A Good Vagina Doctor is Hard to Find

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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!

IUD

The elusive IUD

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.

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awkwardette

Michelle M. aka awkwardette is a multi-disciplinarian. She moonlights as an activist while earning her big bucks making the internet easier to use. She also writes about pop music on PopMinx.com and aspires to be Amelia Fletcher when she grows up. She prefers listening to The Jesus and Mary Chain when doin' it.
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17 Comments on “A Good Vagina Doctor is Hard to Find”

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  1. Profile photo of TheCuriosity
    TheCuriosity

    If your NP is still doing what she does, you can probably find out where she moved her practice to through her regulatory body. I am not sure who they would be in New York, but the Nurse Practitioner Association of New York might be a good place to start asking questions. http://www.thenpa.org/

    As a health profession, they usually have to keep registered with their respective health profession which includes keeping up-to-date employment information that is available to the public. (here? http://www.op.nysed.gov/prof/nurse/np.htm )

  2. Profile photo of Dormouse
    Dormouse

    I go to an NP too, and she is fabulous! Hearing all these horror stories makes me worried about ever needing to find someone else though…

  3. Profile photo of raine
    raine

    Well, this seems like a logical place to bring it up — I asked my gyno a couple weeks ago about an IUD, and he was very cool about it. All he said was that “We do sometimes put IUDs in women who haven’t had children, and it’s mostly fine. There’s a small chance x and y side effects may occur.” He told me to call and make another appointment so they could get started. Now I just have to be in the right headspace to call up the office and proudly announce I want an IUD…

  4. Profile photo of [E] Hillary
    [E] Hillary

    I loved my old OB/GYN from the first visit because she had me sit down in her office and talk over sexual history, BC use, etc before having me disrobe. It was so much more comfortable to have that conversation fully dressed. Her nurses were all sweet; she didn’t make fun of me for having stupid questions during my pregnancy; her hours were really flexible and it was easy to get last-minute appointments. When Lexie would up in the NICU for a couple days when she was born my doctor came to check on both of us and was really worried that it was her fault (long story, there were minor complications but my doctor took excellent care of her and the NICU was unrelated and purely precautionary as it turned out). She’s a great doctor; if you can’t find Nurse M and are willing to trek out to Queens for appointments, PM me and I’ll send you her info. Good luck!

  5. Profile photo of [E]Coco Papy
    [E]Coco Papy

    Praise. and. Testify. First, hell yes on doctors who give IUD’s. You think with the way most shun away from them, that they were cigarettes laced with life ruining potential. Semi-permanent birth control! Thats cost-effective in the long term! Quelle horreur!

    But I agree- having a great gyno is crucial. I’ve lost count on how many times I have been to shitty doctors who did everything to insure that I would never ever return. There was the male gynecologist who didn’t use lube when inserting a speculum and ripped my vaginal canal or the GP who refused to see me until I had a “real” gynecologist examine me (his partner) and when I mentioned I had just been to see a gyno a week ago, they said I was “threatening them” and they had “millions of dollars worth of malpractice insurance”. The stories are endless.

    I see a gyno at PP now, and I have nothing but praise to sing. She inserted my IUD, taken care of my UTI’s, and has been my regular doctor by doing an amazing job at being a good doctor, i.e. asking me how I’m doing and giving me all the information and seriously, not being a judgemental asshole.

  6. Profile photo of Miss Shirley
    Miss Shirley

    I feel ya.

    I’m about to leave my grad school NP. She’s not really my ideal (a bit chatty for my taste) but due to my prior non-insurance clinic lifestyle, she’s the only one I’ve ever seen more than once. Having her be able to remember something – even if she’s just reading it off a chart – is really nice. Plus, she’s nice, quick, and gentle. Soon it’ll be back to no insurance, and I really dread going back to the one-night-stand approach to medical care. Really dread it.

  7. Profile photo of AJ
    AJ

    My favourite doctor is my optometrist (true!). I had terrible, terrible eyesight for years, and a few years ago I had laser eye surgery (amazing, by the way). The first time I went it to have my drivers license updated (no corrective lenses, yo!), I failed the eye exam thing. The next checkup I had with my optometrist I mentioned this and that I was upset, and she actually talked to me about why I was upset, and reassured me that I was still healing (true), and wrote me a lovely letter on letterhead saying I had 20/30 vision (true) and was eligible for the no corrective lenses designation. I was SO grateful for that kindness and empathy from her.

  8. Profile photo of Lis
    Lis

    There is hope!

    I moved about two years ago, and sadly left an amazing doctor behind. She was my general PA, but also did all of my PAPs. Very much like your Nurse M.

    I took a chance and scheduled an appointment with the first person available at my doctor’s office (there is a gynecology office in the same building as my regular doctor). I thought I might have BV, so wanted to get it checked out asap. Dr. J was not very good. I was her last appointment that they squeezed in before going on vacation, and it showed. She was frustrated with how I filled out my medical history, and that I requested certain equipment (pediatric speculums, what what).

    I put off getting my PAP smear for almost two years. When I needed a scrip refilled, I found out that she was no longer there, which saved me the awkward “I need a new doctor” conversation. I asked around my friends, and found out that there was a great NP at the office. I had my first appointment a month ago, and she LISTENED. She took notes on the things that I need to survive a PAP smear (equipment, detailed explanations of what’s going on, something to squeeze [we used the bulb of a BP cuff, since I forgot my stress ball]). She was not at all judgemental when I explained my sexual history, and asked appropriate, medically-relevant questions. Overall, it was an incredibly positive experience, and now I feel much more comfortable with the whole process.

  9. Profile photo of [E] pileofmonkeys
    [E] pileofmonkeys

    For about ten years, I only saw ladydoctors/NPs who were women. In that time, I was condescended to, treated like an idiot child, told I didn’t know my own mind, and had to fight for the absolute lowest standard of care I thought I was entitled to. Every visit was humiliating. A coworker referred me to her doctor, who is a man, and I resisted because I thought I’d be uncomfortable. And then I realized I’d been uncomfortable for a decade. So I went to see Dr. J, he listened to me, wrote down my concerns, and answered my questions plainly but without being condescending. He asked about my history of chronic UTIs, asked me what antibiotic worked best for me, and wrote me a prescription with six refills and told me to call if I needed more. I stupidly asked if I needed to come in for a test each time before I filled the scrip (as I always needed to in the past). He told me, “You’ve had this condition since you were young. You’ve had all of the necessary testing to rule out a more serious cause. I can guarantee you know you’re getting a UTI about an hour before it happens. I don’t want there to be any delay in your treatment. Call me or come in if something seems different or wrong, but otherwise, just fill the prescription.” I burst into tears. That one prescription slip changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

    He was also the first doctor to ever seriously discuss a tubal ligation with me. He expressed his concerns, all of which were medical and had nothing to do with me being “too young” or telling me I’d change my mind. He said of course he’d do it if it was what I wanted; clearly I’d done my research and put time and thought into the decision.

    So I absolutely understand how you feel about Nurse M. I hope you find her, or someone who provides you with the same kind of care.

    1. Profile photo of KitzyKid
      KitzyKid

      I also have had much better experiences with my male doctor. My female doctor constantly made me feel humiliated, and in my early adulthood disclosed information on my sexual activity to my mom. I am close with my mom, so it didn’t spiral into anything that way, but we were both incredibly angry about it.

    2. Profile photo of raine
      raine

      I kind of got stuck with a male doctor when I moved and called up the local clinic and got the first available doctor. Luckily he’s great and I’ve stuck with him. It is comforting to have the female nurse in the room, too, though.

  10. Profile photo of nonsensikel
    nonsensikel

    Oh I feel you.  I wanted to hug my gyno when I finally found her.

    Here’s a short anecdote for you.  My first gyno was a NP that KNEW MY PARENTS.  And she revealed this fact to me while examining my cervix and literally minutes after I informed her that I was now sexually active.  I wanted to die.  I was so distracted that I didn’t notice when she finished her exam and she said, “Uh, I’m done now. You can close your legs.”

    Looking back, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.  Both of my parents work at the hospital she worked for but still.  Don’t tell me you just bumped into my dad and how he is such a great guy and oh how you used to love working with my mom while you are looking at my vagina.  Mmkay, thanks.

     

    1. Profile photo of Lis
      Lis

      My first lady-doctor was also the doctor for my mom and sister, but it had been that way for years (she was also our GP), so it was actually not unusual for her to ask how my mom was doing during the appointment. Then again, she knew that mindless conversation was a good distraction for me.

      What was awkward is that I worked in a fabric shop, and she was a quilter.

    2. Profile photo of CherriSpryte
      CherriSpryte

      My first gyno was the old man WHO DELIVERED ME. He also repeatedly violated doctor-patient confidentiality, in telling my mother things I specifically asked him to not do so (I was over 18 at the time) and slut-shamed me the one time I called him to get Plan B.

      FUCKING HORRIBLE GYNO.

      My subsequent gynos have been varying degrees of better, but that’s such a low bar, they’ve all still been pretty horrible. And really fucking sizeist. I was actually contemplating writing an entire post about my most recent experience …..

      1. Profile photo of nonsensikel
        nonsensikel

        Oh dear lord.  That’s awful.  I fortunately dodged the OBGYN that delivered me (an old man that was fired a few years later) because he wasn’t taking anymore patients. My mother is a NICU nurse that frequently goes to deliveries in case they need help with the baby… so she knows all of the OBs (and had lots of recommendations).  As a teen…even as a college student I was mortified at the thought of seeing a doc about my lady parts when they worked with my mom.  Especially since I did a couple of internships in hospitals and then I went to nursing school, so I witnessed a lot of HCP’s sucking at the whole patient confidentiality thing.  HIPAA was still newish back then.

        Anyway, I purposely picked an NP that was ONLY a gyno AND she was new to the practice.  I figured I was golden.  Wrong.  She used to be an NI nurse with my mom.  Then she started talking about my dad when she was feeling for my uterus and I just knew I’d never be able to win until I moved away. But you should write that article, I’d be interested in hearing about it…

  11. Profile photo of Cesy
    Cesy

    I too have been told I have a lovely cervix! Strange but lovely compliment. I’ve been very lucky, the three women who have done pelvic examinations on me have been lovely, explained what they were doing and quick. It feels so wrong that I feel so fortunate in that after hearing all the horror stories. I hope you can track Nurse M down!

    1. Profile photo of raine
      raine

      The last time I was in the gyno’s office, I heard a doctor absolutely bellow “photogenic uterus!” in the hallway. The nurse and I cracked up. Needless to say, I have a new band name.

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