August 19, 2013

A Girl in Urology Clinic

"I can't believe I'm doing this in front of a lady!" said the patient, looking away as he shrugged his shorts halfway down his thighs. He was here for a vasectomy consult, and the attending grasped his testes, feeling for masses but more importantly finding the vas deferens on each side. The easier they are to feel, the easier the procedure would be when the day came.

For the first time, I felt a twinge of sympathy for my male classmates. Surely, on OB/GYN, they must have been made to feel the same way. The male gaze in the gynecology exam room is often an uncomfortable one; the discussions are private, and when the doctor and patient are both female, there is a shared kindred experience that underlies the history-taking and examination.

Likewise, I felt distinctly out of my element here. My experience with male body parts is limited to the bedroom and these few clinic visits, rather than a knowledge of my personal anatomy. There seemed to be unspoken understanding between the physician and his patient; rapport here seems to be a consistently uphill battle for me, rather than the natural thing it is with female patients.

If this had been a medicine clinic, I doubt I would feel this way; I have had male patients before, but the genitourinary exam is a whole other ballgame (ugh, pun not intended). If you consider the exam objectively, it makes sense that opposite-sex exams are generally more uncomfortable. However heteronormative it might be to say so, the specter of desire--however remote, unlikely, or unrequited--makes my examinations in the urology clinic uncomfortable.

Clearly, not all women feel this way. Several of the attendings here are female, as are most of the mid-level practitioners. Interestingly, one of them said to me, "Ugh, I would hate to look at vaginas all day!" Perhaps it is only unusual or uncomfortable if the subject itself makes you uncomfortable. I find myself at ease discussing my own body; maybe this is why I have no problem examining others or asking them personal questions about their bodies. In the end, part of what has always been interesting to me about women's health is the desire to teach other women to honor their bodies, a la The Color Purple. So many people have no idea how their bodies work; if I can shed just a little light on the matter, they become more empowered to use their body in the fulfillment of their needs.

All this is to say: I am glad to be going into OB/GYN. The male exam makes me uncomfortable, and I think many male patients seem to be a little uncomfortable with a female student in the room. I guess this is payback for my oblivious enjoyment of my OB/GYN rotation. Either way, there's only two weeks left!

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