Relief

Last July, I did a post about the struggles I’ve faced with menstrual pain. The years of cramps, discomfort and fear and the way it all seemed to coalesce into other-worldly pain some time in 2019 drove me to that post and that post sent me to my doctor to finally do some more tests to find out exactly what was wrong. He gave me a referral for an ultrasound and that was the beginning of a series of revelations that led to my present condition – recovering from surgery.

The ultrasound revealed that I had fibroids. A few really big ones. They had somehow developed over the course of about two (2) years, because when I had done an MRI in 2019, they had been classified as “unremarkable”. Whatever happened between June and November 2019 seems to have jump started their growth, because by the beginning of 2020, my usual painful cramps became almost completely debilitating. The bloating became unbearable and would last for up to two (2) weeks, during which my mobility was challenged, I had to change my wardrobe and the pain took on a life of its own. When it got to the point when it was taking me 3-5 minutes to just get off my bed, I knew I had to do something.

By the time I did the ultrasound, the diagnosis of fibroids was all but expected. I started exploring options, from the natural to the medical. I love natural options. But I’m not ever going to discount the value of letting a professional do what they were trained to. So, I had my first consultation with my very very capable doctor and began discussions about surgery. It was time. Having my life all but stop for 2 days and slow to a crawl for 2 weeks every month was not an acceptable long-term condition. Arrangements were made and three weeks ago, I let someone who I had blessedly come to trust, cut me open and dig around in my insides… It was… unpleasant. I was asleep for all of it, which actually added an element to the unpleasantness, if I’m being honest. That in particular, hit me the week before, when I realized that as a person who was very much a control freak, I was about to be fully unconscious while someone cut me open and remove things from my insides… The alternative was local anaesthesia which would mean I could hear everything as they did what they were doing… Plus I’d have to get the shot from that big-ass needle… Yeah. NO. Unconscious was the choice… I have a… let’s call it… vivid imagination. At one point in time, I was pretty sure I was going to die, because no way was I not going to be in the small percentage of people who don’t make it. So, I got all paranoid and even wrote up my will with all the dramatics you’d expect from me, complete with a delayed email to my bestie that would get sent if I wasn’t around to cancel… Real movie plot shit. I was this close to planning my funeral…

Anyway, I made it through surgery and I’m not composing this post from the great beyond, so I can share my experience so far…

The best thing is, I had no period in February. That alone was awesome. I guess after rooting around in my womb, they scraped out all that would have come out via the period anyway, so score 1 point for relief. I had to get an abdominal cut so I’ll have a scar. I honestly don’t mind. Doc is clearly a wizard because I can already barely see it and I guess time will tell how it looks. The first few days were… something. I was in and out of sleep for the entire day after. Couldn’t move and boy do you have to relinquish literally ALL your pride when you’re in a hospital. Finally managed to get out of bed the following day, which was more of a harrowing experience than I thought it would be. Had a few other elements of pain and discomfort but I was out in four (4) days and back home in my own bed.

Score another point for insurance, because my out-of-pocket expenses were pretty much minimal and my coverage took care of almost all of the associated costs. The fact that this is a privilege is really sad and is in no way lost on me. Access to quality healthcare is directly tied to overall quality of life and way too many persons simply don’t have that access. Uterine fibroids affect a significant percentage of the black female population and not being able to get the care and relief needed is a complete travesty and a failure of every system connected. In my lifetime, I would love to see major changes where this is concerned. But I’m not holding my breath.

Recovering from an abdominal incision is an extremely humbling experience. Multiple internal cuts add an extra layer of discomfort to that and I have to be cognizant and careful of every single movement I make. As soon as I overdo it, my body lets me know. I like being independent so this is a lot of not fun for me, not even being able to walk for more than 20-30 minutes per day. Having a good support system makes a difference. Being able to get the paid time off from work makes a huge difference. I can take the time to recover without worrying about finances or pushing myself too hard too soon.

I had a few moments of panic. The first one was after the bandage came off and I got home and was rubbing my belly, like I usually do… but I couldn’t feel my belly. I called and messaged EVERYBODY. Only to be told that the incision would have severed nerves (duh) and not only was the numbness normal, it could last anywhere from a few weeks to … forever? So, I have a strip of skin on my body that has absolutely no sensation at all. Even more disconcerting is that it’s a patch of skin that I usually rub out of habit and comfort and not being able to feel it anymore is kind of a mind-fuck. But, we move. The second thing is having the incision site swell up under the skin when I move around too much. My body immediately lets me know that I’m doing way more than I should. So, I’m learning to just be quiet. To depend on others in ways that I’m not used to. And that’s fine. I’ll get some much needed rest and when I’m up again, I will have healed properly. If you’re considering this procedure, those are just some of the things you can expect. I would absolutely recommend it, because compared to the pain I experienced every month, the fear, discomfort and down time are way more bearable.

And that is why the most important take away from this experience, is validation. I knew something was wrong. But there are people who will try to invalidate your experience simply because they cannot see what you are feeling. During the operation, it was discovered that not only did I have fibroids, I also had… have(?) endometriosis. I had started to suspect that this was the case as well, because of the severity and location of the pains. My back would feel like it was splitting open each month in addition to the cramps. I could hardly sit up. Driving was almost unbearable. Painkillers that had previously helped with the cramps were barely making a dent in the pain. Well. I wasn’t imagining it or exaggerating. The location of the growth was legit impacting the base of my spinal column. So, in addition to the planned procedure, my doctor also carried out mitigating steps to address that issue and further treatment will be explored in the short term. Knowing that I won’t have those back pains again literally brought tears to my eyes. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.

And that’s why I want to encourage women to take the steps to get relief. Society and medicine have failed us for too long. Our pain has been dismissed and downplayed for too long. We do not deserve this. Find a competent doctor. Do the tests. Explore your options. Get well. You deserve to be heard, believed and healed. Your pain is real and your desire for reprieve is valid and you have nothing to feel guilty about in wanting to get relief.

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