It was my first time meeting her, though I was confident it would go well. I was nervous about the procedure, but I was fairly certain the doctor was experienced. There was nothing to worry about.
I laid back on the bed, my legs in stirrups, a thin printed gown over my naked body. Moments later, I heard a curt knock on the door before the doctor rushed in, her eyes glued to my medical chart. She glanced up for only a second, addressing me as Mrs. Garlinghouse, and then proceeded to wash her hands, put on gloves, and shuffle through the metal instruments on the nearby tray.
Before I knew it, she was scraping the inside of my body roughly without saying a word, while I stared blankly at the ceiling above me, just praying it would be over soon.
In the past, I had only seen the gynecologist’s assistant. She was a warm, friendly woman, but unfortunately wasn’t qualified to check me after one of my paps came back abnormal. She let me know her boss would be doing the procedure and that I was in good hands. However, what I was promised and what I got weren’t one in the same.
The doctor was abrupt and impersonal. When she was done, she glanced up at me and said to take a painkiller if needed when I got home. And then, just like that, she pulled off her gloves, tossed them in the trash, and breezed out the door, on to her next patient.
Leaving my appointment that day, I felt a sense of violation, betrayal, and sadness. It’s safe to say I was already emotionally raw — I had just recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease after a near-death experience, and then just days later, I got the news about my abnormal pap smear.
I needed comfort. I needed empathy. And most of all, I needed someone to tell me it would all be OK. But at minimum, I needed to be treated like a person, not an object or a number on someone’s to-do list.
That was the last time I visited that office. I broke up with the gynecologist and found someone else. And I have absolutely no regrets.
When it comes to caring for our bodies, and having medical professionals guide us on that journey, we owe it to ourselves to be our own advocates. As mothers, we do this for our children without batting an eye. We’re mama bears; we fight like hell for what we know our kids need. If someone is disrespectful, unkind, or rude to them, we don’t put up with it — whether it’s the coach who berates our 5-year-old for not being aggressive enough during the ball game or the bully who shoved our kid on the playground or the who tries to force hugs.
We stand up for them. We defend and confront. We are strong and assertive, putting a stop to the inappropriate actions of others to ensure our kids are safe, happy, and healthy.
So why do we not do the same for ourselves?
Too many of my friends are unhappy with their own doctors for a myriad of valid reasons. The dentist who is always running an hour or more late. The physical therapist who asks intrusive and irrelevant questions. The nurse practitioner who seems to talk more than listen. The obstetrician who insists on “my way or the highway.”
But ladies, it’s time we all stopped being so damn polite. It’s YOUR body. YOUR wellbeing. YOUR future. You shouldn’t give your power away or be intimidated by someone just because they have a fancy medical degree. The doctor-patient relationship needs to be one of mutual respect and trust. There must be give-and-take.
Stop telling yourself you’d be “an inconvenience” if you spoke up. Or that you must be “an idiot” when it comes to medical jargon, so therefore you shouldn’t ask questions. You are a human being with feelings, opinions, questions, and contributions.
It’s time we all take ownership of our bodies instead of being so cowardly at the sight of a white coat that we yield all power and let ourselves be intimidated or dehumanized. No one else is going to stand up for yourself better than you.
So the next time you leave an appointment feeling like I did, don’t just shrug it off; have the courage and conviction to find someone new. Because what I remembered that day was this: I have every damn right to decide who examines my uterus, who offers me suggestions on medications, and who spends some of my precious time and energy with me.
And so do you.