Going to School with Endometriosis

This past Friday I took my first medical school exam in human anatomy. It was a tough week leading up to the exam – there is so much information to learn and try to study – however, I’m happy it’s over and I now know I can get through it for future exams.

When you choose to go to medical school and work towards becoming a physician, you commit to being a lifelong learner. I have a lot of schooling and training to come in my near future, but it also took a lot to get to this point. Most of my schooling, including middle school, high school, college, and grad school have all been affected by my endometriosis.

In middle school the biggest thing that remember is the constant, extremely heavy bleeding. I would have to double up on period products and always made sure I had lots of back up in my backpack. Most days I was nervous to sit in class for long periods of time or worried I would have to run to the bathroom multiple times a class. Luckily, I had my two sisters to check me throughout the day to make sure I didn’t get blood on my pants. Gym class was another burden, as I had to change clothes and go run around for an hour when I felt so crappy and weak. I remember one morning listening to other girls in the locker room talking about their periods. One girl said her bleeding only lasted 2 or 3 days, and I just thought to myself “must be nice”, as I was bleeding constantly. Lunch time was the one time during the day I relied on and felt like I could relax, walk to my locker, get what I needed, then head to the bathroom. One of my teachers noticed I was walking the halls and going to my locker everyday at lunch and they actually ended up emailing my mom asking why I needed to go to my locker everyday and telling her that I wasn’t allowed to leave so often. My mom came to my defense and explained I needed to go to my locker and the bathroom multiple times a day just to make it through the 8 hours of school. Most times, I would try to do everything possible to hide and conceal what I was going through, but at times it was just easier to tell whoever was questioning me about what I was doing so that they wouldn’t question me again.

Transitioning into high school, not only was I constantly bleeding, but the pain was becoming more intense and occurring more often. I had the same fears and worries throughout the day as I did in middle school, but I was even more uncomfortable as I had to sit through class in pain. My symptoms also affected me when I was at volleyball practice. There were many instances that I could think of that I would be in practice and feel how heavily I was bleeding. In practice, I could just run out of the gym and into the bathroom, but during games this was not the case. I would just have to stick it out. I would be on the court hoping and praying I wouldn’t bleed through my uniform in between points. My symptoms also caused me to miss out on things throughout high school. The most memorable time was in the spring of my junior year. One day everybody was supposed to get on a pep bus at the end of the day and go support the women’s softball team in the playoffs. I got to school that day and I could not even make it through the first hour of class. I was bleeding SO heavily. I went to the bathroom multiple times within an hour, and eventually I honestly just said to myself, screw it. I had blood on my underwear and had gone through multiple pads and tampons that I literally gave up. I decided to just sit there in the bathroom and literally let the blood and clots drain out of my body. I texted my sister and she came to the bathroom, covered me as I walked to the school’s main office, and I told whoever was at the front desk that I needed to go home. They questioned me as to why I needed to leave so early in the day. At that point I was so fed up, I wanted to cry and just run, so I just said I am on my period and got blood all over myself. I feel like they looked at me like, ‘you’re in high school, how do you not have a handle on you periods’? But, they finally agreed to let me go, and I ran out of there and drove myself home. The rest of the day I laid on my couch with my heating pad, while all my friends went to the playoff game after school. The absolute worst instance in high school was at the beginning of my senior year when I had to be hospitalized for the massive blood clots I was passing at two in morning, as a result of being on birth control. Yet, somehow I feel that it was the nights like those, when I was going through the worst pain of my life and unable to see how I would make it through the next hour, that gave me the perseverance to keep going and made me realize I was capable of continuing to push through it.

College was pretty much the same experience – never ending bleeding, constant clotting, and debilitating pain. Living in a dorm with communal bathrooms made it a little more uncomfortable, but having gone through it for so many years I really didn’t care who knew or wondered about it anymore. Also, being on the collegiate volleyball team at my school, we traveled more often and farther distances. I would have to be on a bus for hours at a time when I was just bleeding to no end. At times the only way to describe it was terrible, but honestly I didn’t want to tell anyone on my team the extent of my bleeding and how bad it was – mostly because I didn’t want to miss out on the experiences and games with my team. Also, in college I lost about 10-15 pounds. I still don’t know why or if it had anything to do with my endometriosis, but ever since college I have been at this lighter weight, unable to break past 115 pounds. Towards the end of college, just before my senior year, I was bleeding every day again. Around day 60 of bleeding, I was finally able to get in and see my ob/gyn and get medication to stop my periods. My doctor explained that different parts of the endometrium of my uterus were at different stages of the menstrual cycle, so as one area was building up, others were breaking down, which meant bleeding every day for me. At that point I felt like there was so much wrong, and I had little hope that I would ever be able to resolve it and get better.

During graduate school, everything seemed to be heightening and I was reaching my limits. However, because of the pandemic, classes were all online and I was able to stay at home with my heating pad and attend class from my bed. Thankfully, this is also the time when the endometrioma was discovered on my left ovary. After repeat ultrasounds, things moved quickly and before I knew it was in pre-op awaiting my first surgery. The operation consisted of four ‘parts’: 1. excision of endometriosis 2. left ovarian cystectomy 3. presacral neurectomy 4. IUD insertion. Now, six months later in medical school, my pain has greatly decreased. I have also lost my cycle all together which can happen with IUDs. The last time I actually had a period was the week after my operation. Is my pain 100% gone? No. I still have pressure and cramping, and more recently I have starting feeling sharper pains again. I still know my surgery has greatly helped me, and I have never really felt this good in a long time.

I hope the decreased pain will stick around for awhile and I can experience medical school and all its opportunities without being held back by my endometriosis. I try not to think about it too much. However, I think that if it would ever get to that point again, I would find a way to push through it just as I have done throughout the past 10 years of my educational career.

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