Just beneath the surface of normal


Part IV (or II): Heeeey, No Mirena!

Depends on how you count. It’s part 2 of yesterday’s (now fully written) saga, or part 5 of the story since I first thought it might be nice to stop peeing every time I sneeze. Also? That’s supposed to be like “heeey, macarena” but I can’t seem to make my title sing for you, so in case you were all, “WTF?” That’s what.

So after my IUD came up MIA, my doctor sent me down to to radiology to get an ultrasound so that we could play “where’s Waldo” with a small, hormone-soaked piece of plastic. Because evidently they’re prone to wandering and we have to find out if it “migrated” anywhere interesting that might require inserting a tool through my belly button to retrieve. While my doctor is by no means a newb, I was her first migration patient. Lucky me. Fortunately, she already knows to wear her learning pants when Maya comes for a visit. Still, I felt kind of bad since she’d fit me in early and what should have been easy-in-easy-out just got complicated.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a pelvic ultrasound outside of pregnancy, then you don’t know that you need a full bladder to provide reflectivity so the ultrasound can make images (presumably the amniotic fluid does this job when you’re pregnant). I was instructed to chug 32 ounces of water and wait. For someone who came to this strange world of complicated pelvic health issues through having pee troubles, every ultrasound is an anxiety attack in the making. Especially this one, since I happen to have a cold.

But I am nothing if not a good girl, and I drank my water and started blogging about this absurd development on my phone, while trying to ignore the Zimmerman trial coverage on TV because I’m already pretty emotionally delicate and the whole thing is so beyond disturbing. Since I was a STAT patient (which is a lot like being a VIP, except without being much fun because you’re cutting past cancer patients with walkers) I didn’t have to wait long. Except that my bladder wasn’t full enough yet, so I had to drink 2 more glasses of water and wait until it felt full. Awesome. Back to phone blogging. Except I forgot to charge my phone overnight, and the low-battery alert popped up. I hit save and prepared to brace myself for trial coverage.

Then the word “published” popped up on my phone, and I realized that my half-written post, including the phrase “[add story of insertion]” and a bunch of half-completed sentences, had not just saved, it had posted. If you ever wondered about my writing process, there it was. I started panicking as I looked for a way to take down the post without deleting it, but I couldn’t figure out how on the stupid WordPress phone app. So I added a desperate plea to look away and come back later, and swept it back into the “things I can’t do anything about” pile each time it tried to escape.

So, bladder full to bursting, I returned to the exam room for the most thorough ultrasound I’ve ever had in my life, by the most silent, focused technician I’ve ever had in my life. It was So. Boring. If they had put it on the ceiling, I would even have read VCR instructions, just to have something to do. I suggested that they put important information that they can’t get patients to read otherwise on the ceiling. Usually the tech will chat and joke with me, but this one didn’t even hear me the first time I said it. The second time she responded that some places put TVs up. I hate ubiquitous TV’s – I’ll take blank ceiling and an opportunity to be in the moment or something. I did take advantage of her brief attention to ask if there was something wrong or if she was just really thorough.

“I’m thorough,” she said. “Ever since I found one that had perforated this poor woman’s bowel, when everyone else thought it was in her uterus even though she was in excruciating pain, I take this stuff deadly seriously. Those things will go anywhere.”


Finally, blessedly, she let me pee so she could do the transvaginal ultrasound, which is where you stick a very long gel-drenched wand in your vagina and she waves it around your uterus like a really intimate fairy godmother who ultimately grants you a single wish: to get that fucking thing out of me. It also lasted awhile, because she’s so thorough (see above). Finally I cleaned myself up and went back upstairs to await the results and the fate of my day.

After a few minutes, the nurse came out and took me into a private room, which scared the holy hell out of me because I figured it must be really bad if she needed to tell me in private. It turned out she just didn’t want to tell me in public, “doc wants you to go back down for a few more views, just to be sure,” because evidently there are people in the world who think this sort of thing is private instead of blog fodder. But still no one would tell me where the damn thing was, or if it was in there at all. I was sort of beginning to wonder if it’s five year mission is to seek out new areas of the body and boldly go where no IUD is ever supposed to go.

So back downstairs I go, which turns out to be a good thing because I totally forgot my travel mug in the waiting room because I was too busy trying not to forget my new umbrella. I went back immediately and fortunately it was another transvaginal (yeah, I know – “fortunately? really?” That just shows you how far down this rabbit hole we’ve gone) so there would mercifully be no more water drinking. Though my kidneys were still working on the last batch, so I probably wouldn’t have needed more anyway.

She handed me a gown, which looked like it had to be the largest one they had and I probably could have wrapped it around my body at least three times. It’s a good thing I left my shirt on, because once I pulled it around me the sleeves opened across my boobs, offering absolutely no coverage. Still, at least it negated the need for a lap sheet.

She ran out to get the doctor – which I foolishly assumed was mine – and I found myself greeting with great familiarity…a random radiologist! …and her resident. Her very. hot. young resident. So now there are three people (one of whom I’m trying not to stare at) crowded in a dark room to watch my fairy godmother at work. Fortunately, they were all singly focused on the monitor. The radiologist, after several rounds of “huh, I don’t see it”, starts giving instructions: “Forward. Back. No, a little lateral…almost there…too far!” like some crazy anatomical version of Hot/Warm/Cold. I started giggling. I couldn’t help it. It just kept getting more absurd, just when I thought it couldn’t possibly.

And then she starts saying, “oh there’s a part of it! Do a sweep. Oh, there’s another part,” and I’m imagining that my uterus took this little piece of plastic and broke it into bits in protest, and I’m thinking, “of course it did. Only me.” I asked if I had indeed crumbled plastic with my bare uterus, and she responded that it was in one piece, was still in my uterus, but hiding behind a fibroid.

Let’s go over that again: Hiding. Behind a fibroid. Why is my uterus acting like a kindergartner? Hide and Seek, Hot/Warm/Cold, Keep-Away…is my uterus a playground bully?

I was released back upstairs and returned to the Sick-Vagina-Cave waiting room. I had enough battery left to text Jim that I wouldn’t be needing a scope and he could relax, and I resorted to reading magazines. I read three before the receptionist came over to ask me if I’d been seen yet. I hadn’t. Another patient in the Cave asked me how long I’d been there and I explained that I’d been there since 8 and had to have surprise ultrasounds, but that I had been fit in right before her vacation and didn’t mind waiting as long as it took. She commended my patience, which I felt really uncomfortable about accepting because we were in an oncologist’s office and the patience of waiting your turn to get a little plastic T removed is nothing compared to the patience required to go through cancer treatment where you’re getting little zombie pieces of your own flesh turned against you removed, and then need to continue monitoring it forever. So yeah, I can totally waste a day in a waiting room without needing special recognition.

She asked me if I wanted to know what time it was; I decided I didn’t. I knew it had been 11:30 when I texted Jim after radiology, and that the tea cart came around with cookies not long after and I was starting to feel hunger pangs again. But once you know the time, you start needing to keep knowing the time, and then it starts creeping by just to make sure you don’t miss knowing it. Instead I found a fourth magazine. It was the last, unless I wanted to get into titles about parenting or wine, or the latest in cancer treatment. Fortunately it had a bit more substance than the fashion and fitness mags I’d already flipped through, but I still cursed my chargerlessness.

The Cave cleared out. It re-filled and cleared again. I was reminded, as I struggled to ignore it, of just how bad daytime television is (MORE ubiquitous televisions! Did I mention that I hate those things with the fury of a thousand suns?). Finally, the nurse came out to tell me I was next. When I went into the room, it was sometime after 3 and I was really glad I hadn’t let that other patient tell me the time. The doctor came in and asked if I’d gotten her message. I hadn’t, because my phone was dead. Someone had told her I left, and she had called me an hour or so ago to find out where I was. Fuck. This. Day. Really.

She explained that she’d do her best to fish it out, but that if she couldn’t get it we’d have to do surgery. I don’t want more surgery; anesthesia is not my friend. Fortunately (?) I have what she considers to be a disturbingly high tolerance for pain when it comes to poking around in my uterus, and she said that if it were anyone but me she wouldn’t even try. I explained that once you’ve had the skin of your vagina burned off with acid and been stuck in transitional labor for hours, a bit of poking around with pliers isn’t so bad. I mean, it’s not what I’d choose for a vacation activity, but it’s nothing a bit of deep breathing can’t manage. I don’t know how I manage to be simultaneously hypersensitive to medications and almost completely insensitive to uterine mauling, but hey, what the heck?™

Which is not to say it was comfortable. I could actually feel her trying to push the fibroid aside to get behind it. She kept mumbling about feeling it but not being able to grab it. She pulled out the pliers to give me a break before having another go, but to her surprise, she’d come out holding the gory device and cried victory.

I did what I like to believe anyone in my position would have done after a day of poking and prodding and waiting and not getting a chance to eat anything but a small bag of cookies: I reached down between my legs and I flipped that motherfucker off. Mirena is an asshole.

And then my doctor did something that secured her place in my heart as my favorite doctor ever: she flipped that motherfucker off, too. She certainly had a right; she was supposed to be in a meeting all afternoon, but instead she wound up dealing with a big dose of “what the heck?”™ But it’s truly a rarity when you get to bond with your doctor over flipping off an inanimate object, and I treasure it.

Also? She let me keep it. I’d make it into a necklace, but it would keep rubbing levonorgestrel on my chest and I am done with that chemical (unless I ever need Plan B). So I ask you, dear readers: what should I do with my useless $800 piece of torture plastic?

Fuck you, Mirena.

Mirena is an asshole. But like Harrison Ford, it was expensive and I should probably do something with it anyway. Not that I bought Harrison Ford. But early in his career he was supposedly a real dick to work with, and…you know what? Never mind. Just: Mirena is an asshole.


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Here Lies Maya Cook – “What the Heck?”

That title? That’s what I’m putting on my gravestone, because that phrase, “what the heck?” seems to follow me wherever I go. I should come with a disclaimer, “please disregard everything you ever thought you knew and get your learning pants on, because I’m about to be the exception.”

I know it’s been awhile since I posted, and I’m sorry about that, but Mirena broke me. Hard.

Let me start at the beginning. Or at least, just after the point we left off in the Great Junk Adventure of ’13. If you’re new to this whole saga, start here (then go here, then here, and finally here, which is the same as the first link in this paragraph in case you’re totally confused).

So. April was surgery, May was recovery. Late May was my first period since my teens that involved having to use maxi-pads, which totally sucked because it was at the same time as our beach vacation and totally derailed our plans and they leaked over all of my clothes. But it was also amazingly, profoundly, mercifully short, so that was nice. In early June I went in to get Mirena installed (I know that makes it sound weirdly like it’s cable or a new phone line, but it actually is surprisingly like that: they put in a sort of antenna thing and then you don’t have babies or new polyps and maybe your fibroid shrinks. Would that Comcast could offer so much for eight hundred dollars). I didn’t blog about it because things got busy: Jim’s birthday, end of the school year, busy garden season, deciding whether the Philly School budget crisis is bad enough that I need to find someplace else for Corinne to finish high school since now they have neither an assistant principal, a guidance counselor, or extracurricular activities. And a thousand other little things that keep life whirring past and your to-do list from ever. ending. Also, I kind of got cripplingly depressed.

But so I went, and it was pretty quick. It was funny in the way that anything having to do with me and trying to do anything normal is funny. In that she couldn’t get my cervix open for anything. “I think your cervix is mad at me,” she informed me, before grabbing the end of it with a hook and trying to squeeze in the tiniest of dilation rods. Still, she finally managed to pry me open and get the hormone-infused plastic T inserted. She also cut the string super-short so it wouldn’t stab Jim, which is really nice of her, I guess. Though it implies that most men get stabbed repeatedly in the penis by their partners’ IUDs, which is sort of not what I had in mind when they talked about 99% efficacy in preventing pregnancy. Although in my case, preventing pregnancy was more of a happy side effect to the whole not-having-more-pelvic-surgery primary purpose.

OH, and also my friend Susie did me the huge favor of calling me during the insertion so I got to answer the phone and say, “sorry, I can’t talk now, I’m getting my IUD in. Can I call you back?” which was SO awesome, and maybe one of the nicest gifts anyone has ever accidentally given me. My doctor is an excellent sport, though I’m pretty sure we’ve already established that.

Where was I? Oh right: not being stabbed in the penis = good.

Less good was the part where she told me not to have sex for two weeks, and I was all “c’mon, please?! His birthday is Saturday and that would totally suck.” (no. that fruit is hanging far too low for someone with your level of dignity to pick, so you just let it lie). To my surprise, she relented, which makes me doubt forever the veracity of her sex moratoriums (moratoria? Spellcheck says no. But it also says no to “spellcheck,” so there’s no point in trusting a program having an existential crisis). It’s good that she did, because it would turn out that Saturday would be the last time I felt normal for a very long time.

It started out subtly. I would wake up before dawn with my mind racing, struggling to get back to sleep. Sometimes it would take hours. This is not normal for me. When I was younger, I trained my brain to shut off in bed. I have a word, and when I start repeating it in my mind, instant unconsciousness happens. That I could spend hours attempting to repeat it only to start obsessing over imaginary scenarios from years past and future is just not how my brain goes. I don’t know why it wasn’t a huge red flag, but I convinced myself my brain just wanted me to stop sleeping so late.

Next came the sensitivity. I felt like a huge carpet burn; like the layers of protection I used to have around conflict with people just rubbed off in one bad bout of friction and suddenly everything was awful. Any tiny criticism was a wholesale condemnation of my failure as a human being. Either I would burst into tears or erupt into rage. I was, needless to say, a tad irritable. I forgot how to feel joy and pleasure. It was like someone cut the top off of my emotional body; I could feel all the stuff below the line: sadness, rage, frustration, anxiety – just nothing positive. And you can forget about sex; I sure have. I called my primary to tell him my antidepressants weren’t working. His office sucks and he never got back to me.

Meanwhile – bear with me, I need to take time to explain why this next part took so long to realize – it’s been hot as hell this summer in New Jersey. Like, Missouri hot. When I was a kid I was pretty well acclimated to 98 degrees and 90% humidity. Even as a fair-skinned ginger who overheats easily, I had my ways of coping. There are many things I miss about Missouri, but those hot, humid summers aren’t one. I have lost my ability to cope with stifling heat, and I feel pretty good about that. I love that I can throw open the windows at night because the temps are in the low 60’s. I love that once the humidity gets over about 55% it’s an abomination. I don’t need callouses like that. But this summer I kind of wish I still had them, because holy shitballs it’s hot. I look at the weather reports in my hometown and many days it’s actually been hotter here in New Jersey. What. The. Hell.

I know that looked like meandering, but my point is this: it’s really hard to notice that you’ve started having hot flashes when it’s already so hot out. It’s really easy to justify your sudden sheen of sweat and desire to hump an air-conditioner or climb into the deep-freeze as a completely normal response to some extremely impolite weather. So I didn’t notice at first. Except eventually I started noticing that I would be the only one sweating profusely in air-conditioned rooms. And I would ask if anyone else was hot, and they would, through blue and chattering lips, stutter out the word “no.”

So nearly a month later, after two therapy sessions devoted entirely to “what the hell is the matter with me? It feels like I’m emotionally 21 all over again” and countless really tense and weepy interactions with Jim, whose patience was running quite thin, I went back in my mind to the last time I felt good and finally put two and two together.

And then I went online and made a discovery: I am not alone. The internet is full of women whose depression and anxiety ramped up when they went on Mirena. And then I learned that in Canada, the literature states that it’s not recommended for women with emotional disturbances, because it can make it worse….AND it’s a severe side effect in up to 15% of the population. How do they even get to leave that out of US literature?!?! What, like that’s only a side effect in Canada, and you cross the border and now *boom* no more crippling depression? If I’m anxious and depressed in the US, does that mean that I need to be diagnosed Canadian?

I immediately called and made an appointment with my Gyn-Onc to get it the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, I had to take Corinne to the primary to do a strep culture. He finally asked me about my phone message and I told him what’s up and that I wanted to go at it with herbs for awhile. Do you know what he suggested as a next step instead? He suggested I get chemically-induced menopause. Do you know what’s a really bad idea? Telling someone who’s more or less going through accidental chemically-induced menopause that intentional chemically-induced menopause is a good idea. Because I then turned the full brilliance of my hormonal madness at him and let fly, much to Corinne’s extreme discomfort and irritation. But seriously? He is SO. Fired. I’m 38 goddamn years old, with a family history of severe osteoporosis (and really severe menopause symptoms).  I need menopause like I need a hole in my head – which, considering the osteoporosis, is actually a distinct possibility.

Fast forward to this week. It occurred to me the other day that nobody ever called me back from the Gyn-Onc to confirm my appointment for today (which was totally a squeeze-in so the doctor had to agree) so I called again. Lo, it was not in the system. I had fallen off the radar. I was…a tad devastated. This shit takes three weeks to leave your system entirely, and I am so ready for this to be behind me. Another week of this was really not what I needed right now. But as much fun as it can be, there’s no point in arguing with reality, so I might as well try to figure out how to work with what is, for as long as it takes.

And then, to my groggy surprise, she called me at 7 this morning, fresh out of surgery, asking what’s going on. I explained about the hot flashes and the emotional toplessness and she told me to meet her at her office in an hour. She’s going on vacation and didn’t want me to have to live with this for two more weeks. Bless her. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

I didn’t figure it would come out any easier than it went in, so I told the nurse to get out all the special tools in advance. What I didn’t expect was what actually happened, which just goes to show how pointless worrying actually is. What happened was this: SHE COULDN’T FIND IT. Not that she couldn’t catch it, but she couldn’t feel it at all. Not for lack of trying – she wiggled around in there so deeply it felt like a baby kicking and I could see my stomach move. And then she said unto me those magic words I have become so accustomed to hearing when it comes to my body and my luck in general:

“What the heck?”

And then came the saga of the unexpected ultrasound, which I need a good long break before recounting, but whose moral can be summed up thusly: there is no doctor visit so cut and dried that it cannot be turned into a surprise 7-hour medical marathon, so don’t forget to eat something before you go, and bring a snack just in case. I’ll probably post that part tomorrow.

Continue reading here.

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Not Too Shabby

Yesterday I had a D&C to get my polyps removed. I wasn’t there for most of it, because I went straight from “this is going to feel like you’ve had a couple drinks” to waking up with an oxygen mask (which is like no couple of drinks I’ve ever had, but maybe the Nurse Anesthetist has been roofied before), but Jim tells me that my doctor told him a) there were A LOT of polyps and b) my uterus is very large. “A lot” as in, she usually takes out enough to fill about a two-inch square and I filled an area about five times that. I always was an overachiever. I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that if your uterus is holding ten square inches of polyps it’s going to be rather large in order to accommodate the extra inhabitants. That or I’m just really well-endowed. Actually, let’s go with the second, shall we?

There’s less to report about surgery than I was hoping. I was unconscious, then really tired, then really nauseated trying to play Skyrim. We ended up the day taking turns reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography, which is weird but entertaining, and more importantly didn’t make me queasy despite many episodes of bad weather at sea. That’s pretty much it. OH, except I also won the menstrual lottery: since my period was just starting it all got scraped out in the D&C and I left spotting less than I was when I came in. That was pretty exciting. It doesn’t make up for well over a decade of bleeding more days out of the month than I don’t, but it’s a start.

Today I’m up and about but still very crampy, which makes sense since my uterus is trying to close fully for the first time since probably not long after my daughter was born. Jim and I went to Home Depot to buy stuff to build me a desk and also “accidentally” come home with eight plants. It was nice to get out of the house, but also a bit irritating because I was sort of limping around and being uncomfortable while he hovered over me like a mother hen. We were walking back to the car when I finally identified the sensation.

Me: It’s like a really tender water balloon inside my pelvis and when I move around it sort of sloshes painfully.

Jim: That…doesn’t sound so great. Are you sure you’re okay?

Me: I’m FINE, I swear. Let’s go build a desk!

{silence (just normal married silence, not awkward silence, in case you were worried)}

Me: I really want to come up with a portmanteau using the word ‘portmanteau’. Maybe if I use one in Kathmandu it’s a portmandu? Or in Canada it would be a portmanitoba?

Jim: The anesthesia still isn’t all the way out of your system is it?

Me: ….no.

{more married silence}

Me: Wait, I KNOW! It’s like a water balloon filled with angry hamsters. Except that’s not the right metaphor either because the hamsters would drown in the water. What’s kind of vicious but wouldn’t drown? Bettas? That would just tickle. Snapping turtles?

Jim: hey, portmanteau lady, why don’t you just call them “dampsters”?

Me: ….

Jim: You know “damp hamsters”?

Me: …. I don’t…. I… I don’t know whether that’s awesome or horrible. Every time I veer toward one, the other beckons me convincingly.

Jim: What can I say? I’m good like that.

Me: Like what, “I’m the best at what I do, and what I do is mediocrity”?

Jim: Yeah, Mediocre Man! Not so much a “super hero” as a “pretty alright hero.”

Me: Ha! And his battle cry is “Meh.”

Jim: He could have that on his costume instead of a giant S. And people would be like, “thanks, Mediocre Man! We’re pretty banged up, but you basically saved us!” And he would drive away in his Civic shouting “Not Too Shabbyyyy!” like how Superman yells “up, up, and away!”

Me: OMG, it would have to be a tricked out older Civic, with the ridiculously high spoiler and-

In Unison: Spinning rims!

Jim: -and one of those prismatic paint jobs.

Me: But maybe with a little rust. I think we have a full-fledged television show on our hands here!

Jim: No, they already made The Tick.

Me: Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Jim: Meh.

It’s good to be back to normal.

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Part III: Wow, You Really ARE a Bleeder!

Wow, has it really been 10 days since my last confession? Sorry for the silence, I’ve had a nasty cold and have done almost nothing but sleep for close to a week.

But one thing I did manage to do was meet the gyno-oncologist on Thursday. Surprise, surprise: it was weird. So welcome to Part III in my series on un-jacking my junk in public as a service to the women of the internet. If you’re grossed out by all this vagina talk, now’s a good time to click away. I can recommend any of the delightful options in my blogroll to the right, or here is my pin board full of cute to scrub your brain:

Okay, last chance. Here we go:

So. First of all, I totally get how the lighting is supposed to be soothing and all, but the waiting room was lit only by dim lamps and there was no natural light. It was dark and depressing and  I don’t think if I actually had junk cancer I’d want to visit a cave every time I needed a treatment.

But there I was in the Sick Vagina Cave with a bunch of women decades older than I, all eyes fixed on a soap opera (which surprised me most of all – I didn’t know they still aired those things?) except mine and the supportive husbands flipping desperately through the magazine piles to find one that did not feature the latest trends in home decorating or handbags. I kind of see their point: I mean, if you’re going to be awesome and come along to your wife’s junk cancer appointment, you should be rewarded with access to a swimsuit issue, or at the very least National Geographic. Come to think of it, I would have preferred that myself.

I was called back blessedly quickly and handed the requisite paper sheet. I did the stripping below the waist drill and began my rounds of reading everything in the room while waiting for the doctor to come in. This time I noticed that there are many clever names for gauze products, and my doctor seemed eager to collect them all. My favorite was “avant gauze”, which is also the only one I can remember. I probably should have taken a picture. But in that moment I realized that it is somebody’s job to come up with catchy names for things that absorb blood, and that I wished that were my job. And then I got bored.

I should really just bring my phone with me to the table when I take off my pants and sit under a paper sheet, because doctors clearly have some kind of code that says that no less than fifteen minutes shall pass between when the patient gets under the paper sheet and the doctor enters. But I didn’t, so I carefully wrapped the paper sheet around me and shuffled across the room for my phone…and in sitting back down, sat upon the paper in such a way that it separated the fibers and left a rift between my legs. So then I had to make the horrible choice between being modest and having my butt cheeks exposed in a cold room. If you ask me, if you’re looking to make cancer patients more comfortable? A room that’s warm while you’re half naked is WAY more important than a dimly-lit waiting room. If there were any justice in the world, I would be a consultant and get paid $800 for that advice. Also, note to self: wear long cardigans to paper sheet appointments.

The doctor was awesome and I wish she were a regular gynecologist because I would look forward to seeing her once a year, but it seems like all the cool vagina doctors are specialists. She made me take a pregnancy test before she would do the polyp removing, though, because she didn’t want to be responsible for killing any babies. I tried to comfort her by explaining that I didn’t want any more anyway, but I think she must be religious or something because she made me do a pee test anyway.

Which meant 15 MORE minutes of waiting. But THIS time I not only had my phone, but I had a gown to wrap myself in like a blanket so that I would neither be cold nor expose my vagina before it was time. Hell yeah! I am like the MacGyver of the gynecology office. Extreme sudoku-solving MacGyver. Hell. Yes.

People, you will NOT. Believe. what happened next: she came in grinning and said, “congratulations!”

As my stomach began to consume itself, I replied, through a mostly-closed throat, “WHAT.”

And she goes, “You’re not pregnant! Congratulations! I was just messin’ with you. But you totally thought you were for a second there!” I genuinely didn’t know whether to high five her for such a well-played prank or walk out without any pants on. I guess you don’t get a lot of opportunities to joke around when you’re dealing with vagina tumors, so I kind of don’t begrudge her, but OMG, what the hell kind of bedside manner is that? Exactly the kind I would have, is what.

Next, we all assumed the position, and she said unto me those magic words you never, ever want to hear from a doctor: “this is going to be a little uncomfortable.”

Me: You know what? I’ve been to enough doctors to know that “this is going to be a little uncomfortable” is doctor speak for “this shit is totally going to hurt”.

Dr: …………..Yeah, it is. This is totally going to hurt.

Me: Thank you for your honesty. I’m ready.

I immediately forgave her for the pregnancy prank because I like it when doctors don’t beat around the bush (which is a weird unintentional pun in this case, which we shall all tastefully overlook). But before the pain, the surprise bleeding:

Dr: Wow, you really ARE a bleeder, aren’t you? Uh. You’re filling up the speculum. [to the assistant] Could I get some gauze?

Me: yeah, that’s what I was saying – I bleed in a stiff breeze.

Dr: I don’t know if I can get this under control enough to finish the exam. Talk about elevated blood pressure! [to the assistant] I need more gauze. NOW.

I don’t know if I can really adequately describe what it’s like to be packed with gauze. I’ll go with “dry”. Which conveniently also describes the feeling you get when you realize your body is behaving so unusually that it’s making your seasoned professional CANCER doctor have a panic attack.

Finally things were packed in dryly enough that she felt we could move forward, so I took a few deep breaths while she inserted a long, white plastic stick into my uterus and wiggled it around. It was a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t too bad, really. It totally didn’t hurt. For some reason she felt I deserve an award for this.

Dr: Hey, you’re doing amazingly well! Usually there is a lot more shouting during this part.

Me: It’s really not that bad. Remember how I told you I had warts burned off my vagina when I was seventeen? THAT hurt. This is not burning-your-lady-bits-with-acid pain. Nor is it childbirth. This is like the more gentle menstrual cramps.

Dr: You’re very special then, because this usually hurts a lot. This next part should be no big deal at all–


Dr: Huh. That’s weird. You are exactly opposite of most of my patients. Usually it hurts when I scrape the uterus, not the cervix.

Me: sigh. Of course I am.

Dr: …Um. I can’t get you to stop bleeding. I snipped off a piece of polyp and it’s really gushing.

Me: No worries [yeah, that’s me, reassuring the doctor]. I bleed all the time. I have a pantyliner.

She asked her assistant for some words that didn’t make any sense to me, but I gather she couldn’t make up her mind between two options. She finally went with what she later explained was the more potent clotting agent. Because I was bleeding that much.

Dr: It’s going to look like coffee grounds in the toilet tomorrow.

Me: I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it because I would have just thought I had way too much coffee, but thanks for the warning.

Dr: Nothing at all should be inserted into your vagina for a week: no tampons, penises, douches, etc.

Me: What about my physical therapy?

She looked at me in mute bafflement.

Me: you know, she sticks in a finger and I have to squeeze it?

Dr: …

Me: It’s just my PC muscle, it’s not very far in or anything.

Dr: OH! I thought you meant like for your knee or something and I was all “what does that even have to do with your vagina?” Yeah, no fingers either.

I have to go back in after the biopsy results come back, and after I have a vaginal ultrasound, which I can’t get for a week either because I’m pretty sure they stick the wand in. Next time I’ll be sure to take pictures of gauze.

Good lord, I’m promising gauze photos to lure you back. Why do you people even read this stuff?


I Deserve A Fucking Nobel Peace Prize

This is Part II of my series on my exciting adventure getting treatment for my pelvic floor disorders (Part I is here). I’m talking in embarrassing depth (pardon the pun) about my vagina in hopes that other people who have lived with stress incontinence might also learn that it’s treatable. Even though I’ve talked about it for years, I’ve never been referred for help. My own primary care physician had never even heard of Uro-gynecology. I am coming to believe that in this age of advanced medicine, being able to control your bodily functions is a human right, and the awareness of these problems need to grow. These are not first world problems; they are global problems. Talking about your troubles with elimination are still a taboo here, even if they don’t render you a homeless outcast in places without modern sanitation. I talk about this even though I was terrified of being shunned for doing so. The positive reception I’ve gotten so far has been a huge relief and I am deeply grateful that you continue to read through vulnerable and uncomfortable material.

So. Physical therapy: not the same for your vagina as for your knee surgery, it turns out.

My daughter goes to PT to rebalance the muscles in her back because of scoliosis, so since it’s a good office and I know them, I may have casually asked her therapist if he treated pelvic floor disorders. He actually blushed at me in a mortified sort of way, as though he’d never really considered that I might have a vagina before, and told me no, he didn’t do that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure he thought I was propositioning him.

My Uro-Gynecologist recommended someone to me, and I had my first appointment with her on Monday. When she led me into a private therapy room, I began to realize that this was not going to be the usual series of squats and lunges and balancing exercises. In getting her up to speed, I rehashed the whole billboard story from Part I and her response was only slightly less surprising, in that she’s going to suggest this idea to everyone she knows to bring awareness to the specialty. I figure this blog series is just doing my part. I’m like Lady Di or Nelson Mandela with my awareness raising over here.

My PT’s hands shook a lot, and I wasn’t really sure what to make of that. Was she nervous? If so, was it because I was making her uncomfortable, or because she’s still getting the hang of this whole hanging with vaginas all day thing, or was it because it’s kind of awkward for her too? Did she have Parkinsons, or just too much caffeine this morning? My friend Susie thinks it was probably just Essential Tremor Disorder, because she has it too, but that’s boring, so I’m choosing Heroin withdrawal. Unless she reads this and she’s offended by that, in which case I AM SO SORRY that I just called out your tremors on the Internet AND attributed them to illicit drug use. Please don’t stop fixing me.


First she had me resist against her pushing on my legs in various places, which got me all calm and complacent, and I started to think that maybe it was a private room because it’s nice not to have to talk about your vagina in a room full of people. Then she handed me a gown and left the room.

When she came back, she snapped on gloves, put bolsters under my knees (because they’re more friendly than stirrups), did a few more resistance tests, and had to teach me how to use my transverse abdominals. Now, I go to the gym several times a week AND I was a massage therapist, so I know my way around anatomy pretty well. But when we hit the part about the pelvic floor muscles, we kind of glossed over them because it was a Catholic program and we weren’t that sort of massage therapist. The only muscle I remember is levator ani, and only because it’s funny to say and it makes your butthole work. So it was news to me that the pelvic floor is the bottom of a muscular cylinder that works like a piston, and your transverse abdominals (the things you tighten when you do Pilates) are the sides. It also would seem that I’ve been doing Pilates wrong since day one, which would explain why I fucking hate them so fucking much, you have no idea. So we had to try like half a dozen times before I figured out how to make the muscles in my stomach do what she was asking of me. My muscles have a private line with my brain; you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard for me to make them do what I want by thinking about them. You would be wrong. My brain needs a Red Phone.

But then, just when I was starting to recover from the indignity of having a disobedient abdomen, she put a finger into my vagina and asked me to squeeze. Then she started testing the places where my hip muscles attach, from the inside.  We definitely never covered that technique in massage school. It was at this point that I realized why my daughter’s physical therapist had blushed at me, and I realized with horror that I was going to have to see him the next day.

So, when you find yourself in a room with a stranger who has a finger inserted into your vagina for quite a number of minutes, you find that you don’t really want them to be a stranger so much, and you have to make small talk – which is surprisingly awkward under the circumstances. But I asked what I like to believe anyone would ask when they meet a professional who has decided to spend her days dealing with broken lady bits: “so, how did you you come to decide you wanted to deal with vaginas all day?”

She explained that she used to do home care PT, and that she worked with a lot of old ladies who, after several sessions doing PT for other reasons, reported to her that they were no longer getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or having leakage. Which immediately put me in mind of her doing what she was doing with me to little old ladies (on the bright side, my grandmother isn’t incontinent, so my mind didn’t wander down that particular nightmare road of no return). So she got trained in pelvic floor disorders and the rest is history, presumably with wider age ranges. Though since I’ve only just discovered this magical world of vagina specialties, it’s entirely possible that there’s a geriatric pelvic floor sub-specialization. I no longer put anything past medical science.

We also talked about our daughters and other random things, and on that level it was very much like going to the salon. If the salon asked you to take off your pants and put your knees on bolsters, that is. I guess if you get a Brazilian wax, they probably do. I wouldn’t know – I only occasionally even manage to keep on top of shaving my legs.

If I thought making my stomach do what I wanted was hard, it was nothing compared to making my pelvic floor work. Evidently I have really codependent muscles, which is not surprising since the rest of me doesn’t exactly know how to mind its own business, either. But every time I tried to squeeze my pelvic floor, my hip muscles, or other abdominals, or my legs, or my neck, or something having nothing to do with my pelvic floor would try to rush in and save the day. And I would have to try again. I was somehow supposed to hold this for 10 seconds, which I don’t think I did even once. And I was somehow supposed to be BREATHING during all of this, which was so very not happening – there are only so many things I can do at one time. I have never, ever, been so exhausted from lying on my back trying not to move.

In the middle of all this, someone started using the pulley attached to the outside of the door for their non-vaginal PT regimen. So there I am, lying on a table half-naked, squeezing a stranger’s finger, listening to the door going “zip…zip…zip…zip...” and wondering if the person using the pulley could even begin to imagine was was going on on the other side of that thin piece of wood. And my brain – because this is what it does – made a beeline the worst case scenario: “do you ever have to leave the room when somebody is using that thing and the person is lying on this table with nothing on but a sheet? Because that would be really awkward.” As I write this, I realize that this is only the second-worst case scenario. The worst case would actually be if the pulley made the door pop open, exposing to the entire PT room the scene of someone lying under a sheet in the middle of one of those awful squeezing exercises.

She assured me that the former almost never happens. I’ll have to follow up on the latter next time, when evidently we will be delving into the exciting world of putting little sensors in my vagina for biofeedback. Yes. Really.

I know this whole thing sounds pretty mortifying, and at least some of you are probably wondering why I would put myself through this AND THEN talk about it in public. But the truth is, I’m beyond excited. I would love to have a world without “achoo, DAMMIT!” and weird pelvic traffic jams, and the notion that this could all be sorted out in 6-8 weeks sounds almost too good to be true. If this is really going to be – as it appears – a thing that changes my life, I want to share it. I would love to be personally responsible for a collapse in the panty-liner-industrial-complex.

In other news, on Tuesday I apologized to my daughter’s PT for asking him about the pelvic floor thing because I had no idea what I was asking him to do. He was very gracious about it. Which is good, because I didn’t want to have to find her a new one. It is, however, noteworthy that they’ve moved her warm-ups from the exercise bike next to her therapy table and into another room to walk on the treadmill. They set me up on the treadmill next to her and we had a really lovely walk-and-talk, which I’m sure was less the point than a way for them to keep me out of the therapy room for 10 minutes so I wouldn’t say anything that would horrify the other patients, many of whom were little old ladies who I will never look the same at, ever again.

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Fixing a Hole (Not for the Squeamish)

I swear this isn’t just an excuse to talk about my vagina – that’s just a special bonus. This is a public service message for all the moms I know and don’t know whose junk was totally ruined by having babies. I spent the last fifteen years suffering from stress incontinence, and this is the story of how I discovered that it was needless.

It all started in August when I went to visit my mother to help her with the two step-grandchildren she and her husband found themselves unexpectedly fostering. I could write a novel-length aside about that whole saga, but I’m going to skip over it for now because it’s more tragic than funny, and I have to leave some good material in the event that someone actually reads this blog and likes it enough to offer me a book deal on a memoir.

Anyway, mom picked me up at the airport in Milwaukee and we hit the Perkins because when you get on a plane at six o’clock in the damn morning, you’re legitimately allowed to have Second Breakfast. We caught up over eggs and copious amounts of coffee, because if a plane departs at 6 AM and another plane is moving 500 miles per hour in the opposite direction, and you live 30 minutes from the airport, at what point does the time you have to get up cease being considered “morning” and qualify for “middle of the damn night”? 3:30 AM, that’s when.

So yeah, gallons of coffee. Followed by an urgent visit to the ladies’ room, where there was a small billboard on the wall of the stall which essentially said, “Worried you wouldn’t make it in time? Call our Uro-gynecology office!”

Fortunately there was no one in the bathroom when I responded to the sign out loud: “Uro-gynecology? That’s a thing? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. I’ve only been telling my doctors for the past fifteen years that I pee a little when I sneeze. Assholes.” Especially the one that kept complimenting me on having natural childbirth after tricking me into taking an opiate and then almost missed the part where the baby fell out. Seriously, fuck him.

A couple months went by, with many exciting episodes of “achoo! DAMMIT!” and that weird thing that happens when I wear my Diva Cup and it crowds out my urethra and I have to push on my bladder to pee. Because for some reason it comes out when I don’t want it to, but not when I do. Since we’re handing out Asshole Cards, here’s one for you, bladder. So after an incident in which I bit my tongue trying not to sneeze, I finally found a doctor and got an appointment for three months later.

I picked her because she ‘s a teacher and because she goes to Africa and does pelvic surgery on women who are so disfigured and incontinent – both urinally AND fecally – from fistulas formed in childbirth that they are cast out of their villages and left to fend for themselves, leaving their children motherless. It’s horrible. She goes to put their insides back together so that they can rejoin their communities. Which, I don’t know how that reconciliation would even work, I mean, like, “oh hey, Kala, sorry about the whole traumatizing you and your children and nearly starving both of you to death over your whole poo problem, but hey, bygones, right?” seems sort of hard to swallow, but I guess if you need a community to survive and you just want your life back, you suck it up. But so she started a foundation so that more of these surgeries could happen. How could she not be awesome?

She totally was. AND she used to be an engineer, so we had immediate geek chemistry. I saw her three weeks ago.

I got a little anxious when her medical assistant called me back and she was a little person, which almost stopped me in my tracks because I’d never seen a dwarf gyno assistant before, but suddenly it made perfect. sense. But I started to panic that I would say or do something accidentally offensive, like “how awesome is it that you’re already at vagina level?” but instead I just got a drop of pee on the outside of the cup, which I felt the need to announce and apologize for in the common area because I didn’t want her to accidentally touch it, and that pretty well filled my mortification card for the day and put me at ease, especially since she was so nice about it.

I waited long enough that I read every label in the room three times and finally wrapped myself up in the paper sheet to get my phone, which of course calls doctors in like they’re dog whistles. The doctor came in seconds later, busted me with my phone, and asked me how I found her, at which point I had to explain that I was there because of a billboard in a bathroom stall at a Perkins in Milwaukee. Jim told me not to because it I might as well just say, “well, I saw a bunch of surgical tools in an alley so I decided to have an abortion,” but I’m compulsively honest and it just sort of came out.

Of all the things I imagined her saying in response to my admission, the words “which doctor, do you remember?” were not even on the emergency tertiary backup list. I kicked myself for not taking a picture of the billboard.

So we talked about pee for awhile – which I swear was totally germane and not just a casual conversation – and then she lifted the hood and started prodding around, and then she said the thing you never, ever want to hear a doctor with that much experience say: “whoa.”

Me: Um. Whoa?

Dr.: Are you having your period?

Me: …no…?

Dr.: You’re totally bleeding. Like, a lot. I barely touched your cervix and now it’s really bleeding.

Me: Oh, yeah, sorry – it just does that. I bleed when I poo, I bleed when I have sex, I bleed when I ovulate, I bleed when it’s a bit windy out. I spot more days than I don’t.

It’s like I was describing my old Nissan that I had to park on hills so I could start it by popping the clutch. It was broken, but it was my normal. Nobody ever mentioned it being a fixable problem before, and I definitely mention it on all patient intake forms.

Dr.: Um…yeah, that’s not normal. I’m going to send you to see a Gyno-oncologist.

Me: What, now? Like, vagina cancer??

Dr.: OH – jeez, no. I think you might have polyps.

Assistant: ooh, I went to see her for polyps a few years back, it was awesome! I used to bleed all the time like you do & she took out 26 of them and now I’m fine. I promise, it’ll be great. Best thing that ever happened to me.

I then had a brief and complicated fantasy involving Glinda the good witch and the women of the Lollipop Guild and polyps, for which I am most certainly going straight to hell.

So she prescribed me some physical therapy to fix my “pelvic floor disorder” which is really just a fancy medical way of saying “dude, your junk is totally jacked” and something called “hypermobile urethra” – which seriously should be the name of a sports car – and gave me a referral for the polyps.

This week I went to my first day of Physical Therapy, which we’ll cover in Part II, in which we learn that not only are there special doctors for jacked junk, there are also special physical therapists, and mine mostly works with old lady junk. Stay tuned. Because with a teaser like “old lady junk” how could you NOT?