What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I chose my new gynecologist the way I choose all my doctors: picking whoever is on my health insurance and works in a convenient location.
I don't Yelp them. I don't Google them. I don't ask around for referrals. Should I? Probably. Should you? Definitely.
An educated consumer is a happy consumer, and let's face it: picking the person who shoves plastic objects in your undercarriage is way more important than picking a car.
If you buy a lemon in the latter instance, you've probably just wasted money and time. But if your gynecologist turns out to be a yellow citrus fruit, you may feel pain, shame, anger, and a whole host of other uncomfortable emotions -- plus you'll have wasted money and time.
In short: I don't always use the wisest methods when it comes to selecting doctors. But so far, it's served me pretty well. And yesterday, I accidentally ordered and received the filet mignon of gynecological services. (Okay, perhaps using a beef metaphor in this instance is not the most delicate choice. Pretend I said Cadillac or Air Force One.)
Seriously, you guys (and I clearly mean girls): this shit was amaaaazing.
The first sign that this was going to be a good visit was that my new gynecologist is located in some place with a name like "The Center for Holistic Healing." I dig hippie M.D.s who practice what's known as integrative or complementary medicine, combining conventional medical training with alternative practices like acupuncture, herbalism, massage and a whole host of other healing modalities.
If the doctors aren't actually certified as therapists in these methods, they are at least educated about the benefits of alternative treatments and will be open to incorporating them into your general health plan (also: They will be open to the concept of a general health plan beyond "try not to die.")
The second sign that this visit was preordained was the center's location. Granted, I had to take two subways to get there, but! It is right next door to the Museum of Sex! I ask you, could there be a more fortuitous sign that my vagina was about to be placed into very capable hands? Short of an angelic apparition or a giant ovarian Bat signal shining in the sky, I think not.
I briefly contemplated going to my appointment and then heading to the museum, but I decided that would be too much vag in one day for even me, an ardently pro-femivaginist.
The next part was standard: Show a photo ID, sign in, and then use the slightly dingy elevator to get to… a cavern of wonders.
Seriously. I don't know who the hell they got to decorate this joint, but the person got it so right. I stepped off the elevator into a soothingly-lit hallway with bamboo floors and curving walls that seemed to undulate as I walked. Then I entered the actual office lobby and was immersed in a world of (probably sustainable) wood-paneled walls and a bamboo reception desk. The lighting in the reception area was a little dim in that good, chillaxed mood-setting way.
It was the interior decoration equivalent of one of those mix CDs with names like "Celtic Moods" and "Journeys in Marrakesh," the kinds they sell at Barnes and Noble and maybe at your local Yogilates studio.
Now, the office managers and receptionists at most New York City medical offices do not want to deal with your bullshit. They have more important things to do, like eat odiforous yet delicious takeout and deal with complaint calls from their children's high school principals.
They work their asses off, don't get paid enough, and deal with whiny sick people all day. You are not at the top of their list of priorities. And at the Womb Studio for Vaginal Enchantment, they were not exactly super-friendly.
But I will say this: those ladies took it down a notch. A noticeable notch. They were not particularly interested in me, and they didn't say "Namaste" or tell me they'd hold me in the light or anything, but they were efficient without being brusque, and that blew me away. This was clearly a very busy place, but they took the time to answer my insurance questions without acting like I was intruding.
I know this may be standard practice in some places, but after almost seven years in New York City, I've come to have certain not-so-high expectations of customer service. Respectful, businesslike treatment was pretty cool.
And then I turned around and got a look at the waiting area. This is where I really fell in love. Bright, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of Fifth Avenue. A welcoming mix of soft and hard-looking chairs and couches, some of which wouldn't look out of place in a swanky apartment.
Magazines about yoga and veganism and adoption and psychology. A freaking library of books about Zen things and green things and herbal things and healthy things. A water cooler! And a sign that advertised free weekly Zen meditation sessions at this Gathering Place for Medical Uterine Love Library.
I sank into a comfy sofa and looked at my fellow patients, whom I was tempted to think of as clients. They did not looked pissed off, terrified or horribly bored. They looked… relaxed. Not necessarily happy to be at the giner doc, but relaxed.
Then my name was called. Time for the true test of whether this place rocked.
The nurse was rad, and we went into the very normal-looking examining room. We talked for awhile about my brother's nursing school graduation and she did all the usual things nurses do before your annual exam. I was still feeling pretty good until I caught sight of these things.
What the what? You mean the petals of my ladyflower weren't going to be delicately unfurled using a combination of mindfulness meditation and the application of sacred essential oils? They were going to stick the car jack in me and crank me open, just like always? Dammit!
I grew momentarily tense.
Then I met the doctor herself, who was so cool (she trained under Dr. Andrew Weil!) and smart and interesting and just chatted with me for nearly 10 minutes about everything from my medical history to her fun skirt (it was from a thrift shop). By the time I put on the gown (with the extra sheet she gave me to stay warm), I was mellowing out again.
And when she said, "Now you'll feel a little pressure from the speculum" I definitely thought, "Yeah right, this shit is gonna hurt" and then it totally didn't! For the first time in my life, I didn't feel as if some sort of ancient tomb were reluctantly creaking open in the general vicinity of my lower abdomen.
Anyway, the rest of the appointment was great, including the ritual bloodletting necessitated by testing. Who knew phlebotomy could be so enjoyable? When I waltzed up to the checkout desk, rocking my neon orange Band-Aid, I felt light as a very, very feminine feather. On the way downstairs, I marveled at my good fortune.
"All that for only $20!" I exclaimed to myself. "How lucky I am!"
Then the voice in my head that sounds exactly like Suze Orman said, "Actually, girlfriend, that was $570. $20 for the co-pay, and $550 for the freelancer insurance you buy each month."
"Oh," I thought. "Right."
I'll admit, it kind of killed my gyno-high. But today, now that I've calmed down a bit, I have to say that my accidental journey into the fancier side of gynecology really taught me something.
I know this joint was particularly luxurious, but I think even the far more modest places where my friends and I can usually afford to go ought to take a note from this upscale joint.
We deserve more than the crappy fluorescent lights and cold steel speculums and the brusque, no-nonsense doctor behavior. At the very least, we deserve a room-temperature or even warm speculum and a little chit-chat before going for the gusto.
After all, our bodies are a freakin' wonderland.