Girl Talk: Facing My Doctor Phobia
By the age of 16, I had been for multiple MRI’s, a sonogram, an ultrasound and five rounds of allergy testing, diagnosed with epilepsy, rediagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, hospitalized for dehydration, broke my wrist then got the chicken pox the following week, had my sinuses irrigated, a begin cyst removed from my skull, my appendix removed, and was the recipient of weekly allergy shots.
You’d think all this childhood infirmity would make visits to the doctor no big deal to me. Quite the opposite. More like, I’m severely phobic. I sweat. I shake. I cry. I whimper. Sometimes I bawl. I laugh like a mad woman. I start to panic when the blood pressure cuff Velcros around my arm. I have a full-blown anxiety attack if a needle comes out. At best, my patient behavior could be described as “babyish” at worst “freaking lunatic.”
This is on a case-by-case basis, oddly. As I’ve mentioned before, I love going to the dentist. Love it! Don’t know why. I visit the dermatologist regularly because I had skin cancer when I was 28 — basal cell carcinoma, which I handled like a champ. I go to see the gynecologist annually, because, well, I’m not screwing around with my reproductive health. But a physical? Oh, I haven’t received one in almost 10 years. I haven’t had a full blood workup done in a decade. (I hope my mom isn’t reading this right now, because if she is, she just passed out.)
I mention all of this because yesterday I went to see my gynecologist, who handles my theatrics as well as could be expected. When she asked me if I wanted to look at my cervix, I declined. [Ami and I see the same gyno. I have seen my cervix twice now! — Amelia]
“I’m squeamish,” I said.
“It’s easy to ignore what we don’t look at,” she countered.
From there, she proceeded to shame me (in the most kind way possible, she really is a great doctor) about my “lack of interest” in my health. Specifically, in addressing the digestive issues and possible food allergies, which I’ve been struggling with for more than 15 years.
“Have you been to see the GI doctor yet?” she asked.
“Um, no. The year got away from me,” I joked.
“Because you wouldn’t want to get better, would you?” she quipped sarcastically.
“I guess I’m just used to it.”
“That’s called denial,” my gyno said. “Would you be interested to know that digestive problems can affect your fertility?”
I was, in fact, very interested to know that. No doctor had ever told me that. But I guess it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. The last time I saw a GI doctor, I was 19 and wasn’t even in the universe of thinking about my fertility. I had never thought of avoiding the doctor as being in denial. But I guess she was right. Denial is a defense mechanism. But for what? What was I defending against? The fear presented itself quickly:
I’m afraid that something awful will be wrong with me and I’ll die.
I didn’t say this out loud, because I knew immediately that it was irrational. How existential of me to be afraid of death. Sigh. How cliche. I thought of a Dear Sugar column about a girl who is afraid she’ll die young of breast cancer because that’s what happened to her mother. Cheyl Strayed’s response was applicable to me:
“There’s a crazy lady living in your head. I hope you’ll be comforted to hear that you’re not alone. Most of us have an invisible inner terrible someone who says all sorts of nutty stuff that has no basis in truth. Sometimes when I’m all pretzeled up inside and my own crazy lady is nattering on, I’ll stop and wonder where she got her information. I’ll ask her to reveal her source. I’ll demand some proof.”
I left the gyno’s office with a list of referrals It’s time to challenge my invisible inner terrible person who, apparently, is still shell shocked from a childhood full of ailments. She’s afraid. And that’s understandable. But the past is over. I’m an adult now and it’s time to take the crazy lady living inside my head to the doctor and confirm that she’s healthy.