I went for an annual OBGYN exam earlier this week. I’d been putting it off for nearly six months, which is highly unlike me, as I am disciplined, perfunctory, steely-minded about routine check-ups. I consider preventative care a gift to my future self and my family. I go with the hope of catching things early, asking the questions that keep me up at night, and moving through life with fewer question marks. I wrote earlier this year that fixing my teeth “made space for better things,” and I feel the same way about routine/maintenance health care: a clean bill of health, or at least a diagnosis, clears my mind for more important things. But in this case, I’d disliked the first OBGYN I’d found after moving from NYC to Bethesda and had let myself go slack on the search for a replacement — a feint only thinly veiling my dread.
As with most things, the anticipation was far worse than the experience, and I felt weightless after I completed the appointment. But in the waiting room, and then as I frantically changed into my robe (as I always do, under the persistent misapprehension that the doctor will somehow barge in before I’ve changed — this, despite the fact that it has never happened, the doctors always knock and usually keep you waiting for too long, and it’s not as if modesty matters anyway given proximity to the impending exam), I found myself leaden with nerves. During the very routine questions the aide asked while tapping away proficiently on her keyboard to record my answers, I almost burst into tears twice: first, when asked about my pregnancies (three) and deliveries (two) and second, when asked about cancer in my family. I have spent so much time thinking about these matters, but somehow, the questions flew over the battlements and lodged in the tenderest and most vulnerable slope of my heart. I pretended to cough as I galvanized myself, rallying my wits about me, answering as simply and unemotionally as I could. But there are some questions that simply cannot be answered with a straight face, no matter how much time has passed.
After, I sat in my car with the air conditioning blasting and collected myself. I looked in the mirror and understood at once the shape of my earlier dread:
It was not immaturity or indolence that had led me to duck —
It was heartbreak and hurt I had not wanted to visit with.
And who would? I murmured, mothering myself, giving myself a tiny squeeze. You did great, I added, surprised when these almost half-baked words of reassurance seemed to gild themselves in mid-air, settling warmly, snugly across me. As I sat in that car, offering myself a soft landing, I was aware that I was in the presence of a small and peculiar kind of transcendence. Not the kind that Emerson wrote about, not the variety that changes the soul, not the sort that moves mountains or galvanizes communities or drops people to their knees. No, this was palm-sized and personal and so wafer-thin you might swat it away if you aren’t careful. Somehow, a tiny mercy had floated from the divine down to the doctor’s office parking lot, and I had been still enough to catch it.
This, it occurred to me, is prayer. The real kind: quiet, but answering.
+On my mother visiting Mary’s house.
+On turning 34: “I don’t know, and that’s OK.”
+Boys floafers still available, but selling fast. I like the green and brown options.
+Into this versatile $110 dress in either the brown or the black — both great, chic staples you could pair with heels or sandals.
+I bought my husband this water bottle for the stationery bike but liked it so much I slowly co-opted it. Just ordered myself my own in the pretty pink color.
+These colorful glasses are so chic. I rounded up all my favorite kitchen/dining finds in one place here. A lot of these would make incredible purchases for Father’s Day if your dad/spouse love to cook! I actually just bought the glass cake dome I shared on that list because it was sold out forever! Mr. Magpie gave me the matching cake stand for Christmas but we’d been waiting for a dome restock. Can’t wait for it to arrive.
+Fun Bottega-inspired bag for under $50.
+Been hearing really good things about these $25 running shorts.
+Another fitness find in my cart: this twist-front Lululemon tee.
+These dramatic pants are SO GOOD.
+My kind of celebration dress.
+ICYMI: so many of us have ordered this hyped shave oil. Cannot wait to try!
+Just ordered this clutch organizer for my closet. I have one area that really needs some help in the organization department.
+Darling little statement bag.
+A great everyday tank at a great price. Love the stripe!
+Love the look of these casual everyday shorts for men. Perfect length.
+This colorblocked backpack is so cute in the primary colors for a little boy!
+These strawberry shorts for a little girl — too cute!
+Love this oversized flat heart necklace — under $50!
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8 thoughts on “A Tiny Mercy.”
Such white coat syndrome here. It’s such an intimate appointment and sharing such personal information with a medical assistant that you do not have a relationship with feels so awkward. I know they are doing their job and it’s important, but feels so uncomfortable. Before moving south, my last OB/GYN appointment at an esteemed Boston practice the doctor said how is your leukemia, I responded that I didn’t know I had leukemia. He apologized and skipped over question with confusion and said so your mom had colon cancer and I responded no she hasn’t. He threw his hands in air and said this is the wrong chart. It was so incredibly stressful and ruined the appointment. The medical questions I had for the doctor fell by wayside because all I wanted to do was leave.
Oh my gosh! That would completely throw me for a loop. So sorry to hear that!
Yes, it’s such a strange experience. On the one hand so routine but on the other hand so invasive. You really nailed that tension here!
Oh, Jen, I can totally relate! I have terrible white coat syndrome even though I work in a healthcare-adjacent field. It is perfectly natural to be nervous at the doctor’s – the important part is that we go to our appointments and that we follow their advice.
Funny story: I frequently work myself into a tizzy at my annual OB/GYN appointment, and something odd happens every few years. One year I sweat through the gown, which was so incredibly embarrassing but also funny, and, another year, the doctor actually DID barge in before I had fully changed into the robe, hahah. It was obviously a complete accident, and we had a good laugh. Strangely, I am now more comfortable after she walked in on me changing. It’s almost as if the “worst” has happened and I know I survived 🙂
I love this! I also appreciate that you’re fully aware heading into these appointments that you WILL have anxiety/nerves. It almost makes it more bearable when you can zoom out in that way. “This is just the nerves talking, just keep on moving, etc.”
Thanks for the solidarity!
Wow. This post hit home. I know just how you feel because I had a similar experience last month. I have the BRCA gene, and my mom and her two sisters all had and died from breast or ovarian cancer. I’ve known I had the gene for 10 years, but was able to put off actually dealing with it (other than monitoring) while I was in my “family planning” years. Now I’m 40, we’re done having kids (I wanted 1 more but my husband won that battle) and I have to take the difficult steps of having multiple surgeries to help prevent my risk of having cancer. This year has been fraught with multiple appointments, tough conversations, tough decisions, and scary surgeries and it’s wreaking havoc on me emotionally! I finally broke down in my car after an appointment with the plastic surgeon – I don’t think I’ve cried in years before that moment. It was a breaking point. Yet I keep having to remind myself what a good position I’m in: being able to take preventative steps, and that by being in NYC I have proximity to the #2 cancer hospital in the world.
Anyway…all that to say that I GET the emotional toll drs appointments can have. I’m glad you gave yourself the space to feel it and acknowledge it.
Oh Rachel! What an intense process for you — I’m so inspired by your determination to move through all of those challenging decisions, appointments, procedures. You are clearly taking good and serious preventative care of yourself, though I know it must be difficult. Sending you love!! Hope you are giving yourself tons of space to feel everything, too.
I relate to this so much- I hate, hate HATE my annual exam and also tend to nudge it forward a few months every year. The tenderness of some of those questions juxtaposed with the blank stare and clacking keyboard strokes of the nurse/assistant asking the questions never fails to throw me for a major loop. It’s not for lack of caring, of course- if you asked dozens of people the same questions 20 times a day, every day, you’d be straight with your delivery too.
Exactly, EXACTLY. It’s also always strange to have such an intimate exam and then to follow it up with small talk with the doctor. “Summer plans?” AHHH. It’s just whiplash! Very disorienting.