Originally published on Huffington Post.
And the Oscar goes to… Drumroll, please… Ego!
There seemed to be a dominant thread weaving itself through all the male gynecologists I had the pleasure of visiting in the last three months, but I was stumped as to what it was. Impatience? Boredom? Self-importance? Repetitive motion syndrome? Lack of empathy? No compassion? Disinterest? Inability to listen? Disdain for all things “natural” no matter how reasonable? And then it finally dawned on me. Yes! Ego! Big ones!
Dangerous intruders calling themselves “pre-cancerous cells” broke down the door of my cervix late last year, sending me on a chain of doctor visits, hospital outpatient procedures and really fun phone conversations with my insurance provider. Luckily, these intruders came, created some stress and left. I’ll be surprised if I ever see them again. So, while I thank my lucky stars for being spared the horror of a real home invasion — where the bad guys take over and threaten never to leave — I did get to spend more time than I wanted to with the cops. I’m talking about the doctors — those who come in to save the day and keep you safe. The way they handle the situation has a huge impact on your emotional state, peace of mind and the inevitable fear that the intruders might return.
I would have preferred female cops — or in this case, female gynecologists — but my HMO plan didn’t offer any except for the one who originally handled the investigation, and, well, I had issues with her. I don’t speak Korean; she barely speaks English. And for some reason, she was unfamiliar with some of the likeliest suspects involved in the break-in — hormones. Plus, she had these dead eyes that reminded me of a reptile. Call me silly, but she made me uneasy. So, I went to see Doctor #2, the nightmare.
Upon seeing the results of the first procedure, which indicated the presence of said intruders, Doctor #2 recommended a biopsy but informed me that I would need to have a hysterectomy regardless of the outcome. “Really?” I said. “Why is that?”
Well, he wasn’t going to put up with me questioning his authority, so he repeated what he said the first time, only louder. When I had lingering cramps from the first procedure and asked if that was normal, he said, “No, but there’s cancer in there!”
“Really?” I said. “I thought you said I have ‘pre-cancerous’ cells.” (Pre-cancerous cells are intruders that, if left to their own devices, may or may not become cancerous.) He brushed aside my ridiculous semantics. I hung up the phone and had a really bad day.
Still cramping one month later and worried about it, I went in to see Dr. #2 again. He said he had no idea why I was cramping. Period. I was obviously an alarmist. But still, I persevered and asked him whether I did or did not have cancer, and could that be the cause of my cramps, as he had indicated on the phone. He denied ever having said that to me and we engaged in a “yes, you did”/”no, I didn’t” exchange that almost went into the comical.
My biopsy report was full of excellent words like mild, non-invasive and low-grade. Dr. #2 said I obviously needed to have my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. “Really?” I said. “Why is that?” He said it was best to destroy the bedroom, living room and dining room of my house so that the intruders would have fewer places to invade should they return. And then he gave me a Wikkipedia article on the über common practice in the United States of removing female parts at the drop of a hat.
“But don’t believe me,” he said with hostility, “get a second opinion!” I asked to be referred to a gynecologist/oncologist, and he complied with my request. Turned out, I would have to wait over a month to see him.
Since I knew I didn’t want to continue seeing Dr. #2, I went in search of another gynecologist for the long term. Dr. #3 was a real cool dude. Black jeans, combat boots, great guy, who took lots of time explaining exactly why he thought I needed to have a hysterectomy where only my uterus would be removed. He said removing my other moving parts was tantamount to cutting my leg off at the hip because I might break my ankle someday. He drew me a very clear picture with arrows that made the reasons for removal of my uterus quite obvious. (Plus, he gave me a prescription for an antibiotic that cleared up the low-grade infection that was causing the cramps!)
However, in the throes of his dissertation, he talked over me every time I tried to ask a question. When he was done speaking, I left feeling a lot more informed about why I should have my uterus removed, that he would probably be my new gynecologist, and that he sure did like to hear himself talk!
Finally time came to visit Dr. #4, cancer expert. After reviewing my biopsy report, he said that a hysterectomy was absolutely unnecessary, and that I was good to go with bi-annual pap smears. He drew me a picture too, taking the time to explain everything, and when he was through, he stood up to indicate the visit was over. “I have a couple of questions,” I said. Okay, I admit it. Maybe I was just feeling rushed and nervous, but what I said was, “I have a couple of questions?”
“Oh?” he said, but did not sit back down.
Looking up at him, I asked about several related concerns that I had been waiting weeks to discuss with him. He quickly dispensed with my questions as if they were unimportant and showed an undisguised lack of interest in a recently-published study showing a 100 percent success rate on the healing of pre-cancerous cells with a natural product commonly available on the market.
He was obviously a busy man, so I was very lucky that, as I was leaving, he mentioned in passing that since the intruders had been removed during the biopsy, I had to stay vigilant in watching for their improbable return via the recommended pap smears. “What?” I said. “Did you say the intruders were removed from the property?” All that time I thought they were still there, lurking in the house! Somehow, no one had thought it important enough to tell me.
Needless to say, I was very relieved when I left the office of Dr. #4. I loved hearing that I wouldn’t need a hysterectomy and that I no longer had pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. But I couldn’t help being shocked at how little curiosity he’d shown over a promising new treatment for his patients, and how much he liked to hear himself talk!
Cops* have a rough job, it’s true. So used to dealing with the scum of the earth, you almost can’t blame them for treating you like scum when you come in contact with them. But we’re not all scum. And although cops, armed with their power, and doctors, armed with medical knowledge, hear the same stories day in and day out, they need to remember that each one of our stories is unique, and that they too might learn something if they would occasionally engage in the vanishing art of listening.
Ego may get the Oscar, but a little humility would make for a far better movie.
*Obviously there are great cops and wonderful doctors out there, too.