This week, I’d like to talk about the much reviled smear test and internal examination!

Now, I know that it’s not every day that you will read a full and frank account of such occasions but I’m certain that many women will relate to the following and for any readers of the masculine variety, before you think to yourself “Ugh. Yuk. Womens issues”  and go to click the exit button ready to tune back into yours truly next week, just think, this could be someone you know, or it could simply provide you with an amusing insight into the world of very female problems, or it could make you stop and think that maybe you are due a check-up of your own male variety.

Whatever your thoughts, please keep reading. It’s not boring at all. Promise.

Ten years ago I had an abnormal smear (PAP) test. I had never missed one.

As unpleasant, uncomfortable, humiliating and downright undignified these examinations are, I was determined not to be one of those women that put them off unnecessarily just to spare themselves from a few minutes of squirming discomfort and by that I generally mean total embarrassment.

So, I was one of those no-nonsense, self-assured women that had my examination every three years without fail.

On one of those occasions, all was not as it should be. In the three years since my previous routine smear, I had developed abnormal cells. Stage 4 cells. In those three years, these cells had, I assume, been normal, then stage 1, then stage 2, then stage 3 and now they were at the alarming stage 4, this, I was told, was still pre-cancerous stage but if left untreated would develop into cervical cancer.

It was a shock, which was very quickly followed with a general feeling of uneasiness, some considerable apprehension and naturally a desire for it to be sorted as quickly as possible.

I was treated very quickly, within two weeks I had a biopsy and then I had what is called an LLETZ procedure. A kind of laser treatment to zap the cells and return the cervix to brand spanking new.

After that I had colposcopy appointments at six-month intervals for eighteen months during which I was told on each occasion by my very gentle, confidence-inspiring Consultant Specialist that my cervix was “beautiful and very healthy” and then routine smear tests each and every year after that just to be on the safe side.

I have been having smear tests annually (not to be confused with anally!) for ten years now.

However, accustomed as I now am to having a wide variety of healthcare professionals rummaging around in my ‘evening bag’, it is still with some measure of dread that I attend each annual appointment.

Imagine my considerable delight when after almost ten years of perfectly normal results I was informed that I could now start to have these tests performed every two years instead of every year.

And then imagine, if you will, my rotten luck when thinking I was going to have a ‘year off’ from the ordeal, some other issue pops up and requires a full internal. It’s nothing majorly sinister in itself, some light ‘spotting’ in between my monthly cycle but this can either be nothing, perhaps suggesting I am now perimenopausal or it could potentially be something more serious.

Either way, it is advisable to have a check-up, so at my very first year off in ten years, there I am making yet another appointment.

Cue, the hottest day of the year so far, a not so balmy 34 degrees. Even a shower just before my appointment did nothing to make me feel any more confident. By the time I arrived at the clinic, my summer dress was clinging to me, my freshly shaven and moisturised legs were sliding off of each other as I sat with my legs crossed on the plastic chair in the waiting room and the more I tried to cool down and relax, the more I burst as if I had just donned my thickest, chunkiest roll neck sweater and then downed a gallon of coffee!

As is often the case with doctors schedules, some considerable time after my given appointment was due, I was eventually called in to see my female doctor and upon entering her office I became aware that she was currently playing mentor to a young, presumably junior male doctor.

“Great. Just what I need. Anyone else want an invitation to this party?”

We had a brief consultation about my history (all in French of course, naturally) and then I was asked to prepare myself for the examination. The young male doctor, showed no signs of making himself scarce so I resigned myself to the fact that he would remain present throughout. “Oh well, I’m here now,” I thought to myself “Let’s just get this over and done with and then you can go home and allow yourself to smoke a nice relaxing menthol cigarette by way of a treat”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I always feel that given the particular awkwardness of these situations, you would think, nay…..hope,  that any doctor worth their salt would be fully prepared and equipped for such an examination, you know with all the necessaries in place before they start?

Why have me strip naked from the waist down, lay back on the examination couch with my feet in those stirrups, my legs akimbo and everything on show and only then, at that point, go looking for the appropriate equipment? To me, that seems like completely in the wrong order.

Much opening of cupboards and drawers followed as I lay there trying to remain nonchalant about the fact that on a Thursday afternoon I was laying there, with my legs open with not one, but two people in the room, neither of which were my husband!

Finally, she found what she was looking for and then the cringey, awkward conversation commenced as two rubber gloved fingers were inserted into my most private parts.

“So how are the family? Has your step-son finished his BAC?” All the time rummaging around in there like it is just completely normal for us both.

I was half expecting her to ask if I was going anywhere nice this year?

Rummage, rummage, rummage…..more awkward conversation.

The other issue that I suffer from, as if having to be there every year is not enough, is a tilted cervix, sometimes referred to as posterior cervix or just plain awkward to get to. Every year it is the same, they are literally in there with a miners helmet and a divining rod trying to find the bloody thing.

Whether it was due to the presence of an unknown male involved in the proceedings on this occasion or whether it was due to something else entirely, this time my cervix went into complete hiding. It was nowhere to be found. She poked and prodded and uhhmed and ahhhed but the little bugger was not coming out to play today.

Next question, basically …….“Do you mind if my colleague has a go?”

“Why not, the more the merrier”

So in a scene reminiscent of All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, he rolled up his sleeves, snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, a quick squib of some lube and in he goes.

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting but there is certainly not a lot of room in there. All quite snug if you get my drift but he’s there like he’s trying to tickle my belly button from the inside and with his other hand, he’s putting his full weight on my lower abdomen and pressing down really hard all the while giving a full on running commentary to my doctor about his findings, or rather lack thereof.

Sometimes you just have to have a sort of out of body experience and realise how comical it all is.

A scene from All Creatures Great and Small, BBC.

The young, male doctor was still prodding around trying to find my elusive cervix, which I had now decided to rename The Scarlet Pimpernel

   

when suddenly “Voila” he exclaimed as he made contact “Je l’ai trouvé. Elle est très petite”

Finally!

After a lot of initial fuss, thirty seconds later it was all over, I was retrieving my knickers from the floor and he was washing his hands (sound familiar?).

Anyway, the upshot is, all seems fine. I certainly heard the word “Normale” used a lot.

It does, of course, mean that I am probably perimenopausal and whilst this stage can last for several years before actual menopause, no doubt my husband will be hiding all the sharp objects in the house and setting an alarm on his phone to remind him when that perilous time of the month is approaching.

But it also means that I can now relax for another year until my next smear test which is due. I was rather disappointed that I couldn’t convince my doctor to perform a smear test whilst I was there thus meaning that it would be a further two years until my next appointment, but she could not be budged.
Despite my virtual recluse of a cervix deciding to put in an appearance, she could not be tempted into performing a quick swab or two.

“Nope, next year ” she exclaimed cheerfully as though she were relishing the opportunity.
Meh!

Oh well, in total it was just over two hours out of my life, which included the journey there and back, the long wait on the plastic chair, twenty minutes in with the doctor, and now it is merely something that happened a few days ago, soon to be forgotten about entirely.

That is unless I happen to bump into either of the Doctor’s at the local supermarket one day or perhaps at a bar or a restaurant on an evening out, where despite that you know that they are absolute consummate professionals, you just can’t help but think that they are thinking…..

And with that, I bid you a wonderful carefree weekend.
The Virtual Recluse (both of us!)

COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT FACT:
My husband once sent me a cheeky message when we were first dating, it said:
“I am your loyal servant, forever at your cervix!”

In addition, he can now look forward to……