That Time I Consented To Let Three Of My Gynecologist's Medical Students Watch My Pelvic Exam, And Immediately Regretted It

The room was now crowded with THREE medical students, my doctor talking them through what he was doing, and a nurse guarding the door. I felt like they were watching MTV's "True Life: I'm Louise's Vagina".

Jul 3, 2014 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

I just went to go see my new gynecologist, and I love her. 
 
She patiently answered all of my paranoid questions (I've been having some odd IUD-related cramping, but all is well!), was engaging and even funny, but most of all instilled a sense of safety and confidence in me. 
 
I would have hugged her before she left if it wasn't for the whole naked -- and "doctor-patient" professionalism -- thing. Catch me on the right day, and I still may hug her when I go back for my follow up. 
 
You see, despite my Vagina and Friends telling me lately, "Hey, Weezy, something's going on down here, I think we need some maintenance," (did I just make my vagina sound like George Jefferson?) I was avoiding heading to the gynecologist.  
 
Why? Because the last time I went to the gynecologist my lady parts and I felt like "Yanni Live! at the Acropolis." 
 
Now, I'm not particularly shy about going to the gynecologist. I scoot my little behind down to the edge of the table, I don't really care if my gown falls all willy-nilly, and I mount my feet in the stirrups like a champ. For the better part of my life I've had positive experiences at the gynecologist. 
 
But a few years ago I went to see a gynecologist for my routine exam. He was recommended by my doctor, and didn't think twice about booking the appointment. Why would I?
 
The gynecologist practiced out of a major hospital -- a teaching hospital, I came to find out. It was a stark, clean, simple office with a full waiting room and had that familiar smell of anti-bacterial soap permeating the air. I actually love the smell of doctor's offices and anti-bacterial soap, so at first all felt normal and even comforting. 
 
When the nurse called me in for my turn, we went through all the regular pre-checkup stuff: weight, blood pressure, temperature, any issues, meds, etc. Then I was lead into a exam room, given a gown, asked to undress, and left to wait. No problem there. 
 
A few minutes later, the doctor and the same nurse came into the exam room. He was an older man, not really all that concerned with social niceties (which was okay), while at the same time very precise as to what exactly we were going to be doing that day. Again, no problem there; no matter how many times I've been to the gynecologist, I appreciate them telling me what I have to look forward to. 
 
At one point I told the gynecologist that I was mildly concerned about how erratic my periods were, and how long they were lasting, and he quickly jotted it down on my chart and told me he'd "see what was going on." Okay. 
 
I slid to the edge of the table, and just as my exam was about to commence, speculum in his hand, there was a quiet knock at the door. The nurse looked to the doctor, and he looked to me. 
 
"Ms. Hung, we're a teaching hospital, so would it be okay with you if one of my students observes your exam?"
 
Caught a little off guard, but supposing this was the norm, I said "Sure," and the nurse let in a young woman in a white lab coat. She smiled quickly at me, introduced herself, and came around to the end of the table where the doctor was about to begin the exam. It was an odd view, to see (and feel) my doctor at work, but to also have an inquiring pair of eyes looking down, uh, INTO me. 
 
About a minute into the exam there was another quiet knock. The nurse looked at the doctor, the doctor looked at me. The student looked IN me. 
 
"Is it okay with you if another student observes your exam?" the doctor asked. 
 
At this point, in the middle of my exam, feeling more than a little weird and exposed, but just wanting it to be over, I said, "Fine," and he motioned the nurse to let whoever was on the other side of the door come in. 
 
I heard the door open and close (I was on the other side of a partition, shielding me from the door), and footsteps come in. TWO students, a young man and a young woman, entered the room at this point. They quietly, and awkwardly greeted me, introduced themselves, and took their position at the end of the table with the gynecologist. I think I muttered, "Um…okay."
 
I looked at them, they looked in me. 
 
image

This is a really good episode. 

 
"This must be what my TV feels like," I thought. The room was now crowded with THREE medical students, my doctor talking them through what he was doing, and a nurse guarding the door. The three students stared intently down at what the doctor was doing, some with furrowed brows, leaning from side to side to better see the exam. 
 
I wanted to tell them to pay close attention because this wasn't going to be a two-part cliffhanger, but I was too mortified to say anything. Was this really supposed to be okay? I could feel myself tensing up. 
 
"Almost done," the doctor said. 
 
"Try to relax," the horn-rimmed glasses wearing male student said. Under normal circumstances I would have thought he was cute, in that church camp/Wesley Crusher kind of way, but under the circumstances I just grunted, "Not so easy!" and laughed nervously. 
 
Finally the doctor finished my exam, the students all took a step back, he gave me a quick breast exam, ("Your heart is racing," he noted) and told me the nurse would bring me to his office after I had gotten dressed. 
 
Everyone left the room, and for the first time in 15 minutes I felt very alone. 
 
"WHAT THE F*CK?" I said out loud. 
 
After dressing, I exited the exam room and found the nurse waiting for me on the other side of the door. "I'll take you to the doctor's office," she said, and headed down the hallway. I followed her, though I eyed the exit as we passed it. 
 
In the doctor's large office, I found the doctor and his posse waiting for me at a round table. They asked me to sit, so I sat. The doctor then proceeded to ask me more about my irregular periods. 
 
As I gave him more details, the students began flipping through little paperback manuals, "Bedside Companion to Louise's Uterus" or whatever. When I had finished relaying the details of my concerns, the doctor turned to his students and asked what the problem could be. 
 
OH, COME ON. 
 
The formerly serious bunch sprang to life, offering various solutions as to what could be the cause of my menstrual woes. 
 
"Endometriosis!"
 
"Birth control complications!"
 
"ALIENS"
 
I was beginning to wish I hadn't mentioned any of my worries to the gynecologist -- in my opinion the LAST way you should feel at a doctor's office. The teachable moment ended, and the doctor told me he suspected it was my IUD, told me some warning signs to look for, and that if things didn't improve, to see him again. 
 
I shot out the door. 
 
I never went back to that doctor and his good times gang. Actually, I avoided the gynecologist for years, even when I had some concerns. Probably not the wisest decision, but every time I thought about going, I'd see those three medical students intently watching MTV's "True Life: I'm Louise's Vagina." 
 
But it was time, so I went, and I'm so glad I did. It was such a weight off of me. I got a clean bill of health, and my new doctor quieted my anxiety about gynecologists everywhere. I am so grateful to doctors like her. 
 
In a much calmer state of mind, I look back on that awful experience where I felt on DISPLAY and wonder if I'm overreacting. I mean, I said it was okay for the students to watch the exam -- I just didn't realize what exactly that meant. I suppose I could have stopped it all at any time, but in the midst of an uncomfortable, embarrassing moment, I felt dumb saying anything. 
 
I feel like the above words are things people have said when far worse things have happened to them when under the care of a medical professional. 
 
To me this is a lesson in professional control. The doctor, the one who was more or less in control of the situation, should have been more aware of his patient's growing discomfort. But he either ignored it, or wasn't sensitive enough to notice. What was routine to him was not routine at all to me. He had the ultimate power to say, "You know, I think there's too many people in the room, let's give her some space," but he did nothing. 
 
At the very least I've come away from that experience being far more comfortable with putting the kibosh on situations that trigger my gut to say, "NOT OKAY!" I suppose I can thank the Gyno Gang for that. 
 
Has anything uncomfortable or embarrassing happened to you at the doctor's where you felt out of control? Have you ever avoided going to the doctor because of a negative experience?