I don’t know any woman who looks forward to having a smear test. But as I have learnt over decades, bringing a sense of humour with you to the doctor’s surgery is highly recommended.
Now at the outset let me categorically state that I believe in the absolute necessity of regular smear tests. I have twice had precancerous cells detected which required further treatment and I am glad to say that for the last number of years my smears have been normal. But my history means that I am called every year for a new test. So I consider myself a bit of an expert.
I was probably twenty something when I took myself off for my first ever smear. Our family GP was a lovely chap. Described in our house as a bit of a west Brit, he was an angular, tall man in the mode of Basil Fawlty, with a mid Irish Sea accent and an easy laugh. Being a woman of the world I thought I am not going to seek out a female GP who I have never met before, I can do this with your man I always go to.
So appointment was made and I presented myself at the surgery. His greeting to me was always the same “Oh Barbara, oh good. How are you?” “Hi Doc” I answered trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach, “I am here for a smear test”. His face displayed that rare combination of delight and puzzlement. “Oh right. A smear test you say? Great. Golly gosh no one has come to me for a smear test in years. I normally just see all the old women round here.”
My heart sank and my brain roared “mistake Scully, big mistake” He ushered me towards the bed with the usual instructions to remove all my lower garments and said he’s be back in a minute. To this day I suspect he went to consult some medical manual to remind himself as to where he was likely to find my cervix. Minutes passed as I lay there until I finally heard him re-enter the room and his face came around the curtain wearing a big grin and what looked like a miners lamp strapped to his forehead. “Jolly good, we’re all set”, he announced as he blinded me with his ‘headlight’. That test took ages but it was ‘jolly good fun’ by all accounts.
The following years my smear tests were carried out by my gynaecologist due to a combination of recent childbirth and my odd cells. But some years later I was back at my local GP.
Basil Fawlty had retired and so my current GP is a younger man. But it seemed that all the other women in the village knew what I still did not. Go the practice nurse for a smear test. So, although he wasn’t quite as gleeful at the prospect of furkling around in my undercarriage, he was just as at sea. “Right you get sorted there and shout when you are ready” he instructed as he pulled the curtain around the bed. I took off my shoes and looked around for modesty blanket.
“Em, where’s the blanket, Doc?”
“The blanket. I am not going to lie here with everything on show. I need a blanket”
“Oh, right. Back in a minute.”
So once again I lay there while he went off in search of a blanket.
Finally he returned and an arm came though the curtain brandishing a blanket. A picnic blanket. A very small one. A scratchy one. “Please tell me you didn’t get this from the boot of your car” I pleaded. By now he was right grumpy. “No I didn’t” he barked. So I disported myself on the bed, knickerless looking like I was wearing a tartan mini skirt a la Vivienne Westwood at the height of the punk era. In the distance there was the sound of a penny dropping.
The following year I made an appointment with the practice nurse. The room was nice and warm. There was a gorgeous soft yellow blanket she was that wonderful ‘nursey’ combination of common sense and empathy. As she approached with KY Jelly in one hand and the speculum in the other she announced that she was using a plastic implement. “More comfortable, and not as cold” she assured me. Everything was going reasonably smoothly as she began her furkling. “Oh I think you have a tilted cervix” she muttered with only a small hint of exasperation. Then a loud crack, like a gunshot rang through the surgery. It emanated from my nether regions.
I nearly fell off the bed with the shock, I am sure some elderly patients in the next door waiting room got a right fright. The nurse turned a bright shade of red. “Well I have never had that happen before” she said as she retrieved her speculum which was now in two separate pieces.
I still go to the nurse but I make sure to tell her immediately that my cervix is round a bend and breaks plastic implements. I bet not too many women can say that!!
I have to have a smear test each year because I have cancer in my system elsewhere. I detest these appointments with a passion because of what they involve. You would think after two kids that it would be easy to just lie back and think of whatever, but I just hate doing it. I had my most recent one last Friday and it went less that well – it involved four attempts, a longer speculum, another 3 attempts, an internal and eventually success with lying on my side with my feet up on the wall (don't ask). But despite all of this, I am delighted I went and relieved. All my previous smears have been fine thankfully and I am not worried about this one. I would be a lot more worried if I skipped the appointment or ignored those nice letters from the Cervical Check people. Although I am still walking like John Wayne a few days later I am pleading with all you lovely ladies to never ignore your letter of invitation and never ignore symptoms. Now as for me well as John Wayne would say 'get off yer horse and drink yer milk….'.
I have had my first one done and was done as a precaution as I was getting pains and they feared there might have been some damage done. The nurse had to guide me through it but I'll never forget her explaining the plastic implement would feel “a bit like intercourse” and told me to cough. All the while she was telling me about contraception options and that her friend had just had twins with a 99% safe contraceptive. Won't be rushing back to her in a hurry but otherwise I've always been an advocate for getting it done. Thanks for the funny stories Barbara 🙂
I too have to have a test done every year due to having abnormal cells. The past few years have been done by practice nurse. An absolute wslk in the park no discomfort no embarsssment. The only bad experience I ever had was in the local clinic with a foreign doctor surgeon from a gynecological team. He was horrific treated me like a piece of meat. I left the plave in floods of tears. Sat in the car for half an hour in total shock. Told the practice nurse about ordeal at my next test and she told me to write a letter of complaint if only to make me feel better. She was brilliant. The only moral to my story is dont ever let one bad experience put your life in jeopardy.