I remember my first pap smear. Not the first one I had, but the first one I gave, likewise for my first rectal exam. Luckily, I haven’t had one of those yet.
Medical schools hire actors to play the part of the patient. Typically, the actor gets to portray someone with mundane medical complaints and the medical student “practices” their interviewing techniques and medical exam skills on them. A rare few get to be the recipient of the Pap smear and rectal exam. In fact, they seem so rare as to be expert in their field.
Let me set the scene. The female “patient” is waiting in the exam room. A group of medical students stand outside the door. One by one they enter the room with a certified physician chaperone. With these particular exams, no one bothers with the pretense of a prepared scenario. One just gets right to it. There is no chief complaint, no conversation, and no awkward banter. We all know what we are there for; each student is about to perform their first pap smear, testicular, and rectal exam.
To say that I was nervous about performing the pap smear is an understatement, but the patient put me at ease instantly. In fact, I really didn’t get to do much. She pretty much took over, telling me what to do, where to go, and how to do it. She contorted herself in such a way that I’m pretty sure she could perform her own pap smear. This was a woman who was very comfortable and familiar with her body. I could only venture to guess what her profession was outside of this exam room. Maybe she was an accountant.
The next exam was the male exam. Unlike the female exam, the male “patient” sat in the middle of the room while a gaggle of medical students congregated by the exit door. We each took turns performing the male genital and rectal exam with the same physician chaperone standing by. As each student completed the task, they resumed the huddle by the door. I was the last to go. When I was done, there was an awkward silence. The man was partially disrobed. He spoke to me, “You look really familiar, have we met before?”
Was he really talking to me?
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I feel like we’ve met somewhere before. Do you ever hangout at Shooters?”
“Oh, no, no. I study a lot. I don’t get out much.”
“That’s too bad. You should get out more. Here’s my card.”
He produces a card with his name and phone number on it. I looked at it. I looked at him still naked underneath a hospital gown and I wondered, where the hell was he keeping that card?
Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert