Mine is a story that I know many women out there who are suffering silently would relate to. Many women suffer alone from problems that are difficult to explain and perhaps even inappropriate; the taboo subjects. Many have died and some are on the verge of it. I share to encourage them but also to challenge my country to address the problems that exposes us; mothers, sisters, wives, and friends to the risk of a painful, bloody life and an early death.
It is a tale of two terrible years. Two years of excruciating pain. Two years when hope bled out of me in determined torrents.
But those were only the last two years. The struggle had started earlier with a just a little pain in the belly. The kind you ignore. The periods started getting longer, more profuse, uncomfortable at first them unbearably painful. It progressed to worrisome levels when the pain during periods wouldn’t go away even with painkillers and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. Then it reached a point where I had to be admitted to get blood transfusions. This became a regular occurrence. Some months I escaped, but only just. Other months were, well, quite memorable. It was horrifying.
During one of the worst of times, a doctor said he felt some lump in my belly and suspected it was a fibroid causing all the problems. He said I needed a scan. He explained that if confirmed, I would need an urgent operation to remove the fibroids and save my life. According to him, I had already received more than the safe number of blood units. I could not afford to lose or receive more blood.
I did the scan, which revealed not one but several fibroids. Some were quite large. They had completely distorted the anatomy of the uterus and were responsible for the excessive bleeding and pain. I was told that the preferred option for such severe fibroids would be to remove the uterus altogether. The doctor and I knew that that was not going to happen. You do not do that to a young woman for whom motherhood is still an aspiration. So we decided to remove the fibroids which he explained could be extremely risky because of bleeding on the operating table. It was a risk to him and a risk to me. But he was the gynecologist, an experienced one, and the unspoken expectation was that he would make it happen.
A date was set for the operation. That begun a whole year of canceled theatre appointments during which I became completely incapacitated. There were all manner of reasons why it couldn’t happen. Maybe the theatre didn’t have something necessary for the procedure. Or another time the nurses were on strike and the theatre was closed. Another time the doctor wasn’t available. Another time something else would happen. All the while I was getting more of those units of blood whose safety I had exceeded. It was a case of blood fast in and blood fast out. Reality as I knew it disappeared. I lived off the hospital system; watching some else’s blood run into my body while mine flowed out. I was wasting on the hospital bed, feeling guilty from the agony I caused my family. All the while waiting for the day the stacks will arrange perfectly so that this, a county referral hospital, could save my life.
I knew that the fibroids were growing bigger. The doctor had explained earlier that they could only be stopped by the knife or menopause. Menopause was far far away. The surgeon’s knife seemed to be drifting even farther. So they grew, I bled more, I took in more blood units, I lived in and out of the gynecology wards. No work. No life. Hope was bleeding out of me in torrents.
One day, the morning of the scheduled surgery arrived without a cancellation. We were happy, even excited. We arrived to the hospital at dawn. It was far from home and we had to make sure we were there on time. We arrived there tired, cold, and hungry from the skipped breakfast. I was on a stretcher, by now an anemic invalid drifting in and out of reality. We hoped this would be the end of the suffering.
Then the news came. It wasn’t going happen! What?! What…how…why, why why?
My mother broke down. My father was pacing up and down, no doubt struggling to hold his own. My sisters left the ward, unable to bear it. Then my father, shaking with anger, started working out the options with the doctor. The doctor said it was beyond him, that he had tried the best he could. He had obviously come so early to make sure it happened. If we could afford the fees in a private hospital, he said, it was advisable rather than waiting for the unreliable public hospital to figure itself out. I didn’t have much time, he insisted. But we couldn’t afford that alternative. Had we been able to, things would have been over a long time ago. There was helplessness on both sides. One could almost feel for this doctor, who was himself stuck in a meaningless situation. He knew the history, understood the stakes more than we did, and even while admitting he was helpless against the system, promised to do something.
He did. A few days later, on a cold, gloomy evening as my family hunched together, pondering a fundraiser and secretly hopping my painful groans wouldn’t stop, the doctor called. He said we should go to the hospital the next day so I could be prepared for the operation. It was both exciting and chilling because, well, after so many failed promises, after coming so close only to be disappointed, you knew not to raise your hopes too high because then you would crash down even harder.