“You really shouldn’t be doing this,” the ER doctor informs me. As if I have any control over my body and its screwed up menstrual cycles. As if I choose this hormonal fate. I want to punch him, but I can barely keep my eyes open to look at him while he talks. “You really need to figure out why you are bleeding so heavy, this isn’t normal.”
If I had enough energy to lift my limp head up off the hospital bed, I would point out the fallacy in his logic – this is not my responsibility. I have been in and out of ER’s and doctors’ offices since I was 18 years old from menstrual bleeding so heavy that I pass out or nearly pass out. It always seems to be more of an inconvenience than a concern for doctors. Oh they are concerned at first. But as soon as I explain my history of this problem, his concern, like all doctors, turns into annoyance. As soon as I tell them I don’t want to take oral contraceptives or any other type of artificial hormone, the concern quickly evaporates like the sweat dripping down my forehead in spite of my shivering body being wrapped up in blankets. Even after I explain my experiences on oral contraceptives (OC) and how the four times I have tried to take it to regulate my periods, I bleed like this every single month, not just occasionally, and that’s on top of the other side effects: extreme depression, weight gain, and epic mood swings that cause my boyfriend to nearly dump me (and who would blame him – I’d dump me if I had to deal with the monster I become on OC).
“Ok” is all I have the energy to muster as I close my eyes to prepare myself for the next cramp I can feel billowing in my lower abdomen. I let the pain wash over me as he continues oblivious to the pain I’m in.
“You need to follow up with your primary or gynecologist,” he tells me. “I’m going to give you progesterone to stop the bleeding…” he goes on to explain the difference between progesterone and estrogen. I don’t stop him to tell him I write for a women’s health ezine or that I’ve done enough research that I likely know more about women’s health and hormones than most general doctors.
A few minutes later my nurse, I’m tempted to start a new religion just so I can appoint her as a saint, walks in with my discharge papers. “Ok honey, I hope you feel better. I’m so happy it’s not an ectopic pregnancy or anything serious.” Throughout the day she has brought in warm blankets and shown more compassion than any doctor I have ever met. I am a problem they can’t fix. They aren’t Dr. House so they’d rather just pass me off to another doctor and move on to a more exotic problem. I’m just a noncompliant patient with hormone problems. God forbid I ask them to think outside the box and figure out what is causing this excessive bleeding. My nurse takes out the IV as careful as you can take out an IV and in a motherly tone says, “I’m glad everything came back normal, but sometimes not knowing is even worse. You go home and take it easy.” I fight back tears. Exhausted and hormonal, I want to hug this woman for her simple acts of kindness and compassion.
“This isn’t really anything new.” I tell her, even though she already knows my medical history. “It sucks, but I’m used to it now.”
“But it shouldn’t be like that,” she says. Like I said, this woman should be appointed as the saint of Emergency Departments.
On my way out of the ER, I stop by the hospital pharmacy and pick up the prescription for hormones that I won’t take. I head back to my office to explain to my male boss that everything was fine and try to make it sound serious enough not to sound like a hypochondriac. He smiles and Okays me to work from home the next day.
I go home to my very concerned boyfriend. I throw the bag with the “magic” pills on the counter and exasperated say, “they gave me IV fluid and hormones, but I’m not taking them.” Naturally, this causes a fight that I don’t have the energy to deal with…again.
Boyfriend: You need to take the medication they give you.
Me: It won’t help and it just messes my system up even more.
Boyfriend: [throws arms in the air … like he’s more exhausted than me at this point?!] You’re not a doctor.
Me: I’m going to bed.
Like every time before, the bleeding slowly lets up in the following days. I’m not a prophet, but I can tell you how this story will end: For the next few weeks, I will walk around like the living dead. I will force myself to eat in spite of having absolutely no appetite. The doctor will call to follow up. “Do you want to take birth control now?” she will ask and when I tell her no, “there’s really nothing more I can do for you at this point…” I know this is how everything will play out because history is simply repeating itself. Sadly I have learned to accept it. In another month, or six, or maybe even a year, I’ll be back in the ER and the cycle will repeat itself again. As I write this I’m so faint that I’m debating going back to the ER to test my blood levels again, but resignation is the only emotion I can muster. Not concern for my own health, but resignation that this is as good as it gets so why fight the system?
So, why do hormones matter? Why don’t hormones matter is a better question. Why is this story an acceptable fate for me and so many other women?
This article was first published on Hormones Matter in July 2013.