Friday, 27 February 2009

Legs Akimbo LIL - the PAP test Queen....

Look away now guys - the following content may gross you out as it contains medical information, a visit to the doctor - which we all know that anyone of the male gender does his utmost to avoid and would rather have his eyes poked out with a red hot poker - and graphic descriptions of a Menopausaloldbag in a compromising position; a vision guaranteed to make the population rip out their eyeballs in shock.

There was nothing untoward in my compromising position. It was a medical necessity, lying there ankles together, knees apart and trying not to meet the gaze of the nurse as she inserted the speculum - several inches of stainless steel that felt like it has just been extracted from the freezer - and shoved well up into places only my husband has seen of late; actually that's not entirely true, I think the nurse went where no man has gone before because I am sure I felt the swab tickle my tonsils.

Now, as any woman will tell you, a smear test is at best a mildly embarrassing event in her life, and for others it is excruciatingly so - it shouldn't be an excuse to forego it - remember the old campaign message a few years ago? 'Don't die of embarrassment ladies'. Even so, I certainly don't open the reminder letter from my local PCT and go "whoopee, time to show off the innards of the old wedding tackle to someone I've never met before". I mean there you are having intimate relations with a stranger, a someone who doesn't even have the decency to give you a kiss on the lips first before rooting around in places he/she really ought not to be. It's all very surreal you know. And with that in mind, for about 30 seconds I think about making an appointment, shudder, then surreptitiously file the reminder on a pile on my imaginary to-do-list. I've done that for the last four years. Stupid really, as I am scheduled for a test every 12 months as I had precancerous cells on the last result.

On that occasion, I won a little visit to my nearest hospital to have a loop diathermy done on the old cervix. Now what a wonderful event that is for a woman to enjoy. Two nurses chatting away to you about anything you care to jabber on about so as to distract you from the rather odd burning smell permeating the room as the doc zaps those precancerous little sucker cells with his mighty laser beam. To add another dimension to the procedure, there is a screen next to you, showing your cervix in the starring role for all in the room to see. Interesting, I've never been on telly before but one of the most intimate parts of me now has. But I don't suppose anyone would recognise me walking down the street though unless I was sans knickers and Legs Akimbo Lil-like in the gutter somewhere and before you ask it, nope, not managed to do that one yet. To be fair, the film of the procedure wasn't broadcast on any terrestrial T.V. stations so I guess my anonymity remains intact. My viewing public was restricted to a couple of nurses and a male doc wearing a hard hat just in case at my age any more of my body collapsed towards him, braining him in the process as he played a medical version of space invaders. My footage is probably doing the rounds as a horror movie somewhere out there in the ether, if you come across it, you can't see me smiling.

Do you know the silly thing about all of this? Up until they found pre-cancerous cells, I was a regular good girl and attended the clinic every three years for my test. The wait for the results was always a semi anxious time but I never lost sleep worrying about it. Now, when I should know better, and get straight down there, I'm much too reticent to make that appointment. Finding the pre-cancerous cells has had the opposite effect to how it should have turned out, i.e. making me ultra efficient in booking those appointments straight away. In my defence though, I've had such a bad time with the menopause and without going into grossly horrid details, until recently, was rarely in a position to have the test done, if one gets my drift.

Scary and embarrassing as it may be though, no experience can match the one that happened to a colleague of my cousin. Rushing home from a nightshift in a busy emergency housing association, she bathed, dried herself off but decided at the last minute, that for extra freshness, she'd spray some antiperspirant over the area in question. Realising she'd run out, a quick raid was performed on her teenage daughter's room to grab her aerosol can. Running terribly late, she pressed the trigger, squished the contents rapidly around her target area, pulled on her knickers and got dressed. Feeling mightily pleased with herself for arriving at the surgery with minutes to spare, she happily followed the nurse into her private office, undressed as instructed and within minutes had assumed the position. Minutes later, the doctor entered the room.

"Hello Mrs A, I'm Dr B", he said smiling at her as he snapped on his latex gloves. "Now just relax for me dear", he instructed as he picked up the speculum, ready to insert. "Oh for the love of God", he stuttered in astonishment, stepping backwards. He shot her a quizzical look before clearing his throat, raising his eyebrow and carrying on with the procedure.

Wondering what had caused such a reaction, Mrs A was a tad uneasy as to what the doctor might have seen. She decided not to ask and thought perhaps he was just a smidgen eccentric and possibly she'd ask the nurse after the doctor had gone. She didn't have to ask however, because when she rose to get dressed, pulling on her knickers, Mrs A was shocked to see the gusset full of glitter particles. Blushing profusely, she realised that in her rush to deodorize she had unwittingly decorated her pubic hairdo with a layer of glitter spray that her daughter used when she dressed up to go nightclubbing. Mortified with shame, Mrs A finished dressing and left the surgery at the speed of light, leaving all and sundry behind her in her wake. Clearly, she reasoned, the doctor thought she was either demented, or on the make for dolling up her nether regions especially for the examination.

Jokes aside though, a young celebrity mother, Jade Goody, is now terminally ill from widespread secondary cancers that eminated from a cervical cancer that went untreated. News reports say this is because she ignored repeated letters requesting her to return to the surgery for further tests and treatment. There but for the grace of God go many others for it is so easy to say manyana, manyana. She now has weeks to live. She has been the subject of much press coverage and whether it is morally right to cover every detail of her deterioration. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that situation, and you may have an opinion on it, she is dying and will be leaving behind two young sons. Her rationale for living out her death in the public eye is to secure as much money for her sons' future. Her childhood with an addict mother had been tragic by all accounts but she seems determined to be a loving mother and give her children the choices and education she was never granted; as a Big Brother contestant she was vilified by the press for a lack of education but now that she is dying she is a hero to them - oh hail the fickle press and public. I am not a fan of reality television shows or celebrity where people are famous for being famous, and Jade falls into this category. Tragically though, she has transcended that moniker and through her celebrity, done something truly magnificent. It seems God had much bigger plans for this young woman. The general consensus by those in the know, is that many more women are clamouring to their surgeries to have a smear test done. Opinion on the constant coverage of her death has polarised the population into two camps, those who support her, those who condemn her and leave some astonishingly cruel comments on the newspaper online message boards. I am pragmatic about both viewpoints. I believe in live and let live but perhaps now I believe in die and let die. What harm does it do to let her die and the story to be told in a manner of her chosing? I wouldn't want it for me, but I defend the right of a dying woman to have the choice. Perhaps it's a small price to pay for the good she is doing.

I am deeply moved by her plight and I admit, that it is instrumental in goading me into finally making that long overdue appointment. I, like many others, may just be very glad that we did and for that, Jade Goody's legacy is something much bigger, much more important and much more enduring than fifteen minutes of fame on a reality show. The nature of her death, how it came about and the message it conveys to women of all ages, backgrounds, creeds and cultures may just be a gift of life from an unfortunate young woman who's life ended prematurely and so publicly.

I don't want to watch her die anymore than I would want to watch anyone else die. I want privacy and dignity for her in her painful and heartbreaking journey. But it is her life and her death, and her decision. I have an off button if I don't care to rubberneck at her last moments on earth.

May the road rise up to meet you Jade Goody......and whilst I'm at it, my heartfelt thanks.