I sat in the small, cold exam room of the new gynecologist I was seeing. I was clad only in that thin paper gown that never seems to fit right, a sheet over my lap.
I was in need of a new prescription for hormones and my insurance had changed, causing me to have to find a new OBGYN for my annual visit. In order to avoid waiting six to eight weeks to actually see the physician, I agreed to see the nurse practitioner, a woman by the name of Carol.
I recall vividly the moment the door opened and Carol, the nurse practitioner, walked in. My eyes scanned her face, sensing recognition and then it hit me: Carol was a former student of mine!
As a teacher, I had taught my share of students, some who still stayed in touch but most I never heard from again. Carol was one of those students. I always wondered how my former students were doing, but I admit I really didn’t want to find out like this.
I was pleased she was obviously enjoying a successful career as a nurse practitioner, but then the reality of my situation sunk in she was going to be the one who was going to have to examine me, and exam which included my breasts, an annual STD check, and the ultimate horror — a pap smear!
At this point, many might question why I didn’t decide to reschedule my appointment for a later date with a different practitioner, tell my former student it was good to see her and leave.
Ordinarily, I would have, but you see, as someone who requires a hormone supplement to avoid hot flashes and the other unpleasant effects of perimenopause, I really needed that hormone prescription. I decided this was just one of those humiliating jokes that life likes to play on we mere mortals every once in a while, so I steeled myself for the humiliation that was about to commence.
As someone who is able to engage in conversation with ease, I was really having to think of things to say as she gave me a breast exam, palpitating first my right and then my left breast to check for lumps.
Here I was being felt up by a student I taught when she was just a wisp of a young girl in high school, and I remember being relieved that she had been a conscientious and good student with excellent grades and responsible habits. I mean, being felt up by an A plus student — no problem; being felt up by a C or D student, well, even I have my limits.
I tried to keep my mind off of the next part of the exam as she finished up searching for any signs of lumps in my breast. After closing the gown back over my chest, she moved to the foot of the exam table and asked me to scoot down and place my feet in the stirrups. I remember staring up at the ceiling and wondering what on earth I had allowed myself to get into.
As I spread my legs and the cold air of the exam room hit my inner thighs, I knew the time I had come: The dreaded pelvic exam.
As she inserted the speculum and inserted her fingers, I remember trying to make small talk with her, but I mean, what kinds of things do you say to someone who is working away between your legs, checking for abnormalities or signs of disease?
I remember asking her about her family, how they were doing, telling her that I always thought her mom was so sweet. Carol was married and so we were able to discuss that for a bit.
As the exam continued, I remember being incredulous that this was actually happening. What teacher in her right mind ever looks out at the many faces of students we teach each year and think, “One day, this student is going to give me a gynecological exam”? None.
The exam proceeded normally and it was time for the grand finale – the annual pap smear. Oh yes, here I was having my cervix scraped by a former student and I remember thinking how fate had turned the tables.
Years ago, I had been the one in charge of my classroom and my students, which included Caroline, and made professional decisions on her behalf. Now she was doing the same for me, though instead of the classroom, it was the exam room. Instead of subjects like literature and conjugating verbs, we were discussing the need to check for STDs.
After what seemed like an eternity, the exam was complete and I was able to sit up, wrapping the sheet more tightly around my waist, feeling the uncomfortable goo of the KY Jelly underneath me.
With the exam over, we were able to chat more amicably (it really helps when you can sit up and look someone in the face while having a conversation instead of lying back staring at the top of her head).
Finally, she wrote up my prescription that I so desperately needed and we said goodbye, with the usual “It’s nice to see you,” kinds of salutations that semi-strangers say when parting ways.
I headed out of the office, eager to put the experience behind me, clutching my coveted prescription in my hand. It is amazing what a woman will do when she is out of her hormones, as I can surely attest.
I remember laughing uncontrollably as I triumphantly made my way to my local pharmacy, realizing that no one was going to believe the story I now had to tell. Even my regular internist looked at me like I was insane when I relayed my experience to her at my next well checkup appointment.
Scrunching her face into an almost but not quite disgusted look, she laughed and said, “I think I would have had to reschedule that appointment!”
As fall rolled in this year, the falling leaves signaling summer’s end, so did my prescription. It was time for that annual appointment again. I dialed the number to schedule my annual visit, sure to be careful that Carol was not the individual who would be conducting my exam.
While I admit I am proud to have had a student like Carol, someone successful and happy in life, my lesson was learned: Always check to see who you are scheduled to see at your next gynecological exam!