My Cervix Doesn’t Smoke

gynecologist stirrupsAfter 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.




About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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40 Responses to My Cervix Doesn’t Smoke

  1. Wow, a headlamp AND a lit cigarette! Who the hell was that guy – a vagina miner?

  2. Rachel says:

    WOW. You are such a writer, my friend. Someday I will pay you to read your writing. Right? Right??? 🙂

  3. jenbrunett says:

    O.M.G. That’s insane!!! What is with seedy nyc gyn’s??? I stumbled into one of those once, myself. But he didn’t have a cigarette. And he seemed fine, I guess. But he gave me a weird smile after. It freaked me out. I NEVER went back.

    • I get the willies thinking about it.

      And I’ve had one or two perfectly fine male gynecologists in the 20 years since them, but I do prefer women. Not that they’re free from creepy behavior, but I figure they have the same organs and some similar ponderings about body behavior.

  4. Stacie says:

    That is so very creepy! Love the writing 🙂

  5. ugh! that is a bad dr. experience. i had one myself and never went back to a man gyn again. solid story here.

  6. Martha B says:

    Am I allowed to say “what in the actual fuck?” Because seriously, that’s some shady stuff right there. How traumatic!!

    • Yes, you’re allowed! I think he might have been having an “episode” or something. I just kept thinking, if a 20something, educated, fairly experienced with doctors woman felt like I did, how would someone EVEN less confident have handled it? CREEPER!

  7. gennaclaire says:

    That’s HORRIFYING!! Seriously?? A cigarette?? I am so sorry. You so well captured the discomfort of the whole experience though, so there’s that. 🙂

  8. Vanessa D. says:

    I used to have a male gynecologist that I loved – I kept telling him I wished he would switch to family practice – but I have had the experience of baring my lady bits for a doctor who made me feel somehow dirty. It was the last time I went to him.

  9. Madhura says:

    Oh god… that’s creepy, seriously… Nicely written, though 🙂

  10. wcdameron says:

    That sounds pretty awful. I can’t imagine a doctor smoking at any time during an exam, but specifically during a pap smear. There have been times, however during an exam of my prostate, when the silly banter my doctor tossed about was suspect. “How was your Valentine’s day?” was one of those…..

    • Thankfully, he hadn’t started the actual exam. It would have been even creepier had he lit the cigarette post-exam. Ewww.

      My belief is that unless you know the patient pretty well already, discussion topics should stick to “Everything seems healthy here” and “Let me know if something is uncomfortable” — certainly not anything about your romantic escapades! Oh dear.

  11. It sucks when your insurance sucks and you have to settle for a doctor because that’s what’s covered.

  12. tedstrutz says:

    What the hell year was this? A cigarette… really? I enjoyed your memoir.

  13. annbennett says:

    I’m glad you got up and left. It sounds like you were in for an extensive exam. I mean, he lit a cigarette. Like a pap smear takes that long. You’re headline was really an eyecatcher.

  14. theinnerzone says:

    Whoa, that is scary! I read your story in one breath – powerful writing.

  15. Christina says:

    WTF?!!! i don’t even know what to say other than that!

  16. Natalie DeYoung says:

    This is horrifying. I think I’d have nightmares about it, oh, FOREVER.

  17. jennbird77 says:

    I swear, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to walk out. I’m impressed that you did, even if you think you should have done it earlier.

  18. mommytransformations says:

    This is exactly why I still go back to MI once of year to see my gyn, even though I moved to NYC three years ago…

  19. what a horrible experience!! i seriously cannot believe this happened. i would be livid!!! there was no female to accompany him during the exam? its general practice that a female must witness the pelvic exam when it’s a male provider. i seriously cannot believe this happened… was there no manager or anything to report him to? i’m so sorry this happened to you. its infuriating!!

    • I realized afterwards that the woman had not been in the room. And honestly, because I’d always had a female NP before, it wasn’t something I thought about as necessary.

      Your fury has made me angry all over again! ARGH!

      • ahh!! i don’t mean to fan the flames. sorry!!

        as a health professional, it really enrages me to hear of stories like this, of people who do not get the professional, compassionate, and competent care they deserve. because when you are entrusting your body and health to someone, you are literally putting your life in their hands. they should be treating you with respect, dignity, and the utmost care.


        i hope that this never happens to you again. and i hope that other women have reported his behavior so that he doesn’t continue to see patients in this way.

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