Lying on my back covered in a paper blanket, trying to think up the most casual way to hold my legs open when not wearing pants, is perhaps the weirdest way I’ve ever rung in the New Year. The vague heart palpitations weren’t helping either.
The urban legends and anecdotes of my female family members ran through my mind. Words like scraped and scratched, the shudders of physical revulsion, the adamant way that the women around me had refused to respond to the doctor’s summons- these echoes of remembered distaste all served to make this doctor’s visit an exercise in exaggerated foreboding. Was I about to summon a sadistic tentacle monster? Was I requesting chunks of my insides to be torn loose and slapped onto the griddle for the viewing pleasure of a torture porn audience? Surely nothing short of terrifying humiliation and pain would cause those kinds of reactions? I couldn’t imagine what was about to come.
And despite all that, I was there. Guilt ridden, terrified and protesting, but there.
“So, I will explain it to you- you’ve had a Pap Smear before, of course, but it’s procedure-“
Um. No. Thanks for that assumption, doctor, but I hadn’t ever had a Pap Smear. Sure, I was 26 and well overdue, but I was also utterly clueless. How nice of you to remind me.
The thing is – the thing is – a Pap Smear is my number one most dreaded medical procedure. Of the long list of shit-I-should-get-looked-at, the top three went:
3 – Get my wisdom teeth pulled out
2 – Have my boobs squished in a big boob-squishing machine
1 – Ask a doctor to stick a scraper thing in my vag
And even then, it was a long, long way above the boob-pancake maker.
I peered at the implements on the tray. A shoe horn, a tiny toilet scrub brush and some plastic stick thing. The mysterious pile of torture weapons. They were kind of… cute. I was perturbed.
He held the shoe horn aloft – “this is a speculum! It goes – Mary, what size speculum is this?” He suddenly looked at the nurse, who hovered on my other side. I’d nearly forgotten her in all the mess.
She was the reason I needed to do this today. Because, despite my squeamishness, this was not the first time I’d asked for a Pap Smear. In fact, it was the fifth time I’d approached a doctor for this procedure.
The first time the doctor told me that “being a virgin, you won’t need that for a few more years.” I was a chubby, 18 year old lesbian. I believed her. Even though I definitely was not a virgin.
The second time, the doctor didn’t even beat around the bush. “You’re a lesbian? Oh, there’s only a tiny percentage of a chance that you have anything. I think we can skip that.” I had been so unreasonably relieved that I’d forgotten to be insulted.
The third time, I’d asked for a full STI check, thinking a Pap Smear would be an essential part of that. They didn’t even ask me about my sexual activity, or what kind of test I needed. I peed in a cup. HPV wasn’t mentioned.
The fourth time, the doctor explained that he couldn’t help me because there was no nurse in the clinic at 9:00pm at night. I’d just left my date’s house, was horny as all hell and determined to get the all clear before I started a new relationship. I was pissed. A bloody nurse?? I’d been trying to get a doctor to look at my bits for eight years! A little thing like a nurse wasn’t going to stop me!
But being asked to leave, please, would.
So here I was, in the middle of the day, insisting on being examined, and nervously pretending I knew what the fuck was happening. I raised my knees, wondering what the hell the size of the speculum meant.
“It’s a medium,” the nurse said, bemused. The doctor peered at me doubtfully.
“A medium? Hmmm. Can you get me the small, please?”
What? I blinked, mildly outraged. Excuse me? Did I look like a small speculum girl? What about me suggested I needed a medium to begin with?! Do doctors actually look at their patients and think ‘oh, no, this girl clearly needs a big, hulking shoe horn! Better get extra lube, too. Heh. Heh.’ What does that even mean?!
Whatever it meant, it couldn’t be good.
The smaller speculum arrived and I cautiously edged my legs open. Like a virgin sacrifice, I lay back and thought of England.
I imagined that the pain would be hard to take. I imagined that I would limp afterwards. I imagined that I might bleed, or that the sample would look like a prop from a gory Dexter episode.
What I didn’t imagine was a quick tickle, and then it was over.
The doctor smiled at me. “Your cervix looks good,” he enthused. I blinked, confused. What was happening? Was he going to do it already?
The nurse smiled. “You can pop up and put your pants on now,” she hinted. Hesitantly, I closed my legs.
And that was it.
I honestly have no idea what everyone is talking about when they complain about Pap Smears. Compared to giving blood, to getting an ultrasound on a full bladder, to waiting to find out if you have to get major surgery, a Pap Smear is fucking easy. Well, not fucking… it was clinical, bland and slightly sticky, but easy none the less.
I want to set the record straight- a Pap Smear is not torture, or uncomfortable, or even that remarkable in the big scheme of things. It’s not only for straight girls, or girls that have had sex, and not only for girls full stop. And, for the love of God, it’s definitely not a full on assault by a tentacle monster bent on rending bits of bloody skin from your insides!
It’s just a check up, the same as any check up. They don’t hurt, they aren’t designed to kill you, and you should just do it already.
But, like… not that boob squishing machine. That shit looks painful.