Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time will know that I rarely delve into subjects that are too personal. The focus has always been on the "pwetty things", not the "likkle girl". And that's the way I like it.
Today, however, I feel compelled, mostly due to anger and rage, to share something that some of you might feel is waaaay too personal, in the hope that it will benefit you or another female you know - I'm going to talk about the problems I've had recently with my reproductive system and how a doctor nearly fucked me over by recommending a procedure that I don't need.
My "bits" have always been healthy. My mum who has had a bad history of endometriosis made doubly-sure of that by sending me to her gynaecologist for annual check-ups when I turned twenty. Every year, the gynaecologist examined my breasts for lumps, PAP-smeared me (cervical cancer screening) and prodded me with the cold transducer of the ultrasound machine (assessment of uterus and ovaries). Healthcare in Singapore is top-notch but not exorbitantly-expensive so annual visits to the gynaecologist is like going to your hairdresser every month. At least with most of my gal pals.
When we moved to Sydney in 2004, the annual visits stopped. What I had assumed was standard practice for most females, no matter where they are in the First World, is unheard of here in Australia. I found out that to see a gynaecologist or a specialist of any sort, I first have to get a referral from a GP which is total old-boys'-club- rubbish, if you ask me! I didn't (and still don't) understand why I couldn't call a specialist direct, make an appointment and go in to him/her. Like I could so easily back in Singapore. And even if I could do that here, it's not as affordable as back home in Singapore. So, from annual super-thorough examinations, I had to downgrade to a PAP Smear every two years (another odd thing: In Singapore, we're advised to get the test done every year. In Australia, the doctors say you need a two-year window).
All was good until two years ago when I started getting menstrual cramps. I've never had them the whole of my life! I thought it was a delayed effect of going off the Pill when I turned thirty-five (I had to choose between the Pill and smoking. I picked the latter) which was five or six years prior! I thought nothing of the cramps until they got progressively-worse with each period, like can't-move-have-to-lie-in-bed bad. It was when I had my first bout of severe mid-cycle cramps (cramps when you're not menstruating) in March that I thought something was definitely not right and went to see my GP who sent me for a pelvic ultrasound where they found two fibroids and a polyp in my uterus. Not cancerous but still time to see a gynaecologist!
I was referred to Dr B by my GP. I kind of had another gynaecologist, Prof A, in mind - my cousin's, who did a wonderful job fixing her when she had endometriosis and couldn't conceive - but my GP assured me that Dr B is one of the best in Sydney and is a good pal of his so I thought I was in equally good hands.
I went in to see Dr B, fully-prepared to be told that I would have to have surgery to have the fibroids removed to relieve my monthly cramps but I wasn't expecting, not even remotely, for him to say that the best course of action would be a subtotal hysterectomy! In which the upper portion of my uterus would be removed together with the fibroids, the polyp and endometriosis. And my fallopian tubes too, even though that's not really necessary but "since we're opening you up, we might as well", for ovarian cancer prevention. I would have to be hospitalised for a week after the operation ("It's like having a Caesarean section," he said) and won't be able to work for at least a month. What the fuck?!! Sure, he did offer five other solutions but I could feel that he was really pushing for the subtotal hysterectomy. I've never wanted children and am very sure I never will but still, removing parts of my body when they are still fully-functioning and not diseased seemed a bit too drastic a move just because of a couple of fibroids, right?
Surely, with all the advancements made in the fields of medicine and technology these days, there has to be a less extreme solution for period pains caused by a few lumps growing in my body. Dr B's solution seemed so old-school (and he is old!) and I was not convinced that it's the way that I should go so I spent the rest of the day reading all I could about the pros and cons of the procedure and the risks involved. I also remember reading some time ago that hysterectomy was, centuries ago, the prescribed treatment for "female hysteria" and typing "hysterectomy hysteria" in the search bar of good ol' Google rendered this article and the 100+ very interesting and informative comments on this post. By the end of the day, I was a mini hysterectomy expert and was pretty certain that the procedure (and Dr B) was not only old-school and totally not necessary for my condition but also reeks of misogyny.
I strongly felt that I needed a second opinion on the matter and in I went to see my GP again. For another referral letter. This time, to see Prof A, the gynaecologist I wanted to go to in the first place. He must be good for I couldn't get in until early July! Then two weeks ago, his office called to say that someone had cancelled and I was next on the wait list for an earlier appointment. Woo! I saw him yesterday.
And you know what?! I was right. The subtotal hysterectomy was completely unnecessary!
Prof A is way younger than Dr B and lectures at the university so I'm sure he has to keep abreast of all the latest development in his field. His bedside manner was the total opposite of Dr B's. There was absolutely no fear mongering. In fact, the fears that Dr B had put in me were allayed! The fibroids were not as big as Dr B had me believe they were. Dr B has misdiagnosed my endometriosis - I have none! I do not have to have the fibroids and polyp removed if I choose not to because there are drugs that I can take to curb the monthly pain and cramps! A solution that wasn't even on the list offered by Dr B! We're going to try the drugs for three months and if the period cramps are still unbearable, we'll talk about removing the fibroids and the polyp. And ONLY them. All my body parts will remain intact. And he doesn't even have to open me up! It'll all be done laporoscopically (key-hole surgery). One night stay in the hospital post-surgery and minimal recovery period!
I left Prof A's office yesterday morning feeling a whole lot lighter! But as the day wore on, the rage slowly set in. I thought about how reckless Dr B had been with his advice. About the effect on my body if I had listened to him and had the unnecessary subtotal hysterectomy. About the amount of money I would have spent on a procedure which I didn't need. About the other women who have been to see him with similar condition as mine and did not have the sense to seek a second opinion. About how GPs recommend certain specialists to patients because they are pals (you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours) and not because the specialists are the top dogs in their field. About the state of the healthcare system in Sydney. GRRRRR!
And that is my story. The moral of which is ALWAYS SEEK A SECOND OPINION when it comes to major health/medical issues.
Oh, and if you're in Sydney and happen to need an amazing gynaecologist, let me know.