Hands Off Our Bodies
As the doctor entered the exam room he asked, “I brought in a resident with me. Would it be okay with you if she watched the procedure?”
Seeing a young resident learning about extrusions for a Bartholin’s cyst I replied, “Yes, its okay.” I understood this was her career path. As well, I held some trust of her who was about my age at the time. That was back in December 1990. The white, male doctor at the time was my gynecologist just shy of a decade. He was near age fifty or so.
As he directed my feet up into the stirrups, having my gown opened in the front. He quickly began the procedure. Yes, it seemed in a flash he’d stuck a needle up into my vaginal area. I flinched from the entry, for it was painful. He looked at me furrowed his brow and said, “Oh com’on that didn’t hurt.” I was aghast.
I held my cool in understanding he didn’t have a vagina. Yes, even at the age of twenty-eight I knew men did not have vaginas. I commented diplomatically, “Sorry. I wasn’t ready for that.” Soon he inserted a catheter into the area and gave me instructions.
After his instructions I explained that I had just come in from a day at the office and was wearing a somewhat expensive suit. He remarked, “You might spot a little. But probably not.” I nodded. I then reminded him I was also preparing to qualify for the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials and was running 100 miles a week.
I asked him if I should alter my training till I saw him in two weeks. He stated, “That’s fine. Just don’t do sprints. And if the bulb gets dislodged outside, you can pop it back in. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.” Then he and the young female resident exited the exam room. I got dressed, exited the room, set up the next appointment at the front desk and parted from the medical building to my car.
As I drove home I could feel the discomfort of the catheter. Yet I felt he did what was necessary. That was because I didn’t know better. Too, because I was the first woman I knew of in my family to ever go to a gynecologist. I’d started with him because my future mother-in-law knew I had women’s issues. He was the partner of her gynecologist. So, I knew I could trust her judgement on this.
In my first visit in 1982 this gynecologist diagnosed me with an imperforate hymen band. An approximate two-hour surgery was done by him in early 1982. It took a month to complete healing. It appeared to clear up forty percent of my women’s issues. Also, he’d feared cancer because I’d been misdiagnosed and backed up for years. The good news was that he was pretty sure my husband to be, and I could have children biologically three months after the surgery in 1982, but he wanted me regulated first.
I’d been misdiagnosed since 1977 with illness and agonizing pain at times. Also, I’d had much bloating and many digestive problems nearly all my childhood going into adulthood. I’d passed out in high school twice during my mense cycles. Only to be brought home by my mother. Then those nights only to be reprimanded by my white, male father about how weak I must be. All the other times I’d learned to hide my agony. I knew I would be considered of no use if I expressed any anguish of my physical ailments.
Even the Marines had me checked by a white, male Naval doctor. He found that he could not complete the gynecological exam on me in early 1981 because of the imperforate hymen band then. That doctor backed off with the speculum to do a pap smear after I’d leaped, as he had tried to push the speculum through the imperforate hymen band. I found out in 1982 had that doctor broken through the hymen band that way, I would have lost a ton of blood and likely could have died there at the AFEES station in Newark, NJ. Instead, I was sworn into the US Marines that day. And had a successful service time with the Marines.
The imperforate hymen band was considered a result of being a DES daughter along other birth defects I’d had and have. Again, I was ill-informed and not told by the Naval doctor what was wrong (1981), nor the civilian gynecologist (1982) of any further issues post-hymen band surgery. And nearly a decade later (1990/1991) then I was not informed that I had a mullerian anomaly either. Something which would be a possibility due to my being a DES daughter. Too I found out years later that my Bartholin’s gland cyst (1990/1991) had to do with the original hymen band issue. Meanwhile the whole DES daughter prognosis was incredibly ignored by all white, male gynecologists I’d seen.
On my drive home that day from the procedure in December 1990, ten minutes into my drive I felt blood pouring out from underneath me. Yes, I had begun to feel saturated with blood that now seeped past my undergarment, panty hose brief, business suit skirt and into where I sat on my car seat.
Prior to the extrusion I researched the procedures of the treatment of a Bartholin’s gland cyst. Yes, I read medical books in the back of a bookstore—as we were having a long weekend vacation nearby in New England. And then four weeks later after that gynecologist told me the extrusion worked and he took out the catheter and everything was fine.
I realized he’d never given me an antibiotic. Also, he did not instruct me to take a sitz bath two times a day till I saw him again prior to the extrusion. And that the extrusion was not to be the first procedure to solve the problem. It was sitz baths two to three times a day and an antibiotic should have been prescribed to me. Neither were done. Ibuprofen was suggested by him for pain.
About twelve days after the said catheter was removed, I was watching the Superbowl—the Giants were playing. At halftime I went to my bathroom and noticed the cyst had returned seemingly in hours. The pain then went through me.
The next day I called up my running coach. He and his wife had children and my coach, and his wife were a good decade plus older than I. I asked him to have his wife give me her gynecologist’s phone number. I quickly needed another opinion.
Before I knew it I was at a new gynecological office. I already knew what he’d eventually find out. It was that I had such a raging infection since the cyst had never truly reduced. What it did was go inward, as it was not as pronounced three weeks before. And now I was in even more pain. He mentioned I should have been put on antibiotics first, that he wouldn’t have done an extrusion, nor catheterized me just yet.
The raging infection level I had, he’d not seen since his medical practices serving as a doctor in the Vietnam War—about twenty-five years before. Three days after I’d been on three medications he’d prescribed, I was in screaming pain. Unable to sit down at my office job for more than ten minutes. I felt completely beside myself. Running, temporarily relieved some of the pain. Unless I ran more than seven miles; then it would ramp up.
His staff knew I needed to be seen immediately and they had me go off all but one medication. Again, he checked, and he thought I’d need a partial removal of the right Bartholin’s Gland. I knew it was much worse. I told him so. He didn’t think that, because I hadn’t seen me grimace at all in his presence upon checking me that day. We hurriedly set up the surgery to be done. It was to be no longer than ninety minutes of surgery.
Days later, only my husband and my coach knew the level of pain I’d had. The surgery was well over two hours. The condition of the gland stunned the surgeon. He’d come out to my husband in the waiting room during it to explain the delay. Then my husband revealed to him the level of pain I truly had been in. All said and done the whole gland had to be taken out. This at that time in the surgeon’s career was so rare, he’d never had to ever remove an entire Bartholin’s gland before, neither had ever witnessed a whole Bartholin’s Gland removal surgery. The surgeon had to go back to the medical books during surgery. Too, he’d only had to do one partial and that was in Vietnam.
Upon receiving 150 stitches inside and out, waking-up and the post-operative visits afterwards in his office. He told me that I would be constipated for six months at least. And the first year would be painful. Because of my healthy eating I healed two times faster than he expected. He had me back running eight days later instead of fifteen to twenty days. And I was back at work two days before that. The pain, however, lasted over a decade. Too, I was told that a gland would never grow back in its place. However, eighteen years later a brand-new Bartholin’s Gland grew back in its place and was better than the one I was born with.
So go ahead and tell me as a woman that men should be dictating what they don’t know about women’s health and well-being. Since its mostly men who have been my doctors have proven more times than not that they have no clue what its like to wear breasts and a vagina and other apparatus they don’t have. It behooves us as to ask why we allow men on any Court to dictate anything involving a women’s body and health. Too, people on the Supreme Court are mostly trained in law not medicine. Men need to step aside in ruling and voting on women’s bodily issues.---Jody-Lynn Reicher