Eight weeks post-op, a simple procedure to inject Botox into my pelvic floor and I was done with the pain. During a trip to town to see the GP (again), a 40-minute drive with a tennis ball under my nono, I’d felt a strong urge to scream. The pain was unbearable. After the GP I drove for another hour – my current idea of hell (the driving bit) because everything from my vagina down to my foot goes numb. I worked my shift at the library, and when I got home the bloody fire wouldn’t start. Let’s just say the fire copped an earful. Thankfully I live alone.
Pain (of any kind, I’m thinking laterally here), like anger, is a potent force. Invisible pain does not mean that it’s all in our heads. And while I realise it’s difficult for others who are unable to fix it, just stop with the silencing, please.
Since I was eighteen I’ve had whare tangata issues. Now I’m 51 – so that’s most of my life. But I know my tinana. I listen to her, even when I’m told by others that there’s nothing wrong. In over thirty years I’ve had surgery for cervical abnormalities, cancers, to repair vaginal walls, remove sub-urethral and vaginal cysts, repair prolapses, remove half my thyroid, and insert transvaginal tape (TVT-O) through my obturator to loop behind my bladder.
“Yes please Surgeon, I’d absolutely love you to experiment with some polypropylene mesh inside me that will shrink, and likely cause problems for the rest of my life,” said no woman ever.
After the TVT-O was inserted in 2011, I could feel it, literally. I didn’t think that was normal. My bladder issues didn’t improve for long, and the mesh wove its way into my tissues. I managed the ‘pelvic pain’ and tried cortisone injections into my nether regions (which hurt like f*** – imagine that fellas in your testicles – but gave me some relief). When (finally) I was referred back to the hospital, the mesh was deemed ‘palpable’ beneath my skin. It was tight, far too tight, because transvaginal mesh shrinks. Nobody told me about that.
In 2014 it was resected. “That should sort things out.” Now be off with you, you malingering woman.
But the ‘chronic pelvic pain’ banshee continued to scream. Shards of glass ground inside my vagina, I felt impaled on a medieval torture device, where I was then sliced open from groin to butt, unable to sit comfortably (for like years people), with a numbness that travelled from vagina to toes, and don’t get me started about the fatigue.
“It’s because you went through menopause so young. Try oestrogen cream, that will work.” Now shut the f*** up about it, lady.
I’ve had Botox twice. The first time gave me three months pain relief. This time it didn’t. After concerns about my post-op pain levels, I took prescription painkillers, which caused more problems (I’ll spare you the details). I used alternative medications, and had a relaxing bath at a friend’s whare. Signals from bladder and bowel weren’t reliably reaching my brain. I’m a stubborn wahine, but eventually I gave in and am now on medication for neuropathic nerve pain. One thing that works consistently (with zero negative side effects, when I can access and afford it) is a good quality cannabis tincture specifically for this kind of neuropathic pain. But that’s a kōrero for another day.
Simple things, that were a natural part of life, now cripple me. It has affected my job, the unpaid one as a kaituhi and my twelve hours a week in te whare pukapuka. Let’s be frank, it’s impossible to smile at the public when there are shards of glass grinding inside your vagina. Nobody wants to hear that analogy.
I can’t talk about the ACC rejection-fest, but I’m self-funding a trip to Ōtautahi to see a specialist surgeon. Thank the universe for the whānau, friends, and medical professionals who haven’t silenced me – aroha nu nui ki a koutou.
When did it begin? Perhaps it began way back. When wāhine started to be treated like possessions, things to be silenced, feared and experimented upon. When our beautiful whare tangata were no longer precious and sacred, but ravaged and left bleeding. Not the whenua blood that nourishes the generations to come, but a blood that coats the earth with viscous reminders of what has gone before.
But that too is a kōrero for another day.
Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu/Pākehā) lives on the East Otago Coast. She writes in hybrid forms, has authored two collections: Te Hau Kāika (2019), then the wind came (2018), and is currently working on a novella. Iona’s website is here.
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