Over the past few years, the doctor's office where I used to go for everything from flu shots to pap smears has become a sort of one-stop shopping spot for cosmetic procedures. You can have a strep test, a Botox treatment and a little body reshaping all in one visit.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. People ought to be able to get their lips plumped and their butt fat realigned if they want. I would just prefer that the doctor who screens me for cancer and diabetes and heart disease be a little more focused on what is happening inside my body, like whether or not my uterus is falling out.
And so, when it was time for my annual physical and pelvic exam this year, I finally started searching for a new doctor. Finding the right one was not easy. I found doctors who could see me six months from now, doctors who were notorious for keeping their patients doped up on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds (not that I couldn't use a few of those) and doctors whose receptionists were so cranky ("Look, sweetie, do you want an appointment, or not?") that the term "bad fit" seemed grossly inadequate.
But searching for a new doctor helped me clarify what I wanted in a health care provider. A good doctor, I realized, is a lot of things all rolled into one. She is a doctor, sure, but she is also a priest who hears your confessions, a therapist who reads your concerns and a guru who poses lots of open-ended questions in hopes that you will improve yourself.
It is a lot to ask, I know, but when I finally found someone fabulous, I realized two important things: One, it is easier to switch husbands than doctors. Two, if someone is going to be looking at my vagina once a year, there are a few things I really must insist upon:
1. My doctor should be able to do special doctor math. For example, when she asks how much caffeine I consume per day, she should take the number I give her and double it. When she asks me how many times per week I consume alcohol, she should take the number I give her and quadruple it. This should be an intuitive understanding between us, and my doctor should not make me actually say these things out loud.
2. Similarly, when my doctor asks me what kind of alcohol I drink, she should assume that the words "red wine" actually mean "straight bourbon."
3. I need a doctor who will not ask me if I have implants when scheduling my mammogram. I mean, maybe that's on the form, but... honestly? She has just finished rolling my nipples between her fingers.
4. I need a doctor who believes that chocolate is a freaking miracle drug for middle-aged women. Because it is.
5. If my doctor expects me to fill out six million forms detailing my health history, she should give me a blank sheet or two to elaborate on my responses. For example, I am a little unclear about how to answer the question, "Have you ever smoked?" I mean, smoked what? And, well, not really. Sort of. A very long time ago. Back in high school, I smoked Virginia Slim menthols whenever I played "quarters," which wasn't a daily thing, but which wasn't exactly a rare occurrence either. But I'm not sure that counts, and, anyway, I'm not even sure that my doctor will know what "quarters" is. So, obviously, I am going to need some extra space to explain.
6. I need a doctor who is a good listener. If she wants to know if I ever struggle with depression, I need her to look up from her computer when I tell her every bad thing that has happened to me and everyone I am close to this year. If she asks if I have any family history of alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness, I need her to just sit tight and listen up. I mean, after all, she asked.
7. I need a doctor who is not judgmental. If she asks me what I had for breakfast this morning, and I say tiramisu, I need her to just jot that down and move on.
8. I need a doctor who has more than two options on her billing form for employment status. "Employed" and "unemployed" just don't cover it. There are degrees of employment. Last December, after I drank some contaminated water in Central America, I was sick for weeks. Finally, my doctor sent me to the hospital to be tested for giardia. I sat doubled over with cramps and holding a Ziplock baggie filled with my stool sample while the young woman at the intake desk asked me 19 million questions.
"Are you employed or unemployed?" she asked me.
It was question #18,789,923,781.
"Well... I'm an adjunct professor," I said.
"What?" she said.
"I mean, I do teach, but I'm not teaching this semester. See, my job depends on the number of students who enroll each semester, and this semester has just ended, and I don't know about next semester..."
"So you're unemployed?" she asked.
"Yes," I finally said.
Because one really doesn't want to drag out a conversation while one is holding one's own stool sample on one's lap. So what I'm trying to illustrate here is the importance of a a third employment option on a doctor's form. Maybe "intermittently employed," or "randomly employed" or perhaps, "not nearly employed enough"?
9. Since my doctor is going to be asking about all of my bad habits, I need her to also ask me how much I exercise. If I am going to be out mountain biking and hiking and walking and road riding until my legs almost fall off, I want someone other than my dog to notice.
10. My doctor should know better than to announce my weight to me and everyone else in the office. If she really must tell me, she should just discreetly write that number down on a piece of paper so that I can look at that number later on when I am home alone with a glass of bourbon firmly in hand.
11. I need a doctor who has a sense of humor. Because if I am saying something hilarious while her entire hand is inside my vagina, she damn well better laugh.