Smear

*Warning: medical information and could be triggering.* (Please, under no circumstances allow this account to put you off having your own health screening done. I’m sure much of what I experienced was relating to my past and will probably not happen next time.)

if you have read much of this blog at all, you may be surprised to know that even with my trauma history, I felt really matter-of-fact about having my routine smear done this week.

Guy asked me in session a few days ago how I feel about going for it, he had remembered me speaking of some difficult, triggering moments like giving birth or having a procedure to cut out precancerous cells on my cervix. In that procedure, the injection to numb the area before cutting began was not given enough time to work, so I winched and let out a little uncontrolled groan in pain. The surgeon was hard and sarcastic as he attempted humour by asking if I was enjoying it that much, implying it was a groan of pleasure rather than pain. How I didn’t remove one foot from the stirrups to kick him in the head I do not know. The nurse at the head end of me chided him angrily, saying, “No, Mr X, you’ve hurt her; she’s in pain”. He reacted like a petulant child and began to sulkily spout off some nonsense about in all the years of doing this, never hurting anyone before. By the time he got to cutting the other side the local anaesthetic was working and it was painless. When all was done and I was allowed down to get dressed again I shook like a leaf with my teeth chattering. At the time I took it to be some sort of side effect from the local anaesthetic but now I think I was more likely traumatised as I had been triggered.

I know I’ve always hated gynae stuff. Fine as a nurse to assist other people go through their procedures, but me? No thank you. I’ve had transvaginal scans which are painless, various high vaginal swabs in the sexually transmitted disease clinic when my first husband said he cheated on me, forceps delivery in childbirth, not to mention the various pre and post natal pokes and prods and sweeps to get labour engaged. I always feel as uncomfortable as anyone else but have managed to dissociate when I need to which helped.

Smears though, have always been okay. Sometimes I feel slight, fleeting discomfort and other times I don’t feel a thing. They nearly always make me bleed but that’s just because my cervix is fragile after so many interventions over the years. I have lost count over how many times I’ve had cautery to that poor little cervix of mine, and again, I’ve always walked away feeling like I nailed it. Except for the last time when, unbeknownst to me, ‘meddling with the cervix’ as one nurse put it, set off an uncommon response called irritable uterus. Apparently if the cervix is upset it can trigger labour type pains, a type of braxton hicks. This is the response my body made last time. So imagine my surprise to have thanked everyone for their expertise and walked to the main reception to get out of the building, only to suddenly feel kicked in the lower stomach with tight pain that made me want to double over.

I was always pretty stoic in child birth, which was nothing to do with me and probably everything to do with half of me having poor neurological feedback and the other half dissociating without realising I was, so I can’t claim to be anything too special there as it was all out of my control. But the point is I am not one to have yelled or cried or made a fuss in any way. But this pain immobilised me and so I had to sit in reception until I could walk enough to slowly make my way to the car. It kind of made me a little apprehensive about having any more cautery to what little may be left of my cervix!

Roll on a few months and I had a general anaesthetic for a gynae procedure where, while they were there, they cauterised the cervix again, this time more deeply, whatever that means. Recovery was fine this time, but that’s two cauterisations in 6 months to a cervix that is getting smaller all the time – or is it more accurate to say it’s thicker, since it is supposed to regrow once it repairs after each zapping. All I know it after the precancerous cells were removed people have commented on how thin the cervix is now, which apparently may be one cause my baby was born a little prematurely. Yet despite all of this history of various gynaecological interventions, I didn’t worry about the smear. I told Guy confidently that I was fine with smears, it’s got to be done or the alternative is unthinkable, especially since I’ve had precancerous cells removed once already.

When I got to the clinic the nurse asked me to lie on my back with my fists under me to tilt my pelvis the right way. This felt unusual as I haven’t been asked to do this before and as soon as I assumed the position I felt instantly uncomfortable because I felt trapped, but I continued to comply and then when she inserted the speculum she began to push hard and twist it a lot. It felt a little uncomfortable but I said nothing. She sounded exasperated as apparently my cervix was hiding (well wouldn’t you, if you were my cervix? I don’t blame the little thing at all!). When she finally took the swab, she twisted and pushed and the pain was too much.

Straight away, there he was. The perpetrator back in the room, hurting that little 5 year old who has her hands tied down and no way to escape.

I longed to free my hands from under me and get off the table and run away, but instead I said (in a pitch higher than my normal voice) how surprisingly painful I’m finding it this time, almost like pleading her to be more gentle, but she kept digging, through her apologies, until she had all she needed. “Yes, I’ve made you bleed a bit” she said cheerfully. I know it had to be done but as I walked to the car the familiar ‘irritable uterus’ pain came back. I drove home sobbing and once home hid my head in my arms over the kitchen table and cried until my eyes were swollen. The aloneness was crushing. I really needed someone to comfort me and put their arms around me so I could cry with them, but I was home alone and there was no one. I was left dealing with it completely by myself, just the same as all those years ago. I thought about calling my husband but he has a lot of work pressure this week and might not understand since we don’t discuss my past, and I wanted to talk to my new ally Guy, but he isn’t that sort of on-call therapist – if such a one does exist? – though maybe if he knew I felt so desperate he might allow it this once as he seems pretty compassionate, but I feel guilty enough as it is every time I send a text between sessions, so I couldn’t face the chance of getting the brush-off while I was already so crushingly alone and vulnerable.

Yet I will go again next time. I have to. For me, my husband and my boys. I cannot allow my history to jeopardise my future and I think of the likes of the late Jade Goody and how she understandably couldn’t face having smears, which proved to be a decision with tragic consequences as it cost her her life. But this experience gave me much more understanding of her predicament, and many like her (and like me) and I need to work this through with Guy so I don’t succumb to temptation on this one.

Addendum: since writing this I googled excessive smear pain and found this. I am already known to have a tilted uterus and so this would explain why it was so abnormally uncomfortable: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-mail-on-sunday/20190127/284305366116282

11 thoughts on “Smear

  1. You are so brave to have done that and commit to doing it again, I am in awe of you especially after the level of medical intervention you’ve had to endure in that area. I suffered medical pelvic trauma 2 years ago, think there’s a blog about it somewhere (had my first smear 3 years ago and was very dissociated from everything so didn’t care then) and genuinely don’t think I will be able to go to my next one, letter should come through anytime now. But I can’t do it. You are brave and should be so proud of yourself, I admire you. Sorry it was so tough though. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh dear Amber, I am so sorry for your experience. Thank you for your kind words, though you know it takes one to know one, right?
      Would you at least consider exploring this with Tom or Stanislaus or someone, anyone, before you decide to boycott it altogether? Any problems are such an easy remedy if caught in time but much harder to treat if detected by symptoms which usually only show when it’s too late. I know it’s so easy to think ‘it will never happen to me’ (been there, done that!) and your life is far too precious to take the risk.

      Please don’t feel I’m being pushy here, I just have seen too much death as a result of missing check-ups (my first job as a nurse was in oncology) and your blog has been so useful to me, so, another good reason for wanting to preserve you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for the nice message and i didn’t want to make your post about my stuff, I was just trying to explain how much on a personal level I admire your ability to push through because I really see what courage it takes.

        IDK I’ve just been having a meltdown about the whole idea and reading online cos I only realised today I am about to get the letter for the next one. Maybe if I can find a friend to come with me. I would talk about it with Tom so might text him when I get letter, can’t imagine mentioning it to S though lmao. Oh well! Honestly thanks for your advice and i really respect and hear how important it is. X

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re not making it about you, I always value hearing other peoples’ experiences too. I really hope my post hasn’t scared you – or anyone else – off having the smear done, like I said, I’ve had many and this has never happened before. The one you described was always my experience too, which makes me think this is a one-off. I also wonder if, having recently stirred the puddle so to speak, it’s all a bit raw still so possibly doesn’t help? Good luck with talking to Tom, I really hope it helps. Meanwhile I’ll talk to Guy!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes everything you wrote makes so much sense to me. I bet that’s probably part of why at least. For me it was my stay in hospital 2 years ago it was extremely traumatizing and i am no longer comfortable with any physical contact or exams. Not sure what to do but googling as we speak. Have found a clinic for survivors in London that might help. And no dont worry your experience did not scare me off at all, it literally only reminded me that I am due that bleeding letter any day now..! Xxx

            Liked by 1 person

          2. That sounds such a good idea, you’re obviously quite resourceful! – I had no idea such a place exists. It sounds like it could be a great way around it 😊
            I do understand your plight though, it’s not easy is it.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. haha wow thanks! I just saw it come up when googling! I think I’ll ring them on Monday and have a chat cos I could easily go and get it done there. they had all this stuff about grounding techniques and cake… sounds reassuring! x

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Sounds incredible. I’m so pleased people offer this kind of service. In an ideal world it would be offered by default on the NHS but sadly we don’t live in my ideal world (though this clinic you’ve found sounds pretty close!)
            Good luck Monday, I hope it goes well, I’m sure it will because now you’re the one showing courage 🤗

            Liked by 1 person

          5. you’re so nice thank you, I actually got super upset earlier when I remembered it’s smear time so it has been really so nice to hear your kind words. well if I do go there I will prob blog about it 😂! yeah I’m not super near London but it’s easy to get there and i go there often! so why not swing by for a smear test while I’m down lol x

            Liked by 1 person

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