The FIRST challenge was knowing where to park and how to get there. I sure as heck didn’t know, but I was sure that Google would.
Despite my initial confidence, at a point, Google Maps became rather clueless (as it persistently insisted on routing me over toward the emergency deck — unnecessary), so I tossed my phone aside and used my human brain to figure things out instead.
Moments later, I victoriously emerged from my car on the second floor of the physician’s plaza. At this juncture, I was presented with challenge number two: discovering where exactly my new OBGYN was. I located a posted directory a little ways inside of the building and it proved useful. I inhaled deeply, held the breath, and then took an elevator straight up to the third floor, exhaling with relief when the door finally reopened.
Inside of the “OBGYN hub”, I checked in at a desk, handed my ID over, presented my health insurance card, and filled out a bunch of forms. The forms reminded me of my name, old age, strange-to-read “divorced” status, and various family member’s health ailments.
“Check each box that applies” is how section after section read, and the pesky and invasive questionnaires existing within these sections nudged me to cough up intimate details about myself — things like whether or not I:
- was sexually active (um no, and excuse YOU!),
- had suicidal thoughts (that is none of your business), and
- wanted a colonoscopy today (why the FUCK did I agree to do this?!). In addition to not checking this ridiculous box, I wrote “I do not want this” right alongside it.
And why did I agree to do this?
For years (not just weeks or months), coworkers and friends had been badgering to me to “go get my annual.” They spoke of lumps in the breasts and cancers lurking inside of vaginas and told me horror stories about people they knew or had read about who had died from such terrible things.
Eventually, I grew sick of the attention. I scheduled the damn appointment and then emailed these female friends and coworkers, announcing the big event. “Are you HAPPY now?!” I wanted to yell through caps lock. But I didn’t. Because I understood their badgering was coming from a very good and kind place.
And why was I so averse to the idea of “getting my annual”, anyways?
Because of the first annual I ever got. I was 18. Chris and I had just gotten married, and everyone on the planet was urging me to get on birth control.
So I visited an OBGYN (which, btw, is simply pronounced ob-gyn —why do people bother SPELLING IT OUT aloud when they can just say “obgyn”?) and, after explaining to the nurse that my (now ex)husband Christopher and I would soon be traveling to Ukraine to teach English, the nurse urgently stuffed handfuls of birth control samples into my bag. So many handfuls that I wouldn’t need a refill for at least a year. I felt dirty… and nauseous. I was, at this time, a virgin, and the idea of having sex (or lots of it, as her many handfuls seemed to imply) was immensely uncomfortable to me. So, understandably, I hated having a bulk amount of these scandalous pills in my bag (and very much hated taking them for a solid three years before I decided to reclaim my personality, emotional stability, and physical health).
Our Ukraine plans never panned out (because life is fantastically mysterious), and a year later, I needed a refill. I was now 19, just about to turn 20.
And no one in my life had ever told me, WARNED ME, about what happened next, AFTER the free year’s supply of BCPs fall into your purse… about the complete and utter shittiness of taking all of your clothes off and then getting jabbed in your you-know-what with a COLD metal DEVICE by a stranger in white. W.T.H.
And when that happened, right out of the blue on a stupid Wednesday morning, I felt totally victimized. So I promised myself, I will never, ever subject you to this again.
But six years later (aka this morning), there I was, sitting in another doctor’s office and waiting for that terrible, dreaded jab. And I’ve gotta say — KNOWING about it was almost worse than “going in blind” six years ago, because now, in addition to the horror of experiencing it, I also got to anticipate it. Yay.
I had begrudgingly provided a urine sample and then carefully stepped over a blue fruit loop on the floor (probably belonging to another woman’s screaming toddler) moments before being called into the back.
And there in the back, I had fully expected to be shuffled into one of those basic examination rooms, but instead, I was led into the doctor’s office. Like, the one with plants and pictures of family members and graduation plaques and tiny, monogrammed things.
And because being seated in an office office seemed far too serious and intimate for the routine “thing” that I forecasted should be happening, I was more than a little alarmed.
What the heck did they find in that urine sample? I wondered, imagining the vagina cancer monster stewing gleefully in some secret place within me. “Or are they going to interrogate me for skipping some of the questions I REALLY didn’t like? Dang it, I should have just answered them!”
“Hi hi hiiiiiiiiiiiiii,” a voice sang out suddenly. The sound of the doctor had entered the room before she did; I turned to face the doorway, which she had already, magically, passed through.
“I hope being in here isn’t freaking you out,” she continued quickly, her long, red hair swaying in an attempt to keep up with her swift strides. “Most patients are like, ‘UH OH! What did I do to end up in here?!'” And here, she laughed easily, comfortably seating herself on the other side of the desk and then looking directly across it at me.
“I was a little worried,” I admitted, laughing nervously.
“Ahhhh, I just like to get to know ya before you’re undressed!” she explained, grinning.
Her spirit was completely disarming, and I immediately trusted her.
We discussed me for a while — my occupation, artistic pursuits, and holistic healing methods (as well as the incident from six years before). She solemnly swore that today’s experience would be totally different.
And again, I trusted her — her goodness of heart and her good intentions — but I still didn’t believe that it wouldn’t totally suck.
Soon afterwards, she escorted me over to the basic examination room I had been hoping for and complimented my leather jacket along the way. I thanked her and then realized that she’d also said something right afterwards about undressing and me putting on a thin, blue gown, but I’d somehow missed the gist of it, strangely caught up in the mental history of my jacket.
“Sorry — what all am I taking off again?” I asked quietly.
“Everything but your socks!” she answered, smiling and exiting the room.
I sighed, disrobing quickly and then tossing my garments onto a nearby armchair. I fiddled with the blue paper gown and couldn’t quite figure it out. It was far too roomy — and blue, like the ocean! I looked up from the patient’s table I was now sitting on and saw a Coastal Whatever magazine lying on a nearby table. It featured a lovely beach scene on the front.
At least they try to make you feel relaxed, I thought glumly, keeping my hands folded neatly in my lap.
I stared down at my peach-colored turtle socks. It feels strange — removing everything BUT the socks, I realized. Should I take them off, too? I hesitated, trying to imagine it. No… THAT would be even WEIRDER, I firmly decided.
I bounced my legs back and forth, suddenly remembering that, unlike most women, I didn’t shave them. She’ll think what she thinks — I don’t even care, I sighed. I just want to do this so it’s done. Besides — my legs LOVE not being shaved, I added, smiling to myself encouragingly. I was happy to realize that unshaven legs were no longer an anxiety trigger of mine. Score!
When my doc re-entered the room, she brought an assistant with her. Great, I mused. An audience of two instead of one. This helps things.
I won’t go into detail on what happened next, because it wasn’t at all pleasant, but the doctor’s incessant, buoyant small talk was a wonderful distraction. Among other things, we discussed tattoos, the Spanish language, and Ecuador together.
“I actually had to bribe myself to come here,” I admitted. “Right after arranging this appointment, I scheduled an upcoming tattoo session as an ‘incentive’, or reward, for getting through this ordeal.” She and her assistant were both tickled.
At the end of the process, procedure, whatever, she started talking about next time.
How cute, I thought to myself. She thinks there will be a next time!
“You did so good today — you should get a sticker!” she raved. “No, wait — not a sticker… a TATTOO!” she corrected herself, laughing heartily.
I called Charlie immediately following the event.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“I’m soooooooooo glad it’s over,” I breathed. “The doctor was really nice, though, and she definitely helped make things less weird. I liked her so much, in fact, that I might go back again in three years!” I smiled.
I texted a friend as well: “I finally went! Will find out within a week or so if I’m dying.”
And then, fully clothed and gratefully returning to my normal abnormal car and life, I shook off my lingering anxiety with every step forward and thought to myself, isn’t the sky so blue and beautiful today?