I’m going to write about something that has been present now for a while, but I haven’t been sure how I would talk about it or even if I wanted to. Even now, my thoughts are not completely fleshed out, so this is me processing them, to some extent.
I may not be able to have my own children.
As people from my church will know, around March this year, I was in hospital for a short time.
I woke at 4am one Wednesday morning to discover a sharp and growing pain in my abdomen. After an hour of trying to get back to sleep with a hot water bottle, I got someone to take me to the emergency room at RPA.
I knew from the start what it was.
When I was 14, I had the exact same pain in my abdomen. I remember the night – it was cold and late. Mum called the doctor to come to our house after many hours and multiple painkillers had not even touched the agony I was in. By the time he got there, I was writhing around on the floor, clutching my stomach. He gave me a needle in the arm and the pain eased slightly.
I went through months of testing and going to see specialist doctors and having them speculate about a “niggling apendix”. Finally, my GP gave me a “maybe” conclusion about an ovarian cyst. He put me on the Pill and said if that fixed the pain, then that’s probably what it was.
Move forward five years – I’m 19, starting to think seriously about getting married and the baby-making that comes with it. I asked my GP if being on the Pill for a long time would create a greater risk of infertility. He said all tests have been inconclusive.
Well, that was enough to have me worried. He said I should try going off the Pill and wait for 2-3 cycles to see if the pain came back.
So when, in the middle of my 3rd cycle off the Pill, the doctors were talking about apedicitis and urinary tract infection, I wasn’t really taking it seriously. But I was kind of hoping it was something like that; something easy to fix.
I remember being asked if I was sexually active (“So you’ve never had sex? Are you sure?”). Being asked if I was sexually active after my friends were asked to leave. Being lectured about chlamydia.
I was a bit confused about what was going on during my time in hospital. On the first day, an ultrasound revealed some free fluid around my appendix, which is indicative of appendicitis, but it wasn’t at all swollen.
Then, when they discovered the cyst, I had different people tell me different things. Some said an easy operation would take care of the cyst once and for all while another doctor laughed at me when I asked if I would need surgery.
For most of the first day I was in there, I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, because I was on morphine, which can make you quite nauseous. When they finally said I could eat something, my dear Blake walking into Newtown to get me pad thai, which I had been craving. But by the time he got back, the thought of it was making me sick. Even the smell of the food meant he couldn’t eat his there with me.
They decided to have me stay in hospital for another day, just to make sure the pain was getting less.
On the afternoon of the second day, when the pain was still making its prescence known, they rushed me into theater to “check that one of my ovaries wasn’t black and dead” and to remove the cyst while they were at it.
I was happy the cyst was going, but not so happy at the prospect one of my ovaries might have carked it.
I remember the doctor, a tall Russian woman, explaining to me that even if one of my ovaries had died, I still had good chances of conceiving. I remember signing a document to say that I understood the risks of surgery.
The whole concept was foreign to me at the time. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I might suffer some permanent damage from the whole schmozzle. They were supposed to fix me and send me home. So I was rushed into surgery in a bit of shock and not really having time to ponder the whole thing.
(As a side note: I really hate surgery. I hate having to take off all my clothes and put on that flimsy little gown, knowing that as soon as I’m knocked out, they’re going to whip it off. My stomach turned months later when I read in a procedural report on my operation, “feet in stirrups”…)
Some people from Flo had come to visit me right about the time I got out of surgery. Since I was rushed in, not many people knew about the operation until afterwards. These people didn’t.
I was still really groggy from the anesthetic. I recall saying something about whether they wanted to see my cuts, and then immediately realising how stupid I sounded.
I think it was later that afternoon, or perhaps the next day, that my doctor came and spoke to me about the operation.
I don’t remember much about what she said. I do remember her showing me pictures of my insides and of the cyst they had taken out. I was shocked at how it looked. A doctor had told me from the ultrasound that it was 5 centimetres in diameter. But in the photo it was a huge silver ball, lodged in the pink fleshiness of my abdomen.
My ovaries were fine. But there was something else. While they were removing the cyst they had found some endometriosis. There were more pictures. More fancy medical talk. Explanations and possibilities.
And then I was left on my own to digest what I had been told. Endometriosis (endearingly known as “endo” by those who have the condition) is the growth of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) on areas outside the uterus. It grows during ovulation, stimulated by the hormones. In bad cases, in can cause miscarriages and infertility (it is the second leading cause of infertility in women) and in good cases, there is mild pain.
More thoughts to come…