By AZARIA HOWELL

CW: Public Health System

Thirty-five. I’m still staring at the clock, counting down the years, days, hours, minutes, seconds.

On my 35th birthday, I hope my cake is made of paracetamol; my wish when I blow out the candles will be to live a pain-free life.

But I’m still stuck. My watch says ten minutes has passed. Ten minutes closer to that golden number.

Thirty-five.

I’ll invite every doctor who told me it was all in my head to my 35th birthday. It’ll be a huge celebration, a shindig of tea and painkillers; it’ll be the last day I complain. My surgeon can come too, a VIP guest and the only medical professional who ever took me seriously. I’ll get him a gift of his own, and apologise for the words I said whilst I was given anaesthetic (I can’t remember it, but I have no doubt it was either horrible, hilarious, or horribly hilarious). Mum can be on the guest list too, having to undergo IVF and years of pain in order to have me. I’ll hug her even tighter on that birthday, as it’ll be a special one.

When I blow out the candles that year, I’ll wish to spend the night in hospital, between the covers of a single bed in an underfunded district health board.

35 will be more exciting than getting my driver’s licence on my 16th, more thrilling than my first legal drink on my 18th, more enticing than my first day of university as a 19-year-old.

35 will be a year of change. My last year of ever complaining about cramps, the last swear word I ever mutter. And hopefully, it’ll be the last goddamn year I spend writing about this instead of getting proper treatment.

I first showed up to the place I’d eventually call home, the hospital, with a collection of hot water bottles and a grab-bag of painkillers. I was sick of not being listened to — the pain was debilitating. I missed school and activities and spent hours immobilized due to my own messed up uterus.

I was sick of being told to just take a hot bath, have a cup of tea and try some deep breathing exercises. I was sick of painkillers. I was sick of being told it was all in my head when it was clearly all in my uterus, stabbing pains grasping my mental and physical health. I. Was. Sick.

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.

My weekly shopping list consisted of chocolate with a side of ibuprofen, paracetamol, nurofen, naproxen, codeine, and tramadol. My body had become a party mix of painkillers, all of them mitigating the excruciating pain I was in, yet not fully effective. I needed something else, something that started between the walls of an underfunded hospital.

I spent more time in hospital beds, my collection of free blue socks growing by the dozen. I had a bad case of endometriosis, something one in ten women face.

When I found this out, I felt a sense of relief pour over me. It wasn’t all in my head. It was serious and I had finally been diagnosed, professionally told what I already knew. But it meant a lot coming from someone with scrubs and a face mask, rather than my own mind or an article from WebMD. Usually, people are horrified to hear that they have a diagnosed medical issue, but I was quite the opposite. For me, it meant proving doctors wrong, a metaphorical middle finger for the eyes of misogynistic medical practices, a ‘f*** you’ to people who told me to just get over it.

If I wasn’t immobilized from the pain, I’d probably flip my doctor off.

I wanted to rip his face mask off and scream until my face turned bright red.

A collective of women deal with these exact same feelings, brought together by the fact that we’re told it’s not that bad. I’ve never met these women, but I know they’re with me. They’re the ones who hold my hand in the hospital bed. We share the same daily routine of popping painkillers and going to sleep with a hot water bottle, or five.

I am more than one in ten, my experience exceeds a statistic. I am the pile of hot water bottles that live beside my bed, the years added up of missing school and activities due to menstrual cramps. I consider myself a victim, not just to endometriosis, but to the misogyny of medicine that allows doctors to send me home without support.

Despite spending a night in hospital after my first endometriosis excision surgery, accompanied by itchy hospital gowns, blue socks, and the stuffed toy dog I was given as a baby, I was met with similar pains a year later.

The hospital doors opened again. After another consultation, or rather, a heated chat with a specialist, I was told that endometriosis grows back, even after excision surgery. The tension in the room was palpable, only exacerbated by the view outside the hospital’s window, another gloomy day in Christchurch. The long white cloud had turned grey, my mind racing with thoughts. I couldn’t just shut up and live with it, I couldn’t go take a bath or drink a cup of tea — it was a medical issue and needed to be treated as such. I put my foot down, I was only leaving the hospital after a scalpel had penetrated my skin; remove my uterus and keep the change.

The only way to fully get rid of this issue was to remove the root cause — a hysterectomy.

So I requested one. Pleading, yelling, begging. Once again, the hands of medical misogyny grasped me, unwilling to let go.

I was met with disappointment from the doctors, with a blend of confusion just for good measure. “But what if you want kids?” they replied back to me. I didn’t care, I just wanted to wake up without a pill in my daily routine. I was told to try different types of birth control, again. Autonomy was stolen from me, I couldn’t make my own medical decisions as I didn’t have children, I was allegedly too young for an irreversible operation — the irreversible operation which would be my golden ticket to a normal life.

I had to wait — watching the clock became second nature to me, a birthday meant one year until the procedure, rather than a day of cake, presents, and drinking crappy $9 Moscato in my mouldy (yet also overpriced) flat. I was told that I had to be at least 35 to get this procedure, and for the first time in my life, I was eager to grow up.

But I’m meant to be in the prime of my youth. University is meant to be about overpriced rent and underpriced drinks, one night stands and putting off essays, new experiences and interesting people, right?

I’ve spent my uni days cooped up in my bed, cuddling a hot water bottle instead of some random I met in a bar the night before. Pain was, and still is, the defining factor of my youth.

I let out an audible sigh during the next consultation. Muttering f***s sake under my breath, not feeling remorse for how I felt. 35 was years away, seventeen to be exact. If this procedure was the only way to get rid of my endometriosis, I shouldn’t have to wait until 35. I shouldn’t be expected to pop out two children before having this operation, especially since I’ve never wanted offspring of my own. It was as if reproductive medical procedures had never entered the 21st century.

In all senses of the word, we are living in a Victorian-era of medicine. In fact, part of me would rather be diagnosed with hysteria for cramps, as at least I would get a free vibrator out of it, rather than years of depression.

So now I’m stuck. Stuck. STUCK. Blowing candles out each year ‘til I reach that golden number. Every second on this earth gets me an inch closer to the procedure I require to live my life to the fullest. Stuck with my list of painkillers. Stuck with my collection of hot water bottles. Stuck living vicariously through my friends’ Instagram stories, seeing people party, go out, and live pain-free lives while I’m in bed chewing on painkillers and crying.

For now, I wait. I pour myself a cup of tea and take a hot bath because it’s what the doctor ordered. I’ll pop a paracetamol for good measure.

Thirty-five. I’m still staring at the clock, counting down the years, days, hours, minutes, seconds.


AZARIA HOWELL is a former Youth MP, current Victoria University student, journalist for Tearaway Magazine and Salient Magazine.

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