Thursday, 29 December 2011

My first trip to the Doctors.....

I mean it when I say that the NHS is brilliant, and Doctors are amazing, but it took me 3 tries to get diagnosed with Vaginismus. The third Doctor I saw, an unflappable man who was not remotely phased by the cringing, embarrassed, red face of the woman before him, listened to my stuttering explanation of not being able to have sex - "It really hurts.....It feels a bit like someone is trying to tear me in half" - and calmly and decisively referred me to the gynecologist. He was a little bit like a super hero. I may be a little bit in love with him now. The first two visits were rather more eventful however, and probably delayed my diagnosis by a couple of years. Let me explain.

When I was 25 I got the letter all women get, inviting me to attend a smear test. I made an appointment and turned up, and was called into a room with a very lovely nurse, with crinkly kind eyes and a sheet of preparitary questions. I thought this would be the perfect situation to ask someone about the problems I had started encountering with my then boyfriend, and waited for my moment. She explained that we just needed to go through these questions before the actual test, and started reading through. She got as far as "Are you a virgin?" and was quite visibly stumped by my answer of "yes".

"Er..." She said, looking a bit bewildered, "I don't think you need the test if you're a virgin, let me go and check with the Doctor". She left me in the treatment room, slowly sinking into self-loathing and despair. I couldn't ask her about it now, I thought, she seemed so completely taken aback by my reply. She came back and explained that the risk of having any sort of problems was almost completely removed if I had never had sex and having the test as a virgin would anyway almost certainly be painful. She finished by reassuring me that it was perfectly normal to be a virgin (something which I had never doubted) in such a way that made me feel she thought quite the opposite. I left in tears and feeling like a complete failure. I had read the information leaflet thoroughly before attending and as far as I could see there had been nothing on there to say that you shouldn't attend if you had not had sex (I could be wrong about that, and it may have changed by this time anyway, but that's what I recall). She was a lovely woman and no doubt a brilliant nurse, but this put me off attempting speaking to a medical practitioner about it for a while.

A year later and I was determined to go and see a doctor. The problem hadn't gone away or got any easier, and I had been doing a bit of online googling in preparation. I'd come across something called vaginismus, which sounded similar to the things I'd been going through. I made an appointment and went along feeling nervous, but determined to sort the thing out. I had received a text from a friend I'd been talking to about the whole business, saying "Don't leave until you've made them take you seriously!" and was preparing myself to do so.

I explained to the Doctor about the difficulties my boyfriend and I had trying to have sex, and waited for a reply. The doctor, to my immense surprise, looked....well, a little bit embarrassed. She asked first if my boyfriend had a particularly large penis. I said he had, yes (smugface) but that it had happened with a previous boyfriend who had an equally lovely, but more modestly proportioned appendage and so didn't think that necessarily had anything to do with it. She suggested then ("off the record") that I "try getting drunk" in order to be more relaxed the next time we had sex.

I'll be honest, I was lost for words.

She suggested then that we attempt a speculum examination. I'm sure she was very delicate with it, but by eck it felt like she was trying to rip me right down the middle. After a while she stopped, looked surprised, and said "I don't know why it won't go in." Neither did I readers. I left, again in tears.

It took a further year for me to go and see my super hero doctor and be diagnosed. When the gynecologist he referred me to - who had gone through a list of questions with me about the specific nature of my condition, like "Does it feel like your muscles are spasming when you attempt penetration?", "Do you panic when penetration is attempted?"- tried an external examination, she read the look of panic and pain on my face, and registered my muscle spasms (which I hadn't even been aware of) and diagnosed vaginismus. I burst into tears, but this time not of humiliation and defeat, but of absolute relief.

I relay this story not to slag off the people involved in my first two attempts to get diagnosed, but to highlight the potential problems that you face in being diagnosed. I'm now being treated, but if I hadn't been determined I may still have been lost and confused.