Traumatic Paps, Clueless Doctors: The Answer 17yrs Later
December 2, 2018 at 3:27 pm #23991Breakthesilence82Participant
Today was going to be just another typical day. I had an audition, then a five hour photo shoot. At the audition office, I patiently waited to be called in, knowing I had to be on set in 20 minutes. Finally, they called me in, I sat in front of the camera. The director and her other female assistant explained the purpose of the spot. They were trying to destigmatize the embarrassment of female issues such as periods and their symptoms, leaky bladders, and more. The profits from the sales of the product would partly be used to donate feminine products to women and young ladies who don’t have access to them, and consequently miss school and/or work. I was handed a script and told to read whichever spot spoke to me. One of them basically described how I’ve felt on and off for several years, but constantly these past several months.
It said something like this:
My body is hiding a secret. I’m constantly trying to “fix” it. I am not a problem, My body is not broken.
I read this to camera over and over because I couldn’t get it out smoothly. After starting to internalize what I was repeating out loud, really to myself, I lost it again. The tears started pouring, I briefly explained what I’d been struggling with to the director. The two women were very comforting, and patently waited for me to finish my audition until I was satisfied. But for my reaction to really make sense, I would’ve had to start from the beginning.
When I was 19, I went in for my first pelvic exam at the Student Health Center, CSUN. I was nervous, but didn’t really think anything of it since I knew it was routine and hadn’t heard much about it. My doctor barely looked at me while she asked the routine questions and wrote in her notes. As I laid face up, feet in stirrups, my naked bottom half spread eagle in a stranger’s face, I tried not to look at the gigantic plastic speculum waiting on the tray next to me. The doctor told me when she was inserting it, and told me to relax. I concentrated on doing just that. She then forced the speculum inside of me and condescendingly said “It’s just gonna hurt more if you tighten.”
I froze. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t breathe, talk, or move any part of body. The insertion, opening, and swabbing of my cervix with a long Q-tip probably took 60 seconds or less, but it felt like an eternity. When she finally removed the speculum I just quietly waited for her to leave the room. The second I was alone I started bawling. I struggled to get my clothes back on because I still had the feeling of being paralyzed for some reason. It was like trying to run during a nightmare, but you end up moving only in slow motion. I didn’t want to be in that room a second longer, but I also wasn’t ready to face the world outside. There was no safe space to gather myself and be comfortable again. After the appointment, I think I went back to my dorm and got in bed. I was sore for at least another 24 hours.
6 years later I found myself having vaginal discomfort. I didn’t have a primary care doctor so I went to Planned Parenthood. As soon as this doctor told me she would have to do an internal pelvic exam, I completeley lost it. However, after explaining my past experience she was very understanding, cracked jokes trying to ease my nerves, and found an extremley small “Vienna sausage” speculum, as she called it. I finished the exam, got antibiotics for a bacterial infection from reception, went to my car and called my best friend, all the while, still sobbing.
I am now 36 years old. Seeing photos of speculums freaks me out, thinking about even calling to make an appointment for a pelvic exam makes my eyes water. Just my luck, this past year was plagued with chronic UTIs and other vaginal health issues. I’ve seen so many doctors, but no one can seem to fix the problem longterm. I avoided it as much as I could, but eventually agreed to get a proper pelvic exam.
A nurse I’d seen prior advised my current doctor that I’d probably need a sedative in order to do the exam. Well, she didn’t believe her. I had a feeling that she wouldn’t, so I took half of a “special” brownie before the appointment. Then, the time came for the exam. The doctor gently started to insert the speculum, I concentrated on breathing deeply and relaxing, but my maximum pain tolerance had been reached. She told me to let her know when she could start to open the speculum. What?! The idea of this foreign object inside me opening even MORE broke me. I started crying out of pain and frustration. “Are you okay?” She said. “No.”
So, I’d have to wait two more months to be put under anesthesia on an operating table, just to get a pelvic exam. By this time I had been dealing on and off with an uncomfortable vagina for about 7months. I was so over it. Even though my partner at the time was completely understanding and patient, I was not. I pushed him away a few times. I felt guilty for not wanting to share myself with him and not having the desire to be intimate at all. This whole thing was making me insecure and depressed at times. I wanted to isolate myself from everyone including my favorite person to spend time with. I thought he should be with a woman, with a “normal” vagina. Really, I had to train my brain to stop putting pressure on myself.
Anyway, last Monday was the big day. I had to get a blood test, wait in a bed about 6 hours with a painful IV needle sticking out my hand, just for a super simple exam. As I laid face up on the hospital bed, once again, the nurse pushed me down the hallway. I thought to myself how rediculous it was that I couldn’t do something so simple. A billion women do this everyday! What’s wrong with me?! Finally they rolled me past the huge doors that read “SURGERY ROOM” in big red letters. I laid in the middle of the operating room while nurses bustled around me, staring up at the oversized surgery lights hovering above me. I had frozen again. It was also the first time I’d ever heard my pulse on a monitor, which made me even more nervous. Finally, my IV was connected so I could start to fall asleep. However, there were air bubbles in my IV tube which triggered an exploding vein sensation at the injection site in my hand. That shit hurt! It repeated with every drop. Once again, I lost it. The tears and sobbing started. A nurse stood over me trying to calm me down, caressing the sides of my face. Then, I guess, I was out.
I woke up feeling perfectly fine. No soreness, except for the pain in my hand which lasted about 5 days.
So, what is my problem? I have to wait 3weeks to hear if I had any abnormal test results. But, what’s my “mechanical” problem? Well, one day I Googled. It’s funny how finding out you’re not the only person experiencing something can be so comforting. I read several stories from women experiencing the same emotional and physical trauma I have when it comes to pelvic exams. Several women take prescription sedatives before, there was even a case of someone passing out during an exam. A couple women talked about the long frustrating process of finally being diagnosed with Vaginismus, the involuntary tightening of the vagina. My doctor suggested that I might have this.
So, why don’t we hear about the struggles of Pelvic exams, when its obviously a common traumatizing experience? We’re made to think that we should be perfectly fine laying spread eagle in a cold uncomfortable room, naked, with a stranger’s face in our crotches pushing a large plastic device into the most sensitive part of our bodies. Oh yeah, then they have to expand that device inside of you and swipe your insides with q-tips. WTH!!! That’s not normal, of course it’s traumatizing.
Anyway, I kept thinking of those lines I had to say to myself out loud repeatedly today, and on camera. Even though I’ve said these things to other loved ones when trying to encourage them, I had never said them to myself.
No one should feel flawed for NOT being ok with being touched in an undesirable way. So many doctors made me feel like there was something wrong with me! I’m still learning that there are ALWAYS other people going through the same thing, no matter how alienated you feel in your specific struggle. And of course, all of us will have health challenges at some point, that doesn’t make us less valuable people when that time comes. Our bodies can bring challenges and frustrations, but they are a part of us. They need appreciation and care. Don’t ignore them, or be angry. Be patient. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with YOU, you’re not a freak, an inconvenience, or a problem.December 10, 2018 at 1:55 am #24030Sks823Participant
You’re amazing, Breakthesilence82. Such beautiful writing, and it’s all so relateable to us on this forum.
I hope you choose to seek help somewhere like Maze Women’s Health for your vaginismus (I did dilation therapy at Maze to overcome my vaginismus), because it really is so treatable once you figure out what the issue is!
Hopefully (if you haven’t gotten them back yet) your results come back normal, but if not I am sure there will be a path forward for you to get through this issue. Everyone’s issues are different but just look through this forum: everyone has their own unique path to overcome their vaginismus/painful intercourse, and a bit of everyone’s story may help you overcome yours!
You’re AMAZING, strong, and YOUR BODY IS NOT BROKEN! <3December 11, 2018 at 4:47 pm #24055Jennifer Dembo, LMSWParticipant
Breakthesilence82 – Sks823 is absolutely right. You ARE amazing – as is every person who has ever posted on this forum! I applaud every single one of you and it’s the support you seek, offer and receive here that makes this such a powerful group of people!
I was taken with so much of your story, but this part strongly resonated with me: “So, why don’t we hear about the struggles of Pelvic exams, when its obviously a common traumatizing experience?
We hear similar comments from women all the time at Maze. Training for women’s health providers is so wildly lacking, and anyone who has been dismissed or made to feel violated by a medical professional knows this all too well.
At Maze, we understand vaginismus and other types of pelvic pain and how it affects women and their partners physically, psychologically and emotionally. We offer a customized, holistic, respectful approach to treatment that is comprised of medical and behavioral solutions. We will never coerce, never push. You are always in the driver’s seat here.
Please let us know if we can be of help, and I wish you all my best!December 11, 2018 at 9:49 pm #24064recessivegenequeenParticipant
Breakthesilence82, I’m so impressed with your story. You’ve shown such bravery and told a story so many of us are familiar with. It’s heartbreaking that we all deal with this but inspriing that we can support each other through it. Best of luck with your treatment – let us know what you decide to do!
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