This post may seem somewhat redundant, and rather lengthy. I am putting this out there because every day a search term such as “do you need to shave your legs to go to your gynecologist?” is the predominant search that brings people to my blog. Obviously people are desperate for information.
And you men. I see you about to click out of here. Not so fast! A truly wise man will absorb the wisdom here so he can a) sympathize with a woman when she is about go through this frightful experience and b) look like a totally cool guy who pays attention to women’s issues, which may get you laid.
So. How to survive a visit to your Gyn in a few easy steps:
1) Decide to make an appointment. This may seem obvious, because we women can come up with two hundred thousand excuses not to go. You need to go. Go. We may catch something early that will save your life!
2) Make an appointment. Do not overlook this important step, friends. Making an appointment is NOT “just popping by because you were getting groceries up the street.”. Dropping in will make your Gyn grumpy. And you don’t want a grumpy pants poking a speculum at you!
3) Show UP for the appointment. Otherwise you totally wasted steps 1 and 2, and you will be put in the Gynie Book of Shame. (Just kidding. We don’t have that book. But if we did, you would TOTALLY be in it.)
4) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Literally. We don’t care if you shave your legs. We won’t even NOTICE that you didn’t shave your legs. Unless you apologize for not shaving, in which case we will feel obligated to look. It’s not your legs we’re looking at, ladies. Also, don’t fret that it’s been a long day and “you’re not that fresh down there.”. This is a concept invented by the feminine hygiene products corporations. And they sold you on it, didn’t they?? Unless you smell like a Tibetan Yak after a goat milk bath, which would be exceedingly rare, we don’t notice that either. Last, don’t attempt to scrub away any “odor” with toilet paper. It rolls up into little balls that get all tangled up in your pubic hair, and we have to figure how to work around them without embarrassing you by telling you they are there.
5) We don’t care what you’re wearing. With ONE exception. If you are wearing leather shoes or boots without socks, your feet STINK. Trust me. And that smell can render an exam room unusable for a few hours. PLEASE wear socks (plus, you can wear them for your exam so your feet don’t get cold – we’re not looking at your feet either) with any footwear, and try to avoid that pair of stinky Sperry’s you’ve been wearing all last year.
6) We want you to tell us anything that might affect your female health. If you’re a lesbian, speak up. There are some health issues and screenings that are different, believe it or not. You being gay is just a piece of information we need. We are discreet. We are NOT going to out you. We will not put up a billboard. I PROMISE.
7) Please feel free to tell us about any of your sexual practices and habits that you think might be “unusual”. Trust me. They’re not unusual. Unless you’re having sex with llamas, in which case, we need to talk. We need to know because there is knowledge that you need regarding certain things that we do. We aren’t fishing for information so we can tell funny stories. Again, I promise.
8) When it’s time to get undressed, the nurse will tell you exactly what you need to do. If you’re confused, please ask. Many doctors will leave your clothes on until we chat, because we know it’s a little disarming to meet someone when you’re stark naked. We may have you immediately undress when you arrive if we know you, because it saves time. But if you prefer to leave your clothes on until the actual exam, then ask the nurse.
9) You are totally not expected to dress up for us. After all, it’s not your clothes we’re looking at. We don’t care if you’re wearing your best underwear. We aren’t even going to see it. Clothes that have at least been washed in the past week would be nice though.
10) We can’t do a very good breast exam if you leave your bra on.
11) Equipment: if you’re just having your yearly, and not having specific problems, we don’t need much. The main object of terror is the speculum. Your friends may describe it as “the duck” or “the clamp.”. It is not a duck. It kinda looks like a duck’s beak, I guess. But there will be no quacking of any kind. Now, about the clamp thing. It is NOT a clamp. It is the opposite of a clamp. We just use it to hold your vagina open enough so we can see your cervix up there. If you are clamped by a speculum, we are doing something wrong.
12) Other equipment: if we are doing a pap, all we should need is a tiny brush and a jar to swirl the brush in. On occasion, a q-tip may be used. None of these are scary. There is no cutting or pinching or whatever Gothic fear you may have about what we are doing up there. We just sweep (in a circular motion) with the little brush.
13) Special equipment. If you are having a particular problem, we may need some different equipment. A lot of the time, the nurse will have these terrifying-looking implements laid out on a tray. Do not look at them and panic. Most of the time, we aren’t going to use all of them. They are just there in case. If you want to know what one is for, ask. Some patients prefer to know NOTHING about what is going to be done. If so, just say so. I will stop the discussion about the Kevorkian biopsy forceps immediately, and I will distract you by talking to you about your cat, or your kid getting expelled from school, or any other topic you care to introduce. If you are too terrified to talk, I will talk. I will talk your ear off. Many times my patients say, ” aren’t you going to use that q-tip?”, to which I will reply, “I already did. While we were talking.” Gynies learn to be very good talkers, because a distracted patient is a more relaxed patient. On occasion, I have a patient laughing so hard that I tease them that they are about to cause my speculum to fly out in my lap. Which has actually happened on a couple of occasions. Which was very funny.
14) You can bring someone in with you if they help you to relax. Just be warned, I am going to assume that if you don’t mind being naked in front of them, you don’t mind me discussing things in front of them. If that is not true, please let me know when I walk into the room.
15) I love to teach people about their bodies. Unless you’ve been to medical school, there are TONS of things I can tell you about which will be really cool to know. I’ll start with one now: the female parts on the OUTSIDE of you, the parts anyone could see if they just looked down there are called the vulva. Not the vagina. The vagina is the part on the inside. That’s the part that we have to put something in there to see. That’s where the tampons go. Vulva = outside. If it itches, or has bumps on it, it’s probably your vulva. Because you can see and feel that part. Vagina = inside. You’d have to stick something up in there to feel it. Now you will look really really smart when you next talk to your Gynie, and she will be very impressed.
16) Your Gynie should notify you of your test results somehow, by mail, or a lot of offices are going to email or web sites. The old “no news is good news” system does not let you know if your test might have been overlooked or lost.
17) Some of the rules of testing have been changed. You may be told that you don’t need a pap every year. Don’t worry. Be happy. Same deal with mammograms.
18) More bleeding is usually more worrisome than less bleeding. At worst, less bleeding might mean pregnancy or menopause. Increased bleeding can be any number of things, some of them not benign.
19) We like to quiz you on which you hate worse, your gynecologist or your dentist. People seem to be divided on this.
20) Please pay us. I know people think we are rich, but we are paying the nurses, the receptionist, the coders, the billers, the phone people, the transcriptionist, the schedulers, the ultrasonographers… You get it. And we’re paying their health insurance, their 401k, our staggeringly horrifying malpractice, and on, and on…
21) Don’t panic! We want to make this easy for you. Also, if the receptionist was mean to you, or you had to wait 5 hours, please tell us (nicely) – we need to know.
22) Please no drama. No fights in the lobby about whether the guy with you is the father of your baby, or yelling on the phone to your old man because he’s in jail, fistfights – we’ve seen it all. And calling security is such a bummer.
23) We keep your information secret. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, it’s the law. We get fined around $10,000 if we give out any information. A corollary to this: we give you a form when you come in where you list the people we can give your results to. If the person is not on the list, whether they be your husband, your sister, your teenaged kid (we are only allowed to give out a minimum amount of information, even though they are minors. Otherwise kids would be too scared to ask for birth control, or tests for diseases, or pregnancy tests), we can’t tell you anything. Not even that the person is a patient here. We’re not being jerks. If they sign that Mom can get all results, then we’ll tell you.
24) You’ll feel so much better when you’re on your way out the door! Granted, you will have the icky gel stuff leaking out of you for the rest of the day, but your health is totally worth it. I trust we’ll see you soon!