What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
My original title for this "My doctor raped my urethra," but maybe that's too strong a term? I went with violated.
Either way, Dr. B didn’t tell me what he was doing. There I was, feet in the stirrups, and he said, “I’m going to just give you a little local anesthetic.” OK. He dabbed something cold down there. Fine.
“Are you sure I don’t need anything else?”
“No, no…” he patted my leg.
Then, he took this 12-inch metal rod. And stuck it up my pee hole.
I was crying, my legs were shaking, and I was yelling, “Please stop! Please stop. Stop now! Stop!” He put his hand on my leg and said, “Oh, now, it’s almost over….”
He didn't stop. Nurse Ratched over in the corner looked on and said nothing. He left me sitting there, trembling. I had to ask the nurse for a tissue. She didn't offer.
Afterward, I got in my car and cried for a long time. Then I just sat there, staring. What the hell just happened?
According to WebMD, a cystoscopy “is a test that allows your doctor to look at the inside of the bladder and the urethra using a thin, lighted instrument called a cystoscope. The cystoscope is inserted into the urethra and slowly advanced into the bladder.”
I knew that cystoscopy felt unseemly, but it wasn’t afterwards when I had a sonohysterogram, (ordered by a different doctor, a female gynecologist) that I realized, “Ohhh. That’s how a procedure like this should be done.”
Even though a sonohysterogram is known to be a far less painful procedure than a cystoscopy, my gyno was awesome about explaining it to me, and sent me to a radiology facility that might as well have been a Virgin Atlantic lounge, or an Ojai spa. There was soft lighting, with plants and fountains everywhere, I was given a little locker, offered a cup of tea -– I half expected to ask, “Can I get the Kona sugar scrub with that?”
I realize not every outpatient surgical procedure can be done in a place with all those bells and whistles, but it wasn’t the bells and whistles that made the major difference. It was that there were people there saying, “This is a bell. I am going to ring it. If you feel any pain, blow this whistle.”
At the sonohysterogram, I was prepped ahead of time with phone call reminders, suggestions to take pain reliever before the procedure, a mention that someone might want to accompany me, and to ask my gyno if I thought I would need something for anxiety.
The doctor came in, and, before I even laid back in the stirrups, he explained exactly what he was going to be doing and how it might feel. I wouldn’t even say I was lying back, exactly. I was puffed up on a lot of pillows, actually. And that really did feel different than just lying down with my legs up in the air.
Nothing could have been more different than my earlier experience.
At Dr. B’s office, I wasn’t told a cystoscopy would even be happening. I wasn’t asked if I wanted it. And, if I did, did I have any questions, or hesitations, or concerns?
I’ve been reading up on the procedure since I decided to write about it. On the Mayo clinic website, it says, “A simple outpatient cystoscopy may take less than five minutes. When done in a hospital setting with sedation or general anesthesia, cystoscopy can take 10 to 30 minutes. Your cystoscopy procedure may follow this process:
- You may or may not need a sedative or anesthetic. If you receive a sedative, you'll feel sleepy and relaxed during the cystoscopy, but you'll still be aware. If you receive a general anesthetic, you won't be aware during the procedure. Both types of medication may be given through a vein in your arm.
Now a couple months after I had my “good” procedure experience, I can look back on my bad experience and really try to dissect what about it was so awful.
It wasn’t just the fluorescent lights, or the local-only anesthetic (to which my dad, a surgeon, said, “That’s all he used? Asshole”). It was also the assumption that I was okay with what he was about to do. I thought it was a regular office visit. No one told me, "Hey, we’re doing this pretty awful procedure today, so you might want to prepare by doing x, y, z. Oh – and expect a bill for 'outpatient surgery.'" That was an $800 surprise.
Dr. B was not a new doctor. I’d seen him for many, many years. Was he getting senile? Out of touch? I don’t know. But, something serious shifted for me that afternoon.
A few weeks later, I sought a very expensive, out-of-network second opinion from a renowned female urologist at Cedars Sinai who specializes in female urology. (Urology as a field seems not only dominated by men, but seems to focus primarily on male urology).
She looked at my records and made a face.
“What’s this guy doing a cystoscopy and ureteroscopy on a young woman like you for?”
I said I didn’t know either. She reviewed the rest of my records and said there was nothing to indicate I really needed those procedures. She asked if my doctor was old and male. I said yes.
She rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t put you through that unless I absolutely had to,” she said.
“Oh, good,” I smiled. She wasn’t smiling.
“It’s very painful,” she said, almost angry on my behalf. She said a lot of her younger female colleagues doing their urology rotations were half-joking that if someone tried to give them a cystoscopy like that they’d sue for malpractice.
It may have cost me almost $500 out-of-pocket, but hearing her say those words made me feel, if not vindicated, then at the very least, validated.