….Gonna get naked apparently!!
Sorry what? I said to my colleague as she stood up from her metro seat, ready to exit at the next stop. “Make sure you wax!” she shouted as jumped onto the platform and headed home, laughing to herself. I thought sure! She must be joking, but when I met her at lunch the following day, my other french colleagues all agreed with her. Maybe it was a group joke… but I had yet to learn the french do not do irony! At times they don’t even do humour!
Somehow I still felt I was being set up, but I went home that evening and shaved my legs all the same! Once I had been led into his office, I quickly spotted the open door to the torture room with the dangerous looking chair and the metal instruments all lined up. There was a brief little chat about my nether regions, a lot of medical terms used and technical words which was both reassuring and just a little terrifying! Then the good doctor directs to me a door I hadn’t spotted right behind me. So it was all over, indeed I had been made a fool of, no need to have shaved at all. But hang on a second how did I manage to escape the dreaded smear test, he had said I should do one of those right? In fact if I understood him correctly he seemed annoyed that at 25 I hadn’t had one done already. He opened the door with an “Allez-y, Madame” (Off you go) … leading me through another door and with a “Deshabillez vous” (You can take your clothes off) he left and shut the door behind him muttering something else I didn’t catch. So I was standing there in a tiny space, a glorified cubicle really, one door in front of me and one behind me, and I’m thinking how did I get myself into this? When I first went to Paris I was very shy and due to “Lost in Translation” moments I often found myself in situations where I wasn’t really sure what was going on…. I did learn…. it just took a little while 🙂 Here I was again, not sure what I supposed to do, and help was nowhere to be found.
So after a few seconds reflection, I took the good doctor at his word stripped to my underwear and looked around for a gown, a robe, something to put on…. nope, none of those were visible. As the door I had come through was now locked (it had no handle on the inside) I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I had no choice but to walk through the second door…. All I could hope for was that it didn’t lead to the waiting room, or I was going to have a seriously embarrassing moment…. embarrassing no matter what language it was in! To my relief, the door actually led into the examination room, I suppose it was to save you having to walk back through the office, but hey, either way I was in my underwear so the lest amount of walking around I had to do, the better. Without looking up from his tray of utensils , he invited me to get up on the chair, however he stopped mid sentence when he turned around and saw me. “Non, mais tout Madame” (Everything!) Oh, it seemed I did need to get really naked with the good doctor.
Now the thing is my only experience of the gynaecologist in Ireland had been regarding a cyst I had about 18 months previous, and I had to do an exam. That day he kept sending me out to drink more water so he could see better….. me I was going to pee better…. I was dying to go to the toilet, it was borderline torture. Yeuch! The Irish doctor had asked me to lift my top slightly and unbutton my trousers, and that was as much flesh as was exposed. Even since my return home, I’ve been examined a number of times, I’ve only ever had to remove the lower half and then that was covered over by a sheet/blanket etc. I mean he is about to see your most private parts, is it really that important that he doesn’t see any of the flesh on your outer thigh?? So I relinquished my last remaining items of clothing and clambered up onto the chair. That’s the only way I can describe it, there is no dignified way of keeping your bits covered and getting up there safely at the same time. Legs now in the those awful metal stirrups, the doctor proceeds to scan me from all angles, passing incomprehensible comments as he does. I don’t know if I’m getting good marks or failing miserably! I’m too preoccupied with my complete nakedness, I mean not to be alarmist or anything but what if the fire alarm went off?? Had anyone thought of that? My clothes were at least 10ft away, behind a closed door, in the opposite direction to the nearest escape route and the room that held my clothes had no other exit, at least not one with a handle…..these are the thoughts running around my head while the doctor does his job. But there was more to come, standard practice in France at any gynae visit is a full check up with both external and internal scans. When he appeared with that instrument in his hand and the penny dropped, well that was nearly my undoing…. its so very hard to remain dignified half sitting, half lying on the edge of an oddly shaped chair with your legs fixed in the air….
Needless to say by the time he actually did the dreaded smear test, it didn’t even register with me. I was still working on the most important outstanding issue…what was I to do if the alarm went off, there isn’t a gown or a robe in sight! The only item of clothing I could see was a wool camel-coloured coat on the back of the office door, I reckoned if I made a run for it, and didn’t dislocate a leg in the process, that was probably my best option!
Two years later when I had a return visit, albeit with a different gynae and when I recounted the experience to my then-boyfriend, he just laughed, and said “Oh you Anglosaxons, you are so, how do you say…? prudish!” So it seems it’s just an Irish thing and French women are not bothered by this at all.
(Don’t even get me started on the whole Anglosaxon thing and its incorrect use by the French, I might be Anglophone as I speak English but I am most certainly not Anglosaxon!”)
Funny incidents at the doctor happen more often than you think…. I was lying face down on the osteopath’s table on Tuesday, trying my hardest not to laugh. She had her elbow in my glutes and her hand under my hip, with her fingers just brushing off my tummy. I’m terribly ticklish, always have been. Some people when you threaten to tickle them you have the opposite effect as then they are prepared, I’m the opposite. And I’m ticklish pretty much everywhere. The osteopath in Paris that I saw every 6 months or so, used to smile when he’d see me in the waiting room, “Vous encore, ca va etre drole!” (you again, this is going to be funny!) Apparently I was the only patient who laughed her way (or most of it when I wasn’t saying Mer-de under my breathe) through the appointment. It was worse though with him, because you were afraid with all this laughing, your wobbly bits would be even more noticeable! Because yes, even at the osteopath in France, one gets naked…. well at least down to your underwear. This is not convenient when you are extremely ticklish, because someone touching your actual skin is even worse.
Laughter is the best medicine or so they say and I suppose its better to laugh at these things than anything else. These days when I go to the consultants, and I seem to have had quite a few of those visits in the last two years, I spend my time trying to avoid looking at the heavily pregnant women, or the loved up couples clearly tickled pink at their news. I scramble in the bundle of Mother & Baby or Good Parenting magazines for a Hello!, even outdated or any sort of other magazine, Horse & Hound will do! What is it about those waiting rooms that bring me out in a sweat, what is it that gets me so. So that by the time I see the doctor I’m a emotional wreck, and likely to start blubbering half way through at the mention of future fertility statistics! I haven’t even started down the definite road of fertility treatment like so many women or even definitely going solo, (and all that’s a thought for another day) God help me if I actually do.
I remember another gynae visit at one point, in Ireland, and as I paid at the desk, the secretary handed me a disk (Oh I feel old now 😉 with the pictures of my scan. She was waiting for the receipt to come out of the printer and another lady behind me looked at the disk, then at me and said “Boy or girl? I was a bit flustered and without thinking answered “Cyst”, grabbed my receipt and bolted out the door. It was an innocent question I suppose but I didn’t exactly look pregnant so I don’t know why she asked. Back then I was just embarrassed, and all that was ahead of me. Now 10 years later, it would probably have a very different effect….
For a lot of us, these appointments are not exactly pleasant. We are either there about physical pain, or another new symptom of this disease. For more of us we are already on that road of trying to conceive, either way those appointments are generally stressful. So now I sit in the waiting room, and I search for my Hello! but when I get in there, into his office, I take a minute, close my eyes and remember that room in the 12th arrondissement and I allow myself a smile, and I tell myself I can get through this. Because sometimes laughter really is the best medicine after all…..