In December, I was gearing up for the holidays and we were having a cold spell. The idea of a gloved hand between my legs didn't sound appealing. Then, spring came, and I started to think about it. The gynecologist I'd been seeing since I was eighteen had changed. I hardly knew him anymore. His signature good looks were now puffy and middle aged, his Clark Kent hair gray, but it wasn't ageism that was the final straw. It was last year, when I spent forty five minutes in my skimpy paper robe, freezing cold, before he finally walked in my room. When I told him I was nervous, he replied that I was just a ‘nervous person'.
Maybe he was on to something, when strange men place their gloved fingers inside of me or palm my breasts, I get nervous. This year I asked the receptionist to book me with whichever doctor handled patients with kid gloves.
“Dr. Murphy is the one you want.” she immediately explained.
“Is that... a he or she?” I asked. Unlike most of my girlfriends, I prefer a male gynecologist. My husband grilled me on this the other day.
“Why do you prefer a man?” he seemed surprised at my insistence.
“Because men have a natural interest in the vagina, same with lesbians.” I articulated, having thought it through, “I only want people looking at my vagina who like vaginas and have, at some point, found them attractive.” I finished my thoughts quickly, as the look in his eyes suggested I was a freak and divorce imminent.
The receptionist told me that Dr. Murphy was a “he” and the doctor she personally sees.
On the day of my appointment, walking in to the building, I hightailed it up the elevator. I promised myself I'd take the stairs back down... once my heart rate returned to normal, post exam. I filled out the required paperwork and sat in my chair, shifting about uncomfortably. The pepper haired nurse in her early forties finally called my name. She had short hair and looked like she wore Birkenstocks during her time off. I liked her hippie vibe immediately. Straight or not, if she'd been a doctor, I would have let her look at my vagina.
She told me to secure my robe with it open at the back and I did. When Dr. Murphy walked in, I tried to remind myself that he came with a recommendation and probably wasn't a dirty old man, despite that being what his facial features reminded me of. He asked for my history and browsed his notes. Once the nurse came in, a safety feature to avoid inappropriate behavior or lawsuits, he asked me to pull down my paper robe. My old gynecologist was more discreet and had us lie down first, covered up, as he felt one breast at a time.
I did as he asked. He told me to raise my arms high, it felt like I was at a nudist rave. He observed my breasts, then had me place my hands on my hips, which I did, breasts forward. After that he had me lie down and finally began squeezing from nipples to armpit.
“You do self breast exams, right?” he asked, once he was done and told me that my less-perky-than-they-used-to-be breasts were doing just fine.
“Uhm, well no.” I knew this sounded irresponsible and tried to explain, “But my breasts are pretty small. I kind of feel them in passing. It's honestly pretty easy to know what's going on with them.”
The Birkenstock friendly nurse let out a chortle and the doctor did too. “You're right.” he affirmed, in good humor, “the really big ones...” he held his hands out in front of him, miming large watermelon breasts, maybe DD's, “they're a lot harder to feel what's happening.”
Since I was HPV negative, he told me I didn't need a pap smear. I never thought I'd miss a long Q-tip scraping my cervix, but it felt like something was missing.
“Times have changed.” the doctor educated, “Nowadays, we don't even see sexually active teens before they are twenty-one. To tell you the truth, they almost all have HPV, it's rampant. Bringing them in before age twenty-one was leading to unnecessary testing, when the infection usually clears on its own.”
Being under twenty sounded like a cesspool. He had me scoot down, knees bent, close and closer. His hands were still gloveless. “He's going to wear gloves, right?” I whispered to the nurse, suddenly scared as his hand disappeared underneath the paper covering.
“Yes.” she chuckled again, “He's just looking.”
I reminded myself to be glad he was a man who likes vaginas, as they aren't something I'd ever want to look at. His gloved hand entered into my flesh, only he didn't make small talk like the former gynecologist I broke up with. I began daydreaming as he pushed on my abdomen, his other hand traveling to my far corners, which I didn't even know existed. I began wondering if very religious people avoid such exams, based on how invasive they are. I looked up and he was standing upright, as he felt around. The vantage point of a man standing between my legs wasn't appealing. My old gyno used to sit in a chair which felt less violating.
“Alright! Everything looks great!” he complimented, “Now, I'll just do a quick anal exam.”
“A... a what?” I snapped back to the room, suddenly alert as can be. “I don't think I want that.” I told him clearly.
“It's optional, but I try and do it to all my patients. One day, when you turn forty, you should have it done.” As if eventually turning forty wasn't bad enough, I now had another reason to dread it.
“Can I ask you a question.” I began, thinking about Michael Douglas, the actor and how he blamed his cancer on excessive cunnilingus, “Do you think oral sex is safe these days, with all the HPV?”
“For someone like you, no HPV, in a monogamous relationship, I think it's fine, yeah. Michael Douglas smoked and I think cigarettes even contained HPV.”
It sounded like an urban legend, but it's hard to argue when you're in a paper robe. It did renew my incentive to stay married- apparently loose wielded sexuality would mean more doctors visits.
“If you're worried, you can always eat lots of avocados.” he assured, “I read that avocados prevent all that.”
“I do like avocados.” I thought aloud, then added, “Well, I'm sure my husband will be happy to hear that. I'd put a moratorium on such practices, ever since Michael Douglas.” The doctor laughed again, the nurse had already excused herself from the room and wasn't privy to another one-liner.
I took the elevator on the way down and a man in scrubs chatted with me. “Are you a doctor?” I inquired and he looked sheepish, explaining that he was merely on staff in a radiology area. “That's okay, I don't like doctors very much.” He laughed. I wouldn't have wanted him to see my vagina anyway.
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This is PART II, the second part to last year's WHEN TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR GYNECOLOGIST.