Christa Crawford, MA
It was Christmas Eve. I was thirteen years old. I was sitting in church wearing my new Christmas dress, thinking about the chocolates I was about to devour. Suddenly, I was overtaken by the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my life. My entire abdomen was enraged. The pain was accompanied by nausea, anxiety, and a systemic deathly feeling. My teeth began to chatter. I was sweaty and cold. I didn’t know what was going on.
On the way home, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was on my period. I felt like I was dying. The pain grew so unbearable that I blacked out. For a few seconds, everything disappeared. You can’t feel pain when you’re unconscious. As soon as I awoke, I realized that the Pain Monster had not gone anywhere. It was unrelenting. I vomited. This cycle continued for several hours: Vomit, faint. Vomit, faint. Several injections of dilaudid later, the pain finally subsided. It was the worst experience of my life.
Oh wait. That wasn’t just one experience. That was my normal monthly routine. My Christmas Eve nightmare was par for the course for someone who has endometriosis. These episodes began when I was a teenager and continued throughout middle school, high school, college, and grad school. I have survived this agony in more bathrooms, kitchens, grocery stores, and bedrooms than I could possibly remember.
If you are wondering why my doctors couldn’t just fix it with a magic pill, I can explain. Most doctors, even gynecologists, know hardly anything about endometriosis. Endometriosis has not been researched all that extensively. The treatment options are limited. The endometriosis cocktail of choice is the birth control pill, copious amounts of Aleve, and a side of Vicodin. That should do the trick. Perfect.
Perfect, except that it doesn’t work. It hardly makes a dent in the pain. It doesn’t even begin to address the real problem.
I’m fortunate and tenacious enough to have found an incredible doctor. She referred me to a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Theresa Stigen. Last April, she performed an ambitious, unconventional, and successful open surgery on me. For six hours, she scraped every last bit of endometriosis off of my spotted internal organs.
Grossed out yet? Before you jump the gun and classify me as an oversharer, hear me out.
People do not talk about endometriosis. It has to do with the uterus. It involves my period. It’s not nice to talk about blood and pain and vomiting, especially if the victim is a woman. How embarrassing. Thanks to endometriosis’ unpopularity, even doctors don’t know a lot about it. Of course, there are other ways to get the word out. I didn’t have to share all the graphic details. I could have just removed myself from the equation and listed off all the symptoms of endometriosis. But unless you have the disease yourself, I bet you would’ve stopped reading. By sharing my own story, I’m hoping to increase awareness.
Women who are lucky enough not to have this disease sometimes have a hard time understanding. Even progressive women tend to assume that I’m exaggerating. What’s the big deal? Cramps? Take a bath. Get some Midol. Eat less chocolate. Switch to a vegetarian diet. Go for a walk. Take deep breaths. You’ll feel better soon.
Not quite, ladies.
And as for men? Bring up endometriosis, and they usually stick their fingers in their ears. Let’s avoid this topic at all costs. Let’s just close our eyes and pretend like our sisters, wives, mothers, nieces, and daughters don’t suffer from this debilitating disease.
If you are assuming that my case is unusually severe, you’re mistaken. Women everywhere are silently suffering from the same violent pain as me. You work with them, live with them, and see them everyday. You may not know it. Most of them will never bring it up.
Like it or not, endometriosis exists. It is a horrendous disease and a prominent one. I’ve spent the last three years digging through countless resources and learning as much as I can about endometriosis. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to write about my experience. I knew that if I did, I’d run the risk of sounding like one of those Kumbaya, self-indulgent therapy bloggers. Still, I’ve decided to tell you my story.
My goal in sharing is twofold. I’m not seeking sympathy or attention. Rather, I want to help other women who are looking for information and hope. It took thirteen years to get my endometriosis under control. If I can help just one woman or girl find her way out of Endometriosis Hell, I’ll be satisfied. My second goal is to increase general awareness about endometriosis, especially among men and women who are unfamiliar with just how horrible this disease really is.
Next time, I’ll tackle definitions, causes, and treatment options. Have any questions? It’s impossible to gross me out. I’m an open book. Let me know.