As a woman, having an internal examination is never something that I have gone to with a skip in my step. I was young and first sexually active in the US so I went to Planned Parenthood for my first gynaecological examinations. It was extremely well organised: I remember the table having stirrups, my bottom was ever so slightly over the edge of the table, there was plenty of light for the person performing the examination, and every item for the examination is close to hand. The doctor was placed – very much like a baseball catcher – in between the legs and can easily see when the patient becomes nervous (according to the position of the legs!). It was well organised, quick and painless. I can say that, although I don’t enjoy internal examinations, it’s a test that I do not mind nor miss.
I therefore had a certain expectation when I moved and settled in the UK: I thought the examination would be the same. In one way it is: it’s a retrieval of cells on the cervix. In almost every other way, it’s a bit different. For instance, possibly because doctor’s offices are small, tables are against the wall lengthways and don’t have stirrups. Patients are expected to lay on the table with feet together – I liken it to a strange yoga position – while doctors move a light to the lady-garden area and then the doctor performs an act of contortion over the bent knee and dumping the brain onto the table in order to see where the examination contraptions are going. In this position, it is difficult/impossible to grasp the implements without growing an extra hand or two. In fact I have offered to hold the speculum in place while a doctor aimlessly grasped across the room for implements! Keeping the accoutrements nearer, say on the table, is not an option due to the placement of the feet. You can only imagine how I stood by the table the first time wondering where my feet went! I hopped up and slid towards one end of the table, kicking like an upside-down frog, kicking to find the non-existent stirrups.
The worst internal examination I’ve had was with a training doctor: he put the speculum in but tried to crank it open in parallel with the table, which of course didn’t work. If he’d have taken it out and tried again gently it wouldn’t have been so bad but he wrenched it around to the perpendicular. I shouted and my arms shot out! In an ideal world, I would have caught hold of his testes as I said “Don’t EVER do that again!” but I didn’t get his jewels. Shame. However, he was so shocked that I shouted at him that I’m sure he’s never done it again. I was sore for a few days but wasn’t traumatised. Having said that, I do wish I could have the tests done in the US just for the ease and speed for which these things are done.