Saturday, May 3, 2008

More than you ever wanted to know

If really personal discussions about the female reproductive system make you squeamish or bored, you can flip the URL channel now. Yeah, it's going to be like that.

It seems to me that with almost seven billion people on the planet, it is flat-out unfair for any one person to be afflicted with more than one major illness. I vote for even distribution of malady. We would all cope better and perhaps even cultivate some compassion within ourselves. It would also prevent people like me from having to manage multiple health issues, especially when there is no energy left for even just one more thing.

How I came to this train of thought is actually a twenty-two year journey. As I look back, I can see how the problem I am dealing with now has affected my life and emotional health in ways I never could have imagined. It took having shingles to make me realize that I just don't want treatable pain to be part of my life anymore.

I tried to get help. I tried for twenty years, unsuccessfully. It was frustrating and humiliating.

Let's go back to the 1980s. When I was in my twenties, I had a healthy sexual appetite. I liked sex, I just didn't have much luck finding the right people to have sex with. When I was sexually active, there were long periods of downtime because I got hit repeatedly with an onslaught of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and vaginal irritation. I felt like I had my own regular schedule at Planned Parenthood, which was my version of a primary care physician.

I found that over time, it took less and less sexual activity to make my girly parts go to war with the rest of my body.

Eventually, I started getting hit with infections for no apparent reason whatsoever, even when I was not sexually active. I eventually had a steady boyfriend who knew about my situation and was somewhat tolerant. He had a BS in biology, so he understood that different people had different tolerances for physical contact with substances not produced by their own bodies.

That tolerance started to wear thin, especially when I came down with Trichomoniasis--not once, but twice. This tested our relationship because when my doctor made the diagnosis the first time (and let me look in the microscope to see for myself), he also told me my boyfriend had to be treated, too. He told me Trichomoniasis was transmitted sexually, and the only way I could have come down with it was through sexual contact. I was appalled. My boyfriend wouldn't cheat on me. He wouldn't.

My boyfriend was not pleased. He wasn't mad at me, but he was indignant when I suggested I had contracted the parasite from him. We worked through it, took the medication, and moved on. And then it happened again. I was suspicious.

I had changed doctors by then, and this time, the new doctor was deaf to my protestations regarding my boyfriend's fidelity. No matter how fervently I insisted my boyfriend wasn't sleeping around (and I'm still sure he wasn't), the doctor just shrugged it off and wrote a prescription. The boyfriend was furious that he had to take medication again. He felt that I had somehow brought this down on both of us.

After we broke up, I had one brief relationship, and then took a break. Some might call it a dry spell. Some might say I was a born again virgin. I didn't have sex again for almost four years. About a year into my celibacy, I started getting infections again. Bacterial vaginosis and gardnerella were among the worst, but it was the recurring bladder infection issue that was driving me into a deep depression.

I started to be depressed all the time. Triggered by my age, life stress, and chronic, inexplicable pain, my first notable bipolar symptoms began to present themselves, and it was frightening. I saw a gynecologist and he told me to change my laundry detergent, change my soap, wear loose clothes, wear skirts, avoid sugar, alcohol ,and caffeine, pee after sex and rinse/pat dry, exercise, lose weight, manage my stress, consider therapy. His thinking was that I was just so neurotic, I was knocking my body's stasis out of whack. Ah, it was my fault.

I found a different doctor in the same practice who got to know me, and I think he even believed that I was not doing anything to bring the wrath of the crotch gods down upon me. Eventually, though, he had to admit he couldn't figure out how to stop what was happening to me. Very sympathetically he said, "I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with you; I'm just saying that medical science hasn't caught up to where you are, so there's no way to diagnose or treat you at this time." Kudos to him for being able to admit being stumped and to do it without blaming the patient for her problem.

I didn't go to a doctor again for years, and only then because, after having been infection-free for some time, I woke up one morning with my reproductive system on fire. That afternoon, I saw a gynecologist who immediately diagnosed me with Trichomoniasis, gardnerella, and bacterial vaginosis. She said, "This is really bad. You must be very uncomfortable, if not in agony." She said my partner would need to be treated, too. I blinked, thought, and said, "There is no partner."

The doctor looked puzzled. She asked, "What do you mean?"

"There is no partner. Not only am I not in a relationship, I haven't had sex in years. I just woke up with this today. Maybe you can explain to me how one gets an STD when there is absolutely no S and no T. At all."

She looked skeptical. She didn't say anything for a long time, and then she said that there had been some documented cases of nuns who had been diagnosed with Trich. She wrote a prescription and that was it--it was like an alien abduction. There had been reports, but as to their validity...

I decided to stop going to doctors. My moods were erratic, and I started to cry under normal stress. I ate too little and drank too much. I loved to be drunk because when I drank a lot, I didn't feel bad anymore. During the day, I was hardworking, very busy, bright, professional. I was also profoundly sad. My friendships took a hit and my personal life started to unravel. I was very lonely.

It seemed to me then that the only solution was to adopt a policy of clean living. I cleaned out my kitchen and reloaded with fresh, healthy, crap-free food. Everything I ate was weighed and measured. There was no alcohol, no sugar, very little fat, no junk. Exercise. I had a nice bicycle that I had not ridden more than five miles in the four years I had owned it. My daily rides grew to be the highlight of my day, and I racked up hundreds of miles per month. They were hard miles, too, ridden in the steep, hilly terrain along the New York/New Jersey border and west to Port Jervis.

I lost 25 pounds in four months.

Eight months later, I had crippling abdominal pain every day. It was time to see a doctor again. This time, I was diagnosed with two things: Ovarian cysts and interstitial cystitis. I was alone in a new city, in a much bigger job, and I was scared. My doctor told me to stop with the cranberry juice--it was making things worse. She put me on the Pill to control the cysts, and said there was no treatment for interstitial cystitis. Even celibacy wouldn't necessarily keep it away. Was I doomed to be in pain the rest of my life? It certainly was starting to look that way.

More later.

1 comment:

Spilling Ink said...

I have also made the major shit list with the crotch gods several times. I've had problems that could not be diagnosed, too. I know what mine were caused by now. I am getting that hateful feeling again right this minute. I would beat his ass if he were still alive. I'd flat out pound on him.

You can email me if you want to know how I handle it when it invades the physical arena. If you know what I mean. (Warning - I'm new at trying to deal with it on this level. I'll stop here. Or else I will rant.)