The other day I called up my medical office to make an appointment for a pap smear. A totally routine thing except this time, when I asked for my Nurse Practitioner, Melissa, I heard the dreaded news that she was no longer practicing there. My reaction to her leaving was kind of a surprise. I was legitimately upset. I have been seeing this NP for the entire time I was in grad school (so for a little less than two years). In those two years, she was honored with the difficult-to-achieve title of Awkwardette’s Greatest Vagina-Doctor of All Time. What made her the Greatest Vagina-Doctor of All Time? A few things.
First, she was smart. You’d think, “Oh a doctor, they’re automatically smart!” Not true. Nurse M did her research. She kept on top of the latest research and wasn’t bogged down in old school gyno stuff. Case in point, I wanted an IUD. I first decided I wanted an IUD years ago, but I had a hell of a time finding a doctor who would give it to me. One doctor said since I’ve never had children, my body would reject it (I’ve had mine for over a year and no rejection so far). Another told me that she would only give them to people in monogamous relationships because IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, which is all kinds of weird, because last I checked the NuvaRing, Depo shot and the pill also do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
I remember going into my first appointment with Nurse M armed with research and a strong-toned monologue demanding an IUD. It turns out I didn’t need it, because Nurse M knew that a lot of the hesitation surrounding IUDs came from an antiquated belief that they caused infertility, and she knew that IUDs are actually one of the most effective forms of birth control on the market. She gave me the run down on what to expect, how it would work, helped me weigh my options, and then scheduled the insertion appointment.
Second, she is respectful of people’s bodies. In addition to IUD insertions and the regular check ups folks need, I also have to be examined more frequently because of complications due to HPV. That means a lot of pap smears, and I absolutely hate them. I’ve had some terrible experiences, mostly with colposcopies. Nurse M is somehow this magical combination of quick and thorough. When it comes to an examination, she’s not the type to just shove the cold speculum in. She is methodical and must understand working with trauma patients well.
She starts off by asking if it’s okay to touch me. As she continues, she tells me exactly what she is doing with her hands and where to expect her hands to be next. It doesn’t feel rushed, but she is quick. She is constantly checking in with me to make sure I am as comfortable as I can be. She tells me exactly what she sees as she sees it, and once even told me I have a beautiful cervix. I didn’t know cervixes could be beautiful!
Another amazing thing Nurse M did involved the scale. Most of the time, gynecologists don’t need to know your exact weight at any given moment. With the exception of maybe dealing with pregnancy or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), most of the time, an OB-GYN doesn’t need to know your weight unless it’s a concern you bring up. And for some of us, using a scale can be a weird, triggering process. I didn’t even have to explain this to her as I have had to with so many other doctors. The first day I was there, before I could even describe to her what Health at Every Size is, she said, “Would you like to be weighed?” I said “No” and that was that. Using the scale was optional from the get-go.
And finally, Nurse M was the Greatest Vagina-Doctor of All Time because she listened. I remember when I was scheduled for a colposcopy for the first time with her, I was very upset. I remember tearing up a little bit, and she asked me what I was concerned about. I told her about my terrible experiences in the past with colposcopies that were bordering on traumatic and she listened to me. She even remembered this weeks later when it was time for the procedure, and she made it as painless and comfortable as someone sticking a camera in your vagina can be!
So of course, when I hear that Nurse M is gone I am upset. I Googled her frantically, trying to see if I can track her down at a new practice, but I can’t find anything. I’d be willing to pay partially out of pocket if it meant seeing her, because being that comfortable with a doctor who does so many intimate weird things to my body is important to me.
A good gyno is really hard to find. A lot of what makes a good gyno isn’t taught in med school. It involves a fundamental belief in women’s bodily autonomy that is unfortunately sparse among doctors. It means a good bedside manner that is not patronizing, but is comforting and understanding. It involves listening, which managed care has made go the way of the dodo.
I’m fortunately enough to live in NYC, where a decent gynecologist might be easier to find than in other areas, but there will still be speculum shaped hole in my heart for Nurse M.