It was time for me to have the dreaded pap smear again and I was dreading it. I know it’s extremely important and I never miss an appointment, but that doesn’t stop me from hating it. One smear in particular stands out in my memory as particularly awful—here’s why.
I had to make an appointment with a nurse I’ve never met. Since it’d been three years since my last pap, I wanted to have it done as soon as possible. I also didn’t want to have it hanging over my head for too long. This particular nurse was the first one available, and maybe there was a reason for that. I didn’t think it’d turn out as bad as it did, though.
No one likes pap smears but I hate them more than normal. For most women, pap smears are uncomfortable but aren’t typically painful, or so I’ve heard from my friends. But because I’ve always had issues with pelvic pain, exams are more than just uncomfortable for me; they actually really hurt, so much so that sometimes I end up crying. Because of this, pap smears always trigger my anxiety. I know that stress exacerbates the pain since it makes me tenser, but I can’t help it.
The nurse made me feel comfortable so I was actually relaxed initially. When I arrived for the appointment, the nurse came in and made me feel calm. She was about my age and we even bonded over both having children. We talked about my anxiety, so she knew a little bit about my history. I was also less nervous than usual because my last pap smear was done before I had my last child (pap smears are recommended every three years now), so I figured I’d be looser down there and that there was no way it’d still be as painful as it usually is.
I warned her that I’m extra sensitive. I tried to tell her that I have pain problems, which I always explain beforehand whenever I get a pap smear. However, no matter how much I warn the doctors about how much pelvic exams hurt me, they’re never prepared for how uncomfortable I get. When the nurse and I were done talking, it was time to get down to business.
The exam didn’t end up going well. She got the speculum in fine, but then things took a wrong turn. She was moving that thing around like crazy. You would have thought she was mining for gold down there. Meanwhile, I’m clutching the table while grunting furiously and holding my breath like my life depends on it. The doctors are usually quick about it and I can grit my teeth through it, but she was taking forever.
She told me she couldn’t find my cervix. I’m sorry, what? I’ve never heard that before. I mean, how hard can it possibly be? Aren’t they trained for this? I was curious why she had trouble, so I did some research after my appointment. It can be more difficult for doctors to find your cervix if you have a retroverted uterus like I do because it points backward. Still, she didn’t say anything about that, and no doctor had ever complained about it during my previous pap smears or during any of the prodding when I was pregnant. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was because of her inexperience.
She ended up giving up on the exam and it made me extremely upset. I immediately started crying because I didn’t want to have to go through it again. I wasn’t mad at her because I knew she didn’t fail on purpose, but I was so frustrated. She said I should make an appointment to come back and try again another time. Great.
I went back to my regular OB/GYN to have it done and it was fine. I should’ve gone to him in the first place. The reason I didn’t was that the pap smear was supposed to be part of my physical exam, which is performed by a regular doctor. I told my regular OB what happened with the nurse and he was confused about why she had so much trouble, so I knew it wasn’t just me being crazy. The repeat exam was uncomfortable as usual, but my doctor did it as quickly as he could and didn’t have to use the speculum like a gearshift to find my cervix. He was successful and I was so relieved!
I’ll never get a pap done by someone I don’t know ever again. Maybe the nurse didn’t have enough experience with pap smears to handle someone as sensitive as I am, but I should’ve had the test done by a doctor I knew. I’ll never make the same mistake again, that’s for sure. I hope the next three years go by slowly—my vagina hurts just thinking about the next one.
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