Posted on March 4, 2009
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.
“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”
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.
So sorry to hear your news.
Is it that women are more in touch with our bodies though? We might know when things are not feeling right but how many women actually do feel able to challenge these allegedly competent doctors. I am guessing that despite your gut feeling that something was not right, you didnt challenge his opinion or ask for a second opinion?
How many women actually have an up to date copy of “our bodies, ourselves” now? (written by women for women) I know actually owning a book is a bit luddite now, but you can borrow my copy anytime.
A long time ago I decided, having had poor experiences with male health care professionals I would always insist on seeing women health care professionals, and I have never regretted that decision. I suggest you do the same.
Hopefully, you will be formally complaining to your GP practice about the dismissive and negligent treatment you have received from Dr Tosser.
I could tell you what happened to me when talking to a doctor a few weeks ago; but don’t feel a-okay sharing it here. Let’s just say, it made me desperately want to have feminist-conscious doctor, and I was close to tears. I know so many women with similar experiences, e.g patronising, dismissal, etc.
Really sorry to hear you’re going through this & can completely relate to and sympathise – awaiting gyn/ultrasound myself to identify cause of intermittent right-side pelvic pain (sometimes pretty bad) and from an initial appointment in January this year the earliest this could be scheduled was April. There are NHS alternatives in Glasgow (where I am) to the GP but any kind of positive experience still very much depends on who you see on the day. I found the nurse who noted the preliminaries a lot easier to communicate with than the doc who conducted the exam. There is also a distinct sensation sometimes that because you are a woman “of a certain age” (I am 46) that gynae issues are somehow considered to be of less significance than they would be if you were younger.I know how worrying all this can be. Hope you are ok.
Aah – the male GP who said I had ‘reactive depression’ when I said I thought I was menopausal. “You’re far too young to be menopausal” – I was actually 40 which is early, but within the normal range. I was right and the blood test I insisted on proved it.
He then refused to prescribe any sort of anti depressant despite the fact that said I was constantly bursting into tears as I was eating and sleeping, and there was therefore nothing really wrong with me according to him (being suicidal enough to run to the GP at half past eight having necked an industrial quantity of St John’s Wort that did nothing obviously didn’t count).
And still insisted depression was completely unrelated to menopause despite HRT making me feel instantly better when I finally got it. I make sure I ask for a female GP now (fortunately in the majority at my surgery). And no I didn’t complain, because I just couldn’t be arsed at the time, I just made a mental note to avoid him in future.
My mate had a fibroid the size of a rugby ball. She looked about 6 months pregnant. And she didn’t have a hysterectomy. I think they just go for the easiest option. But there are plenty of alternatives.
I should add that each time I have had really astoundingly bad experiences with GPs, they were females, not males.
When I got an IUD fitted, I had a nurse asking me if I had been pregnant or had an abortion in the past while my legs were spread across the table and another nurse was looking. I repeated no, as it was something we had discussed before I took my clothes off (as the size of the IUD depends on whether or not women are nulliparous).
The nurse looks at me and says “are you sure? You uterus is quite big”
“erm, no, really”
She says “okay… but are you certain?”
at that point I was close to lose my shit and say LISTEN LADY, I THINK I WOULD HAVE KNOWN IF I HAD HAD AN ABORTION AND GAVE BIRTH THROUGH MY VAGINA!
Sorry to hear that, too, Cath.
I have to say, the genuinely good experiences I have had with the medical professions – by ‘good’ I mean exhibiting humanity and empathy, which ought to be a job requirement – have been only women.
I have had bad experiences with both male and female medics, though. Medical arrogance certainly isn’t gendered.
Cath I’m really sorry to hear of this – do you think you will put in a complaint about the first Doctor?
I’ve had various bad experiences with Doctors (usually to do with misunderstanding breastfeeding – our icky female bodies again, eh?) but have lately been lucky to find a really good Doctor who is sympathetic and understanding. Trouble is she has a two week long waiting list most of the time. Wonder why?
I think you’ve got a good point. I hate to admit it, but I’m a complete wuss when it comes to dealing with the medical profession and always have been. Annoyingly, I can be incredibly assertive with doctors when it comes to dealing with anything to do with my children’s health, and yet when it comes to my own, I tend to sit and listen passively and then regret later that I didn’t speak up more or ask more questions.
I seem to have been through a series of incompetent GPs over the years though. I had the (male)one I’ve mentioned before who refused me a pregnancy test because I was young and unmarried; the (female)one who insisted I had IBS when I knew it was gallstones but who insisted it couldn’t possibly be that ‘cos I was too young to have them (ended up having emergency surgery when the gallstones moved into my bile duct and I became jaundiced); the (female)doctor who refused to have any more dealings with my pregnancy because I insisted on (with the full support of my midwife)having a home birth, and the (male) GP who created obstacle after obstacle when I wanted an abortion.
I also had the (male)house doctor who informed me after I’d had some surgery under general anaesthetic that they’d done an unasked for and totally unrelated gynae exam while I’d been under, but that’s a different story.
So yes, maybe I was too harsh in stating this was a gender issue. As others have pointed out, both male and female GPs can be equally incompetent and lacking in empathy. The trick is to find a good one and stick with them, ‘cos they’re a rarity in my (albeit limited) experience.
As for complaining, I don’t know if I can be bothered to be honest. At the moment I’m more focused on finding out about and dealing with whatever it is I’ve got.
When my fibroids were diagnosed my female GP said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got them too”…
I just love that we have female doctors now – my mother likes them too – she had no choice of Dr for the first half of her life.
Needless to say, my Dr was able to reassure me…
I’m close to menopause, so my fibroids should reduce in size naturally in the next few years.
They’re not really bothering me anyway….
Good luck to you….