The day before my surgery, I got my period.
“Are you fucking with me?” I shout at the crotch of my sweatpants. I had woken to the usual pants-flooding torrent of my menses. Before showering away the carnage of fibrous clots, I reached for my fistful of “period pills”.
The reason this series is called “Shit and Sugar” is because, in my experience, the sweetest sunshine comes out on the day of your personal shit parade. If your struggle has been appropriately long to savour the tension and release of your challenge, even limping to the finish line of your goal can feel disproportionately triumphant. If attaining your goal goes on too long and has devastating effects on the rest of your life, sometimes you snatch your stupid trophy and just huff, “Took long enough for THAT to be over.”
That’s where I’m at. I want this over and done with.
People—I have been crawling on my eyelids towards the finish line of my goal for a decade. The only resolution I have ever wanted has been to solve this reproductive misery.
Ooh, there’s that word, reproductive.
I will say this very clearly right here and now, and I will say it only once for the rest of my life: I am a fully-grown, autonomous and intelligent woman who has experienced the first trimester of pregnancy and enjoys children. If I wanted children before I had my hysterectomy, I would have a whole brood of them by now.
But I don’t. And now I won’t. It’s as simple as that.
Too many doctors decided for too long that I should prioritize babies and my fertility over the rest of my life.
I’ve endured chronic pain for over a decade. My mental health cycled along with the pain until I could no longer reach functionality on my own.
Psychiatric care has been spotty. I’m pleased to say that I am now being seen by an attentive psych who has hooked me up with therapy. She agrees that ending the pain will help me improve in all aspects of health. She’s right, but she’s also Captain Obvious in this instance.
My priority was to fix my body, my mind and my life.
I’d begun therapy and started seeing an excellent psychiatrist. Most importantly, my surgeon agreed with me when I pled my case for hysterectomy: prioritizing my quality of life while young; improving my overall health by ridding myself of pain; and following the logic that if my gall bladder or lung had given me a fraction of the trouble my uterus had they’d have removed it ages ago.
I was on birth control for cramps at 14.
Various doctors tried other treatments when I got to university, including a Mirena IUD – this had to eventually be removed because I was bedridden from pain and failing university courses.
In the last four years, I’ve gone through treatments such as more birth control and a six-month course of intermuscular shots of a drug called Lupron to put me in a fake menopause.
After exploratory surgery when they found endometriosis from my asshole to my lungs, my OB/GYN diagnosed me with adenomyosis—where endometrial tissue becomes woven into the muscle fibre of your uterus. The only cure is a hysterectomy.
My current surgeon is smart and bothers to read a patient’s file.
His predecessor didn’t take me seriously and threw the same shit from a different pile my way in terms of treatment i.e. birth control, and more birth control.
I complied as I did with every treatment she gave me, hoping each time I could bargain with her that I had cooperated and deserved to be heard.
Just chill on that and imagine for a sec: my doctor made me jump through medically-invasive hoops that didn’t work, and she KNEW BETTER.
I didn’t, not being a doctor, and in a vulnerable position.
I flunked two classes that term. I was bedridden from the pain.
Two years later, the same doctor flew into a rage and slammed her computer mouse and keyboard when I insisted that she provide exploratory surgery to find out what on earth the problem was as it would not abate.
She finally did the surgery and removed endometriosis from my asshole to my lungs, and my right ovary had been encapsulated in a “chocolate cyst”—it went in the medical waste bin with the rest.
I would have liked a look at it, if only to jeer that it wouldn’t be firing blanks into my uterine killing fields anymore.
I reach for my medication which prevents too much blood loss and remember the surgery.
Sometimes taking medication before surgery will cause them to reschedule, and I was not having one iota of that bullshit today.
Gritting my teeth, I throw on a pad and shamble to the hospital in a cab. After being assigned my room and bade to change by a nurse, I ask, “Do you think we can still go ahead with the surgery even if I’m on my period?”
She barks a single “ha!” of laughter, and hands me a fresh pad and a pair of netted hospital underwear.
“Don’t worry – your uterus is just being a whiny jerk about what’s going to happen today!”
I’m glad she’s cheerful enough for us both. I dryly mutter, “Well, its hubris is showing.”
“What’s that?” the nurse asked, deftly locking my overnight back into a cupboard and pinning the key to my robe.
“It’s like how, sometimes, you show your whole ass to get your point across.”
At this point, your author is staring directly into the camera.
By contrast to lascivious sconces of low-humming light, I shuffle through the halls of the hospital, gritting my teeth against the pain radiating through my thighs, rectum, and through my abdomen to my sternum.
This kind of pain, at its most severe, has sent all 5’10” and 230 lbs of me to the floor in an unconscious, ground-pounding heap.
It's stolen my breath so I can’t scream or speak to rate my pain from one to 10.
It has made me cry until I pass out, still drooling, snot running into my mouth or down my cheek.
But I’m emboldened.
I feel empowered by my nurse’s laughter and by her slow pace to accommodate my pain.
And although my pain darkens and sharpens its teeth with every step toward pre-op, I keep walking.
My surgeon shows up in a festive mood, ready to pound me on the back and shout the pre-op room with his congratulations.
He sees my blanched face though, and takes my hand.
“This will be an awesome surgery. All the pictures came out clear, and your GP says you’re as sound as a pound except for this uterus of yours.” He introduces me to four students of varying specialty, as well as my anesthesiologist and nurses.
The students are fully stoked for this.
We proceed to the operating room—me shuffling, the doctors ambling, and the students practically cartwheeling—and several folks go to scrub before joining me.
When they come in again, my surgeon speaks brightly to them about what an excellent teaching opportunity this is, as I am young.
And something about tissue colouration.
Nobody mentions the menstruation, even though I know my surgeon knows without me telling him
I can’t forget the pain that accompanied me onto the table, nor the jolt that set my teeth into a clenched rictus as they inflated the bed for respiratory assistance.
But before we begin, I decide to MC my own surgery in the fine arts tradition. I sweep a grand gaze across the eight people assembled, as one only can from an awkwardly bent angle with a mask on.
“Thank you for joining us today, ladies and gentlemen. Please turn off your cell phones and enjoy the show.” I didn’t get to count—I think they knocked me out to keep the party mood going. I was grateful for the break.
A seamless segue from their applause to the beeping of a recovery monitor, and I awake. My body stiffens immediately as it anticipates waves of pain.
None assail me, except some discomfort in my vulva and a small, slightly sickening ache.
I attempt to move my limbs, but a nurse comes over and swabs my mouth. I still can’t speak, but it doesn’t matter—they seem to know.
I remember my mother coming by my room, but I don’t remember how I got there.
I tried to speak to her, and I remember wanting to tell her, “I love you, Mommy.” She chuckled a few times as I groaned, trying to speak. She kissed me and left.
Thank you, Mom. I needed you most right then, and there you were.
That night was my “nox horriblus”, if there is such a thing.
No sooner had I thought I would never have another man with his hand between my legs, a nurse named Kevin was there every hour to change my pad, offer sips of water, untangle my catheter hose — oh, THAT’S what was hurting my vulva! — and inject medication into my IV line when I couldn’t stop crying.
I must have looked like a clay pig that went wrong in the kiln from tears, boogers, and drool.
I was at my unloveliest and in terrible pain by the time the sun began to rise in earnest.
Kevin came by one last time with a basin, a new pad and a vial of the good shit—morphine. I liked Kevin, as one does like people who speak gently and bring you drugs.
By then, I didn’t need it. I knew my surgeon would come, and with him the party atmosphere would continue.
This time, the health care professionals met me where I was at.
They respected my surgeon’s diagnosis.
They took my smiles of relief at face value, and made me feel good about myself and my decision with their respect for my dignity.
Maybe it's the difference between a nurse who sees people with everything from a stuffy nose to various degrees disembowelment, and a radiology team who is mostly dedicated to caring for expectant mothers.
I left the hospital that day with a gentle hug from my surgeon.
A nurse who had treated my wife when she was in for bilateral knee replacement walked me to my vehicle—I was too stubborn for the wheelchair—and waved to my wife as we drove off.
My surgeon listened, and listened well. He went to the wall for me, and I will pay attention to my healing process out of respect for both our diligence.
I’m part of Team Me in this journey to healing, and I will play my part with mindfulness and ambition.
Michelle Telford has written about music education for Long & McQuade's Gear Guide 2015, and about opera supertitling for Schmopera.com. Michelle recently finished writing the libretto for the mini-opera, "Orpheus and Eurydice... ish", which will premiere in Saskatoon, Canada in June of 2017. Michelle likes her pets and a few people. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.