speculum

Artwork by C Clement. Appeared in July 1973 issue of Sister: the newspaper of the Los Angeles Women’s Centre.

Regular readers may remember that a few weeks ago I made a vow to ring my GP’s surgery and book myself in for my overdue smear test. Well today was the big day, and it didn’t go anywhere near as smoothly as I’d planned.

Before she did the smear, the practice nurse did the usual checking of details with me: name, date of birth and so on to make sure she had the right person’s records up on the computer. She asked about the date of my last period, lectured me about how I should give up smoking, and went through all the usual official stuff she has to do. Then we had a brief chat about my heavy periods, and I told her about the lower abdominal pain I’ve been experiencing.

Once the smear was over and done with, and no doubt prompted by our discussion, the nurse decided to give me a pelvic exam. And that’s when she found it. The lump.


“I think you’ve got a fibroid” she said.

“Really?”

“Yes, just here.” She pressed on something. I could feel it too.

Then she pressed it a bit harder, and I nearly shot through the ceiling.

“I’m going to refer you for an ultrasound”

“Great. Thanks.”

So then I came home, and like any half-decent Internet nerd I’ve since spent the best part of an entire day googling fibroids and reading up on my “condition.”

I didn’t know that 1 in 4 women develop fibroids in their lifetime, and that often they’re completely unaware of them because they don’t have any symptoms, or that they’re more common in women with an Afro-Caribbean heritage. And I didn’t know that they were oestrogen related, and that they stop growing after the menopause.

What I did know is that the most common treatment for them is a hysterectomy: and that’s the bit that worries me. Because I don’t want one.

But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’ve not even had the diagnosis confirmed yet, so there’s no point panicking this early on in the game.

The thing that’s struck me most though, is that no matter what you read about fibroids, the most common, the number one symptom that every single site mentions, is heavy periods.

Some of you may remember the piece I wrote a while back called: It’s not called the curse for nothing, where I talked about how I’d test-driven a menstrual cup and what a complete disaster that experiment had been, and where I said:

Apparently during an average period a woman loses about 80ml of blood: I lost double that in the first three days. After worrying about this for a couple of weeks, I went to see my doctor”

And my doctor’s response?

“You’re 43, you’ve had four children, one abortion, and you’ve been sterilised. Hence you bleed a lot.”

And that was it. No pelvic exam, no interest in discovering if there was a cause for my heavy bleeding, just a dismissive “well what do you expect at your age?” and out the door.

That was in April 2008. Nearly a year ago.

Thanks doc. Maybe in future you should take your female patients a bit more seriously. We tend to be a bit more in touch with our bodies than men. We tend to know, for instance, when SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT!

And now I can’t help wondering how much my lump/fibroid has grown in that year, or whether it would have made a difference to anything if the doctor had bothered to actually listen to what I was saying and had put in a bit of effort to find out what was going on.

I’ll probably never know. But rest assured, I won’t be consulting with him again about anything.

(Surprised that I even have a male GP? It’s not my choice. The only surgery in my area has 5 GP’s, and all of them are men. I wonder if anyone’s done an equality impact assessment on that, or if the [male] practice manager has even heard of the gender equality duty…….)

Oh, and sorry to disappoint the web surfers who regularly arrive at this blog while searching for “menstrual porn” “speculum porn” and other variations thereof, but once again you’ve come to the wrong place.



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