Annual Checkup | Humdrum 38

So I went to the doctor’s office last week for my annual gyno/pap smear/lady doctor visit and it was terrible.

Not in any really bad way. There was no surprise news, no traumatizing experience. Usually I don’t have any issues with going to the doctor. In fact, I'm relieved. I am just enough of an anxious germophobe to want to be poked with needles, have blood drawn, my pee tested. It means I'm keeping myself safe and healthy.

This time, though, I felt gross. And dehumanized.

For my brief checkup, five different people came into my exam room. Five. One nurse stared into the computer and asked me the very same medical history questions as a form I had just filled out, a resident popped in to ask if it would be okay if a male resident joined my doctor during my exam. Then this resident and my doctor and finally a different nurse to administer my flu shot.

The resident asked me questions about my medical history. I raised my hand to shake hands with him, but he ignored me and launched into questions that I had answered both on paper and to the nurse ten minutes prior.

I laid down and let him and then the doctor do the exam. I listened to her ask him questions, “Did you feel the. . .?” and a brief discussion ensued while I was staring at the ceiling tiles.

He gave me a warning, a “I’m going to. . .” as he was doing it. I mean, come on. Give a girl a moment to mentally brace!

And then they were done. Pulling off their gloves and tossing them into the full trash bin—I saw their used gloves poking out of the top—the doctor saying a quick word of “thanks for letting this male doctor come in here” while I was trying to cover myself and get my feet off those stirrup things.

I have to say, Swedish Covenant in Chicago, this was the first time I felt like I was a meat bag being pushed down an assembly line at a doctor's office. Thankfully, I'm in good health and this visit was routine for me. But with those long ridiculous forms and invasive questions (When did you start having sex, how many sexual partners have you had, do you suffer from depression?) I couldn't help thinking: what if I really needed help? Or something more than a quick swab? I'm not confident anyone of the five people who came into my exam room would have noticed. I would not have felt comfortable broaching a sensitive issue.

Here's what I've learned from my years in corporate culture: you move full steam ahead, blinders on, because you are doing your job. Operations and processes established by that culture make an impact on how you work and help create those blinders. I wanted to understand what was going on here, what systems were in place that had nurses squinting at a computer and running between exam rooms all day, had doctors breezing into a room with barely a nod at the patient.

I thought about quotas and wondered how many patients my doctor, the hospital, saw in a day. Who decides, and how do they decide, how many appointments slots are available? Say it another way: who decides how much time each patient gets with their doctor?

In the elevators, I ran into the nurse who initially took me into the exam room. She was holding a plate of food and told me she was going to a different floor to eat her lunch. If she didn't leave, she wouldn't get a break because people would keep telling her to do things.

I doubted my situation was unique.

Before heading home, I stopped to use the bathroom. There were two stalls. A woman with a walker was waiting in front of me, and told me the reason she wasn’t using the handicap stall was because someone had “left” something. She frowned, pursed her lips in disgust. Then told me she thought it was the woman who was leaving as I was coming in.

“That's gross,” I said, in commiseration.

Meanwhile, a woman wearing white sneakers was taking a really long time in the only other stall.

I ran out of there.

Happy Halloween. Help progressive candidates win elections.

About This Newsletter

Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon, a writer and user experience researcher based in Chicago, who will be finding herself a new gynecologist next year. She's writing a memoir about teaching English in China. You can connect with her by replying to this email or jumping on Twitter or Instagram.
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