Monday, September 27, 2010

I want to write about smear tests

This is probably an unexpected topic.  I don't really talk much about health and this sort of stuff on here, but occasionally I get to thinking and I feel like I need to get some ideas down clearly,

Smear tests.  Generally, (in the UK), every woman over 25 gets one, every 3 years.  They take a scraping from your cervix and send it off to testing to check for pre-cancerous cells.  Well, the official literature says a brush like device is wiped over the cervix to pick up some cells, but in my head it's more like a scraping.  It feels more like a scraping that's for sure.

Do you know how they do this?  Well, you go to the doctors or your local family planning clinic and have an appointment with the nurse.  They usually lock the door to prevent anyone walking in, you sit on the bed, a screen is drawn round and you remove your skirt/trousers and your pants (knickers for Americans).

You lie back with your knees up, the nurse asks you to relax your legs and they insert a speculum into your vagina.  It's cold.  It's has some gel on it to assist with lubrication, although not too much because otherwise that can interfere with the reading of the sample and then you'll have to come back in again.  Then there is a feeling that I can only describe as being winched open.  I haven't got a fucking clue what they actually do because I can't see anything, given that I'm lying on my back.  Then they scrape your cervix.

It can be a quick procedure, if you're relaxed, it's definitely uncomfortable and can be painful.  What it is always is invasive.  I was lucky that the first time I had a smear was when I also had a contraceptive coil put in.  After this week's appointment the speculum was placed on the table next to  the bed, giving me a chance to look at it.  This was the first time I'd seen one and it looked like a yellow ray gun.  My first thought was 'I'm letting them stick that up my muff??!!'

The smear test is nothing compared to the coil.  Inserting a coil is painful, takes longer and results in womb cramps for the next few hours or days.  But on the plus side, it's the only hormone free effective contraception that isn't condoms, so I don't feel like I've got much of a choice.

The way women are designed, with our reproductive organs inside is, means that any gynaecological check up will be invasive.  It's different for men, men can usually be examined without having anything inserted.  I'm not saying that when men do need full STD checks it's a happy experience - of course it's not.  But I am under the impression that insertion of things into men's penises happens far less often than insertion of things into women's vaginas, be that thing fingers, coils or speculums.

Some nurses and doctors will be sympathetic to the female patient's fear, awkwardness, tense state and levels of anxiety.  Some are not.  I think one of the issues with it is that you can't see anything and you have no control over what the nurse/doctor is doing.  You are helpless with someone poking around in your most private areas.

And you know what, most of the time women don't really talk about this stuff.  If we consider that something might be wrong with out genitals or cervix, we don't ask a friend or older colleague for support.  We worry and we panic and we get ourselves worked up and afeard and then we go to the doctor's surgery or family planning clinic convinced something is deathly wrong.  Yet we really do have so many shared experiences.  There's a shame and stigma attached to talking in realistic terms about our reproductive parts and it's bloody nonsense.

What are the signs of cervical cancer?  Do you know? I don't.  How many of you are aware of what a mystery lump on your labia might mean?  What would you do if you were having a number of mildly unpleasant downstairs issues?  What about recurring bouts of cystitis?  What about painful penetrative sex?

Why don't we talk about these things?  We talk about other diseases and painful hips, elbows or migraines.  Maybe if we did share more information and views on female sexual health less women would be scared of getting a smear test done.


Korvar The Fox said...

I will just mention the prostate exam, in which a finger is inserted into one's fundament, but obviously I'm not in a position to compare...

Clearly Human 2.0 should have easy access panels for all internal organs, possibly with some transparent windows for some of the more important ones.

Saranga said...

Ahh yes, prostrate exams. They can't be comfortable.

Do men have to have those regularly?