I saw my midwife for my annual lady-parts exam 2 weeks ago. It was much ado about nothing, mostly just catching up about personal things since I work with my midwife when I am functioning as a doula and she wanted to hear all about how I was doing.
I wasn’t due for my 3 year pap smear, but she did one anyway, since my body and hormones have been through a lot recently. I instantly forgot about the pap, as I have never in my 36 years had an irregular result.
Cut to 10 days later when I got a text from my hospital system’s health care app. There were new test results. Huh?
At first I honestly couldn’t remember what test I had done recently. I open the app and look in test results and see that it is my pap. No biggie. I open it and it says, ‘IRREGULAR.’ Um… ex-squeeze me?
I hadn’t received a call from anyone. If it was abnormal, why hadn’t I been contacted prior to this result being pushed into my inbox?
I panic, even though I know that abnormal paps are not unusual and most of the time mean absolutely nothing. But if you had just had a very estrogen-positive lady cancer and had never had an abnormal pap before, this result would cause you panic. I promise.
I immediately call the midwife. She has left the office so I leave a message. Next, I take the screenshots of the results and email them to my oncologist. I figure she would want to know this information and perhaps discuss it with me. I don’t flag these emails as ’emergency.’ Just regular ol’ emails. As you can see, I sent them around 5:45pm.
Around 6:30pm I get a call from UNKNOWN CALLER. It was my oncologist calling from home. She launches right into asking me why I emailed her a ‘frantic’ message with a picture of me wearing a hat.
Um, what? I didn’t send you a photo of me wearing a hat (she was commenting on that tiny profile pic that the app must have pulled from my pictures, I’ve never even noticed it). Why are we talking about a photo of me wearing a hat anyway?! I sent you test results that were concerning to me and I don’t think my email was ‘frantic.’
She proceeds to make me feel incredibly stupid for bothering her after hours with an issue that isn’t a big deal and should be addressed by my midwife anyway. I am so gobsmacked by the reaction that I am getting from her that I am speechless. I feel instantly embarrassed and flummoxed. I start to cry. I couldn’t stop.
Now an awkward situation is about 1000xs more awkward. I try to explain to her that I did call my midwife and when I emailed her the results for discussion, I certainly didn’t expect her to call me after hours from home. I figured that my oncologist would care that I had my first abnormal pap in my lifetime less than 6 months post-cancer treatment and would want to discuss with me. That night, she sure didn’t.
I asked her if it was possible that my Tamoxifen (very strong hormone therapy) might have something to do with the irregular result. She says no. Hmmm. I do 2 minutes of internet research and find this…
We can profile Turkey or we can assume correctly that they have competent researchers who did this obviously scientific study. Seems pretty credible to me. At least valid enough to warrant my questions.
I digress. Let me circle back to crying on the phone with my oncologist at 6:30pm about a pap smear.
Whoa- this left a terrible taste in my mouth. And I still had no idea why my pap was irregular or if it even mattered.
I spoke to my midwife the next day, who explained that abnormal paps like mine are truly no big deal as long as you don’t have HPV, which I do not. She said it could be caused by anything from a tampon to a yeast infection to a change in pH. We would re-test in 6 months.
She told me she understood why I felt alarmed and she was sorry she hadn’t called me prior to the result being published on the app.
I am so disturbed by the reaction and phone call that it is making me rethink some care choices I’ve made. If I was my own doula client, I would counsel myself into thinking critically about my all-around health and to do what my conscience tells me, for my own mental and emotional well being. We should only entrust ourselves to caregivers capable of comfort.
Taking one’s own advice is always the hardest.
What would you all do? I dislike a lot of human emotions, but shame is one I really despise. And this episode made me feel shamed.
If I want to freak out about a paper cut after getting breast cancer as a healthy 35 year old woman, I should be entitled to that emotional response. Seeing irregular test results in my lady bits which are also affected by hormones? Freak out party for one, please.