[Warning: slightly graphic, very embarrassing content ahead]
The waiting room smelled like asparagus pee. If I were coming in here because I was pregnant, I would definitely throw up. But thankfully, I wasn't pregnant. I was in the gynecologist office with a problem nearly as stressful as that would have been: a stuck tampon.
I should clarify: the entire tampon wasn't stuck. Most of it had come out with the string like the good people at Playtex designed it to. Most of it. The tampon came out with about an inch of cotton ripped off the top, like a bite had been taken out.
After a valiant 24 hours of reconnaissance attempts (“Take a bath!" my mom suggested), I called my gynecologist.
“Is this an emergency?" the receptionist asked right away in a bored voice.
I was one of three patients waiting to be seen in open hours: one was a shriveled woman reading an AARP magazine and the other was a very young and very pregnant girl. And I was a 22-year old with a broken tampon inside me. Three women walk into a gynecologist's office...we were like the start to some presumably sexist joke.
“Reason for visit?" the form asked innocently. “Other," I checked.
I turned to the stack of magazines and extracted a back issue of Glamour with Anna Kendrick on the cover. "Anna Kendrick: Self-described 'hot mess'… and proud of it," the cover states gleefully. Sure, Anna Kendrick. Somehow, I doubt Anna Kendrick has ever been in this position.
“Dana?" one of the nurse called when she opened the door. She gave me an embarrassed half-smile, clenching her jaw. Clearly, she knew. The entire time she weighed me, asked for my health and medication history, and took my blood pressure, the unspoken statement hung between us: you drove thirty minutes here, parked, took an elevator up, gave your health insurance card, and paid a co-pay because you need a stranger to pull your tampon out for you.
She put a paper sheet on the chair. “Strip from the waist down," she said. She didn't make eye contact, and then she left, telling me the doctor would be with me soon.
To kill time, I studied the room: diagrams of vaginas from every angle and growing babies lined the walls. One poster featured a placid, ambiguously ethnic mother-to-be calmly cradling her stomach. “Oh hello," she seemed to be saying. “I'm just coming back from my free range Lamaze class and I'm off to pick up the custom-made tub for my home birthing. Isn't gynecological care so easy and fulfilling? I would never do anything as irresponsible and childish as losing a tampon. Can you even lose a tampon? I seem to recall them telling us in 5th grade that was impossible."
The doctor came in. “Saw your chart and I thought, yikes, she shouldn't have to wait in here for twenty minutes while I finish up in the next room."
I politely laughed. “Hopefully this shouldn't take long."
The doctor smiled. “Don't worry, happens all the time. The other day, a 46 year old woman came in because she—get this—couldn't remember whether she put one in. And she had been using them a lot longer than you have." She pulled out the metal stirrups and tapped them. “Feet up."
From the cabinet, she extracted a metal device whose length I can only describe as terrifying. They looked like kitchen tongs ate a Mario mushroom. “Don't look. Or look if it makes you feel better," she said. It was too late.
“Do you mind if I use my phone… to distract myself?" I asked.
“By all means."
While I scrolled through tweets that I couldn't concentrate on, all manner of unpleasant pinching and scraping was going on.
“I don't see anything..." she said, pulling out the foot-long thin metal device.
Oh god. The only thing worse than needing a gynecologist to find your tampon is a gynecologist not finding your tampon.
“I'll just use my finger to double check," the doctor said, her finger already hoisting up a hefty dollop of lube.
I turned back to Twitter and ignored the stranger between my legs.
A few moments later, over which I tuned out words like “folds," “cotton residue," and “saturation," the doctor extracted her fingers and tossed her glove away.
“Alright," she said matter-of-factly, “so the piece wasn't in there. I assume it fell out sometime in the last 24 hours but if this ever happens again, you did the right thing. If the office is closed, call the emergency room. Toxic Shock Syndrome can be incredibly serious."
Vindication! I did the right thing. The actual right thing would have been not using a tampon I found under my sink that might have been there since middle school, but I did the best thing under the circumstances. Maybe I'm not that irresponsible after all. Irresponsible yes, but maybe Anna Kendrick-irresponsible.
Adorable hot mess. That's probably the best I can realistically shoot for.
(Images via Dana Schwartz, who got a tampon stuck)