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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caution! Doctors May be Dangerous to Your Health

Disclaimer:  If you are at all squeamish about the physiological workings of a woman’s body, you might want to leave the room.

This post sprang from one published by Katie Gates a few weeks ago.   Please click on her name to read it.  Katie, you are not alone!

I had my first menstrual period when I was 12.  It woke me in the night with hard cramping in my lower abdomen and back.  I was spending the night with Randy Fite, and I was wearing a pair of her pajamas. I was horrified, more by the fact that I had stained her pajamas than by the pain.  
When I got home, I sat down with my mother and told her I was having my period.  What I failed to tell her, because I didn’t know better, was that my flow was not bright red but a muddy chocolate color.  We had never really talked about menstruation, and to this day, I believe she never considered the fact that I would grow up and actually have periods. 
Mother didn’t seem to think that my pain was serious.  She believed that I was just frightened by the whole process, which could have been true if I hadn’t learned about periods in school.  I grew to accept that, once a month, I would have two days of excruciating pain when my period arrived.
When I was 14, Mother finally took me to a gynecologist.  The doctor put me on Enovid, a hormone therapy which was in use at that time for menstrual disorders.  It would become the first pill categorized as a birth control pill.  The dose was 10 mg!  That means it contained a ton of hormones, both estrogen and progestin. 
My cramps went away, but what the doctor failed to tell my mother was that the high dosage could lead to numerous reactions, such as blurred vision, nausea, weight gain, bloating, depression, blood clots, and strokes. 
Remember that I was 14 years old.  Within two months, I had gained 20 pounds, my self-image was in the toilet, and I had taken to having crying spells for no reason.  My breasts were huge and embarrassing.  My doctor blew off the depression as a normal reaction to the weight gain, and she put me on a diet of only vegetables and lean meat or fish. Carbohydrates were forbidden.  While my friends were eating pizza as an after school snack, I was eating green beans out of a can.  When I went to sleepovers, I took my canned vegetables to eat while my friends were munching on chips and cookies.  My mother allowed me one cheeseburger a week.
I lost the 20 pounds and more, but the depression lingered.  Always an eager learner who made excellent grades, I lost interest in school.  I lost interest in boys.  Despite the weight loss, I always saw a fat girl in the mirror.  That would lead to anorexia in my 20’s and 30’s.
Then we moved back to our home town, and my spirits improved.  We had been living in Florida when I went on the pill, and I missed my old friends.  
I subsisted on a diet of grapefruit juice and protein for the most part, but my weight stabilized.  Then I saw another gynecologist, who reduced the dosage of Enovid.  My cramps returned, but they were not as bad, and I only missed one day of school each month, lying on the sofa with a heating pad on my stomach and popping Eskatrol, a popular diet pill, which had anecdotally been shown to make cramps more bearable.
There I was, a high school student, on hormone therapy that was not really effective and taking speed to make it through the pain.  Never once did I question my doctor, but neither did my mother.  
Fortunately for me, I was one of those kids who follow the rules, because the doctor prescribed endless supplies of Eskatrol, and if I had abused it, I would have become a speed freak.  When I was on it, I couldn’t sleep, and I took it for two days every month.  My mind was crystal clear, and I threw myself into my school work, writing papers and studying for exams while under its influence.  
This pattern continued through my high school years and into college, when I never missed class because of my period because I had my speed to get me through.  I changed gynecologists a couple of times, but no one had anything new for me.  One doctor offered me a presacral neurectomy, the surgical removal of the presacral plexus, the group of nerves that conducts the pain signal from the uterus to the brain.  At the time it was a major abdominal operation that certainly was inappropriate for a young woman in her 20's who had never been pregnant.  I did have enough sense challenge him and refuse the surgery.  I never saw that man again.  

It would be years before I was diagnosed with endometriosis, which I apparently had from the age of 12 and was the cause of all the pain and the abnormal flow.  I was fortunate to have gotten pregnant once and had a healthy baby, but I was never able to get pregnant again.  
A hysterectomy at age 31 was the only answer for me.  It’s no one’s fault that I had endometriosis.  That was Mother Nature’s call, but the treatment I received over the years and the attitudes of my doctors amounted to malpractice.  It is sheer luck that I was not permanently harmed. 


Linda @ A La Carte said...

It's a miracle you lived through all that. Those drugs are so powerful. I remember asking questions of my Dr and he patted me on the knee and said not to worry he would take care of me. I never saw him again. I am a strong woman now and know my body and take care of it.


Laoch of Chicago said...

Scary. It is always hard to know whether to trust one's Doctors.

Sue said...

What a story. It's pretty inexcusable.

I had an unnecessary hysterectomy (ovaries removed too) that changed my life for the worse, but at least I had good treatment for the first 39 years. Sorry you didn't!



Judie said...

CJ, now doctors are firm believers in CYA, and that would never happen to you today. How well I remember that condescending attitude that prevailed when we were in our teens. The first doctor I saw after I got my period was the doctor who delivered me. After the examination, he wanted to kiss me. Grounds for a lawsuit these days.

Katie Gates said...

Oh, cj, our experiences are quite similar, though I think you had a worse one than I did. I understand now why my post inspired this one! Doctors/schmoctors! I am so glad our society has evolved a bit in this arena (while, of course, devolving in others [smile]). The doctor is no longer the bottom line S/he never should have been. Glad you made it through!

Martha Mawson said...

It really is a crime how doctors prescribe off the cuff because, no doubt, some drug rep has sung high praises about something that hasn't been around long enough to really know what it can do. I am so glad you survived all this, but what a weird cycle it must have been. My feelings are the same as my sister's. Doctors aren't gods and should never be treated as such. (And the pharmaceutical people - well, how do they sleep at night having done all the damage they have done over the years!)

Ed Pilolla said...

a really good doctor is as rare as a really good anything in this world. it takes dedication and a personal commitment beyond an appointment. we still must do our own research, and with the internet, we do have that capability.

deborahjbarker said...

Hi Cj, I am back in the land of Blog and what do I find? Katie's post about cat vomit and yours about menstrual pain - but I must say, while I have never kept cats (allergic to their fur) I can empathise with period pains. I had a wonderful deputy headmistress who understood and allowed me to curl up in a chair in the sick room once a month with a hot water bottle and migraine tablets (not that the tablets did much) whereas my P.E. teacher exhorted me to run and jump through the pain. This would have been fine had I been able to move in the first place. That lady just had no idea. She also did not understand that mine lasted at least six days and expected me to be fit for swimming etc. within three or four.
Having children cured me I think. I am now waiting for the menopause - Lord, surely it must happen soon??? :-)

injaynesworld said...

You have to scrape me off the front of a truck to get me to a doctor. I figure by then, there's not much harm they can do.