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Vagina Angst

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Jennifer Ginsberg: I have come to believe that no male physician, no matter what his education, training, and experience, can truly understand the angst a woman experiences when her vagina gets sick.

unhappy woman in bathroom

Consequently, when I am having an embarrassing female issue, the last thing I want to do is seek help from some a**hole doctor with a penis.

It is an unfair law of nature that when men have problems with their penises, they are usually unaware of the lurking infection. It is common for a man with an STD, yeast infection, or UTI to be blissfully ignorant and symptom-free, while a woman with the same ailment would be in excruciating pain within hours.

It is important to note that while men's parts are not quite the plumbing nightmare that are women's, when something does go wrong, the mood suddenly becomes very somber. Heavy scanning equipment is utilized and the worst is imagined. Consequently, a man often remains in denial for as long as possible. He will even rationalize a sore on his penis by saying, "It must have got caught in my zipper." Men seem to be constitutionally incapable of facing the truth about their penises, while women are hyper-concerned about the health of their vaginas. Perhaps this is why male doctors rarely feel empathy for a woman who is panicked and on the verge of hysteria when she is having "feminine problems."

A woman with the merest twinge in her nether region will contort her body into a pretzel as she sits on top of a magnifying mirror to scrutinize her genitals, in an attempt to decipher if things look normal. Having been in this compromising position a few times in my life, I am always mystified by my findings. Perhaps because I never bother to check how things look when my vagina is healthy, I have no basis for comparison. It is easy to become a hypochondriac -- as I am squatted over a mirror and trying to decode something as intricate and complex as the vagina. Especially as I am experiencing strange and horrific symptoms that nobody ever talks about.

This is exactly how I found myself last Friday night at 7 PM -- spread-eagle over a mirror as I ventured to assess why, over the course of a few hours, a mild discomfort and pressure above my pelvis blossomed into full-blown pain, coupled with an intense urgency and burning when I peed -- which I was doing every two minutes. My husband was out of the country and I had six children under my care, as I was hosting my stepdaughter's slumber birthday party that evening. I Googled "vagina pain burning peeing" and my search yielded over 6 million results. Panic and hysteria set in.

I called my best friend, Beth, who matter-of-factly informed me that I had a urinary tract infection. She brought over one of those home tests, I peed on the stick, and it came up positive. She told me I needed to quickly get some antibiotics or my infection would get worse. Given that it was a Friday evening, I could not imagine waiting until Monday to see my doctor, so I paged my OB. After an hour, I still had not heard back from her. My pain was getting exponentially worse as I simultaneously tried to entertain a house full of children while running to the toilet to squeeze out a couple of drops every few minutes. Out of desperation, I paged my regular doctor -- a man -- on his emergency line. He called me back within minutes.

"What's the emergency?" he barked into the phone.

I was in so much pain I could hardly speak. I was laying on the floor in a fetal position as I fought through the shame of having to talk about my vaginal symptoms with some cranky, old dude who seemed totally annoyed that I had disturbed him on a Friday night. I understand that the last thing he probably wanted to hear about was some neurotic chick's vagina, but he is a doctor after all, and I was hopeful that he would be able to summon up some sympathy for my condition. I tearfully told him what was going on -- down to the Google search, magnifying glass, and positive UTI result.

"I don't prescribe over the phone!" he practically screamed at me. "If you are in enough pain to page me on my emergency line, then you need to go to the ER." Motherf**ker.

I told him that I had a house full of children, was hosting a slumber party, and that my husband was out of town. Frankly, I would rather cut out my vagina than sit in a crowded ER for several hours late at night (during flu season) to simply get a prescription for a UTI.

He was unsympathetic. "What's more important, your health or this party?" he growled. "If you felt bad enough to page me, then you can go to the emergency room." And with that, he hung up the phone.

I was stunned. Clearly, my pain was bad enough for me to page him. Why should I have to wait days to get relief for a problem that would quickly be resolved with the proper medication? Of course, my health was more important than this slumber party -- you can be certain that if I were having symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke, I would drop everything and immediately go to the hospital. But while my malady was incredibly uncomfortable, a burning pee-pee is not life-threatening and does not warrant a trip to the emergency room.

Furthermore, I found his inference that I could simply leave the kids and go to the ER totally misogynistic and callous. Clearly, this suggestion came from a person with a penis, who has never had the pleasure of having a house full of children and a spouse who was out of the country while his crotch was on fire. What kind of monster would advise me to abandon my children and expose myself to God-knows-what to simply get a prescription for a condition that had already been 98.4% positively diagnosed, based on my Google search "accuracy of home UTI tests"?! All I needed was a goddamned prescription, which he could easily write for me if he wasn't being such a pissy son-of-a-b*tch.

As I was ready to completely succumb to the anxiety and pain that had been mounting for hours, my phone rang again. Hallelujah! It was my OB/GYN, a wonderful woman with a depth of knowledge, compassion, and humor. I breathlessly told her the whole story and she listened patiently.

"What a f**king a**hole" she said. "You clearly have a UTI and need antibiotics. And you also need to get a new doctor while you're at it!" With that, she called in my prescription and even convinced the pharmacy to deliver it to my home.

So the moral of my story is this: when the magnifying glass comes out, DO NOT attempt to discuss your findings with any member of the male species because they just don't get it. Men are emotionally and biologically incapable of truly understanding the gravity of the situation and the complexity of emotions that accompany it. When it comes to your vagina, only another woman will do!

next: Let the Mom Force Be with You
14 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rachel October 8, 2009, 5:31 AM

I don’t know that this is a man thing. I have a male OB/GYN that I really like, and he probably would’ve done the same thing as your OB/GYN. It sounds to me like it’s more of a basic respect thing (or lack thereof). Hope you found a new doc!

Anna October 8, 2009, 5:44 AM


Secretia Teller October 8, 2009, 6:25 AM

Thanks for your very understandable post. You are helping women everywhere.


Anonymous October 8, 2009, 7:04 AM

I do have a male OB/GYN who is a wonderful doctor. He’s very sympathetic to what ails us females. I’m lucky to have him. I hope you are feeling better.

Anonymous October 8, 2009, 7:39 AM

I just had an experience w/my male doctor. I had extreme pain in my chest, hard time breathing, heart racing, burning sensation on different parts of my body, feeling sick to my stomach and not being able to eat, couldn’t sleep for more than 1/2 hr to an hour at night, emotional and sure that I was having a heart attack and dying! After 3 different test on my heart, test on my lungs and a tons of blood work done and they still couldn’t find anything wrong, I asked him after much research on the internet about my symptoms if it could possibly be perimenopause and he said NO, you’re too young. I’m 1 month shy of 42. I finally concieved him to test my hormones and lo and beyond guess what…I’m perimenopause. Every symptom I had point clearly to that. He still had no support to offer me expect for anti-anxiety pills which I refused.

Anonymous October 8, 2009, 9:21 AM

I have a male ob/gyn and a dr. I like both. I have had some bad experiences with females when I had to go to the health clinic for my checkup since I didn’t have the money or insurance to visit a regular ob/gyn. I agree that most men just don’t get it, at this point in this particular post, I think it has more to do with an inept dr. I say find yourself a new dr asap!! and kudos to your ob/gyn!! hope you feel better soon!

Christina October 8, 2009, 12:11 PM

I am a member of Kaiser and they have a UTI cystitis hotline. You call, and a nurse hears your symptoms and then calls your doctor, to confirm and send in a prescription. It’s the best! We’re women! We know what a damn UTI feels like. DUH.

And to think, I thought I was the only one who’s hunched over a mirror like that!

This article totally made me feel better

michelle October 8, 2009, 2:21 PM

Oh come on. The real moral of the story is that your doctor was a bad doctor with a terrible bedside manner. It has nothing to do with maleness. I recently had a female ob/gyn who treated me dismissively and rudely (I switched to another dr asap, who told me I had been right all along). My current ob/gyn is a man who is accessible and empathetic, and has 4 kids of his own. Moral of that story: it’s dumb to generalize from one bad experience you had.

C October 8, 2009, 8:57 PM

I agree with michelle, don’t generalize.

Bruce Sallan October 10, 2009, 8:47 AM

There are good and bad MEN and WOMEN docs. But, I agree with your general thesis that men just don’t understand women’s body parts, regardless of education. And, we certainly don’t understand the emotions that go with it. Ironically, my current “Just A Guy” blog, here, deals with this issue. It inspired a future blog based on the first comment posted. Men don’t “get” a lot of women’s physiology. But, with all the so-called advances in women’s rights, positions, and status, let alone laws “protecting” them, I would argue that it may sometimes be valuable for a woman to speak up and explain things to a dense male (a woman shouldn’t have to do that with a male doctor, of course). But, men do tend to operate from the “fix it” pov and not take the time to understand a problem deeply or its impact on a woman.

JenJacob November 21, 2009, 10:05 PM

Although I am a woman and sympathize with extreme burning and pain, I agree with the male doctor (though not his method of rudeness). I also think women doctors can be rude as well.
But, be that as it may, a doctor should not diagnose over the phone. I have had to stay up 24 hours and run to my ob/gyn when they opened as they insist on doing a urine culture.

They should not be prescribing without examining you. Even my family doctor, who is a woman, would not do that.

Also, when I had the burning pain, it was not a UTI, it was a kidney stone in the urethra which mimiced the symptoms. I ended up in the ER.

Also, although it may be flu season, the ER is still the best place to get properly diagnosed and treated if the pain is that severe and you cannot be examined by a MD or NP.

Disquette March 12, 2010, 8:57 PM

You have made your point that you have extreme and illogically generalized prejudices. I’m not sure what else this post was supposed to convey.

Secretia Collins March 25, 2010, 10:25 AM

I also have a wonderful male OB/GYN. He has a little touch of Parkinson’s, so his hand trembles ever so slightly. TFLMMYD!

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