The Willy Loman of Female Diseases

(Warning: This section, especially the end, is not for the faint of heart. If that's you, I suggest skipping this and going to For Better or for Worse, the best melodrama on the comics pages.)

First, I have to say that I speak pretty clearly. I took speech lessons as a kid with a dramatic maiden lady from Texas who spoke with the slightly British intonation of American movie stars of the 1930s. We took speech because our parents had taken lessons when they were children. I'm not talking speech therapy. Miss K had dyed red hair and was very dramatic and tried to get us to say "towel" as two long syllables, emphasis on the second. I also took speech as a class in junior high. I went to tournaments. I was a contender. I have a Midwestern accent tinged with the South. If people don't understand when I say y'all, I understand. Everything else is the fault of the beholder.

Second, my menstrual periods are long. Because I have uterine fibroids. (For more on this, see last paragraph of Jan. 17 entry. And I was speaking clearly that day too, I swear.) So by Day 18 of bleeding (with a one-day respite) I thought it might be worth a call to my gyne to say I was still bleeding and was there anything he needed to tell the surgeons about? Maybe my thoughts were fuzzy about this. But it seemed that he should know that I was still bleeding and that I was having a mastectomy. As Willy Loman said, Attention must be paid. The gyne also had felt my breast lump in early fall and said it was nothing. I'd thought it was nothing, too, though my regular doctor thought it was something. But because last time she'd felt something it was shown on an ultrasound at St. Skimpy Hospital to be nothing (and the St. Skimpy radiologist scoffed at the alarmism of internists, which I realize now was snobby and inappropriate), and because the gyne said it was nothing, I just waited till my mammogram. Which didn't really make a difference, the breast surgeon said, because the tumors had been there for five years or so and were slow-growing. But still. You'd think the gyne might feel a little chagrined. He's not supposed to be my gyne, he's my accidental gyne. A friend recommended him and I liked him and he took out my ovary and salpingo last spring. I had an ovarian cyst and it was pretty clear it was nothing but even he who knew it was nothing said it should be removed. And it was. And it was benign. My real gyne is a midwife who is tired-looking and very sweet and lefty and gives you plenty of time to talk. When you call her she calls you right back and then she'll call you back again, apologetically, because she thought of something else. The narrative of the discovery of the ovarian cyst is too tedious even for me to recount. Suffice it to say that the midwife sent me to a young gyne who said defensively to L and me: I know I probably look like your daughter, and eventually told me she didn't want to do the surgery because then I was lobbying for the removal of cyst and not the whole ovary, and she was afraid I'd get mad if she took out the whole ovary. So I turned out having both the ovary and tube removed at Fancy Hospital by the accidental gyne. Who seemed fine.

What's wrong with him is what's wrong with Fancy Hospital--it's a bureacracy and he's in the middle of it. I called yesterday (you remember) to ask him about bleeding and surgery, and I got someone on the phone who asked about my vasectomy. MASTECtomy, I repeated. Oh, she said. What, had I been connected to the hermaphrodite section? She was typing up the message and it would go somewhere and then somewhere and maybe it would end up in the hands of the accidental gyne, who was at lunch when I called. So she said.

An hour or so someone else called me from the gyne's office and she was under the impression that I was getting a vasectomy, too. When I explained it all to her, she basically said, in a nice way: Your bleeding is not our problem. It's the breast surgeon's problem. You get your blood tested in your pre-op and if it's OK, the surgery goes on. In the meantime, I'd emailed the surgery nurse about the bleeding. I guess I wanted her to know just so the surgeons wouldn't freak out that I was hemorrhaging while I was lying there, knocked out and unable to explain. I'm assuming that chemo will give me early menopause, which will stop my periods and maybe the fibroid-induced bleeding. Menopause, with its lessening estrogen, is supposed to "dry up" the fibroids, too. From what I've heard and read, I've come to imagine the fibroids as hard white raspberries, but I think they're flimsier. I know two women who've had hysterectomies because of the heavy bleeding cause by their fibroids. My heavy bleeding is sometimes fascinating, especially the blood clots. The clots are as big as banana slugs. I tell L that I'm going to save them and put little plastic eyeballs on them and sell them to the anti-abortion people as fetuses. I think this is funny but L doesn't and neither did our friend M, when I told him. And M used to be a doctor.

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