Pap smears suck. It’s ingrained in women from the time they even hear such a thing exists. “They’re gonna do what, to that?!” Admittedly, I put off getting my first one done for a long time; I figured I’d think about it when I became sexually active. But, then again, I wasn’t quite expecting that my first one would be in the ER.
One day during the summer a few years ago, I had come down with really bad abdominal pain on the right side. Like excruciatingly bad. It felt like someone stabbing my ovary from the inside. Based on location, I figured it was some kind of “female issue,” so I went home, took to my bed with a heating pad, and popped a couple Advil. Thankfully it went away after a few hours. Just in case, I still called my local hospital’s advice nurse the next day and, after being asked in six different ways if I could be pregnant (“Not unless it was an immaculate conception.”), she said it was most likely an ovarian cyst. She instructed me to go to the ER if the pain came back, in case she was wrong or it burst. I didn’t bother making an OB/GYN appointment and the pain stayed away, so I assumed the cyst had shrunk on its own.
A few months later I woke up to the exact same excruciating pain. This time it wouldn’t go away so my poor dad—being the only other person home—drove me to the ER. After much waiting (the usual ER fun) and not one, but two different nurses going “OMG, you’ve never had sex! Never?!” (thankfully my dad was in the waiting room), I got to see the doctor. A male, of course. He proceeded to poke and prod the painful area, “Does this hurt, how about here, what if I do this?” Um, yes to all of the above!
I don’t remember the exact order of events but he did an ultrasound and at some point decided I needed a pelvic exam (because obviously all the poking on the outside of my abdomen wasn’t enough). Cue the remaining nurse gawking at me, saying “OMG, you’ve never had a pap smear?!” Yes, thanks a lot, lady. But then she did take it down a notch and attempted to comfort me by saying it wasn’t a big deal, I was actually the right age to get my first one. So the sadist doctor proceeded to poke around from literally both angles, which hurt much more than just poking on the outside. Between that and the slightly terrifying-looking black spot that showed up on my ovary during the ultrasound, he determined that it was a cyst. But, just in case, he decided that he still should do an actual pap smear. Best part? His attempt at consolation: “Well at least down here we use the plastic tools, they’re much better than the metal ones the OBs have!” Really?! How does he know what is more comfortable down there?
Luckily, the actual pap smear itself was quick and easy (after you’ve had a cyst poked at from all sides, everything is easy). I left with a prescription for painkillers and, oh joy, an appointment with an actual OB/GYN for yet another pap smear a week later. Fortunately, the cyst shrank significantly in that week. I found out later that when cysts don’t shrink on their own, they can burst and/or surgery is needed.
My second pap smear was as fine as a pap smear can be, I suppose. And here’s a fun fact: metal and plastic tools feel pretty much the same (or at least, to me they did!). I haven’t had a cyst since my gynecologist prescribed birth control, and hopefully won’t ever need another emergency room pap smear. But the one good thing that came from this experience? Pap smears no longer intimidate me. Take that, obstetrics!
Photo by Meaghan Morrison