Warning: this post may contain too much information

Apropos of… well, apropos of me having had one this morning and now needing a cushion to sit down, which is just the perfect round-off to a truly dodgy week and excellent justification for the amount of alcohol I hurled down my neck last night, I would like to talk to you about smear tests.

[sound of feet rushing for the exit]

That's fair.

I read this article a while ago (presumably 17 April last year) and, even though the author is talking specifically about the requirements of women with a history of mental health problems, learning difficulties and / or sexual abuse, a lot of what she says is, I think, generally relevant.

Smear tests are horrible. Everyone knows this. Everyone seems to have their own personal horror story (my own: first test, at 21, done at the university health centre by a nurse so sadistic I was in genuine pain for two full days afterwards) and yet the official position of health professionals is that it's fine. It's all fine. Totally standard, why aren't you in here on the dot the moment your next one's due? Tush tush, stop your female grizzling. Don't you know that "most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable"?

I presume they play everything down because they want to encourage women to keep coming for screening – it is, after all, important. Or perhaps doctors genuinely have become blasé about it; yes, yes, screening, uncomfortable, patient production line, whatever. But once you've had one smear you know exactly what's coming, and I'd appreciate a bit more honesty. Rather than patting us on the heads and expecting us to behave like good girls, or chastising us loudly in the surgery, it might be helpful to drop the official line and keep it real, bitches. Yes, it's horrible. Yes, we appreciate you might be a bit scared. Yes, we wish there was a nicer way of doing it. But we promise, we will do everything we can to make sure we don't hurt you, we will help you relax rather than just instructing you to relax, and we will definitely, absolutely, not treat you with the same brusqueness when you've got your pudenda pointed at the ceiling as you've experienced in the haranguing to get you there.

It's a thought.

And now, just to make things worse, there's five minutes of form-filling to be done before you even get round to whipping off your knickers and there's a new initiative where you have to be offered the opportunity for a "chaperone" during the procedure. A chaperone! Holy hell in a bucket, I'm not sure I can think of anything I want less than another stranger in the room – do they have to stand at the business end so they can check nothing untoward's going on? (Oh, if only I knew a health services researcher onto whom I can pass such experiences…)


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