I was washing dishes when the phone rang and I didn't hear it. I wouldn't have picked up anyway because I never answer the phone, especially when it's from an unknown number, because I'm afraid of collection agency and doctors calling with tremendously bad news.
And it never is a collection agency or a doctor calling with bad news. Except today, it was.
"Hi Melina, this is Doctor whoeverrthehell from Asheville Family Health Center. I want to talk to you about the results of your pap smear, call me back, okay then, mmmbye."
I gagged when I heard that message. First of all, CANCER. CANCER? Probably. Also because I hate the term pap smear. I hate it, I hate the whole thing. And now mine had gone wrong and I'd be forced to talk about it and I despise talking about that stuff. I'm very protective of my swimsuit-area, who isn't, and if anyone comes near me with some metal tool in their hand, even a nice doctor, I want to spit at them and punch them. It's just an instinct. I'm not saying it makes sense.
I dialed the doctor, hands shaking, vision shrinking. A nurse picked up. She seemed incredibly put out that I was calling. "The doctor is with a patient. Is this so important that I have to go in and get her?" I said no. Just have her call me.
Well she didn't call me. And I had to truck it over to Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College for a three hour chemistry lab. And I hate chemistry lab on a good day. But this day I hated it even more, since what was the point? Here I was, being stealthily murdered by my vagina, and I'm supposed to be concerned about calculating limiting reactants, nope.
I was so nervous and out of it, I set one compound on fire four times. Each time the flame shot up almost to the ceiling. My lab partner jerked his elbow out of the way just in time, four times.
That evening, I finally got in touch with the doctor. She told me I had a "mild precancerous lesion," and she let the word precancerous linger in the airspace for a bit, just so I knew who was boss. Then she referred me to a gynecologist who would- what, the details were fuzzy- scrape out? carve out? burn out? something-out the bad cells. The conversation lasted for 45 seconds.
I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I said "Son of a fucking goddamned bitch, what the fuck."
Then I sat down on the couch in our nearly empty room and felt very sorry for myself indeed. Here I'm drinking all these green smoothies every day with the power pellets and the super-powders and the whateverthehell, which costs an arm and a leg, and I exercise all the time and still, my own cells are turning on me. Well Well.
Then fuck it! I adopted a new approach to life right then and there.
That night I drank two twelve dollar margaritas, and the next day, to really demonstrate to the world just how hard I'd become, I slept through my nine AM class. Just slept right through it. I had to call a friend for the homework. Just like elementary school.
Then I got a little bit curious. I realized that I didn't actually understand what 'mild lesion' meant. So I started doing some research. Just a cursory search to begin with, but the more I read, the more I came to believe that this recommended procedure- the details of which were still vague- wasn't entirely necessary. In a lot of cases, mild cervical dysplasia can be healed naturally. The cells grow so slowly that it's not a real risk to give it a go for a while. Then, after six months you go back and get another test, and if things still look weird, then you go ahead with the procedure.
I spoke with a natureopath and did some more research and I felt very good about a holistic approach. I felt much more empowered and in control of myself then I had originally. Then I told my mother and she hit the roof. I mean she lost her fucking marbles. She wasn't onboard.
But the gynecologist office who I'd been referred to, they hadn't called to make an appointment with me. They were obviously in no hurry. Weeks went by. I took a ghastly amount of B-12, drank a whole jar of turmeric and avoided my mother's phone calls.
My natureopath, a very decent man, reminded me that knowledge is power. He advised me to call my doctor and ask for a more thorough review of the test results. That sounded sane. So I dialed her up and sat on the front porch, playing with the zipper on my sweater, somehow anticipating a fight. The annoyed nurse picked up. "But the doctor already spoke to you about the results."
"Briefly-" I said, "but I still have a lot of-"
"Well she's out of town for a while," said the nurse, cutting in. She said she would forward along the results to someone else, a different doctor that I'd seen in the past. (For anxiety! Surprised?)
About a week later, that doctor's assistant called me, sounding puzzled. "He didn't perform that test on you, so he does not know why you're calling."
I said, "Can't he just read the results? I have a few questions. And I'd value his opinion about treatment options."
"You should really be talking to the gynecologist you've been referred to. They'll answer your questions."
I called the gynecologist I'd been referred to. They were not interested in me. They said, "We've never seen you. You should be talking to the doctor that gave you the referral."
So I got angry! And I changed the tone of my voice to reflect that. I called back Asheville Family Health and I said, "Listen, nobody will talk to me! There is medical information out there, about me, and you have it, and you won't tell me! Is my vagina a Secret of the State? Why won't anyone talk to me?"
She said The Doctor Will Call You Back.
The doctor never called me back. I consumed an incredible amount of cabbage and carrot juice, cut out sugar, wheat, alcohol, and bought a cookbook written by an ultra marathoner. Which turned out to be useless. I could have seen that coming. And except for the worrisome nuclear secret I was harboring in my vagina, I felt super.
I phoned Asheville Family Health (me again!) and asked them to send the tests results over to the new office I'd chosen. They said they would.
They didn't. I showed up on a Friday for the Thing, whatever it was, and there were no records for me at all. I started to cry in the little room, on top of the metallic table. But the doctor here was cool. She spent her lunch hour on the phone with Asheville Family Health and finally wrangled the results out of them.
"Oh," she said, studying the sheet of paper in her hand. "This is very mild. You can totally go six months and try to heal it if you'd like."
I considered this. I liked this doctor, trusted her. And I was very curious to see if I even still had dysplasia after six weeks of this strict diet and all the hypnosis and sleep and everything else I'd been trying. Most important, I'd just swallowed the last of my Ativan: it seemed like now or never. So I said, "You know what? Do the Thing. Let's see if I've cured myself. "
Here's what the Thing turned out to be, and if you're a boy, and you're still reading, I applaud you. They put vinegar on your cervix, which will stain any cell that's gone astray. And when they find those cells, they cut them out and do a biopsy.
So they put on the vinegar and nothing happened. "Looks like you're fine," she said, and I was wondering if she was beginning to regret giving me her lunch hour. "We will scrape a few cells and test them just in case."
And they did, and those cells were fine, too. All evidence of dysplasia, of the mild precancerous lesion, was gone.
Or maybe it was never really there to begin with. That's what my friend Erich says, and he's in med school.
"What do you really think happened- do you really think it was the fact that you...drank....turmeric? Or did some dude just misread a microscope slide."
So anyway. That's what I've been up do these last few weeks. That's where I've been.