After seven years of university life and university health center nurse practitioners, my cervix and I had been spoiled. Those seven years of spreading my legs for plastic speculums and pap smears had been kind and gentle and chock full of information. A gentle voice would explain, “You’re going to feel some pressure and hear a click now.” And then I did. I heard descriptions of what the nurse practitioner saw, “Nice cervix! Healthy and pink!” And I was made to feel that questions and concerns were worthy of a medical professional’s time.
And then I moved to Brooklyn and got a job with a spare medical plan and a thin paycheck. At first I tried to find a female doctor, but they were few and far between on my insurance. I was too cheap to pay out-of-pocket, and Planned Parenthood had months-long waiting lists. So I shook off the scowl about a man not being a good enough lady doctor, and made an appointment.
My first clue should have been that I got an appointment the same week. Then, as soon as I walked through the basement entrance of the almost-Brooklyn Heights office, I wanted to leave. A woman ushered me into an examination room with a perplexed look. I undressed and put on the cloth robe folded limply on the cushioned table. “Alright, let’s get started,” and the door closed.
He was old. Shaky hand, papery skin, unkempt nose hair old. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t. No paperwork, no questions, no “I’m Dr So-and-So.”
“Lean back, honey.” And I did. “Alright, let’s see what’s going on down here.” I bit my lip. Stirrups, opened knees, a headlamp. And then I heard the metal on metal drag of a lighter followed by the crackle of a cigarette.
Oh, for FUCK’S sake.
I didn’t wait for more. Heels up, knees closed, I sat up to see a genuinely surprised look beneath the headlamp. What was with the head lamp? And suddenly he scurried out.
I got dressed, embarrassed by my stupidity. I left without looking the perplexed woman in the eye. Walking to the subway, I had to stop and sit on the cracked concrete of some imitation brownstone steps as I gasped for air. Anger, hot and white, forced its way out in tears. Why hadn’t I trusted my instincts? Why had I gotten undressed when I knew something was wrong? How could I have put myself in that position, quite literally, exposing myself?
I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. After a few months of slowly transferring anger from myself to the doctor I called the insurance company to report what to me was a huge invasion. The voice on the other end sounded bored.
I’d like to say that I never allowed respect, or maybe awe, of the medical profession to intimidate me again, but that’s just not true. I’ve allowed doctors to rush, brush aside, bully. But not silently. And never again while smoking a cigarette.