3 Important Things to Know Before Visiting a Gynecologist in Egypt
This was not exactly a situation I’d ever imagined in my future. It was February 2010. I was six months into a year of teaching art and science in Egypt when my period stopped. I hadn’t slept with anyone (I lived with seven other teachers, only one of them male), so immediately I thought, “Cancer! Tumor! Some other terrible mortal disease!”
I tried parsley tea for two weeks because it’s supposed to be good for bringing on menstruation—no red. I still became bloated and irritated at the right time each month, but nothing else happened. I ignored it for three months and then got serious about it.
Here are three takeaways from my search for a gynecologist:
Things to Know Before Visiting a Gynecologist in Egypt
1. Don’t try to arrange a gyno visit in Egypt by yourself
Have a local female friend help you, preferably with her own doctor or one she knows. Ask her to go with you; do not go alone. I asked the director of the school, also female and a friend, to help me find a gynecologist. She made an appointment with a doctor friend of hers who studied in the U.S. She also brought another native Egyptian on board, my fellow art teacher, to help get me to the appointment and to act as an interpreter. This was top-of-the-line gyno care. I couldn’t have done it without them. There is no phone book listing gynos in Cairo. It is not a subject brought up in general conversation and I wasn’t even sure they had such a position in Egypt.
I thought we would go to a hospital in Cairo, but my teacher friend explained I would have to go home with her after school and then she would drive me to the doctor’s personal office. She was incredibly understanding and helpful. I spent an hour at her house on the sixth of October, too nervous to really settle down. I didn’t like going to the gyno at home, and I was terrified she might find something really, really bad. Why else would my period just stop?
Once it was dark, my friend drove me somewhere, I honestly don’t know where. The streets were dirt, it was dimly lit, but still in the city. When we got out she insisted I walk close by her and on the inside of the sidewalk because she wasn’t comfortable alone with all the strange men about. It felt like we were about to make a black market deal.
2. Appreciate the medical care we receive in the U.S. and other developed countries
The building looked like the standard Cairo building: painted brick, dusty, cracking and plain. Signs were outside, but I couldn’t read them. It didn’t inspire confidence in medical ability. Inside, it got worse. I’m used to bright, sparkling clean, a-bit-worn-but-still-comfortable waiting areas. This place looked like a dump. Dimly lit, one chair with its stuffing and metal hinges showing through a hole, absolutely no comforting pictures on the wall. Definitely no Purell dispensers on the wall. I shivered at the thought of any instruments touching me. Long wait times are nothing compared to unclean, dated instruments. My friend did all the talking with the receptionist while I stood in the corner.
The doctor came out. She was an older lady, short, wearing a hijab, with a kind but curt manner and excellent English. She ushered me into the single examination room. I laid down on a green cushioned exam table (no sterile white paper on this one) that looked straight out of M.A.S.H. All of the tools were metal, including a very large pincer-like looking thing that hung off the side. A small TV from the ‘70s showed the ultrasound images.
I noticed she had certificates from a university up on the wall – I can’t remember which one, possible the University of Pennsylvania. It was a very prestigious name that made me even more amazed that she operated out of a place like this. I had no doubt about her abilities, but the state of the equipment and cleanliness of the office was unacceptable by American standards. If this constituted the best in gyno care, I couldn’t imagine what the tiers below were like – if they existed.
3 Important Things to Know Before Visiting a Gynecologist in Egypt,
3. Stress can do some interesting things to your body
The doctor put some gel on my lower abdomen and my insides showed up on the little screen. It looked like a fuzzy bunch of pasta to me, but she assured me nothing evil was lurking there. I was clean. I asked her what caused my period to stop. She asked if I was stressed, and I said very. Turns out strong, consistent stress can stop menstruation because the body knows it is not a good time for you to have a baby. If your period stops, step back and take a look at what your body’s telling you.
I have no doubt that this was the case – the moment I stepped onto the plane to return home in June, I got my period. Literally the second I stepped aboard. I had to run to the bathroom right after takeoff. I started crying. I’ve never been so happy to see that red before or since.
Top photo by Unsplash.