This is a different, much more personal post than I’m used to sharing but this experience was so surprising and different that I just have to. Maybe some of you are in on this technique and have been holding out on the rest of us women who hate these exams. If so, speak up! I know we don’t readily share this sort of info with one another (unless, of course, you’re Amy Schumer), but I think it’s time to break that code of silence.
Every year, we women mark on our calendars when we need to pay extra attention to our lady parts in the shower and pick out which decorative socks we’ll wear to impress our doctor as we prepare for the dreaded cervical pap exam. It’s necessary to have done to check for precancerous cells or other gynecological abnormalities, but I don’t know any woman who looks forward to it. I’ve been having them for the past twenty years… and as an Endo Sister (endometriosis diagnosed in 2011, which long went unnoticed and was the cause of many painful moments) who has struggled greatly with the discomfort from the exam… I’m here to announce I finally had one that was pleasant.
After having a baby, you’d think a yearly exam would be easier to deal with, but it’s not. I had a few check ups in America post-baby and it was still very uncomfortable. Add to that, living in a new country and having a new doctor who I don’t really know, and it’ll increase anyone’s anxiety. I. Was. Terrified. I asked a friend for a recommendation to a good doctor and made the appointment.
Stepping into the doctor’s office, I sat next to her desk (didn’t immediately sit on the exam table, which was unusual from my previous experiences) where she asked questions and logged answers into the computer. Then she instructed I sit on the table. Disrobing below the waist, I tentatively sat on the side of the table, not the end, unsure how this arrangement would work if the other side was flush against the wall. The doctor stayed in the room as I undressed, a thin curtain pulled around the space of the table, separating me from her desk area.
Joining me on my side of the curtain, I asked her where the stirrups were. She looked surprised, asking what I meant.
“Where do I put my feet?” I asked.
Her jaw fell. “I would never ask a woman to put her feet in stirrups. Is that what you do in America?”
I chuckled and said it was the only way I knew how to have the exam. She told me to lie down, but I still didn’t know where to put my feet.
She stood to the side of the exam table, at my hip level. Pressing her hands together, pointing her elbows out to demonstrate, she explained the ‘froggy style’ position I was to move my legs into. “Feet together on the table and spread your knees apart,” she said.
I did as she explained, unsure if I should flee before it was too late or try it out.
At this point in the exam, usually a doctor would instruct me to slide down the table further until my bottom’s at the edge of the table. Usually, my feet rested in cold stirrups as I braced myself for the humiliation of seeing a doctor eye-level with my most private world. Usually, a spotlight would shine brightly on my vagina as if it were about to hit the stage.
My doctor remained at the side of the table and leaned around to see my lady parts. Leaned. As in, she stooped down, twisted her neck around my knees, and leaned to conduct the exam.
I couldn’t believe she was able to see well enough; this was so completely different from anything I’d ever had done before. She held the car jack/tongs-like instrument and squirted it with lube.
I braced myself for the pinch. Usually, this was the part where the doctor tells me there’s a bit of pressure and I have to be sure to relax. Usually, this was the part of the exam where there’s so much pinching as they crank the jack up, I get tears in my eyes.
This time, I barely felt a thing. I could tell when she used the spatula (I feel like I went from a car show to a cooking show now) to take the sample, but that was pretty much it. The easiest cervical pap exam I’ve ever had, I couldn’t believe it was over. By far the least degrading one I’ve had.
As I put my pants back on, the doctor asked again from the other side of the curtain about the stirrups in America. I corrected her that they are stirrup-like, and that the doctor sits right in front of your parts with legs spread wide. I told her I never knew any other way and got used to it.
She shook her head as I was leaving. “I don’t think I could ever get used to that.”
I was so delighted by the unusual experience I rushed home to tell my husband the way it’d been done. Having been through surgeries, pregnancy ultrasounds, and labor with me, he’d become pretty familiar with the routine women have to go through. He’d said he always saw it done that way in movies.
A week or so later my results were in. Via a no reply text message. That’s right, a text. Usually, I’d get a confidential letter in the mail.
Nope. This time an “all good” text would do.
Add this, along with my $40 doctor bill, to my list as one of the things I love about living in a new country.