The Reality of Facing Pelvic Exams after Sexual Assault

The Reality of Facing Pelvic Exams after Sexual Assault | Houston Moms Blog

As I sit here in the waiting room, my palms are sweating. Focus. What on Earth is this TV show? Who is in charge of the program selection in this place? Phone. Play on your phone. That’s normal. Just. Act. Normal. I wipe my hands on my jeans and let all the air out of my lungs as I try to steady myself. Can the people in here tell? Do they detect that I’m summoning every ounce of strength in an effort not to break down right here in this hideous deco chair? I can’t even breathe while the nurse checks my blood pressure—it’s probably through the roof. Go in here, leave your sample, and go to exam room 3. Yes, ma’am.

I peel off my clothes in the exam room and pile them neatly in the chair, with my undergarments hidden. I can’t explain why. It makes me feel better knowing they can’t be seen. The blinds are slanted but I almost break the handle tightening them shut. I pull on the thin paper gown and it feels like sandpaper scraping my skin. But then, I cling to it so tightly my nails pierce the flimsy material. It is currently the only thing that separates me from complete exposure. Where are they? Why are they taking so long? I try to practice my breathing while I stare at the sterile walls. Detailed posters of women’s insides cover the doors. I shudder and tears escape my well-trained ducts. I can do this, I repeat to myself praying eventually I’ll believe it.

Now, I realize that no right-minded woman looks forward to her annual exam with delighted anticipation. I’ve never heard anyone exclaim, “My goodness! It’s time to get probed by my doctor—can’t wait!” But for survivors of sexual assault, it’s a trigger that can bring on waves of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Feelings that seem misguided, misplaced, and often times we’re unsure of how to process them because we have to face the fact that a pelvic exam is necessary for certain insurance qualifications and medical treatments {not to mention potentially life-saving screenings}. In our minds, we know it may seem irrational, but the very thought of a virtual stranger having “access” borders on terrifying.

I was in a hurry for the doctor to arrive in an attempt to end the whole ordeal, but now that he’s here, I stall. Grasping at straws I come up with every question I could possibly think of. I ask about treatments and medications I have no intention of taking. Please relax. Wish I could, buddy. I begin to count ceiling tiles and realize I’m not breathing. I sharply inhale and try not to go there in my head. An unsafe place that changed everything. A time that forever reshaped how I view people and physical touch of every kind. I tell myself that this is not that. That I am safe. But what is likely around 120 seconds drag on like an eternity while my knees are pried open like the Jaws of Life.

And just like that, it’s over. I’m given permission to put my clothes back on and receive my slip to check out at the front desk. I’ll walk out the door and on to the elevator and no one will know that I’m screaming on the inside. Ashamed that I still let them “win.” Embarrassed that something incredibly routine gives me a stomachache and makes my head swirl until I think I’ll topple over from the mental spin out. I’ll step out into the parking lot with the dozens of others—maybe one of them feels it, too. The suffocating isolation that comes with putting those tears in a box. Tucking the fears into a forbidden, faraway place. I sit in silence in my car for a few minutes, staring into nothingness, attempting to gather my composure and halt the tremors in my hands. Tears roll silently down my cheeks but they feel as if they are searing my skin. For the moment, I’m free. At least until I have to come back, and endure this emotionally exhausting battle all over again. 

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