An annual visit to the OB/GYN.
The dreaded annual visit, not fun for any woman.
The diagnosis of endometriosis comes with numerous pelvic exams above and beyond an annual exam, as well as associated pain which can put you in bed for days. For years, I prided myself on my ability to endure stabbing, radiating pain from exams. I did not know, however, that subconsciously, I was taking notes, and storing pain and fear for the future. As a teenager, I didn’t understand much of what I was going through, nor did I have the foresight to stand up for myself and ask why it was necessary to endure yet ANOTHER pelvic exam. I just trusted the doctors plan of action.
2008 was turning point. All of the medicines and treatments that previously eased pain and leveled out hormones were no longer working. I was desperate, in a new city, and looking for a new gynecologist. If you’ve ever been in this position, you know doctors do not make immediate space for new patients. You typically get to wait six weeks. I didn’t have six weeks. I didn’t even feel well enough to last six hours. I literally called every doctor on my insurance’s recommendation list, any doctor friend’s recommended, and any doctor other doctor’s recommended. At one point, I contemplated taking myself to the Emergency Room, that would force an oncall OB/GYN to see me. I. Was. Desperate.
And then, a lovely woman from the office of I-Dont-Even-Care called and said they had a cancellation. “You are not next on the list, but I feel like you could use some help,” she explained, “we can see you tomorrow.”
At my first appointment with Mary Lou, fear and anxiety took over. She might have said three words to me, I’m not sure. I passed out. I couldn’t deal with the thought of having to go through a pelvic exam. At the time, I chalked it up to “being in too much pain”. But I now know all those years of “being strong and possessing a high pain tolerance” piled up in my psyche, creating mental and emotional trauma.
Over the next year, I began to address some of the trauma associated with endometriosis treatments. I was feeling confident I conquered any fear and was ready to tackle the dreaded annual exam once again. I sat in Mary Lou’s waiting room, calm and collected, mindlessly reading a magazine on a beautiful, comfortable sofa. Mary Lou called me back, and handed me a tiny, paper cup for a urine sample. I began to shake as I entered the spa-like restroom. The door closed behind me, and I didn’t take another step. The shakes increased and I cried hysterically. Time stopped as the silly cup collected my tears. I was in there long enough for Mary Lou to become concerned. A quiet knock on the door with her sweet voice asking, “Are you okay?”, interrupted the panic attack and trauma taking over my body. I opened the door, look at her with my make-up smeared face, and said nothing. She took the cup from me, directed me to her office (not an exam room), sat me down, and handed me a box of Kleenex. I suppose she asked me questions about something. All I remember is an inability to string together intelligible words, her hugging me, and giving me a prescription for the upcoming year’s birth control, and I left.
I recounted this story to my kinesiologist over the phone, and was disappointed to report, “What actually happened was I sat in a beautiful office, read a magazine, walked into a bathroom with a cup, a lovely woman hugged me, and handed me a piece of paper. And I am an emotional disaster.” For the first time, I intellectually knew that fear and anxiety took over and created a panic attack. It was the weirdest feeling to know that NOTHING physically happened, but emotionally I couldn’t separate past experiences.
The following year we skipped the urine test, and went straight for my vitals. Feeling confident, again, as I had done much work around any trauma still residing in my psyche. I proudly held it together until the cold, metal stethoscope touched my skin in an attempt to find my blood pressure. I cried. But not hysterically, just soft tears. I guess I don’t like metal, medical instruments. Mary Lou and I were able to hold a conversation. I agreed to talk in the exam room, but only if we sat in the guest chairs. My tears continued throughout my appointment. She wrote out my prescription for birth control, and inquired about my plans to address the trauma situation. “Acupuncture, massage and kinesiology are now a part of my life”, I answered. Satisfied, she gave me a hug, and thanked her for continuing to allow me to take baby steps.
Mary Lou has been patient with me, but continues to remind me that cervical cancer numbers increase after 30. I turned 32 this summer. The weight of a pap smear test is upon me. In the days following the phone call to make an appointment, stress, anxiety and fear built up inside me, and I gave myself hives, diarrhea, and cold sweats.
In the last few years, my mind-body connection has deepened, and so has my belief that the body is the message board to our psyche. I follow Louise Hay’s teachings and list of mental causes for physical conditions. According to Ms. Hay’s book “Heal Your Body A-Z”, hives can be interpreted as small, hidden fears, and making a mountain out of a mole hill. Diarrhea is fear, rejection, and running off. Cold sweats or chills are a mental contraction, a desire to retreat, or “leave me alone”.
I created a mess! With the help of my kinesiologist, I released the beliefs and fears I was holding onto. After a long, hot bath with Epsom Salts…I was on my way back!
I am proud to report, for the first time in five years, I made it through the entire exam. For the first time, I was in control, and I asked for the things I needed. I cannot thank Mary Lou enough for not only being patient, but for really listening to me, and supporting me by doing whatever it took to make me comfortable.
Here is what I learned: I hate inanimate and unnatural objects touching me. We skipped my blood pressure…it’s always been in a good range, and it got in the way of our greater goal. First, the AWFUL stirrups were immediately put away, I didn’t even want to look at them. We removed the crunchy, scratchy tissue paper crap from the exam table and used a series of cotton gowns. We also used an additional cotton hospital gown as my “lap blanked” instead of the folded paper “modesty blanket” that reminded me of a cheap picnic table cloth. A lot of laundry was created that day!
I left with a strange mixture of feelings. Relief. Exhaustion. Scared. Confused. Proud. Starting New.
My biggest take away has been knowing that within Mary Lou, I found a partner, and a teammate. She never once made me feel high-maintenence or like a pain-in-the-ass. I never felt judged or embarrassed. She truly LISTENED to me, and listened to me at a time when my voice was small and quiet, scared and confused. I felt understood, and I felt worthy of asking for a few things to be done differently, to be done my way.
This is what every woman deserves. To feel worthy, loved, and understood.
All I can say is “You go girl!”
Every woman should read this. Nothing has memory like our skin, bones, soul. We have a right to medical care without fear. No matter what state our health is in. Good for you, Audrey. Love to you.
Thank you for this – for being real and transparent. I just had a well woman check up a couple days ago and I am just now processing the emotional baggage it brought up, both negative medical experiences and a long history of sexual abuse in my family. The midwife I saw this week was so patient and kind. She answered all of my questions and talked me through every thing she was doing to me. I let myself become emotionally numb at that point because tge exam is something I “should” do. I guess its a stepping stone – a journey of mending the broken identity of what it really is to be a woman. Thank you for sharing.