He’ll Respect My Vagina in the Morning
Last month at my annual gynecological exam, I suffered serious heartbreak. Melodramatic, maybe, but the 20-year relationship I have had with my gynecologist is not like other women’s. Mine is special, unique, and validated.
Let me be clear, my gynecologist is male, and he understands me like no man ever has. This is important, especially in mid-life when getting any attention “down there” slows way down. (By the way, he’s chairman of gynecology and obstetrics at one of the top clinics in the United States, Scripps Clinic. I tell you this last part so that you don’t think I’m talking about some dusty office in a strip mall with a neon sign.)
In the same way that I never cross my eyes because they will stick that way forever, or never buy seafood from a truck with Kansas license plates, I religiously go to my annual exam for fear I will get cancer the one time I don’t go. There are three very important reasons I love my gynecologist:
1. He has the ability to save my life. White horse/white coat.
2. When I was 45, he told me I had the cervix of a 32-year-old.
3. The most valuable reason of all: He puts funny posters on the ceiling of the examination room.
Let me back up a bit: Every April, I go to the doctor’s office faithfully, take off every stitch of clothing except my socks (metal stirrups are cold!), lie back on the paper-coated table, and well, spread ‘em. I can’t think of a comparably vulnerable moment that is voluntary. The end of the table faces an open window and a parking lot. Sure, it’s four floors up, a one-way window and no one can see in, but still, there’s also two faces (doctor and nurse) standing at the end of the table looking at one thing (I don’t need to describe this, do I?) and well, the only place for me, the patient, to look is up. The acoustic tiled ceiling in my gynecologist’s office is the biggest comfort at that moment. Or it was. For over twenty years, on the ceiling were funny posters. My favorite was the one that said simply, “I Really Hate This.”
The posters let me know that this was a man who completely understood me. For one three-minute moment, once a year, a man got me 100%. Before I met my doctor, I preferred female gynecologists because I felt less self-conscious and thought they would be easier to talk to about birth control, or other “female issues.” My doctor’s professionalism and splendid bedside manner, which includes the funny signs, made my 20 years of exams not only bearable, but somewhat pleasurable. Rarely can a woman say that about her gynecologist.
But last month, with the wax paper crinkling beneath me as I laid back, I looked up and the posters were gone. I nearly slammed my knees together in response to the betrayal. But I stayed still, since after all, a large metal speculum was veering toward a very sacred spot. So I just said meekly, “The posters, they’re gone.”
My doctor explained, and I swear I could hear a tremor in his voice, that just weeks before, another patient had come in and seen the posters and considered them unprofessional. This fusspot of a patient had apparently stormed down to the administration offices and complained. I tried to imagine what she could possibly have said: “I had my legs spread, looked up and instead of feeling nervous and just plain icky, I found myself giggling! You must stop this horrific experience at once!” No doubt she is menopausal, and hasn’t found the right lubricant to help with that encroaching dryness. But administration, as administration the world over is wont to do, went directly to my doctor’s offices and removed every poster from every acoustic tile. Humor was banned! Now, all we get are the full-color illustration of an anatomically correct vagina with all its labeled parts. It’s on the wall, not the ceiling, next to the magazine rack with last month’s Golf and Health magazines with the covers torn off and all the good recipes removed.
Being peri-menopausal, which I’m using as an excuse to stomp my foot when I see wrongdoings, I decided this situation would be my cause. Training for a Breast Cancer 10K might be more the norm, but being a writer proud of my flabby quads, I wrote a strongly-worded yet diplomatic letter to the office administration stressing the need for humor during this vulnerable moment. I used words like “consideration” and “universal understanding” and “fusspots.” I have not heard back, but I will make it my mission to stop hospital administration from catering to the bitches of the world who stifle a tiny moment of joy for other women whether she’s lying there thinking “When will this be over,” or organizing a corporate takeover in her head.
I know I’m lucky: Many women on that table are getting bad news instead of compliments about their cervix. So wouldn’t it be nice for them to look up and see a poster picturing a kitten napping inside a slipper with the line “Try to relax” underneath it? Or the one with a puppy hanging his forlorn face out of a cardboard box with the line, “Why am I here?” I suspect the doctors and nurses at Scripps Clinic also prefer a smiling patient to a curmudgeon. This is a case of the squeaky wheel. Being the competitive type, with my own encroaching dryness, my pen is set on high volume, and I plan on outsqueaking any post-menopausal retread.
I will go to the top to see that these posters are returned. I won’t let yet another relationship with my man be sullied by another woman. After all, he has been there for me for 20 years, it’s the least I can do.
Editing Note: I revised the section on ovarian cancer that I got wrong, but because some of the comments from readers were just too crazy to delete, I left everything below in tact. I just couldn’t delete the commenter whose gender changed mid-argument.
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