My First Lap – Part 1

In January 2002, I moved from New Paltz, New York to Amherst, Massachusetts shortly after completing college. Unfortunately, my extreme abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress–which had been somewhat in remission with dietary changes and acupuncture visits–began again to flare up not long after I unpacked. I was sick and I was broke and I could barely get through the work days because of the pain. I finally applied for and was accepted into Medicaid. Very shortly thereafter, I found myself flat on my back in the gynecologist’s office with a speculum inside me while he palpitated my low belly. I gasped several times and he pressed his fingers down.

“This hurt?” he had asked, to which I replied with a “Very much.” He looked over to his attending nurse, who nodded grimly at this news.

Confirming my suspicions

After I got dressed, he came back into the room and asked me detailed questions about my period— how often I got them, how heavy they were, how much pain and complication they caused in my life. He then asked me if I ever heard of endometriosis. I told him I had, that I had suspected I had it for years, but couldn’t confirm it because I couldn’t afford the surgery to diagnose and treat it. Truthfully, I hadn’t suggested it to this doctor because I had been so often dismissed when I brought it up other medical professional over the years, that I almost began to believe they were playing a game of reverse psychology with me–as if their egos existed to be contrarian to their patients, especially those who dared to diagnose themselves. But this doctor now had the same conclusion as I did. And he said something that would change my life: that Massachusetts Medicaid would cover the operation–known as a laparoscopy, lap– as a necessary treatment. We scheduled the surgery for only a month out, in April.

The big day

The night before my lap, I was not allowed to eat, nor was I the morning of it either. When I was wheeled into the operating room, the gas mask was placed over my face and I was told to count backwards aloud from 20, but I barely made it to 18 before I was out like a light. Wrapped up in the oblivion of anesthesia, I was not aware of anything, so it only felt like minutes later, not more than four hours, that I was awakened. When I looked down I saw some nurses sponging off the sutures in my stomach, which was gleaming with water streaked with blood. I passed back out again for a short time (not from shock of the sight, but more from the sleep-inducing effects of the pain medication they were pumping into my IV). Another hour or so later, I woke up again. I was weak and wobbly and incredibly queasy and the nurse administered some more anti-nausea drugs into my IV. She patted me on my knee and told me I was in the operation for hours, that they had found “a lot” [of endo] in me, so much that is was shocking I could fit so much into my small frame at 5’4 and not even reaching 110 pounds. She said I needed to be well enough to eat something and pee a couple of times before they would let me go home. That took a couple of hours, during which they walked me to bathroom, their hands at my sides, because I was so shaky I could still barely stand. I finally ate a small piece of toast with butter and some Jell-O sometime in the late afternoon, so they let me call the person I had arranged to take me home. They said to eat lightly and not to have sex for six weeks, which would not be a problem, since I wasn’t with anyone at the time.

Recovery

I remember wishing I was either alone or with family or at least close friends. As mentioned, I had just moved to Amherst a couple of months before. The only people I knew were my roommates, both women in their early twenties like I was. One was fond of always having a bunch of people over at all times she was home. It was her boyfriend, who was informally living with us, who picked me up from the hospital and brought me back to the apartment. I remember wishing the apartment wasn’t crowded with half-strangers when I returned from surgery. It felt like an invasion of privacy. My face was pale and I was in pajamas. I went straight to my room and eventually drifted off anyway, even with the television blaring and their loud laughter right next to my room. When I awoke many hours later, the apartment was dark. Quiet. I creeped out and used the bathroom again, and snacked on some Saltines. I slunk back into bed and put on my own television on low to keep me company, and then drifted in and out of consciousness until the next morning.

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