Seeing the gynecologist is like getting a tune-up before a road trip. You don’t want to spend the time or money, but you want to make sure you and the people you share the road with are safe.
So I go. And I wait. I answer the same medical history questions they’ve given me for the past 10 years. I mark the same answers. I wait.
I give the clipboard to the receptionist and she says, “You didn’t fill out your marital status.”
“I don’t answer that. I don’t think my marital status is relevant to my care.”
“It’s just going to revert to single.”
Then, “You didn’t answer whether you wear a seatbelt.”
“Yeah. Why do you guys ask that?”
“I don’t know. Everyone else answers it.”
“I’m not going to answer that either.”
I go back to the room and the gown doesn’t fit. I ask the nurse, “Ma’am, do you have a larger gown?”
“No, I’m sorry. This is the only size we have.”
I just spent 20 minutes in a waiting room full of new and expectant mothers and this is the only size you have?
But I don’t say that. Instead I consider the oddity of changing my clothes for a breast and pelvic exam.
The doctor comes in and does my exam. She’s walking out the door but hasn’t mentioned STIs so I ask, “Do you automatically do STI testing?”
She says, “No, we stop asking when women turn 26.” I’m 28. “Do you want to be tested?”
“Yes, I’m here, you may as well test me.” So she comes back to my spread legs and digs back in. She’s walking out the door again.
“Don’t I need a blood test?” I ask.
“Oh. You want a blood test, too?”
“Yes, I’d like to be tested for everything.”
I have my blood drawn. I keep thinking about how if I hadn’t asked I would have assumed I’d been completely covered. I’m irritated, but worse, I feel embarrassed.
Maybe other women my age don’t get tested unless they have a scare. I worry whether my insurance is going to cover it. (It did.) I think about how if I wasn’t informed, I wouldn’t have known that I needed a blood test for HIV and syphilis because my doctor didn’t tell me even AFTER I asked for testing.
When I get home, I’m still angry, but more than that, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. So I write a tongue-in-cheek letter, hoping it will stick in the doctor’s mind the next time a single, 28-year-old woman is in her office, assuming that STI testing is part of her exam.
"Thank you for the delightful Pap smear. Even though you don’t have a single gown in your office that in any way clasps in the front, I will still be back again next year.
I am concerned however, that you in no way mentioned STIs or sexual health during my exam. I was touched that you asked me both my marital status and if I wear a seatbelt, but nothing was mentioned about sex, the fact that people have it, or that one can get diseases from it.
When I brought up testing, you said that you stopped automatically asking women after age 26. Had I known that if I had just held out I would completely bypass the risk of AIDs, I may have just waited until 27 before becoming sexually active.
You also didn’t explain that an exam does not cover all STIs and that I may want to consider a blood test to ensure I’m covering all of my bases, but luckily, as a presumably celibate or disease-immune woman of 28 I don’t have to worry about such issues.
After my strongly worded letter, I hope you reconsider these practices."
A few days later, I receive a note from the office saying that my tests are normal. A few days after that, I receive a letter rejecting me as her patient.
Then I was PISSED. I calmed down enough to call the office. I have to wait for the business manager to call me back.
"Hi, I got a letter saying that Dr. R ----- could no longer see me."
"Why did she kick me out of her office?"
"Well, you wrote that letter."
"I wrote that letter because she should be asking all of her patients if they want STI testing."
"Well, and you were rude to the receptionist."
"What? How was I rude to the receptionist?"
"About the seatbelt question…"
"I wasn’t going to answer that. Do you know why a gynecologist is asking whether I wear a seatbelt?"
"Well no, but that doesn’t mean you can be rude to our staff."
"I wasn’t rude to her, I just wasn’t going to answer that."
"Well Dr. R- has the right to refuse patients and she thinks you need to find a new doctor."
"OK, thank you."
When I told my primary care physician that I got kicked out of Dr. R‘s office, she said that she could do the exams moving forward. She doesn’t specialize in gynecological health, but I really wasn’t up for shopping for another gynecologist.
She also told me that in 20 years of practice, she’d only kicked two patients out of her office; one because he groped her, and another because he waved a gun around in the waiting room.