The Lady Doctor

Once a year, every year, it is necessary to go to what my friends euphemistically call “the lady doctor” aka the gynecologist.  This is rarely a pleasant experience for many, many reasons, even in the best of times.  You don’t go in there expecting to have a fun time of it.  And just about everyone I know has a story in which things have gone awry.   Zuska has recently shared her terrible experience with a physician’s assistant during her annual exam, so, in a show of solidarity, I thought I would share my “worst annual visit ever” story.

For several years, I had been getting my exam by a lovely nurse practitioner who was upbeat, kind and efficient.  However, she took a position elsewhere (as an instructor at a medical school, actually, so I suppose I was glad she was at least going to influence generations of health care workers) so I had to find someone different.  I tried to get the person a friend of mine saw but she was all booked up.  So, I got someone who was an unknown.

I should’ve known things were not going to go well when in the beginning she asked if I had any plans on getting pregnant and when I said no she said, in a rather patronizing tone, “You can’t wait forever, you know.”  Really?  Gosh, I may be getting my PhD in cell biology but I am completely ignorant of the fact that women have a finite amount of time in which to conceive!

So, we go through the breast exam and all that, and then I’m in the stirrups, with my ass hanging off of the table as per usual and of course that’s when things really started to go downhill.  Because things are taking a lot longer than they ought to.  And she must’ve repositioned the speculum at least 5 times (does anyone else find those damn plastic speculums uncomfortable?  what happened to the metal ones???).  Then, she elevated the bed WAY up high, I mean I must’ve been 6 feet off of the ground.  After more futzing around (at this point, I would say I’ve been subjected to this for about 15 minutes which, if you’ve ever been in stirrups and had a speculum being constantly repositioned you know that that feels like FOREVER), I have the following conversation:

HER:  I can’t find your cervix.

ME:  Well, it was there the last time someone checked.

Now, I know I have a retroverted uterus (aka a “tipped” uterus).  I know this because my previous nurse practitioner told me (and when I asked if that was a problem, she said only in that it might make some sexual positions more uncomfortable than others and I had an AHA! moment).  This means, of course, that my cervix is not in the conventional position with respect to the rest of my anatomy.  However, I know that it is not impossible to find my cervix because not only have health care people been able to find my cervix fairly easily for many years I have also seen the damn thing myself*.  And, anyway, aren’t there only so and so many places to be looking for it?  I’m pretty sure there’s not that much room up there.

Finally, after five more minutes of searching, the woman found my missing cervix, scraped it and blessedly removed that damn speculum.

I should’ve written a letter of complaint.  But, I didn’t.  Actually, I should have told the stupid woman to take out the damn speculum and get someone in the room who knew what the hell she was doing.  But, I didn’t.  Because I’m a Nice Girl.  And because it’s difficult to feel empowered when you’re in stirrups with your legs wide open and your ass hanging off of the table.

This year, when I went to the lady doctor (at the same clinic), I got a different person–a nurse midwife–and I feared I would be subjected to another fiasco but all that happened is one readjustment during which I said, “I have a retroverted uterus,” and the nice woman replied, “You certainly do!” and moments later it was all over with.  Thank you, Jesus!

Note to self:  When looking for a new lady doctor be sure to ask in the beginning if she’s ever had problems finding a cervix.


ETA:  Unfortunately, I’ve had to disable the comments on this post due to the large amount of disturbing spam comments it was getting.  😦  I’m apologize to all of the women who have found this page and would like to comment on their own experiences.



*Once when I was having my annual exam, the woman conducting it asked, “Would you like to see your cervix?”  Now, the real answer to this question was, “No, thanks,” but that made me feel like I was being chickenshit so I said, “Why yes I would!” and a mirror was brought over and held in the appropriate position and I leaned way forward (difficult in stirrups) and saw my cervix.  Several years later another examiner asked me if I wanted to see my cervix and I said, “I’ve already seen it once before, thanks!”

Not going to change a thing

Not long ago, there was a big hullabaloo in blogland because a damn good blogger, Damn Good Technician, got outed at her workplace and subsequently removed her blog (she has since re-established her blog).

This caused several people to question whether they should continue blogging or at the very least if they should change what they blog about (Drugmonkey links to some of these posts and Mrs. Comet Hunter weighs in on the topic as well).  This is a difficult decision to make and depends on why you blog in the first place.  Some people blog mostly to give advice and encouragement to other scientists which means there is probably little on their blogs for the Powers That Be to be angry with.  Others blog frankly about their circumstances in order to help others in similar circumstances and to reach out to a sympathetic community for support.  This may mean that what they write about their superiors is not complimentary.

I have written about the challenges of anonymity in the past.  And, I admit, when I heard about this latest kerfluffle I felt a little twinge of fear that one day I, too, could be outed.  When I blog I try to be very careful not to mention the subfield I work in or the proteins I study or the general questions the lab investigates.  I also don’t talk about local issues or say much about the weather in order to keep my location something of a mystery (although it is obviously within driving distance of Iowa).  I never, ever, ever, never, ever use my real name and my pseudonym in the same context.  My pseudonym even has a separate email account.  So, I can be reasonably sure nobody is going to find me with a google search.

Another precaution I take is that very few non-bloggers know who I am IRL.  In fact, I can think of only one.  Wait, she’s blogging now, too.  Okay, so we’re back to none.  My husband and a few friends know about the blog but they don’t know the name of the blog, my pseudonym or the URL of the blog.  Some have asked and I’ve refused to tell them.  Not so much because I don’t want them to read what I’m writing, I just don’t trust non-bloggers to fully understand why I’m blogging under a pseudonym and I don’t trust them to protect my anonymity.  Not that I think they would out me on purpose.  They just might be careless in what they say in the comments or IRL and that might cause a problem.  This has also led me to not link to perfectly lovely blogs because they know who I am and they are too open about who they are and where they live.  Paranoia is your friend when it comes to protecting your identity.

However, I do post from lab so someone from my lab could sneak peeks over my shoulder and maybe find my blog and I do comment on other blogs under my pseudonym from lab so a stats program will pick up that IP address and if any of those bloggers are at the same institution, they’re going to know where I am.  Although, if I’m commenting on a blog the author is probably not going to out me because she may be worried about being outed herself.

I also give quite a few personal details of my life (mental breakdown, anyone?).  Enough that, if you stumble across my blog and you know me IRL you will almost certainly know that it’s my blog.  You may also recognize yourself in the posts (there really can’t be more than one person who fits some of these descriptions–like Husband, for instance).  I’ve also mentioned where I’m going to be moving to and when and what books I’m reading and where I’m from originally.  There’s definitely enough there to identify me.  I suppose this means that I have a n0n-zero chance of being outed.

Despite the risks (and there aren’t nearly as many for me at this moment as there are for other people since I am almost done with my program and have no plans to stay in academia), I am not going to change what I blog about for several reasons:

  1. Venting on the blog gives me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings that is unique and important to my mental well-being
  2. The support I get from the commentors and from being a part of this community is amazing
  3. I want to help other people who may be going through the same things I have gone through

So, I’m not going to change how I blog and I’m not going to obsess about the possibility of being outed (though I will continue to be cautious).  However, I know that’s not going to be the choice everyone makes and I respect that.  Everyone has to do their own risk/benefit analysis and come up with a plan that’s right for them.  It will be sad, though if everyone becomes to scared of being outed to write frankly about their situations.  We’ll lose some very valuable insight.

“Permission to write”

After a fairly nice meeting in which nobody questioned whether or not I faked my data, my thesis committee gave me “permission to write,” which means that they think that I’ve done enough for a PhD and deserve to graduate.  You can’t schedule your defense here until your committee has given you permission to write.  I think this is one of the reasons that so few people have problems at their defense here.  Your committee has to formally agree that you’re ready before you can even think about scheduling your defense.

So, that is now out of the way and I will put in a call to my second cousin Luigi and let him know that I won’t need help moving that centrifuge after all.


Amusing myself

While I’m waiting to set up for my committee meeting (which I will do in about 10 minutes), I am amusing myself by imagining the terrible, terrible things I could do to my committee if they refuse to let me go.

Currently, I am digging into my Sicilian heritage for ideas.  I actually don’t have much Sicilian blood in me, but it is strong.  Mostly, it manifests itself in my tendency to talk with my hands which I do so emphatically many nearby people are drawn into the conversation because I have hit them.  So, keeping that in mind, and the fact that my family is currently obsessed with Mafia Wars on Facebook, I am thinking of ways I could send my committee to sleep with the fishes.  I’m thinking chaining a Sorvall floor model to their legs and tossing them in the river will do the trick.  We’ve got an old one of those that nobody ever uses that would be perfect for such a thing.

Alternately, I could take the “Real Genius” route and have my astrophysicist husband build a giant, space-based laser that could fry them in their houses.

I will keep these things in mind if the going gets rough.

Which it won’t.

Because I am awesome.

I feel a little nauseous.

Gearing up

I have donned my armor.  In my case, this consists of a charm bracelet full of charms given to me by Husband, a bracelet I bought while on a trip with my mom and stepfather (if my committee gets mean, I have the intention of holding up my wrists to repel the assault a la Wonder Woman and her wrist cuffs), a necklace of my grandmother’s that she  gave me, pearl earrings given to me by my mother-in-law for college graduation that I wore on my wedding day, and the cameo brooch/pendant that I got as an early birthday present from mom and stepfather.  I have dressed up slightly so as to feel superior to the sloppily dressed faculty.  I wish I could say I am wearing some smoking hot shoes, but they are just little ballet flats that are comfortable (which is probably the most important quality today, anyway).

I’ve gone over my data eleventy billion times.  I’ve marshalled all of my arguments.  I’ve practiced my laser pointing.  I have my ativan.

Currently, I’m attempting to channel Dr. Isis and reassuring myself that I have done some hot, hot science, that I have a fantastic presentation, that I am smart and know way, way more about my research than my committee could ever hope to know.  And, if, after my presentation, my committee is not convinced of the brilliance of my research then they are dumbasses who don’t deserve to be faculty at Prestigious University and I will fart in the their general direction.

So, there!

D day

My penultimate committee meeting is today at 2pm. Hopefully, my committee will be on board with my plan for graduation. Wish me luck, guys!

April non-fiction books

That’s right, “books,” as in “more than one.”  I actually read three non-fiction books this month which totally makes up for not reading one in February (not that we are speaking of that).

I think I have found my non-fiction niche and that is the humorous memoir.  I read three of them in April.

First up was Little Heathens:  Hard times and high spirits on an Iowa farm during the great depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.  My interest in this book is probably pretty obvious.  Additionally to my being from Iowa, my grandmother lives very close to where all of the action in the book takes place.  Also, my grandmother grew up on a farm (in a different part of Iowa) and so while reading the book, I often thought of my grandmother and wondered if her experiences were the same.  That said, I don’t think you have to be from Iowa or know someone who grew up on a farm to enjoy this book.  In fact, the NYT Sunday Book Review named it one of the 10 best books of 2007 so a few people outside of the midwest must have enjoyed it.  I think, the book can best be described using the same words Mrs. Kalish used in describing her her early childhood experiences–it’s “quite a romp.”

Next, I read The Sex Lives of Cannibals:  Adrift in the equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost.  This book takes place before Getting Stoned with Savages (which I read last month) and is, in fact, the book that the author is writing during that book.  The Sex Lives of Cannibals is every bit as funny as Getting Stoned despite the appalling circumstances the author finds himself in (Chapter 13 is entitled, “In which the author discusses how unfuckingbelievable scary the South Seas can be”).  After reading this book, it seems completely absurd that the author would ever want to live on an island anywhere in the Pacific ever again which makes Getting Stoned such a surprise.  As a bonus, Sex Lives has an epilogue that recounts a little bit of the author’s experiences soon after returning to the US (but before he leaves again in Getting Stoned) and the trouble he and his “beguiling wife” getting adjusted to life in America (like becoming stupefied over the bewildering array of maple syrup at the store).

Finally, I read Julie and Julia:  My year of cooking dangerously by Julie Powell which is actually being made into a movie.  The premise is that the author, Julie, finds herself in the middle of an identity crisis and in order to give her life some purpose, she decides to cook all 500+ recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.  I really loved this book.  Really.  First of all, the author seems to be as challenged in mental health as I am (though more in terms of anxiety than depression).  She definitely breaks down crying a few times which makes me feel better about my little crying episodes.  Second, it’s really quite funny.  Third, it illustrates The Power of the Blog.  Julie sets up a blog when she starts this project (back in 2002 before everyone and their grandma had a blog).  While blogging is only mentioned infrequently there are constant references to it in the background–the support she feels from her readers (whom she calls “bleaders” for blog readers) and the responsibility she feels towards them.  Ultimately, it’s the blog that brings about the changes in her life because that is what leads the media to pick up on what she’s doing.  If you like cooking, or feel a little lost in your life and especially if you blog, you will enjoy this book.

So that’s it for April.  Who knows what I’ll be reading in May.  Probably more humorous* memoirs.  J. Maarten Troost has another book called, Lost on Planet China.  What do you want to bet I’ll be reading that? 🙂

*I think I may be reading too many blogs written by Canadians and Brits because twice now I’ve typed “humorous” as “humourous” and had to correct it.

I love you guys

Seriously, I do!  I know I can count on y’all for warm fuzzies and good advice.  Do you guys read the comments?  If not, you’re missing out!

Several of you suggested I could go to a coffee shop or library to write my thesis.  This is brilliant and so obvious, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it myself!  Probably because I’m not thinking very positively right now and can only think about problems not solutions.  Anyway, this is excellent advice, and I’m definitely going to try it.  Going to a coffee shop for parts of the day is a good way to give the day structure and to be around people (even if I’m not necessarily interacting with all of them).

Yolio gave so much good advice, I can’t list it all here.  Here are a couple of things:

Have an official start time and end time to your workday. Also, get dressed for “work.

This is really important and something I had already considered.  That’s why I plan on getting up when my husband gets up in the morning to go to work.  I prefer to sleep in (I’m not a morning person at all) but if I don’t get up until later, I might spend half the day in bed or at least half the day in my pajamas doing nothing.  Not a good way to stay mentally healthy.

Also, yolio said:

Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your successes. Every day look to what you accomplished that day and appreciate it, don’t be a critical jerk to yourself. Seriously, do this.

Yolio, you are totally channeling my psychiatrist.  This is something I really have to work on because I completely suck at it (ironic, isn’t it, that in saying this is good advice, I still manage to be a critical jerk to myself).  In fact, this is so important, I may devote a whole post to it sometime in the future.

Scicurious had this excellent suggestion:

I don’t know if you’re “in” to exercise per se, but have you tried dancing instead? It gets you moving, and if you take lessons or something, it would be really social.

I am soooo not into exercise.  My psychiatrist (hearafter know as Dr. J) has been trying to get me to exercise for years.  I finally told her I simply could not add one more thing to my plate at this time.  I think she secretly wanted to do a little dance when I mentioned that I’m trying to add that into my schedule in CA (admit it, you know you did!)*.  I do get some exercise in that I walk to and from lab everyday (unless the weather is really bad) and that’s 25 minutes each way, which Dr. J is very happy about, but she wants me to do some cardio and get my blood pumping and endorphins released and all that good junk.  *sigh*  I know she’s right, so I’m going to try really hard to make it part of my schedule (when I get to CA, don’t go thinking I’m going to do it here!).  And, Husband and I have been talking about taking swing dancing lessons forever but we have been prohibited by not living in the same location.  Maybe it’s time we started.

NeuroPostdoc said this:

You also shouldn’t stress too much about the future (from the person who just extrapolated horrible career “what ifs?” 10-20 years into the future to her psychiatrist yesterday this is kind of funny to say)–when we get depressed we can’t think straight and we can make ourselves even worse by focusing on the most negative outcome to every event.

First of all, I completely relate to not being able to take my own good advice.  I’ve told many a person not to worry too much about the future while secretly wondering if I will ever have children and if I don’t, who will help me when I’m old and gray and I’ll never have grandchildren, etc., etc.  And you are right, NeuroPostdoc, when I get depressed I focus on the most negative outcome to everything!  Which makes me more depressed.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Overwhelmingly, the advice has been, “Don’t worry about the future.  Just see how things go in the next month or two.”  And, you guys are right, I should just focus on getting my thesis written and not freak out about whether or not I will ever have a career.  Or, at least I should tell myself that I’ve always been able to manage whatever has come at me so far and I will be able to do so in the future, too (one of my friends from college always says I’m a cat person–I always land on my feet).  I will work on this.

It’s sort of funny to think of people you’ve never met as your friends, but that’s how I see you guys.  And I’m glad I have friends like you to help me through this!

*She reads the blog sometimes.  Hi, Dr. J!!!