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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

An exam of memory lane

I just checked out this blog, and happily found a long discussion of the always fabulous Emma Goldman. The blog also mentions the Iowa City Emma Goldman Clinic, which is a fantastic women’s healthcare office. The IC EGC was very very good to me for the traumatic two months of my sophomore year in college when I thought I was pregnant (I didn’t know yet that I just have really reticent eggs and the least little bit of stress sends them scurrying off-stage into their ovarian wings). Anyway, I got pregnancy tests there every week for about a month—they never made me feel badly and were really sympathetic to the weirdness of the situation.

Anyway, thinking of the Emma Goldman clinic sent me reminiscing. Here are some of my more vivid ob-gyn experiences: it seems, given all the ranting I’ve been doing about shoddy health care, to fill in some details of my own experiences, good and bad.

1: Fuzzy-Mustache Man
That is not how one should have to describe one’s first gynecologist. Really. But it is true. My first poke n’ prod was administered by a man, and a fuzzy-mustache man he was. Also, he was wearing a bow tie. Also, I had been reading a book before he came into the room and he was very excited to see what I was reading. So, my very first time in the stirrups I had to talk not about varicose veins and birth control, which is what I wanted to talk about in my timid way, but Heilbroner's book The Worldly Philosophers. You know, because globalization and economic theory are so directly related to my cervical heath that I’d want to talk about those issues during my Very First Pelvic Exam.

2: It’s like getting your wisdom teeth out, but it’s my cervix
A couple of years ago I had a very irregular pap smear, and had to have a whole series of unpleasant procedures to determine that—guess what?—nothing had been wrong to start with. But anyway, during the most nasty of these procedures, which—and I am not kidding here—involved an electrified wire and my cervix spending way too much time together, the doctor and the nurse had a protracted conversation about their recent and horrible encounters with very bad dentists, and how they hated feeling so helpless and poked and prodded. During this conversation, my vagina dentata smirked with irony.

3: My cervix holds up half the sky
Because I’m a grad student, until recently I had to go to student health, where I was regularly confused with incompetent eighteen year olds (not that eighteen year olds are necessarily incompetent, it’s just that this student health office believes they are). It was terribly demeaning, especially since you were constantly under the threat of being stuck in a mandatory birth-control information meeting with Your Students. Awful. Anyway, I had this weird exam there from a nurse wearing a beaded American-Flag pin stuck right between her boobs who was very glad to hear that I had “good wholesome, American, middle-class values.” I have no idea what those were, or why she thought I had them. But then, from this inauspiciously neocon beginning, there was a sudden turn towards gyno-consciousness raising when she laid me on a table, on the ceiling above which she had taped a “women hold up half the sky” poster, and started saying things like, “what I healthy pink cervix! O, lovely! Very healthy, very pink!”

4: Healthcare for all cervixes
My ob-gyn in college, unlike this Chicagoan student health bitches, was FANTASTIC. She totally solved the awkward what-to-talk-about-while-I’m-taking-a-core-sample-of-your-cervix problem by being awesome: during university vacations she worked in Nicaragua doing free medical work, particularly cervical-cancer prevention stuff. Talking about this was –so—the perfect middle road between talking about economic theory, on the one hand, and my lovely pink cervix on the other.

Not that I’m opposed to talking about my cervix, natch. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little distance from the prodding.

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