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Cultural Surprise at the Doctor’s Office: Girly Bits Edition

About a week ago my body told me it was time to see my huisart (primary care physician). After making an appointment on Monday, I met with her today and ended up with my first physical examination at a Dutch doctor’s office. That is, the first one that involved taking my clothes off. Culture surprise is so much more… interesting… when you experience it in the nude.

A photo to set the... er... mood.

If the title hadn’t tipped you off, I was visiting my doctor regarding a few things, but the most urgent reason was a suspected yeast infection.  As with previous visits, I met with my doctor and sat down at a desk to discuss why I had come in. This week she had a medical student there as well; a nice young man who she kept translating for and who is now the first male doctor to see me half naked in several years.

The symptoms as I described them seemed inconclusive, so my doctor offered to do an examination (they always ask first here; everything is in your control). Attached to the regular office was a small closet/examination room. She opened the door, pointed to a chair and said “put your clothes there”.

Surprise number one? No gown. That gave me pause. In the U.S. doctors will put you in a gown to check anything above the ankle, but here I just slipped out of my pants and undies right in front of the doctors while discussing whether ‘underwear’ was the right word in English. It was a little embarrassing to be without the medical gown. I never realized how accustom I’d become to them; even when they often seem silly.

Laying down in the bed, I came upon Surprise number 2. No stirrups.  How weird is that. I’ve been through zillions of vaginal exams and I’ve never had one done without stirrups. Not that it was bad. The (cold) speculum when in just fine (maybe even easier than usual).

Which brings us to surprise number 3.

“Please hold this here for me.” The doctor instructed, indicating the speculum. She needed me to hold the device in place while she took swab samples. Usually at this point my legs are up in stirrups and the gown has created a wall between me and what the doctor is doing; a weird separation between me and what is frankly a rather intimate procedure. Not this time. After I realized what she was asking I did as instructed, but again, a bit embarrassing (even though it shouldn’t be).

After all that, I was disappointed to learn that I’d have to wait a week for the results to come back in. This seems strange since my doctor in the US had a simple test she could run right in the office. Cheers for being through I suppose.

The other reason I stopped in was to follow up on my birth control, which is a IUD that stays in place for 5 years. Since they don’t do regular pap smears in the Netherlands on women my age, I wanted to make sure I had a record of when my IUD needed to be changed. No need to make stupid mistakes. I was pleased to discover that the office had made a notation of that date on my record for me; despite the fact I had it put in while we still lived in the US. I had given them all my records but it was nice that they actually did something with them. I sometimes think US doctor offices just file them and forget about it.

I also discovered that my referral to the orthopedic surgeon is good for an entire year, but that’s a story for another day.

Photo is (cc) amy_b via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons License.

11 Responses to “Cultural Surprise at the Doctor’s Office: Girly Bits Edition”

  1. Aledys Ver says:

    Going to the doctor and to the gynaeco, was quite a shock for me too. No gown!! I was used to anyway wearing a skirt to my doctor back home, but I still thought it was a bit weird that they don't provide you with a gown at all.
    And she made you hold the speculum? :o) Oh dear, it is a bit of an awkward moment, isn't it?

  2. Star says:

    Wow…that is culture shock, isn't it? Rather surreal, actually, when you consider the differences between US gyno visits and your experience.

  3. Kimberly says:

    Note to self, no gyno exams in the Netherlands.

  4. Amanda says:

    Sometimes you gotta do what you’ve got to do. I think I’ve had more gyno exams in my lifetime than most women twice my age. :-/

  5. Oh man! The palms of my hands got clammy just reading this. I am now very very grateful for the gowns and lack of participation that I’ve experienced at my lady bits exams. Culture shock indeed! :) Kudos for handling it calm, cool and collected!

    I’m visiting from the SITS Blog Frog community :)

  6. Amanda says:

    Hi there & welcome. :) It was definately strange, but part of me actually thinks I might prefer the lack of gown. It’s like being more engaged with my own vaginal health. Which frankly is an important thing.

  7. Janie Coffey says:

    I had my one and only daughter in Germany (I’m American), not in at an American base, I was married to a German at the time. I barely spoke German and had to visit the OB, take pre-natal courses, the whole bit! I can completely relate to cultural differences with such a personal situation as an OBGYN visit. It’s quite eye opening, isn’t it!

  8. Amanda says:

    Oh wow. I can imagine it’s 10 times crazier when you have a large language difference. I’m fortunately in that anyone here with a medical degree also speaks completely passable English.

  9. Janie Coffey says:

    The doctors were all ok, less so in the pre-natal classes (where they didn’t let my husband in b/c it was run by Catholic nuns, no man allowed) and some of the nurses spoke very little. It was an experience for sure!

  10. Britty says:

    Wow, that’s for mentioning this on your #31DBBB thread! Very interesting without the gown….not sure if I would be as brave as you!

  11. Amanda says:

    Hello. :) Thanks for swinging by. I try to take this sort of thing in stride since the doctor wasn’t going to hurt me. I suppose if I wore a dress or skirt I could just hike it up. Be brave! Your doctor is there to help.