pap smears

page updated: 30-Mar-2004

I am not too fond of Pap smears, but I think they are kind of funny. Pap is another word I don't like very much. In most all other areas of life I am very agreeable and enjoy nearly everything, but vagina-related words seem to suffer from gross syllable combinations. I didn't even like the word pap when I had only heard it used to describe a thin gruel.

A very public health oriented female doctor explained the importance of Pap smears to me, using slogans like "No one should die of cervical cancer in today's world." A very public health oriented clinic volunteer explained the procedure involved in a Pap smear to me, and she was very accurate.

The doctor performing The Smear will have you take your pants and underwear off (I take my socks off too for some reason) and sit on the exam table with a disposable sheet over your lap. When you are ready, the Dr has you lie down and put your heels up in some conveniently but unglamourously placed stirrups. This puts your vagina on display for the Dr to examine.

A good Pap tip is to let your knees flop even more unglamourously apart, and breath deeply to relax. This makes everything much more comfortable.

As the exam is actually of your cervix, a speculum gets involved. This instrument is shaped a little bit like a tubular L, with one arm fitting into the vagina and one forming a down-pointing handle for the doctor. The speculum is in two pieces that slide vertically apart and lock, to hold the vagina open so the Dr can see through it to the cervix. They use a little light.

The speculum puts some pressure on the vagina, which is slightly uncomfortable but has never been painful or even very irritating for me. A Pap smear is quite a brief procedure anyway.

Using a flat wooden tool, the doctor collects a few cells from the cervix (yes by scraping). This again feels slightly uncomfortable, but there really aren't many nerves in the upper 2/3 of the vagina and all that I have felt is pressure from the instruments. The collected cells are sent to a lab and examined for irregularities and cancer.

Often I get a bimanual pelvic exam done at the same time as a Pap smear, which is supposed to be done once a year. During this exam, the doctor inserts two gloved fingers into my vagina and taps my belly to feel my ovaries, then pronounces them healthy and I can put my pants back on. It amazes me what doctors can feel inside my belly.

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