So yesterday I had my third sonogram in under a year. I haven't been talking much about this, probably because I'm trying not to think about it. For those of you who don't know, the short story is, I've been having what doctors call "irregular menses" for about nine or ten years, now. This means that my menstrual cycle is completely unpredictable. I once had a two-year period where I bled every single day. Some days it wasn't much, but many it was a substantial, even alarming flow. The only way I kept myself from being dangerously anemic was to take iron supplements every day and greatly increase my intake of red meat and green vegetables. To this day, no doctor has been able to tell me what caused it.
If that weren't bad enough, the onset of this problem in my early to mid twenties also coincided with other problems, particularly rapid weight gain and depression and anxiety issues. Now, no what can say which caused which. Did hormonal issues that caused the bleeding also cause weight gain and depression? Did I just get depressed because I was bleeding? Did I gain weight because I was depressed? I can't even tell you, after all this time, which came first, so did weight gain cause the irregular menses? It all goes around in circles.
So, for the past nine years I've been poked and prodded and examined on and off in numerous ways, from your regular pap smears to blood test, sonograms, biopsies and both in-office and hospital hysteroscopies. I've even tried alternative therapies from exercise to chinese herbs, acupuncture to plant estrogens - all to no avail. The upshot is, I've gone through a lot of discomfort and nervousness only to have all doctors shrug their shoulders and prescribe some variety of the birth control pill. Which works, generally, but is annoying, mainly for three reasons:
1. I feel stupid taking the pill, since I'm a big old lesbian.
2. I have no idea what the long-term effects of taking the pill, possibly for the rest of my life, will be on either my general or reproductive health.
3. Hel-lo? I'd still like to know why the heck this is all happening?
Which leads me to not wanting to think about the latest tests. Because on my last sonogram they found something called "heterogeneous endometrium," which in my case means that I have thickened, irregular growth both on the inside and outside of my uterus. Now, my latest gyno person, who is actually a nurse practitioner, told me that this is most often a benign condition, but they would have to check it out further "just to be safe." The words "just to be safe" do not inspire confidence. In fact, they immediately conjure up what it would be like if things were not safe, in my mind. Add to that the fact that, because I couldn't reach said practitioner when I was supposed to get my prescription renewal, I've been off the pill for months and haven't bled at all the whole time - which now visibly worries said practitioner - and you've got a good basis for feeling frustrated, impotent, resigned, depressed and anxious right there. Did I mention I'm already on constant medication for depression and anxiety? So, yeah. I'm not thinking about these things. I'm not listening, la-la-laaa!
So, yesterday I got to experience the thrills of a whole new kind of sonogram, wherein they inserted a catheter through my cervix and into my uterus, blew up a balloon on it to plug everything up and pumped in saline solution to make the whole area plumper and easier to examine. Then, the doctor inserted the lovely vaginal sonography probe and poked around, resulting in the simultaneous sensation of being jabbed in the bladder repeatedly after drinking twelve Big Gulps and severe menstrual cramps - the kind where you think your uterus has given up and is now trying to escape your body. Oh, and afterwards, there was a big mess. Fun!
Any men reading this? You still with me here?
Now I suppose I'm fortunate. It's actually only within the last century or less that ob/gyn instruments have progressed beyond often-lethal hooks, saws and scoops (incidentally, when I was looking at a site with photographs of early obstetrical instruments I got a pop-up ad for a dating service... which - worst advertising scheme ever?), and very few doctors will merely tell me I'm hysterical and prescribe bed rest, leeching or suffocation. But you might be surprised at the number of doctors who allude that it's somehow my fault that I'm depressed because they can't cure all this (couldn't they at least prescribe some of the more pleasant treatments for "feminine problems"?).
I mean, come on - in an age where we can make every man pop a four-hour boner, is it too much to ask that female sexual and reproductive organs lose a little bit of their magic and mystery and become something doctors actually understand? Because from what I've discovered, the kind of problems I have are far more common than you would expect given the lack of discussion and information out there. In fact, it's said that about 7% of reproductive-aged women - approximately 5 million Americans - suffer from Endometriosis alone! That doesn't even count other menstrual issues. Can we get a little attention here, a little help? And perhaps, more importantly, do we have to so often feel so alone and helpless due to doctors' cover-up of their ignorance? Where are our yellow bracelets? Just because an affliction doesn't always cause death, doesn't mean it doesn't affect quality of life.
So now I am thinking about all this. And I'm mad. And then I'm frustrated. And then I feel like I just can't deal with it anymore. Which is why I stopped thinking about it in the first place.
But I wanted to get this out there. Not just because the people who know and care about me should know, but because everyone should. This is something that is happening to a lot of women out there, but we just aren't talking about it. It's time to stop being embarrassed and scared and let others know. Because how else will we stop feeling alone?
I have my follow-up on Monday. Odds are they'll say nothing's wrong and it's just an aberration - an unsolvable mystery of the complex female reproductive system going haywire as it does. In the meantime, I worry that it may be something worse even than a mystery, and I wait.