As I’m renewing my quest for affordable healthcare as of late, I felt it was an appropriate time to post this essay I wrote a little while back. Grand.
The Inside Scoop
I have to get my cervix frozen.
Apparently, this is something that “lots of women” go through. But when I was a little girl, I don’t remember the conversation where my mother sat me down and told me when I was older my body would go through some changes, and this magical thing would make me able to bring life into the world by sharing love physically with a very special man, and of course, that act, regardless of safety, was statistically likely to also result in me getting a virus that causes, if lucky, genital warts, and if not, abnormal, potentially precancerous cells, the latter for which I’d have to get to get poked and snipped and frozen and scraped out like Mr. Freeze’s jack-o-lantern.
Being young and in your twenties, the one thing you generally have, while not money, is your health. You also have your looks, and that makes you more likely to fuck a lot of people. As I listen to NPR, I’ve heard some ghastly STD statistics about our charming locale: of all counties in the country, LA has the highest occurrence of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea—the surliest duo since Rocksteady and Bebop of the Ninja Turtles. Now, I’m the kind of girl who never got detention and nearly hyperventilates at the sight of a cop car in her rearview mirror, so I generally don’t play it too fast and loose with the safety rules, and the idea of getting a sexual disease makes me feel like I could literally turn my body inside out like a disgusted Popple. But as the statistics show, there appears to be a tendency in Los Angeles for people to fuck like bunnies, and just try asking a bunny to wrap it up: he’ll always give you the line about it “not feeling as good”. Despite all that, I tried my best to behave admirably, always got tested, and had already gotten the HPV vaccine after realizing during my senior year of college the reality of how prevalent the virus was. I was on the beach in Puerto Rico with my two best friends when the practical illustration of “80% of the population” manifested itself. As we floated easily in tide, chatting about boys, it somehow came up that, of us three, two of us had gotten the virus and had to get warts lasered off her labia. Two out of three ain’t bad.
But I was convinced I would escape those odds, with my precautions and paranoia. So naturally, I was confused and dismayed when I was called in after my annual checkup due to an abnormal pap. Let me take a moment now to establish the following: I hate being a woman. It is what I am, and I’ve had to reconcile with it, but I hate the shit I have to deal with that guys don’t. For one, HPV isn’t even tested for in men, because they basically all have it at some point, and it just “cures itself”. But in a woman, untreated, it can become cancer. Even if it comes from a guy you love, as we learn in the current HPV commercials. What guy ever got cancer from sex? Doesn’t that seem like some biblical punishment for female sexuality? And sure, you have morning wood and facial hair and nocturnal emissions, but at least you can see your genitals. And you don’t have to worry about pregnancy scares, hormonal psychotic episodes, gaining 20 pounds by switching birth control, or that an antibiotic you take for a sinus infection’s going to throw off your pH (what does that even mean!!) and cause a yeast infection. And you don’t have to go for an annual checkup during which a stranger digs around in that shadowy mystery zone of child creation and potential cancers, which always ends with the sensation of giving birth to a robot. (If you have never experienced the cold metal touch of a lubricated speculum, then I can help you no further in the understanding of that image.)
But I digress. The specialist for my follow up exam was a friendly male obstetrician who, impressed with my Ivy League degree and nice-looking face, seemed to suggest that I date his son. I suppose I should have been reassured: he was confident enough that my abnormal-celled cervix would pop out genius babies in due time. He informed me that, despite my vaccine, yeah, I had cervical dysplasia caused by the Human Papillomavirus, and yeah, it was from sex. Gross. So I now had to count myself among the many sexually diseased of Los Angeles. Which made me not want to have sex, ever again, and triggered a bout of flipping through my mental Rolodex, placing a deathwish on all you DIRTY FUCKS. But he said, it’s not a big deal, plenty of women go through it and are perfectly fine, it’s only a concern if you do nothing about it early on. So they scheduled my cryosurgery to Mr. Freeze my inners and get me right as babymaking rain again.
It didn’t feel like “not a big deal” to me, so I called my Mom. I tend to assume my Mom has the answer for anything, especially for that which is vagina-oriented. I guess as I came from hers, I figure she should intuitively know what’s up. But when I weepily confessed the doctor’s verdict of HPV to her, she became strangely silent and then said in an awkwardly measured tone, “well, I hope in the future that you’ll be more careful about who you sleep with.” Oh snap. I was already feeling dirty and awful enough, and now my own mother was calling me a ho. And I’m only kind of a ho. Considering that HPV can be transmitted while wearing condoms and even without having sex, it’s the least whoreish of the STDs. She should have been congratulating me on not having AIDS, which is pretty much the best thing I’ve achieved in my years here in LA. She later apologized, saying she just didn’t know how to react to the information. Well, that made two of us.
The doctor, it turns out, was right: while I had never heard of colposcopies for abnormal paps or cryosurgeries or any of that, nearly two out of three women (ain’t bad) that I talked to had either gone through something like this or known someone who had. I guess it’s just not something we treasure discussing. It is, after all, something that threatens this fundamental part of our identity, that thing that puts the woah in woman. How are you supposed to feel when that turns on you? Goes from the center of potential life to the potential death of your own life? And because of what? Some random virus that hardly even registers on the male health map, but that we can get from them. A friend of mine told me that she had had such aggressive irregular cell growth they had to use the “loop”, which is like a fiery lasso that removes an epic amount of lady insides. And she had contracted HPV without ever having had sex at all. See, Mom? HPVirgin.
The cryosurgery was not a big deal. Let’s face it, I don’t even know what’s happening down there half the time anyway, and this was nothing new, just more nonsense, but with a bigass tank of gas used to blast the icy winds of a surgical instrument. When no one was in the room, I took a cellphone picture of the gas tank, my new boyfriend. Kind of the strong silent type. Within a matter of minutes, I was out and back in my apartment with the rest of the day free to watch Netflix, drink beer and meditate on my malfunctioning womanhood. My mom sent me a bouquet and a teddy bear, whom I call Cryo. Moms do always eventually know what to do, even if not always what to say right away.
With time, I reconciled with the experience, and believed what my doctors and these other women had told me, that this was just yet another of those unexpected female burdens, but that it wasn’t really a big deal, as it was caught, and monitored and handled. Lots of women go through it. Though ironically, three months later, with all my youth and physical fitness, I was denied health insurance because of my abnormal pap. So I guess I am young. And poor. With my looks. But no longer considered healthy, along with “lots of women”. Yeah, this blows.