I recently went to my gynecologist in a borderline state of panic, having noticed some pain in one breast. This came only days after my mother was diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer. (Mine turned out to be nothing.) As I checked in, I noticed a sign announcing that my doctor had decided to stop delivering babies. I said an immediate thanks to God that I was past needing those services and went about my visit without another thought. About a week later my mother called me with the news of my gynecologist’s imminent retirement. Your mother is the one you call for support in a crisis of gynecological proportion. She isn’t supposed to be the one who notifies you of one! I immediately corrected her that it was just babies he was retiring from & not the profession as a whole. “No. I don’t think so,” she said, “It’s pretty clear that he’s retiring.” My response was something irrational, I’m sure, like “He can’t be retiring because I’m not done going!” She took that moment to remind me of the Designing Women episode where Suzanne Sugarbaker’s gynecologist retires and her sister Julia says, “Let him go! He’s paid his dues!” I know my mother shared that same thought. In typical “mother-mode”, she appeared at my house the next day, newspaper in-hand, to prove it to me. And sadly, she was right…again.
Now, choosing a gynecologist is no easy task for a woman. I know this, because I’ve been through as many gynecologists as Clinton has girlfriends. In high school, I went to a gynecologist named Dr. Grinny Ho. I challenge you to beat that one. Tell me a funnier name of an actual practicing gynecologist & I will buy you dinner on the spot. He was a nice man & had the redeeming quality of prescribing narcotics for cramps. But eventually, I moved. In college, I chose one from the phone book. Not a method I speak highly of. I thought his name sounded wonderful, like he would be this gorgeous hunk of man who would tend to my issues and give me a little eye candy while there. I was a college girl, after all. Priorities, you know. He ended up looking like the professor from Back To The Future. I will never, ever forget his hair. Or the butterflies all over his ceiling, as if pondering the wonder of the monarch in flight will take my mind off the cold, hard speculum & latex-covered hand.
After moving to Kansas City, my search started once again. I sought an experienced, board-certified male doctor this time & instead wound up with one who looked like a cross between Johnny Cash & Wayne Newton. He stamped my file “chaperone denied” both times he examined me, even though I was never asked if I preferred the nurse to be present. Nice. Completely creeped out this time, I had had enough. I decided to take the advice of all my girlfriends and go to a woman. “You’ll be sooo much more at ease,” they said. Now the entire “do-you-prefer-a-man-or-a-woman” question is not unlike asking someone whether they vote Democrat or Republican. Both can spark a heated debate! People have their distinct preferences, but suffice it to say, she solidified my preference in having a man perform the yearly inspection. ‘Nuff said. Next we moved to Colorado, where I found the gynecologist of my dreams. Not a physically gorgeous man, but he listened & I wasn’t treated like a number. This was a good thing because shortly after finding him, he told me I was pregnant. Although your husband plays the biggest role, by far, in the pregnancy and birth of your children, you have a special place in your heart for the man who not only delivers your child into the world, but orders a steady drip of Demerol & stitches you up with the deftness & talent of Martha Stewart cross-stitching a sampler for the wall of her summer home. This man was wonderful. In my seventh month of pregnancy, I developed kidney stones, literally moments before my husband Chuck’s plane took off for Tucson. Unfortunately for me, not enough moments for him to exit the plane! I was taken to the hospital by a friend and was amazed the next morning when I awoke to find my gynecologist sitting by my bedside. Apparently he had been there off and on through the night since he was on call & felt sorry for me because Chuck couldn’t get a flight out until morning. That’s medical care at it’s finest. When, five months after our daughter’s birth, we got the news that we were moving back to the south, I said, “That’s fine, but no more kids if Dr. C can’t deliver them. That’s it. We. are. done.” God has nothing if not a sense of humor, right?
After settling into our new home and scanning the provider list of our insurance company, I call to make an appointment with one of the few offices listed. They tell me that Dr. Rokas* has an opening and I say, “Fine. Book me.” Now that I’m NOT having kids & I’m much older, I’ve lost some of the gusto & criteria with which I formerly sought out my physicians. I figure a big, Greek guy can’t be all bad. I’ll give him a shot.
I don’t remember a lot about my first visit except for thinking, “He doesn’t look Greek at all.” He seemed nice enough, had a wonderful nurse & I felt very comfortable. I decided to keep him. What I hadn’t planned on was settling down here and eventually having two more babies. I saw him at least once a year for thirteen years and for two of those years, many more times, since I was pregnant. I ran into him on occasion outside of the office, for instance, shortly after my first office visit, at an Arkansas Travelers baseball game. I leaned over to my husband and said, “That’s Dr. Rokas,” & he said, “Wow! She’s gorgeous!” I had to inform him that yes, his wife is gorgeous but her husband is actually my doctor.
Once, during the horrid ice storm of 2000, we were forced to hole up in a hotel for almost 5 days. Chuck came down with a stomach virus with our family of four, my mother and our elderly neighbor all crammed into one room. It was & still is, the closest I’ve ever come to hell on Earth. After an intensely frustrating night with a screaming one year-old, a bored pre-schooler & a violently-ill husband, I announced to the room that I would have Dr. Rokas tie my tubes right there on that hotel bed if he was available. I was officially done. Early the next morning, as I was headed to the lobby for breakfast, the elevator doors opened & there he stood, like a genie out of a bottle, fresh off of a night on-call, ready to grant my wish. Apparently he had no power at his house either & they, too, had sought refuge in this hotel. He didn’t actually tie my tubes that day but his sweet wife did occupy my restless children long enough for me to grab a bite to eat. Two months later, he would give me the news that my third and final child was on the way. So much for that tubal.
I have many memories from the 13 years that I was in Dr. Rokas’ care. Seeing the ultrasound images of our boys and watching our daughter’s eyes well up with tears when she learns that a little sister is not in the cards…finding out when I go in to schedule a tubal that I’m already pregnant and will have to postpone those plans…hearing Dr. Rokas assure me that I AM indeed pregnant no matter how much I think I am not…bringing that third child into the world & getting him to cry when he came out completely silent----at that moment, my doctor was elevated to hero status…and in a moment of serious airheadedness, wrapping my entire body in the small sheet the nurse handed me to cover myself, forgetting to first don the snap-front robe. (She should have handed IT to me too! I thought it was strange but, in my defense, I never saw the robe & I had completely covered myself.) His expression when he opened the door is one I will never forget & that moment of embarrassment is second only to removing my pants at my neighborhood pool to reveal I had never put my swimsuit bottoms on. In all honesty though, if you’re going to kneel eye-level with my vagina, shouldn’t we just dispense with the glorified table runner & get on with it? All dignity went out the door with that one… But I digress…
I will miss him, for sure & I am glad that my childbearing years are behind me. Dr. Rokas was present at both the boys’ births and was just as comforting & wonderful as the doctor who delivered my daughter. I’m glad I didn’t stop with the childbearing like I had threatened to. He has assured me that his colleagues can step in & take over once he’s off lying in the sun with a margarita in hand. I hope so. Because dentists fix teeth & orthopedists repair bones, but a good ob/gyn changes your life. I have three wonderful children to prove that!
*Name changed so as not to force him into hiding from embarrassment!