It's cervical smear time again. Yay! Just like Christmas except with less tinsel and very little carol-singing. The NHS surgeries here do not play when it comes to making sure all women in the target age range receive regular smear tests. So far, they've sent me two letters and two text messages. The letters were very polite, gentle reminders. The texts were succinct and more urgent. I don't know what the next step is, but I wouldn't be surprised if I opened the door to find two nurses out there with a net and a tranquilizer gun going "Don't make a muthafkr have to come in there."
As an activist for women's health, I have no excuse. Well, actually, I have two. But they're really lame ones:
1) I keep trying to time the appointment so it's not too close to menstruation. Then I breeze on past the ideal window and before you know it, I'm close to menstruation again.
2) As someone who has previously visited only private gynaecologists, I cannot bring myself around to the idea of having a nurse poking around in my lady garden. (Those who are going to run in here yelling at me about proper nomenclature for genitalia can just step off right now. I know I have a VAGINA. It's hard to miss.) Public health nurses are great. In my experience, they're often a sight more knowledgeable about the important things than many doctors are. But the nurse I usually encounter at my surgery is seriously militant. She strikes me as one of these people who has no time with fanciful notions like pain or fear. And the idea of her scraping around in my cervix is not a comforting one.
I know what I'll do, of course. I'll do what I always do with medical professionals who are too busy snapping gloves and scribbling notes to look their patients in the eye and listen. I'm going to slow down the mad rush of a pre-exam consult long enough to ask what tool they use (my last doctor in Barbados used a brush that felt like nothing at all; seriously nothing. I had to check to make sure she actually had something to send to the lab and hadn't just been down there flipping through an Economist or something), find out when I'm going to get the results back and how, and make sure I have someone to discuss them with if necessary. But I had been putting all this off because sometimes you get exhausted from having to fight with people, especially people who are about to take a spatula to your uterus.
I'm not the only one who's looking to get the regular smear test out of the way. Ever since the passion of Jade Goody began in the national and international media, the demand for cervical smears has increased by one fifth in the UK. Jade's experience has brought out lots of supporters, many wearing T-shirts to show their solidarity, and as I looked at their various messages, I suddenly got this flashback of an incident that I had clearly been repressing because of the sheer rage it inspired.
In Barbados for Crop Over one year, I saw a moron at a party wearing a shirt that said, "I Eat More Pussy Than Cervical Cancer". Yes, we get it, dolts over at T-shirt Hell: we're not with the cool kids. I'm not even going to do the "I have an irreverent sense of humour too but.." thing, because the people are just summarily stupid and that's all there is to be said. This particular moron on that night was standing by the bar looking all smug and clever, clearly waiting for people (read: women) to come over and congratulate him (read: suck his penis) over how talented he must be to wear an idiotic shirt designed by some other idiot who was not he. He even used this in his rebuttal, when I pointed out that anyone wearing his shirt might not want to drink that hard, and risk killing the one remaining brain cell he might have used to find his way home. He was trapped. Foxy as I was looking on that night, he couldn't use the handy, old "you're just an ugly old bag who needs a man" defence. So he resorted to the "I didn't make the shirt!" defence, which is so glaringly stupid I have to admit it threw me for a second or two.
I didn't bother too much longer with him, realizing from both his wardrobe choice and the vacant look in his eyes that this was a losing game. But I cannot deny that something caught in my throat when I saw the shirt, in this place so teeming with beautiful, Caribbean women who had probably almost all been affected by a woman's cancer like cervical cancer. I realize that Moron was probably only focusing his wee brain on the cunnilingus reference in the affirmation - as some kind of desperate declaration of his sexual prowess - and not on the gruesome image created when you take quite literally the first and second parts of that statement together. But the image is immediate, and I was momentarily confused that someone would be so openly and proudly witless and vulgar. Amongst all the ongoing marginalization of people with legitimate rights to existence and expression, how twisted that the most brainless are the least ashamed to manifest it.