A lot of women hate going to the gynecologist. But when I say that I hate it, I mean, I HATE it. As in, I would rather get a cavity filled, clean my toilet, or run a mile with my old PE teacher screaming at me.
A few years ago, I finally found an OBGYN whom I love. (I'll call her "Superdoc.") Superdoc is a lesbian, was wholly unassuming when I was asking about lesbian sexual health while trying hard not to seem (or be) gay, and best of all: she has very small hands. But Superdoc is on a long medical leave, so I had to see someone else. Alas.
As soon as the new doc came into the room, I knew I'd made a mistake. (Also, she looked like an old-timey schoolmarm, so I'm going to call her "DSM" for "Dr. School Marm.") She didn't shake my hand (bad sign), and sat at her computer while I sat naked beneath my dopey little robe. Then she started asking me questions. The conversation proceeded thusly:
DSM: When you came here last, you and Superdoc talked about PCOS?
BW: Yeah. But I think I don't have it, because I got an ultrasound and they said my ovaries weren't polycystic.
DSM: That's not the only way we diagnose it. Do you remember what Superdoc said would happen if you didn't have a regular period?
BW [more subdued]: I had a CAT scan for an unrelated reason and I asked about my ovaries and they said they were OK.
DSM: [laughs consescendingly]: well, if they didn't look specifically at that, then they can't tell you. You have to do calculations.
BW: [very softly, looking away] Oh. I... I don't know, then.
DSM: Look, I'm not trying to convince you that you have PCOS. I'm trying to make a diagnosis here!
BW: [even more softly] Oh, yeah, I--I don't... um... Yeah, I mean, I'm not saying I don't have it, I just thought... Well, one thing is my hormone levels are normal. They took blood and--uh--they're in the normal range. I--uh...
DSM: That's not dispositive.
BW: Oh. [Feels small.]
DSM: It says here you had an IUD.
BW: Yeah. I did. Maybe five years ago? Six? Or four?
DSM: What was your period like then?
BW: I don't--I'm not sure. It was, um, I... I don't know. [Melts into a puddle of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort.]
DSM [incredulous; annoyed]: You don't know?
At this point, I am looking away, basically mumbling softly and incoherently, and--I kid you not--very close to tears, which DSM does not notice. I decide I'm not going through with the exam. Then I think about how folks in their 30s can get various kinds of nether-region cancer. And then I feel worse. And then DSM tells me that irregular periods put me at risk for endometrial cancer. And I think about dying.
More awkward conversation ensues. Some highlights:
- DSM asks me what kind of birth control pills I've taken in the past. I say I do not know.
- DSM asks me when I got my IUD removed. I say that it was somewhere between two and six years ago.
- DSM asks me whether I filled the prescription from Superdoc last year. I admit that I did not. She gives me a withering stare. I look away and mumble about "logistics" being "hard."
- DSM asks me if my "current partner is a woman now." She asks it in a way that makes it clear she knows from my chart that my former partner is male. For no good reason, I feel dumb.
- DSM continues asking about my past periods. I continue not knowing the answers except in the broadest sense. She continues becoming frustrated and shooting exasperated, piteous looks at me.
When she gets up to do the exam, Kelli Dunham's refrain keeps going through my head: Get your bits checked out. I will mentally dissociate, I think. I'll pick a spot on the ceiling. I will notice absolutely everything about that spot. Bit-checking will be over before I know it.
But while conducting the breast exam (which, yes, I also loathe), DSM asks if I wax or pluck. I tell her that yes, about every other month, I get my upper lip waxed (I don't have a lot of lip hair; I just don't want any). Then, she asks if, although she can't see any facial hair, do I ever have to pluck a hair from my chin. I say sure, sometimes. She says it isn't normal for women to have hair anywhere besides their heads, and that this is probably because of PCOS (which, it is now clear, she has affirmatively decided I have).
Because my brain clicked off, I neglect to point out that countless businesses are sustained by the presence of hair on women's faces. That "lip-wax" and "chin wax" are actual menu items at many beauticians'. That this fact is excellent evidence that I am not a freak of nature for having unwanted hair.
So instead, I say nothing. I am silent. I imagine a carnival barker yelling, "Get your bits checked! Get your bits checked right here, folks!" I find a spot on the ceiling. I stare at it. She conducts the exam. It is uncomfortable, but lasts five minutes, tops. My bits check out fine. She leaves and I put my clothes on and get out as fast as I can.
Basically, it was an awful morning that reduced me nearly to tears, and I had to be consoled by my DGF (lucky for me, I was seeing her right afterward). But I did it. And now I don't have to think about it, and I've taken care of myself, which is an excellent feeling.
If I can live through that whole freakin' ordeal, you can, too (and chances are, your experience will be better than mine!). Get your bits checked out. I promise you'll live through it, and it can save your life.