*TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVORS. Also, I curse a bit in this one.
I can’t believe I’m writing this.
Yesterday, I endured what I would say was the worst medical appointment in my 47 years. And what I’m about to share has nothing to do with test results regarding the mass on my cervix (still waiting and still undergoing). That honestly feels like the least of my worries after the trauma inflicted yesterday.
I don’t think I’ve cried that hard in years. I still get teary thinking about what happened when a doctor, who came recommended by three of my friends, ended up being the personification of the man who raped me when I was five and the incredibly abusive predator who gave me HPV when I was 40. During the exam, I was transported back to being raped as a five-year-old.
Thank God Scott was with me in the room.
Here’s how it went down…
I woke up at 3am yesterday, nervous about the exam. That’s not uncommon for me (or countless other sexual abuse survivors) before a pelvic exam. I kept reassuring myself that this doc seemed to be loved by multiple women I know. Even though he was the first male gynecologist I’ve scheduled an appointment with in twenty years, I had hope.
“He’s caring…he’ll listen to you.”
“He’s a little nerdy but he took good care of me when he did my hysterectomy.”
(I’m so glad my friends had a good experience with him, I really am. They are amazing, caring, wonderful women and I’m grateful they told me about their experiences with him.)
All of what I heard—coupled with my own intuitive feelings about being guided (for some reason) to this particular doctor—led me to believe I’d feel respected and safe.
From the moment he walked into the room, I knew I was in trouble. He seemed anything but compassionate. Still, I respectfully asked if I could share a little bit about my personal history, my family history, and my wish for accommodations for next steps (i.e., if he planned to cut anything out of me while I was awake, I asked to have twilight sedation).
I even put notes on my phone and sent them to Scott so he knew what I was sharing and could support or add to if I forgot anything. As soon as I starting telling the doc about the rape I endured as a five-year-old, I teared up. It shocked me because I talk about this quite often, and most times don’t feel emotional about it. It’s just a fact in my life. This time, the minute I told him about the rape, I got choked up. Scott comforted me and jumped in sharing the next thing on my list while I pulled myself together.
Eventually, I jumped back in sharing the rest of my personal healthy history including PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) diagnosis and treatment for 20 years, my new diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease, and then I went on to share my family’s personal health history.
Finally, I asked about twilight sedation and said that, depending on what was found, I would be more than okay with a hysterectomy. Some women have strong feelings about having their parts removed. I’m not one of those. Frankly, it had already been offered to me as a solution to my PCOS issues ALONE when we lived in LA but I think we were between jobs (and healthcare) back then. My sister’s OBGYN offered a hysterectomy, too, but she opted for a uterine ablation first.
When I talked to the doc about PCOS, he (without any info, test results, etc) told me I likely didn’t have PCOS, saying it was over-diagnosed 20 years ago. Enter gut punch number one. Then, as I shared more and told him I purposely got off of birth control pills (the go-to treatment for PCOS) because I’d been on them for so long, and with my increased risk for breast cancer given my mom’s history, I didn’t want to add to my risk.
“It won’t increase your risk.” Gut punch number 2.
What the actual FUCK!?! A simple Google search returns thousands of studies detailing the exact opposite, especially in women who are near or in perimenopause.
He droned on clearly wanting to school me even though I wasn’t schooling him at all. I wasn’t even pushing back. I was simply listening. At one point, while we talked about my mom’s hysterectomy, he told me it was unlikely he would do that and asked if I knew that a hysterectomy was a surgery. Yup, I’m NOT AN IDIOT. I'm 47-years-old, have had two children via c-section, and built an internationally-known company from my garage. I know what surgery is and I know many women my age with my ailments and my personal history get them all the time. Other doctors I know in other states even suggested that a radical hysterectomy might be the best thing for me.
But not this guy. He’d rather I take birth control pills (that could increase my chances of getting breast cancer) in order to treat “bad periods” even though I’ve been diagnosed multiple times with PCOS, a disorder known to increase risk of ovarian cancer. Oh, and then there’s the not-so-little mass that brought me to him. I have HPV, which causes nearly all cervical cancers.
By this time, the heat was rising in me and I knew our visit was going south, and fast.
The point of no return came in the form of me trying to wrap my head around his “you don’t have PCOS” statement. I asked what the treatment might be to help make my horrendous periods every month a little easier if I indeed didn’t have PCOS.
The answer: Birth control. Then when I asked about a secondary treatment form, he threw out “IUD”. I involuntarily started shaking my head no and wrinkling up my nose as to say “nah, that’s not an option for me.” (NOTE: This is pretty common if you’re a sexual abuse survivor—you don’t want anything installed up there!)
In a shaming, condescending tone, he replied to my nonverbal no with, “No…No….don’t dismiss any of it before hearing the options fully.”
Tears welled in my eyes as I turned my head from the doctor to Scott, who was sitting in the chair next to me. Scott later said that he was about to stand up and step in, even before Dr. Ego became incredibly condescending. My pleading, teary eyes gave him the opening he needed.
Scott jumped up out of his chair and started rubbing my back, asking me if I was okay. I couldn’t speak, I just started sobbing while I leaned into his chest. Then I heard Scott ask Dr. Ego if he has ever worked with trauma survivors. His answer was par for the course: “Yes, of course, there are many survivors who don’t even know they’ve been abuse.”
No shit, asshole. I was one of those until I was 40. He didn’t know that because he wasn’t listening to me at all. In fact, he seemed confused when I started getting upset after he shamed me for knowing I did not want an IUD.
“Is it what I suggested…do you not like my suggestions?”
Through tears, I managed to say, “No, it’s the WAY you’re talking to me…the way you’re treating me. It’s your tone. I have so many friends who have said they loved working with you….” My voice trailed off as I finally couldn’t even speak anymore because I was crying so hard.
Finally, he downshifted from condescending asshole to asshole who knew he needed to ACT like he had an ounce of compassion in him.
“Is there any way we can just take a quick look at that mass and get a pap?” he asked in a quieter voice.
I continued to sob while Scott wrapped his arms around me with tears in his eyes.
Even in that moment, I recognized that Little Kiersten was the one who was reacting so violently. She was scared to death. I stared at Scott trying to find the courage to go through with an exam and somehow mustered a yes, knowing that I needed the pap and the pelvic ultrasound he was ordering for me. Once I had them, I could take those results to someone else. Someone with a fucking soul.
As I leaned back on the exam table, Scott held me the best he could while I gripped his arms like I was Rose hanging onto the floating door in Titanic. Wailing, I tried my best to put my feet in the stirrups. My legs locked up. My right hip started cramping. As usual, I had already asked for the smallest speculum because that’s what I always do. Exams are always somewhat painful no matter what, but yesterday, when he cranked open the speculum, I felt like I was being stabbed.
I sobbed uncontrollably while he performed a pap smear and took a quick look at the mass.
I felt like I was being raped….again.
When I was raped as a five-year-old, I dissociated in order to survive. It's pretty common. All you have to do is Google childhood sexual abuse and disassociation, and bam...it's there.
In that moment, I felt what my inner child felt when I was five. I did not want this asshole near me let alone in me. I continued to sob as pain coursed through my entire body until it was finally over. It probably lasted five minutes, but it felt never-ending.
I don’t remember much of what happened after that other than Scott helped me get dressed while I continued to sob. As we walked out of the office, the nurses were asking if I was okay and if I needed water or a quick sit-down. I was surprised I didn’t pass out, honestly. (I passed out twice during the exam last week.)
If I hadn’t been crying so hard, I would have said that I just needed to get the fuck out of there. It took hours for me to finally calm down enough to talk a little.
It wasn’t until I was talking with my friend, Cynthia, before bed last night that I had an aha moment. Maybe the purpose in what I endured yesterday morning had everything to do with feeling what I had repressed as a child.
Speaking of, my tail bone is so sore and has been for a week. I’ve never felt this before. I haven’t injured it, that I know of, and the only thing I can surmise is that both pelvic exams are related to the pain. It’s intensifying as I write this.
Maybe my tailbone pain represents memories of physical pain I endured as a kid. Maybe I just pulled something. Maybe getting choked up while telling Dr. Ego about being raped was actually Little Kiersten telling me she was terrified. Maybe this healing I expected from him happened, just in a way I didn’t expect. Maybe I’m reaching.
What I do know for sure is that all of this is coming to a head for my complete healing, both emotionally and physically.
What I also know for a fact is that it will be a cold day in hell before I go anywhere near Dr. Ego or that office ever again. I’m already in the process of finding a new gynecologist. And, in time, I will write reviews online and will send a personal letter to him. (Reach out to me privately and I’ll tell you who it is.)
Women of Flagstaff, you deserve better. You deserve a compassionate doctor no matter if you’re a trauma survivor or not.
I know I’m not the only one who endured this type of treatment by a gynecologist. And I know I won’t be the last. I’m hoping that by writing about it, it’s not only helping me process the pain and trauma, but it will open the door for others to talk about and process their own pain as it relates to the countless Dr. Egos out there practicing medicine.
*I will keep you all posted as I get test results and move forward with a plan.
News of a Mass
Even in Dark Times, There is Light