How an unexpected surgery — and a resulting C-section-esque scar — left me feeling like an alien in my own body.
Almost a month ago now, I collapsed in my boyfriend’s arms on the cold tile floors of his bathroom. A few hours earlier, I felt sharp, punched-in-the-gut pains — strange pains that traveled almost up to my collarbone — immediately after morning sex. By the time an hour passed, I could barely move. It was as if a sudden, intense flu had overtaken me. Simultaneous chills and hot flashes began washing over me, and I vomited. I stood up to run to the bathroom, with my boyfriend following behind me, and everything gets fuzzy from there. I blacked out and, a few minutes later, was drifting in and out of consciousness on the floor of his bathroom with an ambulance on the way.
On the ride to the hospital, the EMTs assumed I just had a UTI-turned-kidney infection. Considering I had self-medicated a recent UTI with cranberry pills taken sporadically, a kidney infection kind of made sense. I was brought into the ER at SUNY Downstate and a team of nurses and doctors gathered around, giving me an IV and having me sign random forms. The gynecologist performed a sonogram, thinking I may have had an ectopic pregnancy, but what she found instead was blood pooling in my stomach. I had a ruptured ovarian cyst that, in spite of its one-centimeter size, was quickly gushing blood — so much blood, I found out later, that I lost two of the five liters our bodies have.
I ended up staying in the hospital a few more days, being woken up at random intervals to have blood drawn and be poked by various things. I couldn’t really feel my stomach yet and mostly laid in bed taking small pleasure in moving my bed up and down. By day two in the hospital, I was walking around very, very slowly. It was on the third day that I was allowed to be released on the condition that I was, well, able to poop. I wasn’t expecting to have to shout “I made a bowel movement!” quite this soon into my boyfriend and my’s relationship, but c’est la vie, y’all! Upon said bowel movement, I was allowed to be released from the hospital.
This seems like a good time to issue the important caveat: Things Could Have Been A Lot Worse. Certainly more serious health issues are to be had, but this experience was a new one for me — and feeling like an alien placed in your own body is a disconcerting feeling. I couldn’t feel or move my abdominal muscles, and I walked like a 90-year-old woman. My belly pouched out in a way that made me feel very self-conscious — the surgery was not too dissimilar from having a C-section (sans baby). I’m not someone who works out very regularly or gets too obsessive about weight fluctuation, but there was something about the feeling of not having control over my body that made me feel kind of trapped.
Vaginas can do very unexpected and scary things. Two weeks out, I’m still in the healing process, and I haven’t found out yet why I lost so much blood — or whether this ruptured cyst was part of a larger problem.
Being in your twenties feels like a ride that swings wildly from being on top of the world to being completely out of control. Being knocked out for a few weeks, having to be patient with myself, looking down and seeing an angry scar, also, let’s be real, not being able to have sex for three weeks — all of these things have been lessons in that now-cliched internet phrase: self-care. I’ve had to be OK with walking slow and not always rushing to get out of someone’s way; I’ve had to be OK with the uncertainty of my health and hoping nothing further goes wrong. Admittedly, even knowing that half my blood isn’t my own anymore freaked me out a little.
There’s still a lot I don’t know about ovarian cysts, but I have learned a few things. The cyst I had would have ruptured at some point, but vigorous physical activity can increase the risk. According to the Center for Menstrual Disorders and Reproductive Health, every woman who ovulates gets them because a cyst is critical to the development of an egg, as well as estrogen and progesterone hormones. Most cysts are harmless, but some can be abnormal. Abnormal cysts — or pathologic cysts — can possibly be attributed to a few different things. Endometriosis happens when tissue that typically lines the inside of the uterus grows outside; when the tissue becomes attached to the ovary, it can grow quickly and produce large ovarian cysts that can be painful, make sex difficult, and sometimes lead to infertility. Another cause can be Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which can look like a hormonal imbalance leading to irregular periods and infertility.
When I came to after surgery, I wasn’t even sure I still had my ovary. (My friend Hilary comforted me by saying that her grandma lost an ovary and went on to have eight kids.) Now, almost a month after the surgery, I feel pretty much back to myself.
Feeling fragile, particularly in your twenties — a time in your life when you’re hustling extra-hard — isn’t a pleasant feeling. I have felt more vulnerable, which has its good and bad parts. Taking things slower, being a bit more careful, calling it a night when I’m truly ready to call it a night — these have all been good things. On the other hand, having sex for the first time post-surgery felt (sorry, TMI) very similar to losing my virginity (“SLOW! SLOWER!”) and my body has felt softer and more gentle — not necessarily an entirely negative thing, but also not the sensation I want to feel during sex.
When you’re young (and likely lacking in decent health insurance), it can be hard to know how to take care of your body and how to pay attention to it. If there’s anything this surgery taught me, it’s to check in with yourself and to be mindful. If something hurts, check it out. It’s too easy to skip that routine wellness exam. I think about how, if it weren’t for my boyfriend insisting on calling 911, I’m not sure I would have made it to the hospital in time. I kept feebly saying, “I’m OK, just give me a minute” because I didn’t want to take the time or pay the hospital bills. Now, I know never to chance it, even if you’re young and healthy. I’ve never been more sensitive to my vagina’s health, and that is most certainly not a bad thing.