TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines

This is a repost from several years ago. If you read my post from earlier this week, you know I dealt with some medical trauma related to HPV. This touches on the aftermath of that. I don’t remember writing it, though that’s not unheard of for something this old. More remarkable is that it contains a link to me writing about the bleeds that occurred after my surgery. I should remember that. I don’t. It’s fascinating to see the spots that memory has tweaked or erased in the intervening years.

Go get them for your kids who are in the appropriate age range. Tell people you know who have kids in that age range that these are important. That’s all. Just help deal a major blow to the most pernicious forms of this virus.


Photo of cells stained light and dark blue for viewing. One cluster of cells has large dark blue centers.
“High-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion of Cervix, ThinPrep” by Ed Uthman, CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I had an appointment to get a Pap smear. This is a routine appointment for most women. It isn’t for me. It was a six-month follow-up to my last test (clear), which was a follow-up to my surgery for extensive precancerous lesions last November.

It also marks the second birthday in a row during which I will be waiting for more information on my health. A friend noted yesterday, “It’s not a Heisenberg cervix; you won’t alter it by looking at it. So even if it WAS bad news, that means you can enjoy your birthday without having it hang over your head.” It doesn’t exactly change the situation, but at least it made me laugh, which I needed by then.

I didn’t think the Pap was going to bother me. I thought it would be just as routine as any before last year. Some part of me had other ideas.

I should have known something was weird when I had trouble remembering I had the appointment. I nearly forgot to get a referral for insurance purposes. I forgot to put it on my work calendar. I scheduled client calls without thinking about whether they’d conflict. I forgot to account for it when planning the number of hours I’d need to work yesterday. I forgot to tell my husband about it at all.

It didn’t get any better after I had to remember it. About an hour before the appointment, I started to get twitchy. I walked over to the doctor’s office using a route I hadn’t taken yet. In the elevator up, I remembered the only other two times I’d been to the office. The first was when I’d bled all over the place, due to what I termed “helpful violence.” On the second, I was told I needed surgery, although what I was told didn’t give me even a hint of what I was in for afterward.

I was panting just a little by the time I hit the office. I nearly laughed at the nurse who took my blood pressure, and I didn’t bother to find out what it was. There was no point. It wasn’t going to tell anyone anything about the general state of my health.

They made a very smart move when they put me in the examination room to wait for the doctor. They gave me a little paper lap robe and made me take my pants off. In the ten minutes or so that I was waiting, that extra step between me and escape kept me where I was. Of course, it also kept me from pacing or doing anything else to burn off the adrenaline.

Instead, I looked at the kit for the test. Picture a tapered pipe cleaner on a long handle, about three-quarters of an inch of stiff white brushes, with a small metal paddle at the end for scraping. Next to that is a larger paddle that would look something like a white butterfly if it weren’t made of hard white plastic with ridges for more scraping. Once I knew what everything was, I found something else to look at.

The doctor turned out to be much nicer than I remember. Fairly sweet guy, in fact. I have no idea what he saw when he walked into the room, but he went from “You’ll have your results in just a couple of weeks if everything is fine” to “I’ll call you when I get the results in a few days, whatever they are” in about a minute.

We talked about the new baseball stadium while I was getting my actual exam. I don’t know whether he was being extra thorough because he didn’t want to chance missing anything or whether the Pap smears I’ll be getting for the rest of my life (most women can stop in their sixties) are just going to hurt and cramp that much. I’m healed from the surgery, but there’s less of my cervix than there was the last time I had a “normal” exam, and that was the first time I’d bled from a Pap test.

Then it was over and I jittered my way out of there. I was still on the edge of tears, as I’d been for the whole exam, but at least I could move again. Unfortunately, I only had one errand to run, a quick trip to get some chamomile tea to help deal with the cramping. All too soon, I was back at my desk, expected to sit still and work as though nothing out of the ordinary had bitten a big hole in my day, as though nothing had taken out so large a portion of my last year that anything that reminds me of it terrifies me.

So why get kids the HPV vaccine, you ask? I’ll admit it; part of my answer is that I want to see the bug that did this to me eradicated. I know that’s unlikely, though. Still, I’ll settle for fewer people having to go through anything approaching what I have.

Wouldn’t you?

TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines