I’ve always had a finicky vagina.
My periods are heavy, pap-smears are painful, vaginismus hangs over me, and my doctors just never understand. Whatever problems my friends have, they always know to come to me for advice. They all know that at one time or another, Nicole has probably experienced it, or at least googled it.
My first time being cauterized was a shock. I was young, around 22, and told my doctor that I had been experiencing painful sex. He probed around, as doctors do, and peered above my legs. “Hmmm, I see some lesions on your cervix,” he said with a squint in his eye. At the time, I had no idea what he meant by “lesions.”
The term still makes me cringe and writhe.
I was sexually active with my partner of four years but saw no reason for there to be lesions. My doctor and the nurse quickly explained that he would be using Silver Nitrate to cauterize the lesions. With no explanation or consent, my doctor applied a heated method to cauterize wounds on my cervix.
Cheerily, he stood up and said, “All done!”
I sat up slowly, feeling woozy and dehydrated. He began to talk to me, and as his words slurred and black spots appeared, I realized I was going to pass out. My efforts to ask him, “What do you mean lesions?” were met with a stutter, skip, and mumble. “I need to lie down,” I said as I was already lying down on the table.
Immediately, my doctor and the nurse rushed out to bring me water and told me rest for as long as I needed. They shut the door quickly and promptly. I laid on the medical bed staring at the ceiling writhing in pain and sweating profusely. My reaction was intense, the side effects were excessive.
Cervical cauterization is a method used to destroy precancerous and non-cancerous cells in the womb. Typically, cauterization utilizes heat, electricity, cold, corrosive chemicals, or laser. Moreover, the procedure is used to treat HPV, the human papilloma virus, which causes 80 percent of cervical cancers.
By the time I was home in my bed with a hot compress on my abdomen, I had called the doctors office several times to question them about my lesions. They continuously told me that the lesions were caused by tampons. Inserting tampons had somehow caused lesions on my cervix.
The only problem? I had never, in my twenty-something years on earth, worn a tampon. Despite my arguments, my doctor never told me that it was because of HPV.
At the time, only a few years ago, cauterization wasn’t easy to research. My googling came up empty handed as I try to feverishly discover what my doctor had done to me, and more importantly, why.
A few years passed and for whatever god-awful confusing reason, I returned back to the same doctor. Once again, I was cauterized. I even asked him to do anything but this particular procedure. Nevertheless, he reassured me that this time would completely clear everything.
I boarded a plane to India two days later as I bled through my plants.
Before we took off, I remember texting my mom, telling her, “I hate male doctors!” with fury, anger, and pain.
This isn’t to say Silver Nitrate cauterization doesn’t work. A recent study has found that burning off a population of host cells cannot regenerate — specifically, cells that contribute to cervical cancer. With 530,000 women being diagnosed with the silent killer a year, this discovery is important and pertinent to understanding women’s health.
What is alarming and dangerous about my experience is the lack of communication and education from my medical professional. My misunderstanding of what was causing my lesions could be happening to other patients. My diagnosis of HPV didn’t occur until I was 25, sitting in a new doctor’s office, explaining my symptoms. She looked at me and said, “Okay, so did you have any other complications with HPV?” At that moment, I realized where these foreign lesions came from — the human papilloma virus.
Instead of being upset, I was relieved.
My process was long and arduous. A year ago, a colposcopy was administered after an abnormal pap smear. A biopsy lets me know that I didn’t have cancer but pre-cancerous cells were found — a result of HPV. Since then, my tests have been normal, my vaginismus has vanished, and my love and sex life have been healthy — both emotionally and physically.
Women are left in the dark about their health all too often.
We aren’t talking about procedures, complications, and mishaps that occur. We are suffering alone, lost in confusion, and frustration. It’s only after I publish this piece that someone will email me and say, “Thank you! I thought I was all alone in this!”
I will smile, thank them in return, and continue voicing issues in and around the medical field for women.