Spread ’em

Candace, 18 September 2006, No comments
Categories: Aging, Bodies, Life, Relationships, Sexuality

There may be too much information here but just know that you’ve been warned…

I’ve been having irregular, unexplained pain in and around the area of my ovaries and uterus – completely incapacitating pain to the point of tears – for the past ten months or so. It used to only last a few hours so I’ve managed it with ibuprofen and ice and sleep. I talked to my nurse practitioner (NP) and we were both willing to call it dysmenorrhea – painful periods – and I was just going to eat better, sleep better, and get more exercise and it would go away. This month it came two days after my period ended so I can’t call it dysmenorrhea anymore.

I went for a pelvic exam last week and the nurse practitioner really blew it. It didn’t start well from the time I got to the clinic, where I’ve been going for six or seven years; I wasn’t on the day’s schedule. Then they couldn’t find my chart. Then they couldn’t find the NP. Finally I was called and while the registered nurse was bringing me back to the exam rooms and starting to steer me into the first empty one the NP says, “No – we need #4 [room] – we need to do a [in a Very LouD WhisPER] PAP SMEAR And EverYThING.” Good grief. Why announce this in this way? Surely the NP does them all the time, the reg. nurse has certainly seen them, I’ve had babies, the staff in the office all know they happen there regularly – what’s the big deal? It’s not like the NP was keeping it confidential to protect my privacy – a loud whisper attracts a lot of looks – everyone in the office this time as a matter of fact. I just thought, ‘whatever’ and proceeded to say no thank you to a weigh-in and also declined the yucky gown since I’d worn a skirt just for the occasion. I remember reading this waaaay long ago, probably in Our Bodies, Our Selves and think keeping on her own clothes is the least a woman needs when she’s going to be in such a powerless situation.

So it wasn’t long before I was opening wide for the exam (no stirrups at least) and the NP is getting ready for the pap. I am covered from waist to thighs with a white sheet and have a pretty good view of what’s going on – including the look of disgust on the NP’s face. If ever a woman has been sensitive or insecure of her sexuality, or the ‘normalcy’ of her genitals, or the skid marks from childbirth three times over, a look of disgust on the face of the NP is not what she needs. I asked what the face was for and the response was “Some women have more mucous than others.” Then I see the swab come out of me (indeed covered with what I recognize as egg whitey highly fertile mucous – not yeasty or anything) and the NP drops it in the waste basket with a shudder.

Honestly, a NP shouldn’t be doing pelvic exams if they can’t do it neutrally. Wanna know how sexual/desirable I feel these days? Besides the worry of what’s wrong with me, which is tied to the whole aging fear, which is tied to the ‘what do I want to do when I grow up’ anxiety now I’m having flashbacks to how ‘gross’ I am.

The rest of the exam was uneventful except that there were some areas of concern from the visible exam. The NP told me this after I sat waiting for 30 minutes in the exam room – I’d been forgotten. Luckily I had Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine to study for school while I was waiting. How completely ironic. Another nurse found me and asked why I was there, then went to find the NP again. It’s a busy place and I don’t begrudge anyone this but the combination of circumstances of the afternoon left me feeling kind of worthless.

I’ll definitely be talking to the NP for the sake of the women who might follow me, and I’ll request a different NP for next time. And maybe I’ve happened upon a project for my research class – improving conditions for pelvic exams.


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  1. Melinda Casino
    21 September 2006, 7:39 pm

    You might want to consider writing a more formal letter of complaint to the clinic where you got your pelvic exam.

  2. Candace
    22 September 2006, 9:34 am

    I’ll think about that, but I’m really hoping I’ll get a good response from the NP. It’s a community health centre and the NP is usually very good. I’m hoping that just explaining what happened from my perspective — something that it’s easy for practitioners to forget — will make a difference.

  3. Britt
    22 September 2006, 10:15 am

    Two thoughts crossed my mind after reading this post. First, if you were at a Planned Parenthood by any chance then the letter of complaint should be copied and sent to those who have cut the funding making life more difficult for PP workers who don’t have the funds to hire new people (in addition to tons of other problems of course).

    The second though, you’re a genius! Who would have thought about wearing a skirt? It’s so easy, and it makes perfect sense, but I never thought of it!

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