Beauty is on the Inside

Yesterday was the day “GYN” was written in my agenda. It would be my first Well-Woman exam in France. Callaghan and I got there on time, and the doctor called us in immediately. Shocking! This was a good sign. I was brimming with curiosity. How would this particular exam differ from those I’ve had in the States? All the medical exams I’ve had here so far have been different. We followed the doctor down the hall to his office. I was about to find out!

For starters, he couldn’t find my vagina.

Kidding! What really happened at first was that he couldn’t figure out why I was there, since I’d had everything removed except my vagina. Ovaries, tubes, uterus and cervix – the whole SHE-bang, gone. He had a good point. There’s nothing to find in a pelvic exam on a woman who’d evicted all of her reproductive organs from her pelvis. He asked a few questions for clarification purposes.

“My GYN in the States said I should still get a yearly check,” I explained.

The doctor gesticulated with his hands as he meandered through a long reply, but even with the sign language, I wasn’t sure I understood him.

“He says there’s nothing to do,” said Callaghan, cutting the response down to six words.

But the doctor got up and showed me to the examination area, anyway, while Callaghan remained seated in his plush green velvet 18th-century replica chair at the desk. The exam area was concealed behind an ornate Oriental screen. The doctor told me to undress completely, but he did not give me a paper gown. This omission flashed in my mind. What’s a pelvic exam without the crinkly, slippery paper gown? (Not that I missed it. I didn’t.) As I reposed on my back with my feet in the stirrups, I gazed above and bit my lip to keep from laughing as I recalled how a former GYN had tacked a poster of Tom Cruise on the ceiling above the exam table. It was supposed to help patients relax. I’m not making this up.

After the exam, I got dressed and joined Callaghan at the desk, wondering what the doctor would find to say about my non-existent girly parts.

“C’est bien,” he said. “Votre vagin est parfait.”

“Your vagina is perfect,” said Callaghan.

“That’s what I thought he said.”

“Well I already knew that your vagina was perfect.” He sounded like his intelligence had been insulted.

We burst out laughing. The doctor ignored us. He grabbed a large coffee-table book, set it down, spun it around, and opened it to display pictures of all kinds of vaginas, interior close-ups beautifully captured in gleaming full color. He enthusiastically used his pen to point out the different parts of vaginal anatomy. As he flipped through the vagina photographs, I suppressed the urge to ask him which one resembled mine. If mine is “perfect,” then why couldn’t it also be featured in a vagina photography book? There are models for all kinds of body parts (hand models, leg models, feet and teeth models). From what I understand, body-part modeling is lucrative, and the models take out insurance policies on said parts… celebrities too, sometimes, if they have a part that’s especially famous. Didn’t I read somewhere that Jennifer Lopez has an insurance policy out on her ass?

In any case, I have to say that this doctor was more thorough than any American one I’ve had, and the exam was only 34 euro (that’s without insurance). Girls, remember this if you ever visit France! You could squeeze in a Well-Woman appointment during your stay. It’ll probably be cheaper than going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, too.

Happy Hour at the Office of Le Docteur

I’ve studied many interesting specimens of humanity while sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms, but this one lady from Thursday’s appointment wins the prize for Best Walking Free Entertainment in a Medical Waiting Room.

These are the events as they transpired:

-The woman stumbled in on a boozy waft of cold air. She was older, maybe in her 60’s. It was 10:30 in the morning. “Bonjour,” she said to the whole room. (In France, it’s standard to greet a room when you walk in, probably even if no one’s there.)

-She weaved around the small coffee table to maneuver herself between it and me on her way to her final destination, which was the seat next to mine.

-As she went past, I looked up at her, made eye contact and smiled. This is the American equivalent of the verbal French room-greeting. (The French aren’t that familiar with the whole smiling at each other thing. I know this for a fact after conducting numerous experiments on random French people. It doesn’t stop me from smiling at them, though. I’m hard-wired that way.)

-My smile was met with a terrible scowl of doom. This woman was clearly in a bad mood.

-She sat down in the chair to my left. On the other side of me, Callaghan leaned in to whisper, “I can smell her from here.” He got away with this because he said it quietly and in English, plus the lady was plastered, so she probably wouldn’t have noticed, anyway.

-I resumed my activity of reading out loud from L’Express magazine and stopping at the end of each sentence to pester Callaghan for explanations of the bits I couldn’t figure out. (By the way, did you know that there’s a long line of women behind the famous Laurent-Perrier House of Champagne?)  

-Not ten minutes later, there was movement to my left. It was the drunk lady rising out of her seat like a large gray gull to loom over the table and swoop up a magazine.

-Before she sat back down, she opened her mouth in the direction of the woman sitting by the window and loudly complained about le docteur being late, jerking her elbows upward for emphasis. In her grating gull voice, this came out as WAWK WAWK WAWK

-Our end of the room clouded up with a fresh gust of alcohol breath. It didn’t smell like cough syrup, either.

-Callaghan and I looked at each other. Our eyes said, Can you believe it? It’s 10:30 in the morning and she comes in drunk, complaining about the doctor being late!

-She gave us two, maybe three more performances before we were called in. At least she changed it up slightly each time so there was some variation in the details.

Perhaps I should be kinder. I mean, it’s possible that she’s seeing the doctor because of alcoholism, which is an authentic disease. She made for an amusing wait, though! Still, I would have preferred to read about the Laurent-Perrier champagne sisters without the soundtrack.

Le Docteur

This morning, my husband and I went to the doctor, or, should I say, le docteur. So I’m in le docteur’s office trying to do three things at once: 1). Listen attentively as he talks to my husband so as to understand as much of what he’s saying as possible, and 2). Keep my mind from wandering, and 3). Listen attentively, and 4). Try to understand as much of what he’s saying as possible, and 5). Try to understand as much of what my husband’s saying as possible, and 6). Try to not get lost, and 7). Start the whole process again after I get lost, and 8). Try not to get frustrated as I find myself 10 sentences behind by the time I start trying to understand again because I got lost, and 9). Try to keep my mind from wandering as I think of how frustrating it is to try to understand everyone, and 10). Wait – that’s eight things. Or is it nine? I only meant to list three. Did you follow all of that? Neither did I.

This is my struggle as a non-fluent-French-speaker in France. Trying to follow a conversation in French is like trying to follow a mental tennis match, only it’s faster than tennis, so it’s more like ping-pong. The ball blurrs with speed, and the blurrier it gets, the harder it is to keep track, especially if I start seeing double and it looks like two balls. It flies around so quickly that by the time I find it, it’s already somewhere else. Next thing I know, the match is over, and I have no idea what I’d just seen. At that point, the only thing more mind-tangling is when one of the players turns to me with a question about the game. And since I do know something about it, there’s this idea that I’d successfully followed the ball. But the game is complicated. There are serves and pauses and front hands and back hands and double-vision balls bouncing off the net and getting caught off the edge and etcetera. Angles are involved. Angles! I’m going to start calling them “slangles.” My mind trips on the slangles every time. Most of the time, anyway.

Thankfully, I usually understand my husband’s questions, and I can even answer in ping-pong-ese. Other times – a lot of the time, actually – I get it, but I can only answer in English. And sometimes, I don’t get it at all. Then I feel like I let everyone down, especially after it had been noted that my understanding had improved so much.

This is just the normal docteur. This isn’t the shrink-docteur where I go once a month to have an actual conversation without my husband being there. It’s like trying to play ping-pong with myself, blindfolded. And I’m not even going to try to explain what that’s like.