In addition to choosing a new primary care provider, I also chose a new GYN provider, and today was my first appointment there, and also my annual exam. After the usual uncomfortable question and answer session between myself and Michelle, RN, she asked me to take off all my clothes (“you can leave your socks on,” she said), put on a gown and wait for the nurse practitioner. She left the room, I did as I was told, took a quick double peek down my legs to make sure I had, in fact, remembered to shave this morning (yes!), and had a seat. I sat around, waiting, beginning to get that familiar creep of anxiety in my stomach, as I started to entertain the idea of all the possible disasters that could strike. Then, as if on cue, I looked around at the wall postings, and saw all those potential horrors being advertised in full color, before my very eyes- CERVICAL, UTERINE and OVARIAN CANCER! PREGNANCY! PELVIC INFLAMMATORY DISEASE! INFERTILITY! HPV! PREMATURE BIRTH! STDs! SURGICAL STERILIZATION! MORE CANCER-COULD BE HEREDITARY! 99% of these things are not even in the cards for me, but nonetheless, I was going to whip myself into a frenzy about them anyway. Ugh, God. Ok.
I wanted to grab my phone from the desk, distract myself with facebook, Words with Friends, anything, but I was too scared to, as another sign on the wall directed me not to text or answer my phone while in an appointment. I understand that some rules are meant to be broken, but not while I’m sitting underpants-free in fluorescent lighting, with nary more than an ill-fitting gown and white ankle socks on. I think I’ll stay put. All in all, I waited about 20 minutes for the NP to arrive, which provided me ample time to work myself up enough about reproductive cancer, that my heart was beating irregularly, and my palms were sweaty. God, what I am going to do? I wondered about my non-existent diagnosis. I hope my insurance coverage didn’t get hacked back enough this year to leave me underinsured.
Then, in walked the NP, who was put on this earth to be a medical professional in a blue state. T, as I will call her, is a woman of about sixty years, who has all of this experience in women’s health, even working specifically with migrant women (which immediately earned her an A in my book). She was warm, funny and completely open, which encouraged a lot of really beneficial conversation about my health. I am going to sound terrible saying this as a nurse, but I have a penchant for “tidying up” facts about my health, to present myself in a better light (“Alcohol use? Oh, hardly ever. Maybe once every few months. What? How often do I exercise? Um, about 3-4 days a week?”). I blame it on my desire to be praised for doing the right thing. Hey, back off. My intentions are good. However, I know this is doing me a disservice. Which is why today was so nice, to have a provider who really took the time to engage me in genuine dialogue, talk me off my perpetual ledge of anxiety (for the time being, anyway) and gain my trust. It’s so critical for patients to have that sort of relationship with providers, and it rarely happens.
So, we came up with a plan for a few things, and I was able to reacquire my clothing (and dignity). I walked out feeling much better than when I came in, and on the drive home, I thought about why suddenly, I’m having all this fear related to doctor’s appointments and my health. I think I’m finally starting to understand that health and life are finite, and that I need to start thinking about and reevaluating my well-being and habits, family histories and my love of sugar. Thirty is feeling good so far, but it’s moments like the one today, where I hear my Grandma Alice’s commonly uttered phrase-“Man, it’s hell to get old.”