When I was 17, I almost died. My ovaries tried to kill me (though I didn’t know that at the time). It was midday on Sunday and I had just finished up a lovely lunch with my grandmother. I popped the ladies room and that’s about the last thing I remember clearly. The next thing I remember is waking up on the bathroom floor and my boyfriend helping me up. Moving was agony. I remember my grandmother called an ambulance but they were on strike and couldn’t promise anyone would come. They told me to wait outside just in case, so my boyfriend helped me outside. I remember laying on the pavement because I couldn’t stand. It started to rain but I couldn’t move. My grandmother, who was 86 at the time, called a friend with a car who rushed over to take me to the hospital. I don’t remember any of the journey. I remember next waking up in A&E as the nurses were trying to get an intravenous line into my arm. It was only at that point that I saw how distended my stomach was. I looked like I was 9 months pregnant. The doctors said they thought it was appendicitis and had scheduled me for surgery the next morning. I drifted off again.
I remember a lovely Jamaican nurse waking me up gently, telling me my blood pressure was extremely low and that the blood tests were back showing my white blood cells were through the roof. They needed to operate immediately, so she had me sign a consent form. I remember she very carefully put some surgical socks on my feet, then held my hand and kept telling me I was going to be absolutely fine.
Then I went into surgery for the planned, 45-minute appendectomy, but I overstayed my welcome by almost 3 hours. When I finally came to the following morning, I was on the ward. A nurse came by and told me the surgeons were coming around shortly to explain what happened. Three surgeons came by not log later and explained to me what had happened the day before. They had opened me up to do a simple appendix removal as planned, but when got inside the were welcomed by infection throughout my abdomen. My other organs were not coping well with it. They rushed to find the source, which they realised was no longer my appendix. Then they found it: a mass of ovarian cysts the size of a grapefruit that had ruptured. An extra surgeon who was a gynecological specialist was called in and the three men spent the next several hours cleaning out my abdomen, removing the cysts and repairing the damage. I had lost about 20% of my left ovary as a result. And they took out my appendix, just for good measure.
This incident and the aftermath really rocked my world. Fertility, much like good health, is something you entirely take for granted until you’re told you might not have it. Last year, on top of my PCOS, I found out that I had the added complication of endometriosis. Having a family, when I am ready, is not a decision my partner and I can make alone. We will need support from doctors start to finish, and even then, it will be difficult.
Unfortunately, I am not alone in my journey with PCOS. Worldwide PCOS affects between 6-10% of women, about 1 in 5.. It is caused by a hormone imbalance and is the most common cause of female infertility. Many women will have symptoms such irregular but heavy periods, acne, excess body and facial hair, balding, sleep disorders, unplanned weight gain to name a few. And the pregnancy complications that come with PCOS are significant. If they can become pregnant, women with PCOS will have a higher rate of gestational diabetes, miscarriages, preterm deliveries, and stillbirths. Past childbearing years, you aren’t free, age 40, 50% of women with PCOS will develop diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Although there is no cure for polycystic ovarian syndrome, there is a range of treatments to ease the impact of the condition. They can range from taking particular birth control pills to weight loss and exercise can all help symptoms for some women. There is a shocking lack of awareness about PCOS which can be a big problem for women diagnosed with the condition. When I was diagnosed at 17, I had no one my age that could talk to about it and understand the impact it was having on me. If you have or know someone that has, PCOS do your part to educate and understand the condition. Taking the time to understand the condition and being able to talk about it with your loved one can show them they aren’t alone.