Some of you folks out there in Internet-land may be aware that my girlfriend Anne underwent surgery last week. I'm happy to report that it appears to have been successful and she's doing fine. I'll provide more details in a moment, but first, for those who don't know about Anne's problems, let me explain.
Anne suffers from a chronic, painful condition called endometriosis. If you haven't heard of it, don't feel bad – this disease has the unique distinction of being one of the most common on earth while also being one of the least understood and most undiagnosed problems found in our species. It affects as many as one in ten women from all walks of life, so chances are you know someone who's got it. Ironically enough, however, this woman you know might not know she's got it. She may even have been told that there's nothing wrong with her and that intense pain she feels is all in her head.
Endo, as it's not-so-affectionately known by its sufferers, is essentially spots of uterine tissue that grow outside of the uterus. These spots can appear literally anywhere in a woman's body, not just in the general vicinity of the uterus (they don't break away from the uterus or anything like that). No one knows how or why this growth occurs. This is not cancer and it is not fatal, although the problems produced by endo can be extremely disruptive to "normal living." The primary symptom of endo is pain, ranging from a mild ache similar to menstrual cramps up to intense pain that leaves its victim unable to get out of bed. In addition, the endo tissue tries to behave like ordinary uterine tissue; it is subject to the normal monthly hormone cycles and it does try to slough off at the end of the month. In other words, the endo spots try to have a "period," just like the ordinary uterine lining does. This results in extremely painful periods, with the pain coming from out-of-the-ordinary parts of the body. Some unfortunate women feel pain all the time, incidentally, not just at "that time of the month." Endo can lead to anemia because of this bleeding. (Anne was diagnosed with anemia several years ago, and she and I both suspect that the endo might be the source of that problem; we'll see if it clears up now that she's been treated for endo.) Again, this disease is not life-threatening, but it can be life-ruining. In the worst cases, the endo tissue causes adhesions – that is, it tacks internal organs to other organs in unnatural and uncomfortable ways – and it can damage fertility. Some women end up having a hysterectomy because of endo.
Luckily, Anne's case doesn't seem to be that bad. She first learned she had it about two years ago when she had her gall bladder removed. The surgeon noticed a few patches of it at the time, did what she could to remove it, then recommended Anne undergo a regimen of drugs that threw her into premature menopause for six months to deal with any remaining problem spots. Theoretically, the menopause starves the endo of the estrogen it needs to grow. In practice, this therapy usually only buys some time. Endo almost always returns. Anne noticed that hers was back around Christmastime. She didn't much want to go through menopause again – this treatment is extremely uncomfortable, as it produces all the hot flashes and mood swings that older women experience naturally, and it is potentially dangerous as well – so she opted for laporoscopic surgery.
A laporoscopy, for those who don't know, involves inserting a camera through a small incision and taking a look around. (This is, by the way, the only way to definitely confirm a diagnosis of endometriosis; there are no other tests that can identify the presence of this disease with 100% certainty. This is why it so often goes undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed as other problems.) Once the endo is located with the camera, the doctor can then burn it out with a laser. The color of the laser is in a wavelength that is absorbed by the color of the endo tissue, but not the surrounding normal tissue, so it is possible to be very precise with the zapping while not generally harming the stuff that's supposed to be there.
Anne went in for her surgery on Thursday morning. It lasted about an hour while I sat in the waiting room with Anne's mom. When it was over, her doctor brought out some lovely photos of my girlfriend's interior (how many men can say they've seen their chick's ovaries? Woohoo!) He never used the actual words "mild case" but that was definitely the impression I got – he said he saw only a few small areas of endo and he was confident that he vaporized all of them. Her ovaries were not infested with the stuff, and there were no adhesions or serious effects. It's impossible to say that she'll never again be troubled by endo, but the doc said he thought she had a pretty good chance of it not coming back on her. He thought that the spots he found were not places where it had recurred since the first surgery but were in fact there all the time. So, let's all keep our fingers crossed, shall we?
Anne is recovering quickly from the surgery. She hasn't had near as much pain as we anticipated and has been getting by on ordinary ibuprofen instead of the Lortabs she was prescribed. The incisions (there were two of them) are healing well, with no real drainage or signs of infection. The biggest problem is that she tires out easily. I went to see her on Saturday, took her with me to WalMart to buy some salad mix, and nearly did her in for the day. However, she expects to be back to work on Tuesday.
She's spent the weekend at her parents' place, wearing loose pajamas and lounging in front of the TV. (She's watched The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a whole slew of chick-flicks; I imagine she's getting pretty tired of watching movies at this point…)
I'd like to thank those who have called to check on her. Both of us really appreciate your concern and friendship.
Finally, it is an interesting coincidence that March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month. You can get some information about this event by clicking here. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to learn more about this problem, even if you are a man, even if you don't think you know anyone who has it. Because you probably do.