I just spent two and a half hours and $40 on my vagina, and I did not even get my pubes waxed into a cute shape. No, I had a yeast infection — and here's why I'm enraged.
For all those fortunate enough never to have joined the Candida Club, a little background: yeast infections are very common. They're kind of like a cold for your vagina — annoying, but not life-threatening. You can treat them with home remedies (we don't recommend it), or over-the-counter Monistat, but for some reason Monistat's little egg-on-a-stick system has never worked for me. Which doesn't mean I didn't try it. I inserted the egg at the first sign of trouble, and things were better for a while, but then I woke up Wednesday morning feeling like someone had rubbed poison ivy all over my genitals. I needed Diflucan.
At least for me, Diflucan is a miracle drug. In a single oral (!) dose, it accomplishes what several days of weird vagina-eggs (or, worse, prefilled applicators filled with irritating cream) cannot: knocking the itch out for good. And yet it's not available over-the-counter. So after I determined that my gynecologist wouldn't see me until March, I spent a good chunk of Wednesday morning trying to find a doctor who would check out my vadge ASAP. I finally got an appointment for today, so at noon I walked over, waited an hour and a half, answered a bunch of questions about my medical history, had a breast exam (although I pointed out several times that I wasn't due for my yearly physical until May), and exited $30 poorer with a scrip for the precious pill in hand — and the bulk of my afternoon gone.
At least this time I had insurance. Back in the fall, I spent $175 and an entire day in a waiting room for that other bane of the female body: a urinary tract infection. All told, I've probably wasted several entire days of my still-relatively-young life getting my vagina prodded by relative strangers — and shelled out hundreds of dollars. And I'm not alone — most of the women I know have sunk precious hours into vagina maintenance — hours they could've spent working or playing or actually taking the medication they knew they needed.
It doesn't have to be this way. A doctor once gave me Diflucan even though she was pretty sure I didn't need it, because, she explained, it's harmless. There's no reason I can think of that it shouldn't be over-the-counter. And while I understand that UTIs require antibiotics, and antibiotic overuse can create resistant bacteria, I still think there's got to be a better system than forcing women to come pee in a cup every time they have the usually very recognizable symptoms. Ultimately, I think the way American medicine handles common gynecological ailments says a lot about its view of women: that we can't be trusted to take care of ourselves, and that we need someone to watch out for us.
That's why we have to get a Pap smear before we can get birth control pills, even though they're basically unrelated. Because we won't get the proper medical tests unless they dangle a carrot in front of us — the carrot of not getting pregnant. Similarly, I think part of the reason we have to go to the doctor for routine things like yeast and UTIs is that they may mimic the symptoms of STDs. But stores don't stop selling cough medicine just because a cough could be tuberculosis. For minor ailments that don't involve the vagina, patients have a certain amount of discretion. Yet as soon as our shameful ladybits start itching, we have to hit the stirrups — even if we've felt the exact same symptoms dozens of times before.
I think some of this could change if we talked about our vagina problems more, and in mixed company. I know it's sort of an Eve Ensler cliche, but I actually think that the shame and grossness associated with UTIs and yeast infections are one reason why we still treat them as more serious than they are. Maybe if everyone — men included — realized how run-of-the-mill these ailments really are, then we wouldn't think of them as meriting an expensive, annoying doctor visit. I understand that the process of getting a drug approved for over-the-counter use is slow, and that UTI antibiotics might always have to be dispensed by a physician. But I still think it's worthwhile to agitate for a little more control over an unfortunately common aspect of femaleness. If nothing else, it distracts me from the itch.
Image via drugstore.com.