I went through a rough couple of weeks worrying about a thing that could have been big, bad, and scary but turned out to be big, banal, and mostly embarrassing–so the story ends happily ever after, kind of.
(My fairytale life turns out to be something a whole lot different than my childish self ever imagined.)
The moral of this story is short and to the point: DO NOT GOOGLE SYMPTOMS EVER!
There is some mention of disgusting female-related bodily functions in this post; therefore, the men might want to scamper out of the room like the timid little bunnies they are.
Right, now that they are gone, ladies, let’s talk about the one thing we never mention–even to each other–period! Or rather: PERIODS!
After I went through the breast cancer scare back in 2019–I was put on a drug called Tamoxifen. It is intended to prevent a recurrence of the disease by blocking estrogen in some magical way and one of it’s lovely side effects is that it puts women straight into menopause. No more periods! Ta dah! After months of no sign of Aunt Flo returning, I gave away all of my feminine hygiene supplies and did a little dance of barren delight.
And then, almost a year later, the big red wave struck.
About two weeks before Christmas, I was doing my business and discovered that Aunt Flo hadn’t gone away for good. No. Not at all. Instead she was back with a crimson vengeance.
(I can see Bruce Willis saying something biting and witty, like “You want to see some blood? I’ll show you blood!” while shooting up a sound stage in the movie trailer–if they made movies about stuff like this.)
Because I hadn’t expected this to happen, I became concerned and called my gynecologist who scheduled me for a fun-fun thing involving a magic wand that goes up your hoo-hah. I think it was called a transvaginal ultrasound. If you ever wanted to know what it would feel like to have someone knock on your ovaries with a gavel, I highly recommend this procedure. Wear your good panties for this one.
As a prep for this procedure, I did what every woman I know would do. I shaved my legs and Naired my down-there sideburns. It was the first time either had been done since the pandemic started in March. I dulled my razor for a good cause. After all, one likes to look one’s best when your legs are in the stirrups.
Getting through the procedure wasn’t the easiest thing, but I was glad to have it over and done with. Then all I had to do was wait for the all-clear that everything was normal and I could enjoy my holidays.
A week before Christmas–the doctor called. On a Saturday.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a doctor call me on a Saturday with good news.
Instead, I was told that there was some signs that were concerning–she mentions cysts on the ovaries that weren’t a worry–and then some thickening of the uterus that was. She tells me she wants to bring me in for a biopsy. Could I call the office on Monday to schedule the exam?
I spend a weekend trying and failing not to panic. Monday rolls around and I get an appointment for an Endometrial Biopsy in two days. So, the Wednesday before Christmas, Santa brought to me, another trip to stirrup land with the added fun of getting shots up my hoo-hah.
Look, I know the technical words are vagina and uterus. I just like the word “Hoo-Hah.” I imagine it coming from Al Pacino at his manic best in the movie Scent of a Woman. “Hoo Hah!” It sounds festive and it’s my fucking Hoo-Hah, so I’ll call it what I like!
(There may be some residual emotions from this experience that I am still processing. Please accept my apologies for the gratuitous cussing.)
I remembered an episode of House in which the titular doctor hits himself in the hand with a hammer in order to displace the pain he was feeling in his leg with the newer, more critical pain in his broken hand. He says something to the effect: “The brain can only process one pain at a time, plus the endorphins help a lot too.”
I translate this to mean “If I try really hard to think of something else, maybe I won’t notice the pain.“
I even tell the doctor this. I’m sure she’s still laughing about it…and probably telling her co-workers about the nutcase she scoped that day.
So during my entire ordeal, I sing at the top of my lungs in every language I can think of. Russian. German. I hit high notes whenever something hurts. I peter out trying to remember a song in Spanish–but fortunately, by that time, the deed is done. Thankfully.
I stumbled through Christmas eve with mild cramping and gratitude that, at least, it was over. Now I could relax.
[Those of you who watch horror films are cringing because you know it is at exactly this moment when the heroine relaxes that the axe wielding psycho comes calling.]
The phone rings December 25th. The doctor called on Christmas Day people! I am both impressed by her work ethic and effing pissed at the news.
“The cells were abnormally close–but, I’m afraid the sample size wasn’t big enough to actually make a diagnosis. We need to do a more detailed biopsy called a hysteroscopy. I’m asking one of my colleagues to do it. Call us after the holidays and we’ll get it scheduled.“
My response: “Not a big enough sample? It felt like you scraped enough cells to fill a bucket.”
The doctor is both sympathetic and reassuring. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I’ll talk to my colleague and see if we can’t get this done right away.”
I like my gynecologist–even if she is perkier than an elf at Christmas and has more enthusiasm for spelunking my hoo-hah than I actually need or understand. But, I trust her and I do what she says.
Monday, I again call the office. I want this over with now! I would at least like to have a good New Year to celebrate. Unfortunately, all the doctors had the same thought. There are no appointments available that week.
Our New Year Eve celebration involved my son sending me to my bedroom at 8:00p.m. for reasons only his brain could understand. (The fact that I had been binge watching Korean Soap Operas for weeks, and his bedroom wall is the same one that the tv abuts from the other side, might have had something to do with it!)
I’m scheduled for the big excavation to take place January 8th. I arrange for someone to watch my son–can you even imagine trying to do any of this with an autistic teenager in the room with you? A day before my third round as an urban cowgirl riding the stirrups, I get a text from the sitter canceling with a brief “I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to do Friday morning…”
I thought I knew what panic felt like. I believed I had dealt with enough stressors in my life to handle just about anything. I was wrong. I practically sobbed at the thought of having to cancel and reschedule my hoo-hah exam, and just as I was working up a good frothing hysteria, he texts, “No, wait. I talked to my supervisors and we’re good to go!” I wanted to both kiss and punch this person so hard.
Friday arrives. I’m up, dressed, and out the door with an economy of energy and at a speed that suggests I am not going to something I am totally dreading.
The processing of getting ready is starting to be quite familiar at this point–except that the exam room is much smaller than any I’ve been in before–and there’s a lot of weird stuff on a metal tray that the nurse warns me strictly not to touch!
Before she heads out, she asks one more thing.
“There’s a resident who would like to attend this procedure. He’s a man.” She says this almost apologetically. “Is it okay if he joins us?“
“Yeah, sure. Fine. Let him in. I honestly don’t care.” I say. And it’s true; I really don’t. It is also true that I want to dash out of this building and avoid anyone shoving a camera up my intimate insides, but that is just a childish impulse and I squash it like the cockroach of cowardice it is.
As I’m getting my self situated–buck naked from the waist down and clutching a sheet that makes me look like a shrinking violet on her wedding night–I can’t help but joke with the team of people who are herding into the space barely big enough for four people and the equipment they’ve unwrapped for today’s adventure.
“I can’t imagine this is going to be any fun for any of us. I suppose it’s a good thing to get the worst procedure over with at the beginning of your day.” I laugh to show I’m trying to be funny, but the doctor takes me seriously.
“Oh no. This is exciting stuff. We don’t get to do this kind of thing every day. We’re really looking forward to this.” She has a bright smile as she says this. Honestly, she practically twinkles.
“That makes one of us.” I manage to say.
The male resident chimes in that he’s seen these procedures done in the O.R. and then he adds, oh so helpfully, “But in the O.R. usually the person is unconscious! We don’t typically get to interact with the patient.”
The doctor asks me if I understand what they are going to do today and I tell her in my brief laymen’s grasp of medicine:
“You’re going to stick a camera up my hoo-hah and then, if you see anything questionable, you are going to use a long stick to chomp a few samples for the lab to examine. Please take enough samples that I only have to do this once!” I’m dead serious about this point. No ‘fourth times the charm’ for me!
“We will.” She assures me, and then she asks, “Do you have any questions before we begin?“
“Yeah. What exactly is the IV for?” I point at the stand as if the doctor might have missed it somehow. “That’s saline solution, right? What’s the saline for?” I knew I wasn’t being put under, so it truly had been puzzling me.”
The doctor lights up–truly, here is a woman who loves her job.
“Oh, that’s so we can fill your uterine cavity and expand it to make it easier for the camera to see what’s going on inside.” She points to the large screen nearby, “We’ll be able to see everything the camera is projecting right there.“
“What’s to stop the water from flooding all back out of me?” I ask, because honestly, I am picturing something like what happens when you going down the final ride at Splash Mountain–water gushing everywhere!
“Oh, don’t worry. There’s a bag to catch the overflow.”
The doctor asks if I have any more questions and I figure I’ve put this off as long as I can.
“I suppose it’s time for me to lie back and think of England?” I say, remembering something my friend said as we talked about this eventuality.
The doctor laughs and gets the shots ready. She’s calm and reassuring, and then asks me something that actually distracts me from the moment:
“So, what makes you think of England? Have you ever been?” She warns of a few pinches and, yes, they come and then blessedly are followed by an increasing numbness.
“Um, yeah actually I have. I went as a teenager and then again when I was in the Army.“
While the doctors do their thing at the other end of the sheet, there begins the oddest conversation I’ve ever had while in stirrups.
“Did you ever attend a high tea?” I can’t remember who asked this, but the question starts all of us off on a Mad Hatteresque discussion of the various tea-related adventures we’d been on.
“Sadly, I did not drink tea at the time. So I never experienced a full British tea.” I admit. I was forgetting the time I was loaned out to a British listening post during a military exercise, but I suspect it lacked the elegance of a full-fledged high tea to qualify. I add, “I missed my cup this morning, so I am planning on having tea after this is all over. I might make a whole pot!“
Someone–I think it was the resident–mentions attending a high tea at a friend’s house while he was visiting England.
“Well you’ll just have to invite us to your tea sometime.” He is a rather charming young man and easy to talk to–which is odd given the circumstances.
Apparently his role in this room is to do his best to distract the patient so that she isn’t tempted to kick anyone in the head. And, at this, he is quite adept. Especially considering most of his clientele to date have been unconscious. The fact that he has a sister with two autistic children is something we could bond over–when things aren’t being actively probed, that is.
Soon, the cameras are in and everyone is busy learning the ins and outs of my uterus. It also seems that they must be trying out new equipment. One of the most surreal moments happens when they are trying to figure out whether or not it can take pictures.
“Give me my phone. I’ll take some pictures!” I say.
(Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ll take pictures any time, anywhere. Even if nobody wants me to.)
The nurse obliges her weird patient and pretty soon, I’m clicking image after image while the camera captures the weirdly luminescent scenes of my uterine lining. The Resident finds the camera control knob on the machine and they are all amazed at the screen shots they can get at the push of a button.
I watch the ‘biting’ tube poking at my insides repeatedly and have to say, I’m really glad the doctor gave me that last shot because I suspect I wouldn’t be half so calm if I could actually feel what was happening.
“Well, I think we have enough samples, but would it be okay if the Doctor/Resident could work the equipment?” The doctor asks.
“Yeah, sure. Go ahead. Take a sample if you like.” With the end in sight, I’m feeling positively magnanimous. It’s weird giving someone permission to basically stab you. I have to wonder if it’s weird on their end as well.
To all you neophyte wanna be doctors out there…remember this…if you take the time to talk to your patient and be polite and friendly, they are much more likely to invite you onto their playground to try out the new jungle gym!
And, like that, my time as a human pin cushion is over.
The doctor asks me one more question before she leaves.
“I hope you don’t mind, but could you tell me what it was like? As mentioned, we don’t usually have patients who are awake and can tell us how it feels during the procedure.”
“Um, it wasn’t as bad as the last biopsy I had. The pain was similar to cramping I’ve had during a period. I think it really helped to give the pain killers time to kick in.” I had stressed this going in, so she isn’t surprised.
She thanks me and they all leave. I clean myself up, get dressed, and I go home to wait.
The next two days aren’t as much fun as the injections wear off, but it’s nothing I can’t handle…until the constipation from the iron tablets and ibuprofen causes trapped gas to thunder through my colon like stampeding stallions. [Enjoy that visual.]
I spend a few days causing unnecessary anxiety as I look up medical terms and read myself into a state of panic trying to understand hyperplasia and all the other potential side effects of being on Tamoxifen.
The call comes in Tuesday morning, just as I’m logging my son into his morning class. I apologize, and duck into the bathroom to take the call.
“Hi, this is the doctor’s office. We’ve got your results. Everything is benign. So, you’re fine until your next physical.”
I spent four weeks bleeding and worrying and being stabbed repeatedly for nothing. The bleeding has stopped. And now I go back to life as normal.
So if anyone out there was wondering why they didn’t get a Christmas card from me, now you know. They got lost in the panic-stricken menses of my womb with a view.
(You can thank my very good friend that I have posted none of my photos taken during the procedure. But here’s a pretty flower for anyone who is disappointed.)