pains.
Luckily, the results of that final exam were clear, but I have to have a pap every year now to be sure it doesn’t return. I had a go at the medicinal masturbation last week and it hurt like a motherfucker. I thought I was warmed up and ready to go, but apparently not. Really looking forward to my next smear test, which is this Thursday. It’ll be a brand new person. Can’t wait to find out what their nickname will be.
Nurse NHS FTW
The more I deal with the NHS, the more respect and admiration I have for it. My appointment yesterday was with a nurse, who listened, was compassionate and said, ‘There’s no need for that [attitude from the doctors and nurses]’ when I explained how I’d been treated in the past. When I gave details of my lack of sexual experience, she switched out the medium speculum for the small without prompting and even had me laughing by the end of the procedure.
I felt a little light-headed during, but she checked on me in that regard to make sure I was all right, and it passed quickly. There was no physical pain for the first time during one of these exams.
I actually don’t dread returning for my next exam, which is pretty much a miracle. Perhaps I should have called this one Nurse Modern Miracle.
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