“Doc-in-the-Box?”: Student health for women

Photo courtesy of anonymous
Photo courtesy of anonymous

The following opinion piece was contributed anonymously.

The other day I went into the health center because I had bad symptoms that seemed to be related to a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) or a yeast infection.  I had gotten them before and knew by searing pain and irritation below brought on by peeing that almost always end up being a UTI or yeast infection. 

Against my better judgment, I decided to go to the health center to see if I could medications to help ease the irritation and pain.  I should have known to go to a clinic with staff that specializes in women’s reproductive health as soon as the receptionist at the health center told me I was unable to walk in that day because a doctor would not see me for a yeast infection or UTI.  This was especially concerning to me because UTIs can be serious when they are not urgently diagnosed and treated.

At my appointment I told the doctor that I was prone to UTIs and yeast infections.  She did a routine pee-cup test and pap smear.  After asking me questions from a long checklist including how many sexual partners I’d had and when I’d had intercourse last,  she did an exam of my abdomen to look for spots where I felt pain.  I told her I was prone to severe digestion problems ever since I was a child which led me to have abdomen pain whether someone was pressing on my intestines or not. 

After the exam, she concluded that from the redness and irritation, and the pain in my abdomen that I most likely had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and that I should contact all my recent partners.  She gave me two rounds of antibiotics, a dose of 4 antibiotics and a painful shot of antibiotics in my butt.  Then, she encouraged me yet again to contact my recent partners and encourage them to come to the health center to get tested.  I left the health center mentally frazzled and with $106 in the hole.    

            The rest of the day was a blur as I worried about how, and even if I should tell my partners.  I felt sick and wiped out from taking those strong antibiotics.  Because of the stigma associated with STDs and the small size of the Claremont Colleges, I decided it would be safer for me to wait until the tests came back to notify anyone. 

            The symptoms did not go away after two days of being on the antibiotics.  At this point I was 90% sure that I did not have an STD, but part of me was still worried that I had a different type of STD than I was tested for.  The doctor from the health center called me back the next day and told me the tests came back negative.  She now thought I had a UTI or a yeast infection.  She repeatedly told me that it was better to have treated it as though it was an STD. 

I was relieved, but soon my relief turned into frustration.  How had this not been discovered earlier?  I had been to the health center a year before with these symptoms and it was concluded in the same day that I had a yeast infection, so why were they not able to figure this out?

As I thought back on my experience at the health center, I remembered how powerless I felt sitting on the exam table.  It had been like talking to a wall.  My input meant nothing to the doctor. If my symptom or reason behind a symptom did not fit behind the diagnosis of an STD, she did not listen.   It frustrated me that she assumed that I had an STD when a more comprehensive approach could have been taken where she could have considered my explanations for symptoms, like my abdominal pain. 

            I returned to the health center for another exam where I was given more antibiotics and a pill that would help with the yeast infection.  I took the yeast infection medication that day and the symptoms were gone within 24-hours.  I never took the antibiotics because I had already had two rounds of antibiotics earlier that week and I felt that I wanted to have the least invasive treatment.

            After this experience at the health center, I do not trust the medical advice that they give.  I personally will not ever go back to the health center because of the lack of knowledge, experience and sensitivity this doctor had towards women’s reproductive health. 

For many girls like me, I wait until I am very sick to go to the doctor because doctor’s offices scare me and I feel uncomfortable in them.  The health center should be taking every step they can to make it a safe and comfortable place for students to go when they are sick. Instead, experiences like this are deterring students from going to the health center.

            I understand that STDs are common on college campuses and that is important to consider them when a student comes in with a health concern “down below.” I also understand that the health center sees a high volume of students everyday which can make it hard to comprehensively and correctly diagnose each case.  I also know that I am not the only one who has had a negative experience with the health center. 

A fellow student told me she felt that a doctor judged her sexual practices when she went in for an STD test.  Another student told me she went in with a severe stomachache and they gave her a pregnancy test,while she was on birth control, before considering other options.  One student told me how she was diagnosed with Mono after describing her symptoms of a fever, sore throat, and runny nose to a nurse.

I would like to suggest that the health center hire a part-time or full-time gynecologist to see cases like mine.  I also would like to suggest that doctors take a more comprehensive approach in listening to and considering a patient’s symptoms before coming up with a diagnosis. 

 Advocacy Tips:

It is hard to stand up to authority figures like doctors, but when you are at a doctor’s appointment, you are your best advocate.  Here are some tips on how to advocate for yourself when at the health center or any other doctor’s office.

  1. Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Ask the doctor about what their thought process is.  Ask what they are looking for and why. 
  2. Describe your answers to simple “yes/no” questions you may be asked.
  3. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable with something during the process; you know your body best.

 Planned Parenthood is close, and the doctors specialize in reproductive health.  Fellow students have told me that they felt more comfortable going to Planned Parenthood for health concerns.  Visits are charged on a sliding scale to make it affordable to everyone.

 Planned Parenthood Health Center, Pomona:

p: 800.576.5544

Address: 1550 N Garey Avenue
Pomona, CA 91767

 

Planned Parenthood Health Center, Upland:

p: 909.890.5511

Address: 918 W Foothill Blvd. #A
Upland, CA 91786

 

Website: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/

 **You can walk-in or you can schedule an appointment online or by calling the specific location.

 

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