I haven’t indulged in the industry-recommended gynecological “well visit” for almost 6 years. Insert audible gasp here. I am a college-educated, healthy woman and have made a concerted effort to live my healthy lifestyle and avoid the medical industry’s overly generalized recommendations. I’m of the “I control my own health and no one else knows my body like I do” mentality. Bonus: my body vigilance which ensures I feel my blood coursing through my veins and would likely feel and be able to identify the exact vein if it were to get clogged. My [controversial] motto is: “If it ain’t broke, why look for a problem?”
I’ve battled hypochondria throughout my life in various ways and because of this, doctors are a double-edged sword. While I avoid them as much as possible, they can also give me a lifeline when I need one most. They can tell me “you’re fine” and I could use this soothing phrase to calm down panic attacks for months to come.
With my Obamacare intact, I made an appointment at a mediocre practice, which took my insurance. This haphazard way I even selected a doctor from the directory was in direct contradiction to the old me. The old me, with my fancy corporate job insurance, used to scour the Internet and medical manuals for articles and lists of best doctors and best hospitals. I only picked someone if their name appeared on more than one list. (In retrospect I suspect bribery.) Over time, I noticed these best also came with nasty egos and attitudes, which deflect from the lacquered wood and gold plaques on the wall.
When I arrived at the office building, the entrance was partially barricaded with yellow caution tape. My mind was blinking “You Get What You Pay For” in neon. I didn’t like it here and longed for my snobby city doctors with their pristine waiting rooms, ample magazine selection, and mirrored lobbies. The fact is the facility was sufficient; a doctor may have dubbed it “stable.” I felt safe from any bouncing bacterial infection ricocheting off the wall. The staff at the front desk was lackluster and a little confused; the woman who helped me spoke in a whisper. I’m good at reading lips, but she kept looking down when she said something so I had to lean in beyond the glass to hear her. She gave me two forms to fill out, both of which were photocopies of photocopies. The first question on the form, after the requisite name and address was “preferred language” followed by “preferred religion.” Did they plan on executing last rites at the gynecologist?
The quiet front desk girl was also the one who escorted me to the examination room (with me still holding the forms strangely). She asked me a series of questions, most of which were rather normal but some stood out, such as:
- Have you ever been sick?
- Is this your first Pap smear? (I told her I was 41 with two kids.)
- Do you remember when you had your C-section?
- When was the date of your last colonoscopy?
After the Q & A segment, I changed into the gown and the woman who was to conduct my exam came in – with the quiet girl in tow. She introduced herself as a doctor and I knew she was trying to dupe me; I had agreed to see a Nurse Practitioner in order to get a quicker appointment. I looked down at her badge and confirmed her non-official doctor status. She went over my family history and lingered on my aunt’s ovarian cancer. She asked if my aunt was tested for the BRAC gene. I told her she had been and she was positive. The fake doc gave me an urgent look with her eyes, pursed lips, and suggested an appointment with the geneticist. Incidentally after my aunt’s diagnosis four years ago, I spoke with my primary care doctor. She told me the gene was only passed along through the maternal side. I told her it was my father’s sister, and she dismissed my concerns. I didn’t believe her but I accepted her answer warmly; it suited me and my hypochondriac tendencies.
Within minutes, this fake doctor was saying, “It doesn’t have to be a complete hysterectomy, you know. They could just take the ovaries and the tubes and you can keep the uterus.” She says this like we’re talking about a pesky skin tag and continues, “It’s done laparoscopically now; in and out one day.”
Wait what? I just met this woman five minutes ago and now, as if someone else was controlling my words, I found myself engaging in this verbal ping-pong game. The real me would have nodded and gotten out of the situation as soon as the speculum was out. How dare she pollute the air in this room with ovarian cancer threats. I came here for a clear pap smear and to arm myself with “clean bill of health” and instead she handed me a referral to a geneticist? This is an unwelcome box of bullshit and rhetoric and seems to hold potential demons and no relief.
I’ve always been skeptical of our healthcare professionals to truly have a vested interest in my well-being. I didn’t come in expecting much from this low-cost medical provider, but the repercussions her words held were prominent. She knew nothing about me or my medical (mental) history; she was encouraging a journey down a frightening road; one I may never be able to turn around from. If I open this box, I may never close it. If I’m a carrier for the gene, it only means I am more likely to get ovarian or breast cancer, not that I am guaranteed.
With my scientific-prone mind, I believe in studying the human body and in preventative care; but is there a point where we can go too far? Can’t my prevention continue to be a healthy lifestyle composed of a mostly plant-based, diet, moderate exercise, lots of water, and abundance of love? Do I really have to remove organs to level the playing field to fight pre-cancer? What happens if I cut out all my potential organs – and I get an aneurysm that pops in my head? Or a teenager texting and driving that crashes into my car? If I find out I have this gene and choose not to do anything, what kind of lifestyle will I have with a silent killer potentially growing within me? How can I rationalize feeling the best I’ve ever felt and embarking on a path of mutilation disguised as prevention?
If ever there was a satirical musical made of healthcare in America, this doctor-wannabe would be a quintessential iconic representation. She was reading off a checklist, like a call center, only it was my life and my health and not my credit card. She didn’t realize the burning thoughts she planted in my mind and it won’t be so easy to extinguish them. I took her geneticist referral and folded it four times and put it in my purse. “Think about it,” she had said as she left the room.
So I did. And now I will stop.