College Polish

04.01.13

Hey, Doc, I'm Not a Reckless Harlot!

How routine doctor's visits lead to slut-shaming.

“Well, the good news is you’re not pregnant.”

I had a simple case of congestion and needed some antibiotics to kick the symptoms, so my college health center had referred me to the local urgent care facility.  After a 30-minute wait in a chilly examination room, a doctor came in and, without introducing himself, asked what was bothering me. When I’d finished sniffling my way through the list, he nodded, grunted, and asked me if I was experiencing anything else.

“Anything else? Like what?” I asked.

He spouted some suggestions: Abdominal pain? Back pain? Nausea? Vomiting?

I told him that I sometimes get cramping, and pointed to my abdomen. He asked if I’ve ever menstruated. I said yes. He left the room.

Soon, a nurse rolled in with a cart: tubes, vials, the works. She stuck me, took some blood and then handed me a container and pointed to the bathroom. I didn’t think twice, but I should have.

“Well, the good news is you’re not pregnant,” she said when she returned 20 minutes later.

Of course I wasn’t pregnant. Why was she checking in the first place?

“But the doctor thinks your cramping may be caused by an STI. You should probably let all of the men you’re having sex with know.”

All of the men I’m having sex with? Excuse me? She hadn’t even asked if I was sexually active with one man! An STI? The threat of a sexually transmitted infection terrifies all college students. So now, not only had my nurse implied that I’m a reckless harlot, she had also scared the living daylights out of me.

She said they were sending my blood to be tested, but that many of the infections can only be detected through a pap smear. The doctor ordered a full gynecological examination.

Everything was happening too quickly. I changed into the gown, leaving it open in the front, and put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor pulled my knees apart.

It felt like an eternity. The entire time, my mind raced: How did I get here? What does the doctor see? Why is this taking so long? How could I possibly have contracted an STI?

As it turns out, I didn’t have any STIs. I had to call the urgent care facility every day for three weeks before finally learning that fact. Three weeks of recovering from a brutal, dry and humiliating examination had passed; three weeks of worry and shame.

When I talked about this with my friends on campus, many of them recounted similar experiences, and that angered me. So I called a total of 20 hospitals and urgent care facilities along the East Coast. Several tight-lipped nurses, administrators, and advocates aggressively assumed I was pregnant due to my line of questioning and urged me to come in to their offices for testing.

Would you test me for pregnancy without asking? “Yes, if you were going to get an X-ray, or if we think you might be bearing.”

Would you ask me if I’m sexually active first? Some said, “No.”  Others said, “Yes, but we wouldn’t believe you anyway.” One nurse was enlightened by my question: “Hmm, we really should ask that, that would make sense.”

Is there a policy on testing female patients for pregnancy or STIs? “If you’re of menstruating age, we probably will.” And, the most common response, “No, we don’t have any standard policy.”

“They sign the form. It says ‘all treatment.’ It’s their responsibility to decline testing.”

So there you have it, ladies. We are our only advocates. I never did get those antibiotics, but the “good news” is I’m not pregnant.