The Extensive Exam

March 23, 1995
New York City

2:25 p.m.

At first I tried to push the thick, wooden door of the doctor’s office the way you push any door to exit a building, but it wouldn’t budge, so I turned and gave it a shove with my back and shoulder. It was then that I locked eyes with the receptionist as she stared at me, hand over mouth, through the sliding glass window. She knew. Outside, the cacophony of honking horns along Park Avenue, the smell of too many hyacinths forced into the ground, and the glaring sun all colluded against me as I struggled to stay upright.

2:20 p.m.

“Still here?” the doctor said with an air of annoyance, as he rooted around the bottom drawer of his desk, took two pills out of a bottle, and dropped them into my hand. “This should help. There’s a water cooler in the hall.” He got up and left me sitting there in a cloud of stale cologne, staring at a wall full of his calligraphed achievements.

As I leaned against the wall swallowing cup after cup of chilled water, I thought about the best way to get home. I don’t have the money for a cab, but the subway is so far to walk. I just hope I have enough tokens for the—

“Ms. Shaw?” the receptionist interrupted.

“Yes?” I jumped.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said, staring at the cup full of pens. The charge for today will be $750 dollars.”

“No… No, there must be something… You said over the phone it was $150 for the pap smear.”

“Right. But, the way today’s visit was coded by the doctor, it seems that has changed. I see here you don’t have insurance?” she asked, staring at the sign-in clipboard.

I shook my head, rolled my eyes. “We can put you on a payment plan, if you like.”

“Can you maybe just… bill me?” I didn’t have the strength to fight.

“Sure, that’s fine,” she said. “We do require at least a third today. Will that be check or charge?”

As I stood there searching for my checkbook, I could feel the blood soaking my underwear.

2:10 p.m.

When I opened my eyes, the doctor was gone. All I could hear was the hiss of the radiator in the corner. Could this have been a dream? Tissue paper stuck to my back as I rolled over to my side and off the exam table. I peeled it from my skin and held the edge of the counter with both hands, as I felt all the color drain out of the pastel appointed room. What happened to the gown I was wearing? A torrent of cramps and nausea rushed over me as I stood there wearing nothing but my watch.

I took a deep breath and moved toward the chair where my clothing hung. Staring at the ground, I pulled my work suit over shaky limbs, editing it down to essentials only. Everything else – camisole, bra, panty hose, scarf – got shoved in my purse. One more deep breath fueled my journey into the hallway.

Another wave of pain and dizziness overtook me. I closed my eyes and grabbed for the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. Why is the wall moving? A young nurse wearing Betty Boop scrubs found me on the dusty rose tiled floor of the restroom, the contents of my purse scattered around me, betraying any sense of dignity I had hoped to portray.

“Are you okay?” She offered a hand to help me up, but I waved her off. “Please come back and lie down. I’ll get you some water,” she said.

“No, I’m okay. I’ll be okay.” Please don’t make me go back into that room.

As I washed my hands, I noticed my face in the bathroom mirror told a part of the story I didn’t remember—there were trails of mascara staining both of my cheeks. Had I been crying? I remember telling him I didn’t need the “extensive exam.” I remember I tried to reason with him to get him to stop. I remember praying. I remember staring at the door and hoping someone would come in – a nurse, a patient, Superman, anyone – but I don’t remember crying.

She walked me down the hall, steering me with one hand on my shoulder and one on my elbow until she lowered me into a chair in the doctor’s office. I winced. “I’ll get you something for the pain,” she said and rounded the corner out of the room.

1:30 p.m.

“Scooooch down a bit more for me. Don’t be shy,” said the doctor, with a grin that revealed yellow teeth.

“Oh, okay,” I shimmied my way down the table and felt brave for making my first trip to the gynecologist – a new one, a male one –  without anyone to accompany me.

I couldn’t see him over the sheet covering my knees, but I could hear the sound of his stool squeaking under his weight and the sound of the metal speculum as he lifted it toward my vagina.

“Um, do you mind if we get a nurse in here to hold my hand? I don’t mean to be a wimp, but I—”

“Oh, you’ll be fine. This won’t take long.” He rolled slightly to the right and gave me a thumbs up, which is when I noticed he wasn’t wearing any gloves.

 

 


photo credit: parents.com

27 thoughts on “The Extensive Exam

  1. Lisa, first off before I get into it, I have missed you immensely. And though, I know this must have been a difficult piece to write and publish, I am so glad you did. This is absolutely appalling and heartbreaking. I’m so glad you told it back to front, it deepened the impact of it but also made me want to read it again to pick up on all the details I missed or didn’t get the first read through. I’m so sorry this happened to you. 😔

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  2. What a horrific event. You have captured perfectly the emotional disorientation that precedes a chilling realisation. I am sorry that you experienced this. You have certainly done it justice here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my mind everything turned backwards after it happened. People I thought I could trust I couldn’t. Places I thought I was safe, felt unsafe. It seems only fitting to write it all in reverse. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I usually spend a lot of time – days, weeks occasionally – writing a post. I could only really stand to manage a day in the headspace required to write this one. It’s amazing what lingers in the mind and body after so many years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I also read this forward and backward. Holy shit. I am so sorry, and I am so angry, and I am so sad. Thank you for writing. Horrifying. What strength comes in sharing your side. The power of perspective and voice cannot be diminished. You are amazing.

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  4. This structure could have been a gimmick but instead you used the backward progression of events to build tension. Well done.
    And what an asshole that doctor was. What a horrible human being. I am sorry this happened to you. No one deserves to be taken advantage of in such a way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks C! I’m glad it didn’t feel too gimmicky. Like I said to someone else, the event really turned my world upside down, backwards, and sideways. It seemed only fitting to tell the story this way. I also think the math of it, figuring out the timeline and how to keep it moving, helped me distance myself a bit from the context somehow. I’m glad you stopped by to read. Thank you so much.

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  5. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope writing this essay was cathartic for you in some small way. The format, the details, the word choices all worked together to tell the story with just the right amount of emotional restraint. The details of the doctor seem relatively innocent at first but gather dark clouds with each time leap. The first paragraph immediately sets up the fact that something is very wrong. Very thoughtful writing here.

    Liked by 1 person

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