Medicine Provides the Best Laughter

Written and performed by Genevieve Yates, July, 2011.

Stand-up routine first performed at the CDN Doc Art Festival, 2011. Winner of performance category.

While the job of a doctor is a serious business, it can also be seriously funny. There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy. There is often no line at all between comedy and embarrassing bodily functions.  I reckon that not only is laughter the best medicine, but medicine provides the best laughter.

How many of you are female GPs? Our job is not uncommonly written off as being just “tears and smears”. There are days it feels like that, especially if your male colleagues are brilliant at convincing their patients that emotional problems and “women’s stuff” are far better dealt with by a female GP.

I don’t mind doing PAP smears though.  There is a lot of humour to be found in them – let me share some.  For those who are squeamish, you needn’t fear, there will be no talk of smelly vaginal discharges or inserted foreign objects.

I’ll start with fashion – pubic hair fashion.  It used to be a trimming and shaping exercise, getting a short back and sides. You’d have no trouble spotting the aeroplane blonde – you know, the blonde with a black box.  The heart shape was popular with the youngsters and occasionally you’d see an arrow or lightening strike pattern to liven things up – but nowadays, more often than not there is nothing there at all. Complete de-forestation.  Sometimes a teeny weeny patch of hair is left – what’s the point of genital bonsai?  The term landing strip is used but unless the hair illuminates in the dark, it is unlikely to be a visual aid in most amorous encounters. Perhaps it is used as a type of Braille for the anatomically ignorant?

One of my twenty-something patients who’d resisted the Brazilian fashion, told me that her new boyfriend was horrified to discover a neat and tidy, but haired pudendum and complained that it was “unnatural”. Despite his considerable sexual experience, he had never seen a female pubic hair.  He probably thought that girls came with neck down alopecia, completely ignorant of the serious pruning required to de-hair all the nooks and crannies, and the time, effort and cost it entails. Not to mention the pain and embarrassment. Lying with your legs wide open while some spotty, gum-chewing seventeen-year-old assistant beautician pours hot wax onto your private bits can be excruciating in more than one sense.

The PAP smear can be embarrassing too – I know. Some don’t seem to mind. One woman said to me, “It’s been so long since I’ve had sex that I’ve actually been looking forward to my smear.” She was joking – I hope. I’ve had patients who are happy to have an audience – like the boyfriend who thought it would be “totally awesome” to see his partner’s cervix, and the grandmother who wanted her teenage granddaughter to watch the procedure so that she would know what to expect herself. One young thing “tweeted” that she was having a PAP smear.  During the actual procedure.  She told me that she had over one hundred followers on Twitter – I can’t imagine that they would all be interested in her gynaecological check up.  Other patients are more reticent    I recently had a nineteen-year-old female look at me in horror when I gently explained that she would need to remove her underwear as well as her jeans.  “Can’t you just, like, work around them?” she pleaded.  “It’s like, so embarrassing!”

My favourite PAP smear anecdote, however, involves a particularly self-conscious and nervous older lady and a mobile phone.  After several attempts I had finally convinced this fifty two-year-old to have her first smear test in twenty years, and I was trying my best to make the experience as comfortable as possible.   To my horror, just as I was inserting the speculum, my mobile phone went off.  The Beethoven ring tone seemed to go on forever but I tried to ignore it and continue seemingly undeterred.  At the end of the procedure the patient said, “Thank you so much for providing the lovely classical music – it was very thoughtful of you.  It really helped me to relax.  One thing puzzled me though – I couldn’t work out how you managed to start the music at the right time.  Did you have a remote control or was there a switch on the speculum? Modern technology is amazing, isn’t it? A singing speculum – what will they think of next?”

Medicine really does provide the best laughter.

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