Hi guys, this month’s This Month is going to be very different. Now, I’m going to be honest and say the idea of publishing this is making me feel incredibly vulnerable. I started this series as a softer side of talking about female health. Light hearted – skin and cravings, something that we could all relate to on some level. I thought one day I might talk about it in a more serious way, but one day was a long way away. And most likely, a few shots before publishing.
Then, a couple of things happened. In last month’s This Month, I got a comment about how my periods seemed really easy. Obviously, by only talking about the aforementioned softer side of things, I can totally see why it can appear that way. But, that isn’t the case at all and I don’t want to be that person. You know, the who makes everything look so easy and shies away from the real issue. That comment played on my mind for days, weeks, actually. Then, I read an article the other day about proposed cuts in the NHS budget. It was a list of 17 potential surgeries that could be cut to save the NHS some money. Two of the 17 surgeries were related to relieving symptoms from extremely bad periods. I don’t want to turn my blog into some huge political debate, but this struck a nerve with me.
Cuts To Female Healthcare
Now, I did some further Googling about what the word ‘cut’ actually meant under these circumstances. Obviously, this is just a proposal and nothing has actually happened yet, but the two surgeries in question are dilation and curettage for heavy menstrual bleeding and a hysterectomy for heavy menstrual bleeding. The word ‘cut’ in these proposals means two different things. For the dilation and curettage this means only available at the request of the patient and when they meet certain criteria. As for the hysterectomy, it means only when in extreme need and certain conditions are met. Because SO many women get offered a hysterectomy when they don’t really need one in the first place…
Getting treatment for bad periods in this country (I don’t know about others), is hard. Really hard. The NHS aren’t exactly happy going down the surgical route to treat them and most women who need treatment have to practically beg for it and jump through a million hoops to get there anyway. And even after the begging and the doctors visits, women often end up walking away with nothing. Trust me, I’m one of them.
This is the part I told you I was going to need the shots for. I’m going to try to summarise my period back story for you in an attempt to highlight how difficult it is to get treatment. I thought at some point I would slip in a detail of my period struggles in a This Month series when I got to the cravings section and I had to tell you I hadn’t been craving anything because I’d been too sick to eat, or something along those lines. I never expected to be plain listing intimate details about my ovaries.
My period symptoms
- Heavy bleeding and clotting
- Excruciating pain from the top of my stomach down to my thighs
- Blurred vision
- Violent sickness (every 2nd/3rd period on average)
- Dizziness so bad I can’t climb stairs without the fear of falling down them (again, every 2/3)
- Actually passing out (extremely rare, but does happen on occasion)
I’m almost certain I’ll have missed something there, but on top of that I get fairly heavy ovulation bleeding and pain too. And the standard bloating but I didn’t think that was worthy of its own bullet point.
My period medical history
Again, this is going to be a summary because this goes back years.
October 2005 – Hell begins, I get my first period. Idiotic 11-year-old Sophie thought this was an exciting life event.
Sometime 2007 – The first trip to the doctors. Get brushed off with the standard ‘you’re young, they’ll settle down’. In the first few years of my period, they would be anywhere from 8-23 days long. Settling down was something I was very much looking forward to.
Early 2009 – Back to the doctors. Finally agree that maybe it won’t settle down. At this point, my GP had been my family GP for over 30 years. The women in my family have notoriously bad experiences on the pill. He suggests I try it, but he only knows of three that my mother hasn’t had adverse side effects from so he’s only willing to prescribe me those. I tried it, I felt incredibly weak and nauseous every single day and although it was making them shorter, my other symptoms weren’t any better.
2009-2012 – Try mefenamic acid, does nothing. Try every form of pain relief possible, does nothing. Still very much patiently waiting for them to ‘settle down’.
2012-2015 – My university years. I was 300 miles from home and spent several days a month locked in my room avoiding the world.
Summer 2016 – Autumn 2017 – Return to the GP. A different surgery this time, my beloved family GP had retired. I list all of my symptoms. They suggest I have anaemia. I tell him that if I did have anaemia I would consider that I symptom of the bigger issue, not the cause. Full blood tests are done. What do you know? My iron, B12 and every other level in my body is perfectly healthy. I finally get a referral to a consultant. I try tranexamic acid, but as I already suffer from clots, this makes the pain worse.
Over the course of that summer and the following year, I saw three separate gynaecologists. I had hormone tests, STI tests, far too many internal exams. I had an ultrasound which discovers no cysts, but she can’t find one of my ovaries (?!) so my regular on the tum ultrasound very quickly becomes a camera being inserted into my vagina to find the ‘missing’ ovary. The missing ovary also turns out to be fine, but I’m guessing you already assumed that was going to happen. I did get prescribed some anti-sickness pills during this time, which are an absolute lifesaver.
My mum has endometriosis, so there’s always been a part of me that thought I could have it too. I tell the three gynaecologists this. The only way to properly tell if it’s there is to have a laparoscopy, which none of them are willing to give me because ‘people my age don’t get endometriosis’. What that really means is that doctors don’t like to admit women who haven’t had children can possibly have endometriosis. My mum had to have a hysterectomy for hers by the way, in case you’ve forgotten why I started telling this story to begin with.
I tell them all of the treatments my mum had had that gave her some relief, including thermal ablation and curettage. They all say they won’t try any of it, even though they admit it could help, because I don’t have children and these treatments can slightly damage fertility. Here’s the thing, I don’t want children, I never have. I don’t even like children, other than the odd exception. One doctor tells me that the youngest age he’ll treat a childless woman is 35, another says 40, the third insists that doesn’t matter because I’m definitely going to change my mind before then anyway.
The same guy also tells me that he would do a laparoscopy, but I’m too thin to operate on, so he won’t. And ‘I have a greater chance of death because my organs are too close together’. Excuse me?! Just to clarify, I’m a UK4 with a BMI within the healthy range. Yes, I’m small, but I’m by no means a walking skeleton. And it’s a keyhole procedure anyway.
Once again, I walk away with nothing. I thought the second I got my referral, I would finally get some relief and I got nothing. In case you’re wondering what the point of all of this is, I got rejected and refused treatment so many times. And I was suffering. So, I don’t want to imagine the amount of suffering the women who do actually get treatment are going through. And I definitely don’t think we hand out surgical treatment like after dinner mints.
More importantly, the treatment women receive isn’t great. And the women who are being treated definitely do not need those surgeries being taken away. The article calls these surgeries unnecessary. While lives aren’t dependant on them, quality of life certainly is. The list was also written by a man. Just saying.
I was reluctant to post this as it’s so personal and I wasn’t sure how many people could relate. Then I took a minute and realised that if no one ever talks about it, you’re never going to know just how many people could potentially have similar issues. If you’re one of those people, I really hope this helps.
Until next time,
Regular This Month posts will resume next month, and I’ve been making a list of products to try and feature in the series too for those of you who left me requests last month.