*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.