June 6, 2002
Sphygmomanometer


"Sfigg-mohhh-man-AHHH-meter," I say ... stretching each syllable as much as possible, in order to avoid tripping over my own tongue.

"Wow," says the young doctor. "I'm impressed." He snaps a fresh pair of plastic gloves from the dispenser and pulls them on, squirting them with something that looks like Dippity-Do. "Of course," he adds -- with a little just-between-you-and-me-and-the-lamp post chuckle -- "I couldn't tell you what it MEANS or what it DOES." And with that, he slides one slick, gloved hand deep into my vagina.

Now that's reassuring.

I don't know what a sphygmomanometer is, either. I only know how to spell it, and (now) how to pronounce it ... which apparently puts me one up on the doctor. I've been laying here on this examining table for so long, I've had to resort to reading medical equipment for *entertainment.* ("Sphygmomanometer" backwards, by the way, is "retemonamomgyhps.")

Everything about this appointment has taken longer than planned. Waiting for the cab to come pick me up this morning took longer than planned. Filling out the medical history form took longer than planned. (Twinkly Front Desk Person: "Did I forget to tell you? We need this filled out in BLACK ink.") Sitting in the waiting room took longer than planned. Waiting in the sitting room took longer than planned. Laying here on this fudking examining table, on the hottest day of the year, has taken MUCH longer than planned: my flimsy paper gown is sticking to me like wet Charmin.

But then again, simply getting to this examination table in the first place has taken about five years longer than planned.

"When did you say you had your last pap smear?" the doctor asks, groping around my cervical area like a piñata inspector checking for holes in the papier-mâché. 

I've answered this question four times already this morning: once to the Twinkly Front Desk Person, once on the medical history form, once to the stern and unsympathetic Nurse Practitioner, and once to the doctor himself, when he asked me the same damn question five minutes ago. I'm tempted to unload both barrels at him -- My last pap smear? That would be Thursday, March 13th, 1997 at 6:55 p.m. EST ... and a pelvic exam wasn't the only thing we did on that examining table -- but in the interest of maintaining cordial doctor/patient relations, I stick with the abbreviated answer.

"Five years," I tell him.

He gives me that look -- that look that says Lady, how could you be so stoopid about something so important? It's the same look the stern and unsympathetic Nurse Practitioner gave me, not forty minutes ago.

(It's the same look I've given myself, more times than I can count.)

"I know I've gone too long between exams," I reply, fighting to keep all trace of defensiveness out of my voice. "I've been down a pretty bumpy road since that last pap smear." And as he probes my interior with one hand, kneading my abdomen from the outside with the other hand, I give him the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the past five years: how I'm a recovering alcoholic with almost four years of sobriety under my belt: managing my health wasn't exactly a priority during The Wine Box Days ... how I finally got sober, with the help of the man who would eventually become my second husband ... how I've managed to turn my life around in recent years, working hard to get healthy and live right and set an example for my children.

Better late than never, right?

"I need you to unbutton your blouse and unhook your bra," he says, removing the plastic gloves and dropping them into the trash. As he pokes and prods my sweaty breasts, I tell him about the Seventy-Two Hours From Hell -- how my life becomes utterly unmanageable for those two or three days, every month -- and how I'm thinking that it all might be connected to perimenopause. I've been doing a lot of research on the subject, I tell him. I'm forty-four. I'm just about the right age, right?

Does he think it might be perimenopause?

There is no immediate response from the doctor. I sneak a peek at him, through the space between my splayed-and-stirrupped knees. He has finished the exam, from the looks of it, and now he is gazing thoughtfully into space. It's clear that my story of recovery and redemption has touched him deeply.

"You know," he says finally, with a dreamy expression on his young face. "That would probably be a killer Scrabble word."

And he points at the sphygmomanometer, hanging on the wall above me.

OK.

Ten minutes later I am dried off, dressed and leaving the doctor's office with a prescription for low dose birth control pills in my hand and a follow-up appointment on my calendar. I'm not angry. I'm not even all that upset: I knew what to expect when I made a Kaiser appointment. Besides: I got the prescription. That was actually my main objective, this time around. Still, I think that when I come back for my mammogram next month, I'll probably request a different physician: one who doesn't look young enough to be my son, one who doesn't tell me that I'm probably being "premature" with my talk of perimenopause ...

... and one who isn't daydreaming about board games while he's holding my ovaries in his rubber gloves.


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