The Paper Gown Blues

The clinic nurse pulled the curtain along its curved track on the ceiling and left the room. In the harsh light of the fluorescent bulbs, I spied the blue paper gown she told me to put on, and the clipboard with its questionnaire.

I stuffed a list of embarrassing items I was determined to finally ask this doctor about – that spider vein on my leg, my bowel troubles, and how sometimes I pee a little when I do jumping jacks – into my pocket and started to disrobe.

It seemed that, on the day of one’s annual gynecological and breast exam, one should dress a certain way. Like an undeniably feminine woman who is a strong advocate for her own health. So that morning, I tried to pick out clothing that was somewhat more feminist than my usual ensemble. My closet offered up only a pair of cargo pants and a green peasant shirt, but I feminized the get-up with a twisted updo and dangly earrings. 

I stacked my clothes in a neat little pile on the floor, grabbed the gown, and tried to find anything resembling an armhole. Inserting my arms into corresponding slots in the paper, I made sure to keep the main opening at the front as instructed by the nurse. I noticed a little paper strip resembling a belt. Tying the belt in a bow at my navel, I realized that the paper could easily rip right open with minimal force….

I wondered if the doctor was going to be handsome.

Mounting the table with the clipboard and pen, the paper felt scratchy between my rear and the green vinyl upholstery of the examining table. Hmmm…  Abnormal pap smears? No. How many births?  Three.  Any feelings of hopelessness or depression?  No comment. Current medications?  Multivitamin, fish oil, and Fiber Con.  Boy, am I getting old.

Just then, the nurse entered with the doctor of the day. He was an elderly Ethiopian doctor with a kind face and a no-nonsense attitude. He looked over my clipboard, and quickly got to work.

After years of these things, I knew the drill. I edged my papered rear to the very end of the table, and gingerly placed my cold feet into the metal stirrups. The doctor plopped onto his stool and rolled into position at the foot of the table. 

I stared up at the fluorescent light and hoped it would all go quickly. 

Peeking over the paper robe suspended between my knees, he asked, “So are you about forty-six? Forty-eight, maybe?”

“Forty-three, actually,” I muttered in horror. What on earth was he looking at anyway?

After a few tense moments he was finished, and popped up at my side for the breast examination. I had always been very modest about my body, even during my swim team days when I would leave my bathing suit on in the showers. Now that I was in my 40s, I was mortified at the thought of showing my bits and pieces to anyone. Three hungry babies and 25 years had taken their toll, so I preferred to keep my parts under wraps.

But the doctor automatically opened the top of my gown like he was opening the phone book. He examined me while staring blankly at the clock. It was over in a mildly humiliating flash.

As I sat up, the doctor pronounced me preliminarily healthy, pending all test results, and asked if there was anything else he could help me with. My list. It was all the way across the room, and there was no way I was getting up with all that paper stuck to me to get it. 

“Nope, not that I can think of.” And with that, the doctor bid me adieu and scurried out the door, leaving me to finally get out of that damned blue gown and back into my phony feminist outfit.

As I walked out of the examining room, I was glad to put the whole incident behind me – no need to even think about repulsive utterances like “pap smear,” “speculum” and “discharge” for at least another year. But then, I remembered: the doctor scheduled my mammogram for next week. Groan.

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1 comment

  1. Maz June 19, 2010 at 2:52 am Reply

    You really spoke for me in describing this experience… except that none of my doctors have looked between my legs and tried to guess my age! I guess they do things differently in Ethiopia. My doctor looks between the pages of my medical file…a much more interesting view!
    Keep up the entertaining entries. They are such good reads!

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