About a month ago, I suddenly realized that I had not done a comprehensive medical examination in years. Years, I tell you!
Based on this, I went through the painstaking (more like pain-in-the-ass) process of getting a referral letter for this purpose from my HMO. That experience alone deserves its own rant-filled article, but that will be kept on the shelf for another time.
Armed with my referral letter, I went to the hospital. The referral letter had a list of the different tests and procedures which I needed to do that would constitute a comprehensive medical examination. Of all the different tests and procedures which I had to undergo, I was most concerned about the Pap smear.
I had a general idea of what the procedure entailed and I knew that it is a means for detecting cervical cancer, but I still decided to do additional research. Google was my friend. I shuddered both at the detailed information and words like ‘speculum’ which popped up on my phone screen.
Despite my feelings of apprehension, I told myself to stop being a baby and managed not to run away from the hospital. I did the blood tests and other procedures before I waited for my turn to see the Doctor who would carry out the Pap smear. I requested to be examined by a female Doctor. I know, I know. Male Doctors are professionals and it would have been just another vagina to them, but still…
As I lay on my back on the examination table in the doctor’s office with my legs spread like an open bank vault, I wondered why I had been so anxious as a child to become an adult.
There is nothing like a doctor spending a prolonged amount of time shining a torch into your ‘lady cave’ to make you ponder about the meaning of life. I stared at the ceiling, wondering what my life meant at that point in time. I did all I could to distract myself from the fact that I was undergoing a vaginal examination.
None of my distractions helped me, though. I was aware of every movement and cursed the person who invented the speculum.
I am so thankful to the female Doctor who examined me; she maintained a healthy balance of being very professional and having some empathy about my discomfort.
Even then, getting a Pap smear was uncomfortable and awkward as hell, and I was beyond relieved when it was finally over. During the time in which the doctor spoke to me afterwards, I managed to maintain a neutral countenance, despite the fact that I was screaming “Arghhhhhhhh I feel so exposed… Arghhhhhhh!!!” in my head.
And then, she asked me the most random question.
“When is the wedding?”
After my initial confusion, it suddenly dawned on me that the Doctor asked me this question because apparently, young Nigerian women mostly go for a Pap smear as part of the pre-marital medical examinations which they are requested to do by their own families, their new husband’s families or their religious institutions.
I had to explain to the Doctor that I just wanted to be sure that I’m in good health.
“No, I’m not engaged. Thanks for reminding me, though!” (cue mirthless internal laughter).
Now, I don’t claim to be a medical expert (I’m only an expert on mangoes) but, come on, Nigerian ladies! Take your health and well-being into your hands. I know that several people are superstitious about things like medical check-ups, and our public health system in Nigeria is not perfect, but at least it exists and we must do our best to take advantage of it for our own sake. Medical checkups on a regular basis should be the norm and not the exception.
What are you afraid of?
Is the Pap smear procedure uncomfortable and awkward?
It is even more uncomfortable if you have never given birth to a child, or if you are not very sexually active. But a few moments of awkwardness is a small price to pay for the knowledge that you are healthy, or that a problem can be detected early enough to be dealt with immediately. Don’t let the fear of the unknown lead to a future full of regrets and traumatic treatments which would have been avoided if the symptoms in question were detected much earlier.
Ladies, calm your fears. Go for a Pap smear!
Yay to rhyming!