Reader alert: If you are a woman under 60, you might not want to read this blog post. It contains information that will probably depress you. If you are a man, you will definitely want to avoid this blog. It contains, as they say, TMI (too much information).
Yesterday, I had what will probably turn out to be my last visit to a gynecologist. Showing up for my annual check-up with my Tampa doctor – a referral from my previous GYN who retired two years ago – I planned to tell her that I was spending more time in North Carolina than in Florida and would be finding another doctor there in the near future.
After my examination, I met Dr. McCarthy in her office to ask a couple of questions. At the last minute, I added one that I hadn’t planned to ask. “In your opinion, do I NEED a gynecologist in North Carolina since I have a primary care doctor?” I expected her to say yes and give me reasons why it was a good idea. Instead, she smiled and said … “No, I don’t think so. You’re turning 65 this year, so you’re good to go!”
Good to go where? To the great beyond?
I have had a gynecologist for 50 years. First, an intimidating male doctor during my teenaged-years, then my first female doctor (thank god!) in Pittsburgh during my 20’s and early 30’s, followed by a female doctor in Tampa who took care of me for 25 years and managed me through the horrors of menopause and surgery. Lastly, here was Dr. McCarthy, a young, efficient woman of about 45 with a nice smile and, obviously, a no-bull**** approach with her patients.
So why, I asked, was I good to go? Well, she explained, you don’t have much left inside to become cancerous. Oh, yeah … I guess that makes sense. But, she added, even women with their “stuff” still in place are generally advised that they don’t need pap smears or exams after age 65. “The conventional wisdom in the medical community” she continued “is that cervical cancers take about 20 years to mature. So, well, a woman would be 85… and you know….”. Her sentence tapered off. Big smile.
But, I countered, many women live well beyond that! “Yeah” she laughed “that’s what a lot of my older patients say!”
Is there anything I’ll still need to do? I asked. Just get your yearly mammogram and a breast exam from your primary doctor, she said.
So, after 50 years of having a doctor specifically dealing with my women’s “stuff” … having an exam and cancer test each year, talking about sex, hormones, bladders and more … I no longer need one. Just like that I’m good to go.
The good news, I was thinking as I shook her hand to leave, is that I’m healthy and happy. I should enjoy the freedom, right? No more yearly office visits. No more intrusive exams. No more awkward discussions. No more co-pays.
But I have to admit that I felt a lot older when I walked out of her office than when I walked in. As I passed through the waiting room, a young teenage girl with bright blue streaks in her hair, arm tattoos and a nose ring waited with her mother for her appointment. She’s just starting out on her 50 year journey, I thought.
She doesn’t know it now, but this young woman will become a spouse and possibly a mother, and then a middle age woman with hot flashes, and then an AARP member and will eventually pass another teenager in an office as she leaves her gynecologist for the last time …
Good to go!