Late last year, I noticed some post-menopausal spotting. What a joke: a period at my age. Mildly curious, I went to the NHS website, which featured a middle-aged frump, hands covering her face in anguish. Underneath was a list of cancers that cause PM bleeding. Get to a doctor now, it said. You've got cancer. I disappeared into a black hole. My GP gave me an immediate appointment.
At the surgery, my doctor explained that, despite only four days of spotting, I'd be fast-tracked for ultrasound and cervical smear tests. (I'd avoided the latter for ages because the last one had been so horrific. After two tries the nurse had waved the contraption in my face, saying "It's only me..." before taking a third, excruciating stab at it.) With this in mind, I looked at my GP and launched into a hysterical speech about not being sexually active for about 100 years, even getting a small tampon up there yesterday was like battering out of Colditz, how they hell would they get a probe up there and SHOULD I BUY DILATORS LIKE MY COUSIN WHO HAD CANCER. No no no said the GP, they're used to dealing with post-menopausal 'ladies'. They'll use small instruments. You'll be fine.
Unlikely. I went straight home to Amazon, where I found a set of five vaginal dilators with ecstatic reviews: 'My wife loved these, but thought the largest should be bigger.' They arrived a few days later, as did the date for my hospital ultrasound. The timing was ideal: I was about to leave for a holiday in the US, and could spend these interim weeks using my dilators and doing whatever it took to avoid a repeat of the last debacle. In short, I'd get the five buggers up there if it killed me. I bought extra KY jelly, packed my suitcase - praying that Customs didn't pick on me for an inspection - and berated myself that the words 'post-menopausal' still made me picture an army of matrons buffing their driving shoes. Traitor. This is your tribe now...
In San Francisco to visit my friends, Ryan and Rebecca, I was staying, alone, in the Pacific Heights house belonging to Rebecca's parents, who were travelling abroad. Three-storeys high, it was exquisite and stuffed with antiques. It also lacked a single blind or curtain at any of the (huge) windows. Including the bathrooms. So where to start Operation Dildo? I chose the study, which had a balcony affording some privacy. The next day, I laid a luxurious bath towel on the floor and got to work. I settled into a routine: every morning, pre-shower, and in the evening before I had a bath and cycled over to my friends for supper, I spent an hour with my ipod and 'graduated cones plus universal twist and lock handle'. The first two dilators were easy enough. Three was a stretch. Four and five were hellish. Millimetre by millimetre, agonisingly, I edged them up, with a recommended five minute wait after every move. God the pain. The tedium. The pain. The thoughts of what child abuse victims must go through.
During week two, while idling on the towel, I pulled off my earphones and gazed up at the blinking red light of the fire detector. Was it? Was it a fire detector? Or was it, holy fuck of all fucknesses, a camera? California screaming. Don't move. Stay calm and don't even think about waddling out of the room with five inches of white plastic tubing sticking out of your fanny. Think. Would Rebecca's father, a man who arranged his house with military precision, have fitted a security camera while a stranger was in situ? Later that evening, in a semi-coherent outburst, I told Ryan and Rebecca about the desecration going on a few blocks away. Ryan "admired my commitment" and Rebecca hoped the doctor would take one look at my vagina and say "Ooh, how roomy". I felt better immediately and no there wasn't a camera but yes, they would have liked me on RedTube. With three days to go before my return to London, number five, monster dildo, made it to the very top. I was ready for the NHS. (Stick that in your next Olympic Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle.)
Later, back in the UK, the hospital doctor unwrapped a speculum the size of a fountain pen. The ultrasound investigation (which felt like someone rummaging around in a vegetable drawer) was no worse. You're completely clear, said the technician, adding that my bowel was "very active". That explains the 100 dB flatulence, I thought. The ordeal was over. File under #lakelandbananaguard and forget.