Diapers and Dragons

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Another Hysterical Female With Unreasonable Girly Bits

****FAIR WARNING SO I DON'T GET GROSSED OUT COMMENTS: This post contains references to icky medical and "girly" issues both past and present. If you are easily skeezed out, horrified, or otherwise proven a total wimp by such details, skip this post. If not, or if you're just all, you know, curious now, read on. Just don't say I didn't warn you.****

Yesterday I was reading, with great empathy, the latest post on ongoing medical issues Betty at The 52 Seductions has been facing. Her most recent session with her gynecologist resonated with me, not because of her specific medical problems, but because of how the doctor continues to approach both her and her mysterious condition, which apparently he finds quite annoying because it won't cooperate by being easily diagnosed or treated. His disgruntlement extends to Betty, who is also quite uncooperative since she won't agree that his treatments are actually doing much of anything. It's all quite inconvenient for him. Apparently, paying any real attention to the details of her case or listening to her like she has much of a clue about her own body is also inconvenient.

One of the commenters wrote, Sometimes I have the feeling that gynaecology consultants are not *actually* listening and are just hearing, “blah, blah, blah, woman’s complaints, blah, blah, blah.”

Been there. Felt that.

Let me explain. When I was a nubile young thing of eighteen, I started experiencing occasional bouts of severe but short-lived pain. These incidents would occur every couple of months and last for only a few hours, but I was incapacitated during that time. The pain was very much like that of a severe bladder/urinary tract infection paired with a nasty yeast infection, but would manifest out of nowhere and depart just as suddenly. While in pain, I pretty much could only lie about wearing as little as possible and popping Advil like it was candy.

Time after time, I would take myself to the doctor the next day: he (or more rarely, she) would run the routine tests for a UTI or yeast infection, find nothing, and send me on my way. Occasionally I would be given antibiotics and creams anyway, on the off chance that I had an infection that was escaping their tests.

As time went on, the incidents gradually increased in frequency, severity, and duration. My menstrual periods, which had been relatively consistent, started arriving earlier or later and heavier or lighter than usual. I began spotting between periods, something that had never happened before. Something was wrong.

According to the expressions on the doctors' faces, they started suspecting something was indeed wrong--not with my body, but with my mind. The symptoms were most common at night, so invariably I had nothing to "show" when I was in the doctors' offices. Not a single doctor ever seemed to listen to the whole story. Not a single doctor ever varied in their approach. It was always the same exam, the same tests, the same results.

Looking back, I should have insisted on something more. I was too young and intimidated--all those years of school, all those diplomas, all those shiny metal instruments!--to challenge them. You'd think that since I grew up in a family filled with nurses and doctors I'd be different, but in truth I had grown up believing that all doctors knew what they were doing. The ones in my family certainly seemed to. It didn't occur to me to ask more questions or push for different tests.

After two and a half years of increasing pain and desperation, I was nearing the end of my rope physically and mentally. I was starting to think maybe those expressions were right--maybe there WAS something wrong with my mind. And yet, the physical result was undeniable. The pain was so much worse and so much more frequent that others were noticing. Once, in the middle of my African Lit class, it arrived like a freight train. The professor actually stopped class because I turned white and started sweating. He had another student escort me to the health center, concerned that I might collapse on the way. Same results. Same facial expression.

Then in the fall of 1998, I scheduled my routine pap smear and exam like a good girl, at the university health center. I requested an appointment with the same Nurse Practitioner who had performed my very first gyno exam years before, because I appreciated her approach. I felt like a person with her rather than a pair of legs in stirrups. Let's face it, having one's lady bits messed about with is difficult enough without feeling like the person doing the messing about views one as an unfeeling slab of meat. Or a mannequin.

After the routine part of it all, she let me sit up and regain a bit of dignity, then asked if I had any concerns to raise.

Actually, I do, I said. And I told her the whole story. From start to finish. With every detail. Because unlike every other medical practitioner who had seen me in the previous two and a half years, she actually listened.

Once I completed my tale of woe, she said, Please lie back down. I think I might know what this could be. She then probed my lower abdomen with her fingers, quite firmly, for perhaps a minute. Oh yes, she said. There's definitely something there that shouldn't be. You need an ultrasound.

Two weeks later an ultrasound technician found, in almost no time at all, a single massive fibroid on the posterior of my uterus. It was seven centimeters in diameter, about the size of an orange.

Not quite two months after that, four days before my twenty-first birthday, the fibroid was surgically removed. It had apparently been growing quite rapidly, which explained the increasing pain, because it was then nine centimeters in diameter, about the size of a grapefruit.

I haven't had problems since.

Well, at least from uterine fibroids. I did have to have planned cesarean sections with both children because of the risk of uterine rupture. The scar is...interesting. At least I can still wear a bikini.

And along with the joint issues I inherited from family, I also am prone to REAL urinary tract infections, a problem I share with a close relative or two. I get them way too frequently, despite precautionary measures and cleanliness, and almost half the time the infection makes a run for my kidneys. I've learned to hie myself to the doctor post haste at the first signs of discomfort. And every time, that pain brings back the nasty memories of those years of misery.

So when I read Betty's post yesterday morning, I wrote a comment summarizing my story (yeah, it was long, but shorter than this post, trust me), and then decided I really wanted to write about my own experience over here. Because the main point is true for both of us: medical professionals need to stop jumping to conclusions without truly listening, and they need to start believing that patients can and do know their own bodies. I know enough doctors and nurses who practice excellent and compassionate medicine to believe that it is possible, even under the time and financial constraints so common today.

Here's the fun little kicker, though. Last night, just after popping a handful of cranberry pills, I had to use the bathroom. And lo and behold, I felt that telltale burning.

Went to the doctor today.

Irony, thy name is...well, apparently it's cystitis. And occasionally, when you want to be really nasty, pyelonephritis. Your timing is impeccable. Damn you.

****For an added little TMI bonus, I made sure to text DraftQueen with my test results right away. Because we have this very weird tendency to get UTIs at the same time. Sometimes within hours of each other. Even though we're miles and miles and states apart. I kid you not. She's gorging on cranberry as we speak.****

7 bits of love:

Monica said...

What a frustrating story. 2.5 years of suffering needlessly: wow. A good cautionary tale about standing up for ourselves.

Dad said...

Sorry about the UTI stuff - there are some gene things one would love to change!! Good reminder to be aware and responsable for our health care.

Kathleen said...

I hope you put your grapefruit fibroid in a jar and took it to the other docs who refused to look for answers!

Draft Queen said...

Seriously? I am pumping the cran. After your text I became paranoid and actually ran to the bathroom to pee and lo and behold my urine was kinda cloudy. I'll be loading up on cran for at least 2 weeks.

I so don't need a full blown UTI to add to my misery.

Logical Libby said...

I can't even tell you how much I relate. Try going through infertility treatment. Then you're just a womb with legs.

GingerB said...

Hey, I had a friend who had a fibroid that was aout the size of my three pound two ounce baby. She eventually just got rid of her uterus and became a much happier woman. Just wanted to add some sympathy.

Betty Herbert said...

Only just found this, sorry! Really interesting to hear your story in full - it seems so common that we're ignored. Part of the problem is it still isn't generally okay to talk about this stuff. We'd happily talk about a sore knee, but anything in the area of your knickers - uh-uh. The more stories that get shared, the better! Keep up the TMI! x

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