With 1 in 3 women in the UK not taking up the invite for their cervical screening check, I’m striving to help women make informed decisions about their health. I’ve set out to share a variety of experiences of the cervical screening process – from invitation to after-party. Thank you to the women who’ve told me their stories; everything I share in this series is with expressed consent and I’ve changed names where desired.
I received my letter for my first smear test just after my 25th birthday (as most young women in England should). I have to admit, I don’t remember too much of my first smear test. I didn’t know what to expect as I hadn’t really spoken to any of my girlfriends about it. I had the test done by a female doctor and did as she instructed – hopped up onto the table, took off my trousers and knickers and covered myself with the flimsy blue paper towel that’s provided. I do remember it being uncomfortable, but that’s pretty much it.
My second test was quite different. I got a late afternoon appointment so went after work. I remember sitting in the waiting room thinking, “You’ve done this before. A few minutes of discomfort but then it’s over”. I was called in by the female nurse who was very lovely and calmed me down. Again, I did as instructed and stripped from the waist down. This is where my second experience differed wildly from my first. This nurse did not use any lubrication on the speculum. I don’t know a single woman who has natural lubrication in these times – you’re in a cold clinic room with someone you don’t know, and you know the procedure is going to be uncomfortable. So I essentially had a foreign body inserted into me without any lube. The actual procedure of scrapping cells was the same as my first time, very uncomfortable but manageable. The nurse then pulled the wand out (with the cells on), but left the speculum inside me for two minutes whilst she prepared the solution to put the cells in. I was in agony at this point and just wanted to get out. Luckily, she then took the speculum out and I got my knickers and trousers back on and made a hasty exit.
It was about a 10-minute walk from the GP surgery to my house; in that short walk, I had bled through my knickers. Once I got home, I cleaned myself up and put a night-time pad in my knickers and I had bled through this within a few hours.
I ended up writing to the GP surgery to tell them of my experience. I was clear that the nurse herself was very friendly, but that I truly believe the lack of lubrication led to a very painful experience. If this was someone’s first experience, I would worry that they wouldn’t go back for further routine screening. But, I will go back for my next one (coming up this year). No matter how horrible it was, it is nothing in comparison to the risk you run of not having a test and something sinister like cervical cancer is not picked up until it’s too late.
Don’t let this story discourage you from going for a test! I just think I’ll go into my next test armed with a pad in my bag – just in case. And have a hot water bottle ready to go when I get home!