So you’re lying there pants-less, wearing only a flimsy gown and your socks. Not a super-dignified look, and, also, you’re freezing because of the conspiracy to keep ob/gyn offices at a steady 43 degrees. Your feet are stuck in icy metal clamps (the technical term is “stirrups,” same as you’d find on a horse; soon you’ll get to the forceps, winches, and cranks). You study the posters on the ceiling (positive rainbows, affirming baby seals) and meditate upon the state of women’s health.
The female body has a lot of specialized parts, is subject to sudden revolts, and requires a certain amount of management, like an Audi. There’s a design flaw or two, but it’s still pretty impressive—durable, powerful, strong. Still, while women are masters of managing the never-ending project of polishing our look, many of us are not nearly so adept at making sure our health care fits our needs as perfectly as a favorite pair of jeans.
I come from a generation of women whose understanding of female physicality was one part myth, one part rumor, one part wild guess. My earliest sense of the female body was that it was at best a hassle, a fatal condition at worst. When my friends and I got our first periods, many of us thought we would surely die. When I was 22 and had my first gynecological exam, I requested birth control. Instead, the doc finished his ham-handed exam and announced, “We’ll have you pregnant by Christmas!”
But today, places like the new Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital’s Women’s Center in St. Louis Park represent a nationwide shift in how women can approach their health—linking medical fields to reflect the intricately interconnected systems of women’s bodies (and lives). At a center like this, you’ll get your annual physical and then head down the hall to see a specialist focused on everything from gynecological oncology to medical acupuncture, from mental health to healing massage. In other words: holistic, whole-body care.
In the two visits I’ve made to the Women’s Center, I have learned the following: I am not losing my mind but in fact entering menopause; a mammogram is not optional (as I was hoping), but I can have one in a relaxed, comfortable setting; and, if I get some concerning test result, my provider will explain things and, if necessary, treat me rather than scribbling out a referral to somebody else.
A few small details I’d never experienced before at a doctor’s put me at ease: I was offered tea, asked cheerfully about my job, greeted by name by a provider who had met me only once, and covered with a heated blanket once in the exam room (which also featured heated stirrups). The three women treating me—a physician, a nurse, and a nurse practitioner—kept me as comfortable as they could: straightening my blanket, laughing at my morbid jokes, chatting with me about my dog. They didn’t simply practice medicine. They provided true medical care.