The World’s Most Popular Virus

January 17, 2013

I sit on my gynecologist’s metal table with the requisite paper over my lap, and catch a reflection of myself in the glass-framed, generic art print on the wall.  In utter absurdity to the situation, I look great. Arguably lovely. I don’t know, it’s just a good hair day, I guess, my eyeliner held up well despite all the fought tears on the subway, and I’m fully clothed from the waist up, such that this particular glimpse doesn’t broadcast that I’m about to have my cervix snipped.

Colposcopy.  If you are female and know the meaning of the word, the sphincter of your vagina probably just seized a little. If you are unacquainted with the procedure, let me fill you in on my last dance with the devil.

There comes a time in 50-75% of sexually active females’ lives, when you get a call from your OB/GYN, about a week after a Pap Smear, informing you that the test has come back abnormal, and she needs you to come in, as soon as possible, for a colposcopy. My doctor (whom – I should note right off the bat lest my snark get too heavy – I love) moves appointments for me, books me a week later, tells me to take 2 Advil before I come in and lastly instructs me, “don’t panic.”

So I’m sitting there looking surprisingly adorable from the waist up, paper clad from the waist down. I had considered shaving before I came in – you know, clean up the edges a little – but then I thought… who the hell am I trying to impress? The doc comes in and we get down to business. She puts the usual speculum inside me, but ratchets it up to what feels like 3 times its normal width. There is poking and prodding, cue-tipping, looking, peeking, peering. There’s discussion with her assistant about whether or not her sister-in-law can come work for them, idle chat echoing around my birth canal. There is a second speculum inserted into the first speculum – two for the price of one! – and the bizarre and horrible feeling of a swab probing beyond my cervix. There is talk of “infection between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock,” and I resist the urge to ask what the happy hour specials are.

Then the real fun begins – the biopsy. The doc gives me “fair warning” which consists of “1, 2, 3 – pinch.” The first one isn’t bad, but she apologizes and says she took too small a sample. The second one… is bad. Very bad. I gasp. She admits this one was too large. It’s at this point that I can’t hold it together anymore, all the breathing exercises I know have failed me, and tears stream down my face. My doctor is all apologies – but then she’s all apologies when she sticks her finger in my ass during a routine pelvic, so I’m used to it. In between assuring her it’s ok, I take tissues from the assistant and some part of me that isn’t going through this hell notices how beautiful the assistant’s skin is. That part of me makes a note to tell her that later. The doc finally gets a mama-bear size sample and the nightmare is over. She swabs some more – antibacterial somethingorother, perhaps a coagulant, fairy dust and unicorn sweat, I don’t know, and finally removes the metallic duck-beast.

She tells me not to sit up right away so as not to get faint, and to “put my legs up.”  What she means is to stretch them out on the table she has since adjusted, but what I hear is lift them into the air like a giant 31-year-old baby waiting to be changed. It’s hours later before I realize my mistake and retrospectively cringe.

We talk a little about when test results will be back, what treatment options could be, and she tells me for the next 10 days while I heal, no tampons, no baths, no swimming and, of course, no sex.  She tells me to take as long as I need before I get up, get dressed, and pay $1,000 for the privilege of feeling like I’ve been fucked by a gigantic man with a rusted nail on the end of his dick.

She closes the door behind her and I finally let the tears go. I wish I could say I’m just crying from the physical pain, but I’ve been in therapy long enough to know I’m not; I’m bathing in a cocktail of sadness, fear, anger and, worst of all, shame.

I know, you guys. I know. I know it’s practically impossible in this day and age to be a sexually active, 30-something female and not contract HPV. I get it. I know I’m supposed to join the forums on Jezebel and be willing to openly talk about the STI. I know – especially since this is my SECOND TIME with all this – that I will be fine, and that my likelihood of developing cervical cancer is low. It’s just that… maybe it’s from an unfortunately Catholic upbringing, but I can’t help feeling like I’m being punished by some unseen force in the universe for letting a couple guys into my life (and my vagina) since my last clean Pap six months ago.

And aside from the unnecessary feelings of shame, I can’t help but feel plain old pissed off that in 2013 we still have no way of testing men for HPV, treating men for HPV, or preventing them from carrying/spreading HPV.  Or maybe I’m just angry that I’ve undergone great pain, expense, and emotional stress, and whoever gave it to me – which, where the virus can lay dormant, could have been any partner in my sexual history – need not do a thing, need not undergo a test, need not concern himself in any way.

I eventually get up, get dressed, exhaust my credit card on the experience, and forget to tell the assistant about her skin.  I’m too concerned with slowly walking back to the subway, and making my way to my computer so I can write this.  I write this partially to find the humor, partially to process it all, and partially to let some other woman out there, who gets that phone call from her Gyno, know that she isn’t alone, in any of it: the fear, the frustration, the anger, the sadness, and even the unnecessary feeling of shame.

Because even if it’s unnecessary and unfounded, you should still know you’re not the only one who’s felt it.



  1. I love you. I love your bravery. I love your smarts. Proud you are my friend. Grateful you shared your story. Even more grateful for brave long talks under Brooklyn stars on a summer night and the sweetness of intimacy within friendships with other women. xoxo!

    • I think about that night – that whole week – regularly. Love you.

  2. Nor are you alone. I got this post in my inbox just a couple of days after my own experience of the same. Only you could find somehow the humor in it. Thanks. (BTW, my results came back fine. Hope yours did too.)

  3. […] for vacation: my boss’s kid started chemo, an “It’s Complicated” came to an abrupt end, my cervix was medically violated, an acute SneezeBeast invaded my respiratory system, I injured my calf and couldn’t exercise, I […]

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