Friday, 2 May 2014

On Accessing Sexual Health Services as a Survivor (TW)

Content note: Will not only be mentioning rape from the point of view of a survivor/victim but also graphic details of a clinical examination.

The horror of horrors has come true, I can't feel the strings of my Mirena Coil. The most likely thing that has happened is that it's moved or is missing. All of this can be solved, when looking at it outwardly, relatively simply. I arrange an appointment. Arranging an appointment is the first step in what proves to be not only an unprofessional experience but one that will leave me with more emotional scarring. It is difficult to get through, when I do it's hard to communicate to them what I need. As instead of listening to my worries about it going missing they tell me I only need a brief consultation. They later call to confirm that I've asked for a removal and fitting of a new coil. This is where I first become confused and state that I thought I was only coming for a consultation. After much back & forth I still don't know what's going on so I hang up confused. I call back the next day where the person on the phone clearly states "This is a consultation only, you will not be examined". I say that if I am to be examined I want to bring my partner & I want to be examined by a woman ONLY. The person on the phone clearly states again that it will only be a consultation & that she will write this information in my notes.

Let me explain why I need so much clarity, why I want to be examined by women only and why I need someone with me. I am a rape survivor & an abuse survivor (although I sometimes refer to myself as a victim). I have no interest in going into detail, years later I can barely even utter the words. That these are experiences that have scarred me & shaped my life are an understatement. Everyone's reactions to their own trauma is different and all are valid. Please don't police how I deal with mine.

The day of the appointment comes and I am still anxious. I arrive early & try to relax. My previous experiences have been good with understanding & kind nurses. Even my first smear test which I was very worried about went well. The nurse was brisk but kind and I felt at ease especially as it was over so quickly and painlessly.

The person who eventually calls my name is a man. They are running late and the male consultants have started taking files out of the "Female Specialist Only" pile. I feel worried but assure myself that they told me they would only be consulting me not examining me. I mean they stated clearly on the phone that I would not be examined this evening. I was wrong.

I sit in the room feeling utterly helpless, with an inner knowledge that I will most likely be reprimanded if I push for a female specialist now. I undress and lie on the table. I start crying before he's even done anything. I don't know if he's not noticed or if he doesn't care. He is forceful and uncaring, the speculum used is metal and slightly too big. I feel a surge of pain as he examines me roughly. When he's done swabbing and looking for the strings of my coil he confirms my fears that my coil has indeed either moved or gone missing. I will be scheduled in for a scan followed by a removal and re-fitting. The examination is not over however, he presses on my belly without much warning causing me great pain. He goes on to examine me internally with his fingers. This includes pressing in various places as well as moving my cervix about harshly. I cry throughout my examination. I leave the room numb, wiping away my tears I rush through the clinic. I burst through the exit doors for cold air to hit me and I finally feel awake. My only saving grace is knowing that my partner is on his way to meet me. The partner who was clear in always being there when I need him, who would have taken time off work had I known to ask him. He would have been there with me, had they told me what was actually going to happen. If I had been prepared I could have taken steps to prepare myself and ensure that I would have felt safe throughout.

I know many people reading this will feel that the onus is on me to have had my partner there regardless. That I should have pushed more for a female specialist. But I rarely have the strength these days to fight and I don't believe that the onus lies with the survivor, victim, patient but with those who will be treating them to treat them with respect and compassion. It states clearly in my notes what I wanted, if I can't get it when I ask for it clearly why even bother asking or pushing. There are countless more people like me, who though they have access to sexual health care are scarred by it. Are frightened to go and have terrible experiences when they do.

The NHS is stretched and constantly facing more cuts. This means clinic's can't employ enough staff, they can't train their staff well enough for these situations. They can't run on time so shortcuts need to be taken. The more the NHS is cut the more pain vulnerable patients such as myself will experience. I will continue to seek the help of Sexual Health Clinics because I have to. But I know that it will become increasingly more rare that I have a safe experience when doing so.

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