November 24, 2009
by Susan Kim Playwright, TV writer. Author: “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation” w/Elissa Stein
When I was a teenager, I was a candy striper at my local hospital. This was admittedly not from a selfless desire to help others, but was a desperate attempt to bulk up my nonexistent extracurricular resume. That being said, I did learn useful things, such as how to push a wheelchair into an elevator without tipping it over and how to water flower arrangements. I also first heard of the term “compliance,” the readiness with which a patient follows medical advice. This reinforced feelings I had secretly already formed about doctors and experts in general. Compliant patients were the good ones, the winners who got better. Woe to those who went their feckless ways, disregarding the expertise of others!
So okay… this week, it’s been hard for smugly-compliant me to digest the two bombshell announcements concerning Pap tests and mammograms.
I understand that these are controversial changes that are being feverishly debated even as I type, changes that may have as much to do with our collective mindset about risk and odds as they do about medicine and health. I also understand that they’re merely guidelines that should be discussed by all women with their physicians. But having just written a book on menstruation, I’m struck by how once again, conventional wisdom regarding women’s health has been seemingly turned on its head overnight; and how it’s the most compliant of us, the ones who have spent years dutifully following instructions like the good girls we are who are left the most confused, frustrated, and upset.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying medical uncertainty is just something that affects women; who hasn’t struggled to make sense of, say, the health benefits of fiber, vitamins, herbal supplements? Yet the history of menstruation is a singularly female and bizarre saga studded with truly hair-raisingly bad advice from the supposed experts of the day.
Comment from Leslie
You can hear Susan Kim and Elissa Stein on my radio show on Monday December 7, 2009 from 6 to 7 pm MST. We will be discussing their new book and the current state of medical affairs of women. Am sure that it will be a lively show.