• Thu, Aug 9 2012

I’m Not Afraid To Tell You About My Abortion, But I’m Sure As Hell Afraid To Tell New Doctors

Some secrets I'll just keep to myself.

When I was in Colorado I found myself with a good old fashion sty in my eye. It was extremely attractive and every time I left the house to get something (which is often in the suburbs), I was making friends left and right because people just love a scowling woman with a pus-filled, weepy eye. Even I was overcome with just how amazing I looked each time I passed a mirror.

By day three, it looked like the thing had made a permanent home on my upper eyelid and was content to stay there forever. While it did have its appeal in that I was the best looking on the block with the damn thing, I knew it might be time to get some antibiotics or, at the very least, an eye patch so I could practice my pirate talk in public and it wouldn’t seem strange to those who walked by me. You’re allowed to talk like a pirate when you have an eye patch to match. So off to urgent care I went looking for, with one working eye mind you, help for my situation.

Since moving to New York City I have had many different insurances. Even when I haven’t switched jobs, I’ve found myself at companies who just love to change insurance every year just to save an extra five cents on each of their 16 employees. It’s frustrating and aggravating, but since I’ve been lucky enough that my primary care physician and gynecologist have been in all those different networks, I can’t complain too much. Although I will complain about losing coverage for my acupuncture: it more than sucked. You mean now I have to pay out of pocket to have needles stuck in my skin in the hopes of reclaiming some sort of balance in my soul that probably never existed in the first place? Not OK.

But having been lucky enough to not change the major doctors in my life, I’ve also been lucky in that I haven’t had to list my abortion under the procedure/operation section of a new patient form. It never really crossed my mind that this might even be an issue for me until I sat in the urgent care waiting room in Colorado a few weeks ago and for the first time ever I was afraid to admit to the fact that I once terminated a pregnancy.

When I arrived to the office I was asked three things before being handed a form:

Why are you here today? Wonky eye.
Date of birth? September 25th
Religious affiliation? Come again?

I had never been asked my religious affiliation at a doctor’s office, either in person or on a patient form. I stumbled over my words and asked her why she needed to know. She explained that if something quite terrible happened and I found myself on death’s door with my sty, they’d need to know how to proceed. I’ll tell you how to proceed, lady, burn me to a crisp and scatter my ashes in the Atlantic. I answered that I was an atheist and she checked off some box that I couldn’t see from my angle. I then immediately tried to figure out in my head exactly how many miles we were from Colorado Springs, a town that has become synonymous with evangelical Christians, and how fast I could get back to my sister’s house to hide should the hospital hit an alarm to let them know a heathen was in town.

After some quick inputting into her computer system, the woman behind the desk handed me my new patient form and back I scurried to fill it out at an epic speed so someone could do something with my eye that was trying to break records with its rate of growth. But I paused when I reached the section about having had any operations. Until my abortion, the only one I ever listed was having had my wisdom teeth out because I was “put under,” as they say, for that. And based on what a doctor once told me, being knocked out, even for something minor, should be listed in that section. I was knocked out for my abortion, too, but there was no way in hell that I was going to list that one on the form. I just imagined the doctor reading it, judging me then coming at my eye with not just a scalpel but a dagger instead and going to town on it as some sort of punishment for my ungodly behavior.

I decided that I wasn’t going to let the doctor or anyone in that office know that I have one terminated pregnancy in my past. If a doctor was going to possibly be wielding something metal and sharp, then I was going to leave out a few details.

Within the hour, my sty and I had been given antibiotics, avoided being lanced by a doctor wearing bright blue Crocs and I was on my way out the door. I was also, after some minor pleading, given a patch for the light sensitivity issue and the fact that I had to go home and stare at my computer for the next three hours. My pirate-talking skills did not improve, much to my disappointment.

When I got home I spoke to my sister about my inner conflict to list my abortion on the form. I told her that I was saddened that for the first time ever I felt afraid to let a doctor (or anyone, for that matter) know the truth. There was no shame or embarrassment attached to the emotions I was feeling, just a fear of what some potentially overly-religious doctor who may not be able to separate his personal beliefs from his professional duties just might do to me. I couldn’t tell if I was being paranoid or reasonable; was I letting my pre-conceived notions of middle America influence my fear or did it stem from the moment I was asked my religious affiliation? And exactly how far is Colorado Springs from Boulder and do heathen alert alarms really exist? The answer is I don’t know.

The only thing I confirm is that I sat in an urgent care office in Colorado on a 99-degree day in July, and no one in that vicinity was going to be told about my abortion. Whether it was a procedure, an operation or something else, it’s still part of my medical history to which a new doctor might need to be privy. But it’s also a tidbit that no doctor with a scalpel outside of New York City will ever know, if I have anything to say about it.

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  • Marissa

    Hahah! Don’t worry, Amanda. My husband moonlights in Urgent Cares, and they are usually staffed by dozens of other moonlighting residents or doctors who didn’t make it through residency. They have extensive patient history forms only to protect themselves from getting sued because you don’t have any patient history there. It’d be highly unlikely the doctor who saw you would bat an eyelash at your one abortion (seriously…that’s nothing compared to some stories I hear) or your religious affiliation. He or she was probably just relieved you weren’t an opiate drug seeker and that you weren’t bringing in your five kids with you to also be seen. Also, isn’t Boulder super liberal with tons of ex-hippies?

  • Christie

    You probably had nothing to worry about in Boulder of all places. Colorado Springs, perhaps, but Boulder is very notoriously liberal. It is a little strange asking about your religious affiliation, but they probably didn’t care what your answer was – they just may have wanted to know in case you were against any procedures for religious purposes.

    (This is just my two cents being from Colorado myself.)

  • BeccaTheCyborg

    I re-closet myself when I go to new doctors, so I think you’re being mostly reasonable. (I didn’t do so once, and had to change doctors.)

    • Nivea

      I told a massage therapist (for my back, recommended by my chiropractor since I have an extra vertebrae and myofascial pain) during a conversation that I was athiest and she went to hell on my back. I mean, it physically hurt! And the more that I talked about it (I was an ignorant 16), the more it hurt. We told my chiropractor (who didn’t look like he gave a shit), and he said he would ‘have a talk’ with her (which I obviously doubt he took the time to). It was pretty messed up, and since then I’ve been closeted about everything around that.

  • Bee

    They ask so that if you ARE religious, they can get you a minister/priest/rabbi/whatever of the appropriate variety. Most of them couldn’t care less what your particular answer is but if you have one, they know YOU care.

  • Tania

    You know, I think doctors are the only people who get a pass for wearing crocs. They’re on their feet for extremely long days, so both the comfort and the airflow are probably good when your feet are hurting like hell.

    • Amanda Chatel

      You’re probably right… well them and chefs like that red-headed dude with a ponytail.

    • BeccaTheCyborg

      They’re not supposed to wear them, though. Nurses as well. Something about possible dropped contaminated sharps/body fluids and holes in your shoe being a bad mix.

    • Anasarca

      As a med student I made the mistake of wearing crocs on the first day of my obstetrics elective. After spending a few hours with amniotic fluid squishing between my toes, I got more appropriate footwear lol

  • Jaclyn

    I always wondered how others handled that question. I tend to avoid it with new doctors as well, being one of the few liberal minded people in the South.

  • Lauren

    When my friend recently went in to get her tonsils taken out they asked her the same question. The hospital she went to was in New York City. They just want to know if you are dying and you are religious so they can get a priest or rabbi or whoever you need to you if you want them.

    • Amanda Chatel

      I had never been asked that anywhere — not even in college in New Hampshire.

    • BeccaTheCyborg

      I’ve gotten it in both the provinces I’ve lived in.

  • Suze

    “I just imagined the doctor reading it, judging me then coming at my eye with not just a scalpel but a dagger instead and going to town on it as some sort of punishment for my ungodly behavior.”

    I laughed out loud on that line!!!

  • Alyssa

    I live in Colorado and although I don’t live near Colorado Springs I do live near Boulder (which is about 2 hours away from CS). I think that’s really weird that they asked you about you’re religion, but I think regardless of a doctors religion, the only business they have with what you do with your body is the medical part of it. A doctors sole duty is to attend to you’re medical needs. If they ever think they have a say in anything else you do be it smoking or getting an abortion they are definitely out of line.

  • T-Lex

    Also a lot of religions have strict rules about blood transfusions, medications, ect. If anything its easier that you are atheist as you will not refuse certain treatments due to your religion.

  • Anasarca

    As a doctor and someone who has had an abortion in the past, I can tell you there is no need to tell your new doctor about this if you don’t feel comfortable. The only exceptions are if you:
    a) had a bad reaction to the anesthetics/meds they gave you
    b) you had a (rare but possible) complication from the procedure like a perforated uterus, sepsis, or an issue with clotting
    It would be nice if we could be honest about these things, but the truth is people will judge you, consciously or not, and you might not get the same sort of care you would otherwise

  • historyizfun

    Right after I an abortion, I had to see a doc in an urgent care situation (on public assistance, it was fun) for a terrible persistent pain on my right side. (The female) Doc said “Do you think it is related to the abortion” in a tone that indicated to me she thought I was going straight to hell. She left my stall, and the NP (a man) came in, looked at my chart – examined me and told me I had torn a muscle in my side, and to ignore the doc’s attitude. Good time.

  • Really? I mean Really>

    Thats ok hon, you won’r be in suck a dilema again. Obamacare is going to make all doctors privy to all your medical records so they will already know it. I am glad you feel yourself so much morally and intellectually superior than the medical professionals you were terrified of because you had a hideous sty on your eye. Wow. Balanced, intellectual article overall. You should apply for a job at the white house.

    • JM

      If you’re going to recycle paranoid and inaccurate stuff from Fox news, you should just link to the web site. Save time.

  • dirty hippie

    Ahem as a Boulderian I have to point out that Boulder is the original liberal oasis in Colorado, and I’m sure no one there would be judging you for having had an abortion. That said, I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable outside NYC.

  • katie

    That’s not a strange question at all. I love how this article is trying to make it seem like some Christian is trying to shove their views down someone’s throat. This is a standard question asked all the time in case you die or are dying and want a religious person to talk to.

    It sounds like you aren’t totally at peace with your own decision and are putting guilt on yourself and being paranoid that other people are judging you.

  • wygent

    Paranoia can be managed, sometimes without medication; but this sort of “oh, you’re not from the East Coast, so you must be a right-wing, gun-loving, jesus-freak who hunts down women and feeds them to pet mountain lions” bigotry is beyond the abilities of medical science. Please, if you are this ignorant, go back to NYC where you can feel safe. Go now.