Those close to me know that, in general, I am not fond of the medical community. I admire what the community does, and I admire that doctors and nurses save lives or ~whatever~, but I personally have had far too many demoralizing and humiliating experiences with medical professionals to feel anything but icy toward them, as a whole. Call me judgmental, but as someone who has struggled with acne for years, you would have thought that the dermatologist’s office was like my personal playground with the frequency that I was in and out during high school and college. I’ve been on prescription medication for almost 10 years (including oral birth control) mostly to clear my skin and to keep me from getting pregnant, which, among other things, means that I’ve had to deal with several third parties that stand in the way of my getting the pills I need to keep my skin clear-ish for almost 10 years. There have been too many miscommunicated week-late refills after days of bouncing the phone between the pharmacy and the doctor’s office--and then to the nurse’s office when the doctor doesn’t want to talk to me--for me to count. I generally just find the whole system is overcomplicated and doesn’t allow for a lot of compassion on either end, which I guess is more of a reflection of the healthcare system in this country than it is a reflection of the health care professionals who are just trying to work within the system. So maybe it's not your fault, docs. I forgive you.
All this being said--despite everything that the alt right has claimed for the past two (but really, like, 40) years--the only remotely positive medical experience that I’ve ever had was when I went to get tested for a UTI and multiple STIs at Planned Parenthood (I’m fine now, by the way). And the curious thing is that many other women say the same thing: that they’ve had a lot of negative experiences with regular medical professionals, but that their experiences at Planned Parenthood are almost always positive.
My first real visit to Planned Parenthood--as a patient and not as a volunteer, which I had been a handful of times before--I came in seeking treatment for a nasty UTI, and was immediately offered additional STI testing services by my nurse, simply as a courtesy. She asked me about all my sexual exchanges with language that was not heteronormative, in that she asked for the genders of my partners without assuming they were all male. She asked me questions about healthy sexual communication, and ensured that I was aware about Planned Parenthood’s non-medical services including counseling and other resources to deal with abuse. She made me feel comfortable, and I got the sense that all the questions and the level of care and interest were simply standard at Planned Parenthood in a way that had not been the same at other medical facilities.
After peeing in more cups than I could carry, my nurse took me over to a room across the hall for the HIV test. Something very fun about me is that, while I don’t outright have a fear of blood--I can handle the occasional scraped knee and shaving knick!--I have a massive fear of blood in excess, and of blood being extracted from my body for any reason whatsoever. However, I’d had my finger pricked before and managed to handle the single-drop technique just fine, so I didn’t necessarily think I had anything to worry about when the nurse told me she would be pricking my finger for the test. Shortly after the initial prick--and after a few seconds of her massaging my finger--I made the fatal mistake of looking at my hand, where I saw my nurse filling what looked in my panic like a standard margarita pitcher with my blood. In reality, the vial was actually just a few inches long, but it was enough blood that I suddenly was no longer able to stand up without nearly fainting. With that famous Planned Parenthood hospitality that I had grown so used to, multiple staff members dispersed and promptly returned, one with a cold compress for my forehead, another with cups of water and ginger ale in both hands, and another with a wheelchair to transfer me over to the recovery room where I could wait out my fainting spell in luxury. And while I certainly felt silly being cared for by three different staff members (and an elderly woman who was volunteering that day!) in the same recovery room that housed women who had just endured major surgeries and procedures, I couldn’t help but be wooed by Planned Parenthood’s excellent patient care.
Everyone there so obviously cared about each of their patients to a degree that is rarely seen at other facilities. The energy of the Planned Parenthood that I visited (and of others that I’ve heard about from friends and family members) is inviting, warm, and professional. Of course, there are bound to be people who have had negative experiences at Planned Parenthood, and I have no intention of invalidating that; however, it seems pretty clear that, overall, Planned Parenthood is one hell of a standup institution and a reliably safe space for everyone to expect quality health care. Luckily I am infection- and disease-free and able to continue practicing safe sex thanks to the amazing care that I received at Planned Parenthood, and I know exactly where to go if my pee starts burning again (but please, dear goddesses of sex above, let’s keep that to an absolute minimum).
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes