‘Oscopy Adventures of Another
Not more than a few days after the routine few-yearly cervical smear test which all women over the age of whatever-it-is undergo, something we don’t really look forward to, but do anyway, I found myself aghast, dumbfounded, breathless, with a hospital letter in my hands. It said I had “abnormal cells”, and that I “urgently” had to have a colposcopy. Anything that ends in ‘oscopy, I knew what that meant, and I worked out for myself, that if it ends in ‘oscopy, and is linked to my cervical smear, then I quickly had a new word in my vocabulary. I knew exactly where it was going, and what it was doing. I swallowed. I breathed slowly. I re-read the letter: urgent, urgent, urgent resounded in my head, and filled me with dread. It didn’t just say “follow-up”, which made me think that my cervix must look like some fungating mass of abnormality. I re-read the date of the ‘oscopy. It rung a bell. It was the same day and time as the appointment for the fracture clinic follow-up appointment for the broken toe of my teenage son. How was that going to work I wondered? With his crutches and my crotch, his simple broken toes and my complex dignity and discretion?
I wondered and pondered. I thought it would be easiest, simplest if I could separate the two appointments so that he and his toe didn’t need to be involved with me and my bits, you know. I called the hospital, thinking that to reschedule an appointment like this would be something that wasn’t beyond the realms of their software and understanding. I was disappointed. I was informed it’d be another three weeks, if I needed to move my appointment. Given that it was an “urgent” appointment, that didn’t sound very urgent to me. The lady had a tinkle of compassion in her voice, but her computer, and common sense said “no” to my appointment being moved. I waited the long few days for the appointment to arrive, and often had images in my head of cartoon-like abnormal creatures jostling and multiplying in my cervix.
The day arrived. I parked and took my hobbling teenage son to the fracture clinic, and waited. A mixture of arms, wrists, legs and ankles sat with us as he waited and fidgeted with his sore toe. We were in, and out. All good, his teenage toe was healing nicely and crutches were no longer needed. We were off to the Department of Women’s Health, a first for my teenage son, and as expected, it prompted a few questions. “How come there is no Department of Men’s Health?” he asked, “that’s sexist. I’m going to take it to the European Court of Human Rights”. I was impressed by his understanding of the gender equality and legal system, but explained that although “Women’s Health” actually infers that it could be inclusive of everything, varicose veins, cardiology, and cover the whole woman’s body, that in fact “women’s health” really refers to the bits of a woman’s body between the tummy button and her thighs, at the front. So no bottom stuff really, and basically it just meant the “baby-related” parts. I went on to explain that given that men, and teenage boys, didn’t have those bodily parts, that the European Court of Humans Rights probably wouldn’t consider it sex discrimination, given that most males don’t have those bodily parts. I thought to myself, it would probably be a good idea if they did though, it might enable them to be a bit more understanding of what I was going through. He had a fair point though, “Women’s Health” is a misleading term. The department should be renamed “Fannies, Bunties, Fa-fas & Noo-noos”.
The shutter was down. I was five minutes early for my appointment and the clinic reception was closed up like a beach resort out of season. Tumbleweed blew around the waiting room as I sat, not sure what to say, with my fidgety teenage son. I didn’t want him to accompany me into my appointment as I had done with him and his appointment. I didn’t want him to worry about the “what ifs” that were going around in my head. I sat. He fidgeted. He grumbled that he was hungry. At this rate, clinic would be starting late. I went to the closed shutter and peered around the edge through the window slightly ajar. There was a lady (or was it a Rottweiler?) there. “The shutter’s not open yet” she snapped, stating the bleeding obvious. “When they are ready they will open it” she growled. I backed-off and retreated to my seat and sat there next to my fidgeting, hungry teenage son. I waited. I rummaged in my bag and found something to calm the rumbles of a bottomless teenage stomach, and I breathed, deeply. Would positive escape visualisation get me out of here I wondered?
The shutters rattled and clattered as they were raised and the receptionist showed her teeth. I wondered what was on her job description, possibly a requirement for sharp teeth and piercing eyes? If so, that’s what got her the job next to the Rottweiler. “Clinic opens at a half past one” she said. “What’s your name? Date of Birth? Address?”. I replied minimalistically, mirroring her level of politeness. “You’re in first…” she snapped “…but we don’t have your notes”. Surely that can’t be a problem I thought, in this age of technology, computers and electronic medical records. Surely a tattered brown folder, last used at this hospital at the birth of my fidgety teenage son, would not be a show-stopper. The Pitbull huffed and puffed and noisily stabbed at the keyboard, her sharpened painted nails. “In you go…” she said, “…first door on the right”. “Where’s the ladies loo please?” I asked meekly, as the immanency of my colposcopy took effect on my bladder. The Pitbull looked at me as if I had asked the most ridiculous question she had ever heard. “Back towards the main door, left, up the stairs and it’s the third door on the right. It has a sign saying Ladies toilet” she said with more than a hint of sarcasm. I scuttled off leaving my hungry teenage son. I found the look with the help of the very appropriate Ladies Toilet sign that the Pitbull had referred to. I sat. I let go. The relief. That stupid Pitbull bitch wasn’t exactly making this any easier I thought. Didn’t she know what was going through my head about my abnormal cells in my cervix? I breathed. Trousers up. Hands washed. I walked calmly back to the double door behind which I would have my colposcopy. I knocked and waited politely.
I was called in by a cheerful sounding doctor whose accent that was a blend of Bedfordshire and Bombay. “Come in, come in, sit down, sit down please Mrs….” he searched furtively for my patient notes. I said my surname and held out the letter that I’d been sent inviting me for an urgent colposcopy. He looked relieved to have a number to go with my name, and a document that said why I was there. He explained that it was a quick procedure, it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes, and he just wanted to take a few more cells because of my smear showed some of my cells to be abnormal, pre-cancerous cells. He said that bit very quickly in his strongly accented voice. I looked around the room. There was a contraption in there that reminded me of my last visit to the gym several months back. It looked like the inner thigh toning machine. I wondered how I would ever fit my generous arse on the fag-packet sized seat. I wondered how, even after years of yoga, my legs would ever go wide enough to get to the footplates. He could see, and probably smell, my fear. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry my dear. Now pop this on and pop up there and nurse and I will be back in a minute”. The nurse handed me a disposable gown, the ones that you’re never quite sure if the opening should be at the back or the front, and he gesticulated at the gym equipment and scuttled off.
I breathed, de-robed and re-robed. I opted for the opening down the back, to protect what was left of my modesty. Disposable gowns are not becoming I thought, as I tried to fit my ample arse on the fag packet. I jiggled and wobbled and managed to perch. I breathed. I looked at the angle of the footplates. If my legs were the arms on a clock, the time would need to be a quarter to three. I tried my yoga breathing to help me relax into the groin stretch. I wondered how those ladies who don’t go to yoga regularly manage with this pose. The nurse came in and asked if I was alright. I wanted to tell her that it was a stupid question to ask, but I smiled and said “I’m fine”. The Doctor returned, smiled and congratulated me on my readiness. “Some people need a hand getting on to that” he said. I wondered if I was being too eager, legs and a quarter to three, wearing nothing but a paper gown.
I waited there are they prepared themselves, the equipment and tools, adjusting my position and the lighting. The nurse warmed the speculum by running hot water over it. I thought that she must have been here before, and that she knew that chilled stainless steel isn’t as welcome as body-temperature stainless steel. Female muscles seem to automatically tighten and clench in response to cold steel. The main lights were dimmed and the angle-poise spot-light turned on. They both turned on their miners head torches. “Just relax” he said. I thought about my bikini line and the spiders crawling down my legs. I hoped he’d seen worse and I knew he’d have seen neater Lady Gardens. He didn’t laugh, but he did keep smiling. What a job, I thought to myself. Fancy spending all day every day with your face inches form lady’s front bottoms, bunties, fa-fas and noo noos and then going home to your wife and kids. It takes all sorts I supposed.
Speculum in, sharp intake of breath. I tried to keep breathing. Head-torch focused and I realised that my view was probably funnier that his. Looking down over my paper gown, I would see the top of his head between my widely spread thighs, his black hair bobbing up and down as he tilted his head to get the right angle to peer into the nooks and crannies and shine his fluorescent light on my abnormal cells. “There’s a bit of wear and tear down here” he said. He chatted away to the nurse and then said that he wanted to take a photo. “Shall I smile?” I asked. He looked at me with his head to one side quizzically. Was he expecting me to do some tantric manoeuvre to create a smile down below, or did he think I needed a new profile picture for my Facebook account, or perhaps for the family album? “For your medical records…” he said, “…so we can keep an eye on things. Do you want to see?” I let him snap away and hoped that he wouldn’t be posting anything on the internet, and I declined his kind offer of seeing what was inside. I breathed.
My dignity was gone. I saw myself as others would have seen me, naked but for the paper gown, legs at a quarter to three, and a team of two white-coated miners between my thighs. I wanted it over and the speculum out. I wanted my jeans on, and to be off hospital grounds. I wanted the results and I wanted to report the “wear and tear” to my husband as surely he had something to do with that. “Procedure over…” he announced, “… no sex for four weeks”. I was allowed to dismount and get dressed. I wondered why I felt so dirty in this sterile environment. Jeans on, zipped and buttoned up. Legs back to an angle where they belong. I walked out, trying to squeeze everything down there. It felt a bit like my waters had just broken. I shuffled back to the waiting room to my teenage son. He had a part to play in the “wear and tear” too. “What’s for lunch?” he said.
At home that evening, I retold the comment about “wear and tear” to my husband after the kids had gone to bed. He looked at me, crossed his arms and said that it was “nothing to do with him”. And I thought he’d be proud. “No sex for four weeks…” I said, “…Doctor’s orders”. I breathed.
‘Oscopy Adventures of Another
Vicky Galbraith, October 2011