Good morning and happy Monday, Dear Readers!
Last Tuesday, as I went in for my yearly exam, I found out that my insurance had assigned me a new doctor. As I’m sure most of my Endo-Sisters can relate, I was prepared to explain my 14-year endometriosis history to him in less than five minutes. There’s no one more adept at consolidation and “highlight reels” than a girl with endo!
I also explained to him that, due to my endo specifically, Pap tests are just about as painful as anyone can imagine (do any of you also experience this?!), and to please go slowly and gently. He, however, didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of my request. About halfway through the exam, I asked him to stop momentarily so I could catch my breath. Tears were pouring down my face, and my stomach felt like it was about to explode.
“We’re almost done,” he answered. “I just need you to deal with it for a few minutes longer.”
I was livid – here I was, in the stirrups with nothing more than a see-through bedsheet for modesty, and this guy has the audacity to tell me to suck it up? I’ve never had someone tell me to “deal with it;” doctors have usually been at least marginally understanding of me needing to take a small break. I gritted my teeth and started to mentally sing a song, hoping I could make it through the rest of the exam without screaming, dying from pain-overload, or kicking him in his face.
“Well,” he said a few minutes later, “I think your last surgery was a success. I see nothing out of the ordinary here.”
I was taken aback. “Um,” I stuttered as I wriggled out of the torture device / hospital bed, clutching my transparent sheet, “you can’t see endo during a Pap. It’s located in the pelvic cavity, not in the vagina or cervix.”
“Well, I think everything looks fine. The ongoing pain is probably just all in your head.“
And there it was: the classic diagnosis by the classic medical quack. I can’t recall how often I have heard that endo pain is “all in my head.” What is that even supposed to mean? In the hundreds of times I’ve heard it, I’ve never really understood. Does it mean we’re crazy? Hypochondriacs? Druggies just looking to score pills? Are we just attention-seekers?
Suffice it to say that I spend the rest of the exam off in my “happy place,” only nodding and grunting monosyllabic answers to his other questions, biding my time and praying that I wouldn’t lose my temper here in the middle of the Naval clinic. I succeeded; after another ten minutes, I was dressed, out the door, and limping toward the truck with the taste of my hatred curdling in the back of my throat.
Over the next few days, as I sat curled on the couch with my exam-induced cramps, I began to think about the “it’s all in your head” diagnosis. I suppose that if you consider the fact that the brain is the organ that collects and processes input from the nerve endings, then yes, it is all in your head. But I’d love to see any woman in the throes of a bad month sit up and say, “Hey, it’s cool; this is all in my head,” before continuing on with her day.
It pains me to think that doctors like this still practice in this day and age, and that they obviously have no desire to figure out the “whys” of endo. They might throw a few Tylenol at their patients, tell them to lie down with a heat pack, and move on to the next exam in line. I’m not looking for drugs, for sympathy, or for confirmation of my apparent insanity. I want to know that doctors are beginning to take this disease seriously, and that we’re making positive strides in finding out how it’s caused and what the best treatments are (discounting artificial hormones and surgeries). There must be answers out there, but I’m not sure if we’ll ever find them with the currently prevalent attitudes toward women’s health issues.
Do you have any experience of the “all in your head” diagnosis? If so, I’d love to hear from you!