Today's story comes from Vikki Patis. You can read more from her at her blog The Bandwagon: Fiction, Feminism & Fibromyalgia.
"Oh!" the gynaecologist exclaimed. She lowered the speculum as I raised myself on my elbows, the better to look at her. "You're very well informed!" A raised eyebrow, a smirk playing on her lips. Of course I am, I said. It's my body, and I know it better than anyone else. I placed my hands under my bum and lifted slightly, the way the Nurse Practitioner had shown me last year. I found out I have a tilted cervix at 24 years old - I found out at my first smear test, last June. After 14 years of periods, of examinations, of seeing various doctors for contraception, and not one of them had told me that I have a tilted cervix. Years of painful sex and tampon insertion, and not knowing the reason why.
I took a deep breath. The gynaecologist continued to smirk, and proceeded to insert the speculum. But I was shaking. The damage had already been done.
This was the second time a health professional had attempted to insert something into my vagina without my knowledge or consent. The first time happened a few years ago, when I was 21. I went to see my GP to talk about long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as the coil (or IUD). I decided to go for the Mirena, and booked in for the insertion. It could be done at my GP surgery, and there was nothing to worry about, I was assured. My mum had one, and she'd had no issues with it. On the day of my appointment, I took two Ibuprofen tablets, and drove down to the surgery.
"First, I need to measure your cervix," the doctor said. I'd stripped off my leggings and underwear, and was lying exposed on the examination couch. Okay, I gulped. I asked her what would happen. She showed me a long rod that would need to be inserted into my vagina. She would then insert another rod that held the Mirena coil, and that would be that. Job done. I took a deep breath. The doctor was fiddling around out of my line of sight, then suddenly she was between my legs, forcing the rod inside me. I exploded. The pain was excruciating. It was bone dry, scraping, and pain shot into my abdomen. I screamed, sweating, swearing. The doctor was staring at me as if an alien had burst out of my head. "I didn't think you'd need lube," she said, almost amused.
"Get. That. Thing. Out. Of. Me." I growled. An actual growl emerged from my lips. The rod was still inside me. Mere seconds must have passed, but it felt like hours. She frowned. "But I've already opened the packaging. It'll go to waste." She was talking about the Mirena. At that point, I only cared about the pain that was rocketing through my body. I told her, in more colourful language, that I didn't care. She sighed, removed the rod, and stomped around the room, removing her gloves and washing her hands. I rolled off the couch and crumpled to the floor, scrabbled for my clothes and, eventually, got dressed.
"If you still want the procedure done, you'll have to make another appointment," the doctor huffed. "But we won't keep doing it indefinitely." I knew what she meant. She meant that if I dared to freak out again, to refuse, to experience horrendous pain, they wouldn't keep attempting to do the procedure. If I dared speak out, cry out, I would not be allowed LARC. Women must be quiet, and accept what happens to them. Women are discouraged from making a scene.
I hobbled out of the surgery with the small amount of dignity I could muster. My stomach was cramping horribly, sending shocks of pain through my body. I felt sick. I felt wetness in my underwear - at home, I discovered that I was bleeding. I didn't have periods, thanks to the contraceptive pill I was (and still am) taking. Somehow, I managed to drive myself home. I spent the night taking painkillers and lying in a foetal position.
That experience put me off attempting to get LARC again. I've been on Cerelle ever since, and it works brilliantly for me - but it's not a long-term solution. Why did I go for the Mirena coil in the first place? The idea of having anything sitting in my uterus makes me feel ill. But I was laughed out of the surgery when I asked to be sterilised at 20. I was presented with a concerned frown when I asked to be sterilised at 24. At least it had changed from "You're too young, you'll change your mind!" to "I hope you change your mind". (I won't.) I wanted long-acting contraception. I want long-acting contraception. I also want to be treated with respect when I visit a doctor about a gynaecological problem.
Fast-forward to 2017, back to the original story. I've suffered from Bartholin's abscesses for a few years, and I also have hidradenitis suppurativa, which is a skin condition that presents in the groin, as well as other places. I was certain I'd had a Bartholin's cyst flare up, and it wasn't closing. It had been open for a month by the time I saw the gynaecologist, steadily bleeding. I was concerned about infection. I was concerned that it wouldn't stop bleeding. And so up I hopped on to the couch, bare from the waist down, my husband on the other side of the curtain. The doctor started prodding the wounds, then said that she would need to take a look inside, to determine whether they were the result of a Bartholin's flare, or another type of cyst. And so, here we are, back at the beginning of the story. She quickly applied lube, then bent to insert the speculum. "Wait!" I cried. "I have a tilted cervix."
Is it really too much to expect a word of warning? A simple "I'm going to insert this now, are you ready?" It's common courtesy, surely. But no. I have two - not one, but two - stories of doctors attempting to insert things inside me without my consent. I'm a rape survivor. I don't wear a sign to declare this fact; I don't very well expect everyone to know that about me. But a doctor, a female doctor, should know the likelihood of her patient being a victim of sexual abuse. Even if she doesn't realise, she should care. She should be concerned for our well-being. She should treat us with respect. Instead, I was treated poorly and fobbed off by the very doctor who was supposed to be helping me. And then, after I complained to the hospital, I was told that they could find no fault with the gynaecologist's actions. She had done nothing wrong. There was nothing for me to be complaining about. Why don't you just pipe down, the letter said. Stop causing a fuss. And don't tell us how to do our jobs. We know best; we know better than you. You're overreacting. Sound familiar?
"You're very well-informed," she said. Of course I am; it's my body. And I need to protect myself from doctors like you.