I am notoriously bad at knowing when I need to seek professional help. I’ve waited for eczema to completely take over the top half of my body before calling my doctor’s office. Even after I was prescribed the life-saving cream that eliminated the concerned looks from co-workers who would walk by my office and find me wrist deep in my sweater scratching my left boob because it always seemed to get worse mid-afternoon, I would wait weeks before calling to ask for a refill. Maybe it’s not eczema, I thought. Maybe it’s just dry skin. And I would peruse the lotion aisle at Target and spend tens of dollars on creams for extra dry skin rather than inconveniencing my doctor and making the stupid call and picking up that tube of cream at CVS for a whopping $1.20. (No, really: Thank you, Obama.)
This fear of calling my doctor is strangely coupled with my fear of dying. I am always sure that I’m dying. Which, of course, we’re all going to die (and I have recently become so comfortable with this fact that I’m positive half of my co-workers think that I’m suicidal), but I am alarmingly quick to jump from, “Hhmm, my pee smells weird,” to, “Holy shit! I have cancer and it is in my pee canal and it is going to make its way to my brain and I am DYING.” My fear of dying, however, is outweighed by my fear of calling the doctor. I worry that I’ll simply be disrupting their day with what is sure to be my own neuroses and not an actual medical condition. And so I wait until both fears eventually subside.
Of course, I am always fine. It is always asparagus. Which is why when I noticed a funkier than normal smell during my last period I let it continue for three days.
First, I convinced myself that I was just being crazy and paranoid. Then, I convinced myself that I had toxic shock syndrome and had undoubtedly left a tampon deep within my cavernous vagina. I rewound the past few days in my head, trying to think of a time that I may have been rushed, or drunk, or tired, and forgot to take a tampon out before putting in a new one. I told myself, again, that I was being crazy. And, after 48 hours of back and forth, I decided to just try and look for it myself. In college, I knew someone who'd forgotten to take a tampon out at the end of her period and put two and two together after noticing a not-so-sexy smell after sex. “Oh my God, what did you do?” I asked, experiencing second-hand anxiety just at the mere thought of it. She had simply gotten in the shower, relaxed, and pulled it out. Easy-peasy. Surely, I was capable of so much.
Months before, I had attempted to make the transition to a Diva Cup. There was something appealing about never having to worry about running out of tampons or having to take the trash out every eight hours. The thought of my bodily fluids just sitting there on a wad of cotton in my bathroom waste basket gives me the yucks. I spoke to a few friends who were converts and one mentioned that one of the most important aspects of getting used to it was simply getting used to your body, and to focus on aiming the cup towards your cervix. I had never actually tried to find my cervix, but I was an almost-30-year-old woman. I could figure it out.
I never figured it out. And so when I decided to go on a missing tampon excursion on my own I tried to go back to my friend’s advice: just find your cervix. My Google research—always dependable—had informed me that it’s nearly impossible for a tampon to go beyond your cervix, so if you get to your cervix and don’t feel a tampon, chances are there isn’t one in there. I went in with confidence. I’m a grown-ass woman. I pay my bills on time. I have renter’s insurance. This is no big deal. But when my finger touched on something that maybe possibly could’ve matched the description that all those Yahoo! answers said a cervix would feel like, it was less rewarding than I had planned. Who am I kidding? I have no goddamn idea where my cervix is! At this point I’m just a weirdo standing in her bathroom with one foot up on the toilet and one finger up her person mumbling, “…huh,” every five seconds. I slept on it and tried again the next morning with the same results. I knew that I had either lost a tampon or found my cervix, but I wasn’t sure which one I wanted more.
Defeated, I called my doctor’s office and awkwardly explained my situation. The receptionist was unfazed. I could’ve told her I thought I had a cold. She was able to get me in that morning with a female doctor that I had never met before. I secretly hoped that she was old and on her way out because, even at 30, I still want other ladies to think that I’m cool. The doctor was young, thin, and blonde, and as she walked in I imagined her reading my patient chart just a few minutes prior and thinking, “Oh, this bitch.”
We said hello and then went through the preliminary questions one expects before having a speculum inserted inside of them. No, I’m not sexually active because I told myself that I was only going to have sex if I was in a relationship and ugh have you been on OkCupid lately? It’s disgusting. Only meds are birth control and eczema cream and my last period just ended, but I think there’s a tampon stuck inside me so like, maybe I’m technically still on it?
Before I knew it I was on my back with my feet resting in plastic stirrups. Not even a minute later I heard, “Yup. There’s a tampon in there.” Immediately I yelled, “I’m so relieved!” at the ceiling. I found solace in the fact that I was right—something was up and I'd known it. I wasn’t a crazy lady panicked about nothing. Within seconds the phantom tampon was out of me, and the doctor proceeded to perform the pap smear that I was conveniently due for anyway. I was in and out of that office within 20 minutes and back at my desk by lunch, making the anxiety I felt about calling my doctor in the first place the most jarring thing about the entire experience. I wasn’t being crazy or delusional or paranoid. I felt, both literally and figuratively, that something was wrong. So I manned up and I called my doctor about my vagina like a goddamn adult.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my cervix.
Photo via imjustkimmie/flickr.
Elaine Paddock is a writer in Boston.