No woman that I know enjoys her annual exam. It’s awkward – both physically and emotionally. It involves body positions and questions that – even for the most self-confident – can do nothing but make a woman cringe a bit. These are necessary pains, I suppose, but I’m hoping for the day when the pap smear is done like going through airport security – a quick stroll with my shoes off, and I’m all set.
It was only today, when I was at my annual exam, that I realized exactly how awkward and challenging it must be for the people that give these exams. On so many levels, that is a hard job. Let’s walk through some of the challenges a doctor or NP giving an annual gynecological exam must deal with.
1. First, the doctor has to walk into a room where a woman is, for all intents and purposes, naked. This woman will be trying to act casual why being as unnaked as possible in a gown that is meant to make all her most private parts most accessible. This will be happening in harsh, florescent light, and yet, this doctor must act as if nothing unusual is going on.
Beth, my NP today, actually shook my hand when she came in the room. Brava to her!
2. The doctor has to ask questions that we don’t even talk to our best friends about unless something is going wrong. How’s your sex life? Are you even having sex? With whom? How often? How’s that going for you?
Beth smiled, asked, and made a note, all without one wince, awkward blush, or look of stunned silence.
3. She actually has to say, “Could you put your feet in the stirrups?” and “This is going to be a little cold and uncomfortable.” Do I really have to explain this one?
Beth avoided both by saying, “Okay, let me get you to scoot down here.” I applaud this – casual but also clear – we’re going to do this, Andi, she was saying subtly.
4. Then, the doctor has to actually do the exam. Really, how can this be a pleasant experience from her point of view either? No grimaces or sudden intakes of breath allowed. No sidelong glances to avoid the full-on view. This requires her full attention.
Beth made the best of the situation by continuing our conversation about my writing while she “took a look.” She even pushed down the sheet between my knees so that she could look me in the face on occasion. I found this comforting – a little more person, a little less specimen.
5. The doctor must do this over and over again, all day long.
Beth still smiled – and not a fake grimace-smile. This alone is admirable.
So all you gynecologists and nurse practitioners, all you general practitioners that don’t farm out this work, my hat (and my pants) are off to you for keeping us healthy and making this painful process as painless as possible for all of us.
Note – It’s not often (or ever) when I have a forum where I can write the sentence that titles this post. Posts like this are why I’m so glad that Shelva and I do this blog. (Shelva, may disagree after this post, of course). This feels cathartic, and hopefully, I didn’t freak you all out.
Another Note – You have no idea how hard it was to find a photo to go with this post.