BY AZARIA HOWELL
The amount of hot water bottles I’ve utilised seems to be unparalleled with anyone else on this earth. Even my kettle, born for the job of creating boiling water, was getting sick of it.
And, oh God, so was I.
The pain went off the scale, so much so that I had to create a new scale. Then it went off that one. I’d lose sleep tossing and turning, in a helpless way to relieve the suffering. When it felt as if my insides were attacking each other, work, school, and extracurriculars became part-time, falling victim to my abdominal cramping.
I didn’t know what it was, I only knew that it wasn’t normal to feel this way. Yet still, I wasn’t taken seriously by doctors- or really anyone.
We all remember our first ‘time of the month,’ but for me, it was different. It marked the beginning of a seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of pain. I had to stay in bed throughout the agony. At least it gave me an impressive hot water bottle collection.
But I was young. I had complained about so much at that age: homework, friendships, not having a dog – everything. I knew this was different, it wasn’t a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. And of course, it’s a women’s health issue, so not everyone wanted to listen.
Years after my first period, I was put on the pill. It sadly wasn’t a miracle, and my pain was still there. It took a long time to even get there, though. Prescriptions for weak painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen piled up in my room, the papers eventually started to look like a small book. The doctors decided against giving me an IUD to stop the bleeding, I was apparently too young.
Anemia and fatigue came soon after, due to the intense amount of blood loss during my periods, and it felt like getting out of bed each day was a chore. Yet I had to, every hour, change my tampon. It could be described as no less than a living hell.
On May 1st, I finally tackled the problem clouding up my life. On May 1st, I finally had surgery for endometriosis.
1 in 10 women suffer with the condition, defined by severe period pain, sleepless nights, and infertility. Despite the fact that the pain I had experienced is shared by over 176 million women worldwide, it receives no funding from the Ministry of Health in New Zealand.
After years of skipping my favourite classes at school because the pain was all I focused on, the fact that I was finally getting treatment felt like such a breath of fresh air. Yet sadly, it’s a breath of fresh air that not every woman with endometriosis will get to experience.
I could only afford the procedure due to having the right health insurance, and I recognize how much of a privilege that was. Some women aren’t so lucky, and we should be calling on the Government to change this, in my view. Despite it being such a widespread chronic health issue, Endometriosis New Zealand has to rely on donations and sponsors, since the Government are reluctant to fund treatments.
Mum’s car pulled up, and the lights of the hospital shone in my timid eyes. I spent the whole day in the waiting room, forgetting what a deep breath sounded like due to the fear- it was my first time in the hospital. Finally, I was admitted into the theatre for surgery, and given gas and air to ensure the procedure went smoothly.
Of course, I said a few regrettable things while the anaesthesia was kicking in, which gave the nurses a good chuckle. Like admitting to the nurses that the sedative smelled like vodka cruisers- probably not the best idea considering I’m only 17.
To ease my anxiety, Mum was allowed to go into the operating room with me. She made light conversation with the anesthetist, who mentioned that she probably would’ve had the same gas and air as me, when she was giving birth. She responded quickly, “No, I had a cesarean.” Right before blacking out completely, I told the nurses, whilst laughing profusely, that I had Julius Caesar in my tummy- apparently.
I guess the anesthesia truly did work. At least I’ve got a funny story to tell now.
The next morning, my surgeon showed me the photos of the procedure. I was right all along, I had endometriosis.
I wasn’t upset, I was relieved. I could prove all of those doctors wrong. It wasn’t ‘just a bad period,’ it was serious. I had finally found the word to describe the pain I had been experiencing for so long.
Walking was definitely tough after surgery, and I was told that I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a bottle of milk until I was fully recovered. I was in a wheelchair for almost two weeks. I had to take time off of work and school to ensure I was fully healed, hopefully, my last time missing out on activities due to endometriosis.
Since my procedure, I’ve been relatively pain-free – I have much more energy than usual and I’m crossing my fingers that these positive effects keep growing.
It’s time we listen to women’s health problems, and treat them accordingly, rather than copying and pasting prescriptions for weak painkillers whenever a patient shows signs of endometriosis, which happened to me for years before my surgery. It’s time we educate people about endometriosis, and the millions of people it impacts globally. It’s time we speak about periods openly, and treat it as less of a taboo topic. Most importantly, it’s time endometriosis is recognised as the health issue it is; we must ensure that treatment is affordable for all women who had to suffer the same pain that I did.
Find out more about endometriosis here.
AZARIA HOWELL is a huge politics nerd living in Christchurch. Expect lots of new political articles on Tearaway from her! She also loves snowboarding, Beagles, and wearing clunky boots.
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