The importance of cervical screening

Written by: Magenta Brown

All Magenta Brown wanted was to shag her new bloke without a condom. . . but a cervical screening gave her more than she bargained for. 

This content is the 2nd story of a series. Find the first article here.

For those of you who read Woman’s special edition sex issue two years ago, I wrote a jaunty story about the time I fainted midway through my partner’s vasectomy. It happened when the doctor cauterised the operation site, and the smell of burning flesh sent me swooning to the floor. 

As for the purpose of the vasectomy – well, it’s pretty obvious – he didn’t want more children, and neither did I, and because we were relishing the physical aspects of our new relationship, we also liked the idea of being able to have intercourse without contraception.

To pull my weight in that arena, I went for a smear so I could flash my “all good down there” certificate. So to assist our passion project, I made an appointment at my local medical centre. I asked to be tested for every conceivable STD, so I could shag my new fella with impunity. Also, because it transpired that my previous boyfriend had been a bit of a ratbag, I was eager to ensure I was in tip-top shape down around my gusset for my own peace of mind.

Only the nurse who usually does the smears wasn’t there, so the doctor did the honours, and in the course of her very thorough investigation, she said, “I don’t like the look of your uterus.” In spite of being mildly insulted, I allowed the doctor to schedule a scan. Within a week – bless our public health system – an appointment was made at Greenlane Hospital. I wasn’t worried, just a bit miffed that my muff was taking me from my busy freelance day. Oh, and vis-a-vis the smear, there were no STDs, thank you for asking.

At Greenlane, I said hello to a radiologist who wielded an ultrasound wand wrapped in a condom covered in lube who asked me if I wanted to insert it myself. 

I was quite shocked. I certainly wouldn’t want to insert the needle if I was having a blood test, so why would I insert this dildo-esque device into my vagina? That’s not my job. But apparently that’s the question they ask these days. You have been warned.

So she’s foofing about up there and starts making a similar face to the doctor. She says “hmmmm”, then sighs a few times. She points to the screen and asks if I can see the freckles on my kidneys, although I thought we were looking at my uterus.

Cute, I think, freckles! And of course I can’t see anything on the grainy ultrasound screen, but I pretend I can see something. She says she’ll flag it and I can expect to hear from Urology. Whatever that is. Perhaps she’s taking the piss?

She continues on, takes some snaps, then removes the wand thing without asking if I wanted to take it out myself, because she’d presumably guessed I did not. Back on went my pants, the old gusset a bit gooey with lube, and life went on.

Until a letter arrived. I was booked for a CT scan, which I obediently went to. I’m not sure what I expected, but it started with a giant lure going into the back of my hand, and it hurt. The woman in charge explained that if they did go straight for a full MRI scan, not to be worried, as it just means they want to take a closer look. 

“Not to worry,” she kept saying, which made me wonder if I was meant to be worried. I really liked her though – she was warm and kind, the sort of person who’d give bad news kindly. Plus her assistant was called Calypso, which I also really liked. Such a great name. Everyone here is so nice, I think, and wonder if I’ve been mildly sedated. 

Into the machine I go. Two times through the doughnut and the lovely warm woman tells me I definitely don’t have cancer. I nearly fell over. I had no idea it could be cancer. I definitely should have been worried. I head home via a friend’s place, rattled that I almost had cancer, then didn’t.

As it turns out, I have benign tumours on my kidneys. Tumour is just the Greek word for growth, nothing to worry about, and I’m given some options. My favourite option is to do nothing.

At my third appointment, I meet the specialist who is also very calming. He repeats the options. I ask what he’d do if they were his kidneys. He says he can’t answer that. If they were his sister’s kidneys? What would he advise her? He said he’d tell her to have the growths removed. Does he like his sister? Yes he says, so I say let’s do it.

A week goes by. The specialist’s PA rings to ask if I still want the tumours removed. Not really, but apparently, if they get much bigger, it’s harder to get rid of them and then they can rupture – and that can be dangerous, especially if you’re travelling somewhere where medical care isn’t so flash. And I have always wanted to go trekking in Nepal.

Obediently, I attend my pre-op appointment, including an ECG (electrocardiogram) performed by two women. One is the supervisor, the other an apprentice who puts circular stickers all over my front, including my boobs, while the supervisor tells me about her five sons. She names them all and tells me all about them while the trainee fires up the machine. 

The supervisor with all the children asks if I’ve ever had an ECG before. No, I reply. Are you sure, she presses in what is quite an alarming tone.

The trainee asks if I have chest pain. Not right now, I say, but I might shortly, if their palpable panic is anything to go by. They confer. They do the test again. They confer some more, I’m not too freaked out, but I can tell something is up with my heart.

“Clearly you’ve seen something. What is it,” I ask. Delta waves, the supervisor says, which sounds like something from Star Trek

They ask again if I have chest pain. No. Dizziness? No. Nausea? No. Palpitations? No, I say to all of it, but still the operation is postponed so cardiology can poke their oar in – when all I wanted was to shag my new bloke without a condom. 

Long story short, the kidneys had benign tumours and now they’re gone. The heart had Wolf Parkinson White, which is like a jazz rhythm. Throughout my entire life, I’d always thought occasional palpitations were normal, but apparently I could’ve dropped dead any time since I was born. 

The kidney operation was not much fun. The pre-op was awesome – four seconds of euphoria, then two shots of morphine at the other end, which retrospectively I should’ve said no to, as I spent the following week feeling very miserable. My throat was sore too, thanks to the big tube that’s jammed down there these days whenever a general anaesthetic is administered. I then spent another week feeling moderately miserable, and for some months I felt bruised inside from the tumour-blasting. 

The heart was much more fascinating. I have to confess, I also enjoyed eavesdropping from behind the curtains in the cardiology ward while I waited for my turn. The relaxing drugs were also enjoyable, and I got the giggles as I was wheeled into a high tech room full of gowned medics. I stopped giggling when one of them drove a wire into my upper thigh and up to my heart. I also tried not to make idle chit-chat, as you shouldn’t distract a cardiologist who’s toying with your ticker. But to see my heart beating on a giant screen was riveting, and the relaxing drugs meant I didn’t stress at all, about the one-in-whatever chance it could all go wrong, and I’d be whisked into surgery to have a pacemaker inserted. 

As for the post-operative bruise, apologies to anyone I flashed my upper thing to afterwards, but wow, what a palette. Like the eye shadows I inherited from my mum when I was in my teens. 

And the moral of this story? Aside from discovering how amazing our public health system is, I say if everything with your health seems to be tickety-boo, don’t look under the hood, because you never know what sort of can of worms you might open. As for the uterus my doctor didn’t like the look of, no one’s ever said a word about it and I certainly won’t be asking about it, as I have had quite enough medical attention for one lifetime. 

And the moral of this story? Aside from discovering how amazing our public health system is, I say if everything with your health seems to be tickety-boo, don’t look under the hood, because you never know what sort of can of worms you might open. As for the uterus my doctor didn’t like the look of, no one’s ever said a word about it and I certainly won’t be asking about it, as I have had quite enough medical attention for one lifetime. 

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