Forgive me—this is a long story, and primarily concerned with my right ovary.
As a sophomore in college in the spring of 2008, I woke my boyfriend up by punching him in the left shoulder and crying hysterically. Out of nowhere, I had been overcome by a stabbing, throbbing pain in my lower abdomen. Jordan calmly walked across the street to our friends’ house and asked to borrow their car. When he came back from across the street, he suddenly looked stricken and panicked. I had turned the light on to try to find my shoes, and he could now see me doubled over trying to locate a moccasin. Later he told me how pale I had looked–he could see every vein in my face. “You didn’t look particularly human,” he later said. No man has ever made me feel so beautiful.
After the requisite paperwork, a kind nurse named Ellen ushered me into a cubicle with a shower curtain surrounding it and helped me onto a hospital bed with a folded gown on it, which I soon discovered was essentially a paper sack lined with a Hefty trash bag. I insisted on keeping my bra and underwear on, and also that Jordan hold my hand awkwardly through the bed railing.
We stayed in silence, me fussing with my plastic wrap dress and Jordan trying to ignore that his wrist was twisted inhumanly, until the shower curtain was ripped back to reveal my new arch nemesis: Dr. Rick.
“Hey, I’m Dr. Rick!” he yelled. He had a carabineer with keys and Oakley sunglasses attached to his pocket. He bounced more than walked and shook my hand unconvincingly. He tried to initiate that bro handshake-hug scenario with Jordan, completely catching him off-guard. Do remember that Jordan’s left wrist was at this moment threaded through the metal bars holding my hand, so the bro hug became Dr. Rick hugging Jordan, who slumped towards him.
“So I hear we’re having some abdominal pain.”
“It’s not a stomach pain,” I said, pointing to below my belly button on the right side. “Is there, by any chance, a female doctor available?”
“Nope! It’s just me tonight. Well, let’s check out your stomach and see if that’s not causing it.”
He prodded at my stomach through my gown and asked if I’ve been particularly stressed with school, and, you know, everything. Friends, drama, boys. I shook my head and gripped Jordan’s hand as Dr. Rick jabbed his fingers below my navel. I shrieked wildly, while he dumbly asked "And does that hurt?"
“Alright, I’m going to need to get in there and do a pelvic.” A pelvic exam, for those readers who have never had the pleasure, is the main thrust of the regular gynecological check up. I will summarize by saying that it’s sort of like stuffing a chicken to check for cervical cancer. Dr. Rick started to crack his knuckles and stretch out his shoulders–the exact image of a roided-up asshole at my 24 Hour Fitness.
Dr. Rick told me that it was hospital policy for a female nurse to be in the room during pelvic exams performed by male doctors. He brought in Ellen, who was very clearly the calmest person in the room. It dawned on me that Dr. Rick was nervous. He was psyching himself up to the point where Jordan gave him a quick “You okay, man?”
“Nah man, feelin’ good.” This is a real statement spoken by a (questionably) real doctor in relation to examining my vagina.
Before Dr. Rick could get started, an extremely elderly phlebotomist wheeled in a cart of blood, and announced he had to take a vial or ten from my arm. He was unsuccessful at finding a vein on my arm, and was a caricature of a doddering senior citizen in need of retaking his drivers’ test. At this point, Jordan passed out while watching the phlebotomist poke at my arm for thirty seconds, so there was quite the hoopla involving finding him a chair and some orange juice. Once Jordan was resting comfortably, Ellen pityingly and gently moved the phlebotomist out of the way and quickly took some blood from my arm. The phlebotomist, perhaps embarrassed by his poor performance, berated me as I was being drained for having “VERY DIFFICULT VEINS, YOU KNOW THAT?” He truly had such a way of speaking that it felt like reading an all-caps comment on a website dedicated to debunking the moon landing.
To recap: I was experiencing an unfamiliar and searing pain in my lower abdomen. My emergency room cubicle was crowded with the following:
Dr. Rick, now jogging in place and doing a breathing exercise,
Jordan, sipping orange juice with a straw and slumped in a chair,
Ellen, the nurse, tending to Jordan,
the angry phlebotomist, counting his blood vials,
and me in a Hefty bag.
Once we got up and running with the pelvic exam, things deteriorated quickly. I won’t hesitate to tell you that Dr. Rick had to ask Ellen for directions no less than three times during my pelvic exam. At one point I asked him if he had ever seen a vagina before, either professionally or in his personal life. His answer was inconclusive, and then he dropped the speculum on the floor.
“It’s likely that this is an STI,” said Dr. Rick to my vagina. Ever since my underwear came off, Dr. Rick found himself unable to make eye contact. My blood and/or urine (I’m not sure) were sent off for testing, and Dr. Rick made a big show of taking off his gloves, sauntered over, and squatted next to me. We were almost at eye level–he was lower. Dr. Rick looked extremely proud of himself for negotiating my vagina with such aplomb.
“So, honey, my guess is chlamydia.” This seemed unlikely, but what did I know? I was just a nineteen-year-old girl with her pants off. I informed Dr. Rick that I was just recently tested at my yearly physical, and my reproductive system was tops. When he began to ask questions, I declined to answer anything about my sexual history if he couldn’t make eye contact with me. I did say that I had been monogamous for over a year so my chances of contracting an STI seemed low.
“Monogamous-monogamous, or mostly monogamous? Because a lot of times girls will think ‘oh, this didn’t count.’ Or ‘we were on a break.’”
“Seriously, Rick?” Dr. Rick didn’t like being called Rick. Rising from his squat, he puffed himself up to his full 5’8’’ and looked down at my collar bone, sympathetically.
“Well, your boyfriend isn’t necessarily cheating on you. For instance, chlamydia is transmittable through oral sex as well as intercourse, so this doesn’t mean he’s been having intercourse with other women.” Do remember that Jordan was in the room, drinking his orange juice, recovering from his near fainting episode and looking scandalized. I had about 100% confidence that Jordan was not out blowjobbing around town and about 10% confidence that Dr. Rick was a certified physician, so I thanked him for his input and asked him to leave us alone until the test results came back.
“Nope! It’s time for your ultrasound!”
“Will you be performing it?” Dr. Rick made a face like my three-year-old cousin makes to connote“icky.”
“God, no! We’re taking you over to Ivan!“ Nobody has ever been so enthusiastic to NOT deal with my vagina as Dr. Rick was in that moment.
Ivan (pronounced Yvonne) is the only medical professional in this story whose name has not been changed. My growing entourage of Jordan and Ellen accompanied me into the ultrasound room and I shimmied myself onto the table. Looking back, one of the most absurd things about the whole situation were the lengths I went to to ensure that my paper gown stayed closed as not to expose myself to the Eastern European gentleman who was about to do something to me that involved the word “transvaginal.” A lady is always demure.
Ivan explained that a probe would be inserted into my vagina so they could visualize my ovaries.
“Okay Ivan, let’s get it in there,” I said, with trademark grace. Ivan began preparing a white, plastic apparatus that must have been two feet long. Transvaginal, indeed. Completely terrified that Ivan is going to spear me like a shish kebab, I said “That thing is not going inside me.”
“Oh, it doesn’t go all the way in.” At this point, Ivan sensed my trepidation enough to offer me a comforting choice.
“Would you like to insert the probe? Or should I?” And then, he gestured at Jordan and added, ”Or should he?”
I wasn’t fully prepared to handle this. Jordan dropped his orange juice straw and I quickly responded with,
“Oh no, Ivan, go ahead, it’s all you.” This was turning out to be the most socially uncomfortable experience of my entire life.
Once Ivan was up and running with a wand in my vagina, everyone looked at the screen, except for Jordan, who politely turned away because he “didn’t want to invade my privacy.” Bless him. As it turned out, my ovaries sort of looked like the low-res pictures the Mars Rover sent back from the Red planet’s craggy surface. Ivan gave me a tour of my reproductive system, including “that’s where the baby goes.” Then Ivan paused on my right ovary and pointed to a weird little spot on the screen.
“You see this?” Ivan muttered something in his native Ukrainian and pressed a lot of buttons. Nobody will tell me what the hell is going on. I must have cancer. I was whisked back to my cubicle in the ER and told to wait for Dr. Rick. No part of my lower body was left unexposed.
Dr. Rick was the type of man who busts through every door and strikes a sort of “I’m here!” pose. I heard his bouncy footsteps before he swooshed back the curtain, cocked his hip, and told me I have had an ovarian cyst that ruptured. It turns out that this is extremely routine and common in women my age, and heals on its own.
This was hugely anti-climatic but a huge relief. Dr. Rick walked back over to my bedside and squatted again, but at least this time looked me in the eye. He informed me that ruptures like this can be caused by a number of reasons, including biking and horseback riding. He lowered his voice conspiratorially and added,
“Also, a rupture like this can be brought on by very vigorous sexual intercourse.” Then, I swear to God, he looked over at Jordan and winked. I could see that Dr. Rick was desperately holding himself back from high-fiving Jordan, who I must admit looked both horrified and slightly proud, in spite of himself.
A few years have passed since my “ovarian explosion,” as we are prone to calling it, and some details are hazy to me now. What I remember most is Jordan staying calm the whole time, and knowing how to handle a crisis. Recently, we googled what an ovarian cyst looks like (do not do this). I was sufficiently grossed out but not entirely surprised, but Jordan was oddly speechless. I asked him what he was expecting, and he said,
“I don’t know, I kind of pictured it like a mushroom cloud.”
“No, when the cyst exploded.”
“You thought you created a mushroom cloud-type explosion in my reproductive system?”
“Yes.” The man of my dreams. At the very least, he can always be counted on to find my vagina.
Photo: Shutterstock, Blingee