Author Archives: 50diary

What Is It Like To Have A Hysteroscopy?

My appointment for my NHS hysteroscopy was set for 10:00am. I arrived in the hospital waiting room at about 9:50am but then had to wait until 10:30am before I was finally called into a side room. It was a terrifying delay of half an hour as I was already scared about the possible pain and the possible sinister findings, but somehow I got through it although at one point I did have to get up and pace.

I was weighed and measured and then shown into an operating room where two nurses were busy gathering equipment, wiping trolleys, and moving paper towels etc. I sat with a specialist nurse at a desk (I think that was how she described herself, I was so petrified I could barely process anything anyone said to me) who took my gynae history, previous operations details, and explained what was going to happen. I signed my name under the list of awful side effects, dangers, and warnings of dire consequences they always give you before a procedure that scares you half to death, then, behind a curtain screening off a corner of the room I undressed from the waist down.

As directed, I lay on one of those horrible beds with the high leg stirrups, a sheet just about covering my nether regions, while one of the nurses raised the table so that my private parts would be exactly eye height to anyone sitting in the chair placed directly between my legs. At this point all dignity is gone, so the dazzlingly bright lamp next to the chair is just one more hilariously awful fact to endure. The specialist came and sat in the chair and put a local anaesthetic into my cervix because I’m sensitive there (it’s not routinely given!) and then the first thing she did was a cervical smear test. I was due anyway and it made sense since she was already right there. We’d discussed whether I was due for a test during the talk beforehand.

So far I felt no pain or discomfort because of the local anaesthetic, even as she inserted a camera into my womb to have a look round. For some reason I remember a lot of water being involved at some point – which subsequently had to drain out of me. That was a weird feeling. There was an impulse to cover (pointless), to cross my legs (impossible) and to wipe (unnecessary) but since none of those options were available I just had to let it gush out into the poor nurse’s face (well, not actually splashing I hope).

I was still feeling no pain at all, but that changed dramatically when she did the biopsy. This gave me some uncomfortable cramping but I chatted to one of the nurses about pet insurance(?!) to distract myself, which actually worked.

Then everything was finished. I lay on the bed for a few minutes with the cramping getting worse and sat up only when I felt brave enough. I was leaking a bit of blood but not too much to be uncontrollable by the usual methods. I’d already taken paracetamol before coming to the hospital (as advised) but that didn’t seem to be helping. I needed ibuprofen as well, and soon after, an anti-sickness tablet.

After I got dressed and had a debrief with the specialist nurse, I was able to walk away from the room, albeit bent over like an old woman, and my lovely friend who’d been waiting for me in the hospital all this time accompanied me to her car and drove me home. But by now the cramping was absolute agony and I was strongly nauseous.

As soon as I got home I clamped a hot water bottle to my abdomen, made myself a cup of tea, and nibbled a couple of ginger biscuits. Thankfully, within an hour the pain had faded and I was able to watch Netflix without having to brace against it. I didn’t need pain killers again that day, and the morning after there was no increase in cramping or bleeding.

With regards the findings, she specialist nurse said she saw two small fibroids (10mm and 5mm) in my uterine muscle wall which she left in place. Apparently they can’t be removed unless by hysterectomy, which is obviously too extreme at the moment as they’re very small. The uterine lining was 7mm I think she said?? But at that time the cramping was so painful I could barely concentrate on anything.

Apparently they will write me a letter with the results of the biopsy which I should get within the next couple of weeks. So now it’s back to the waiting game.

The Waiting Game and the Mind Games

I’ve got cancer, I’m going to die a horrible death soon and my kids will be orphaned.

I don’t have cancer. It’s just a thickening due to hormones. I can have treatment and get on with my life.

These are the two conflicting ideas I can’t stop my brain from debating every single second, including when I’m asleep. They’re extremes, especially the negative one, because getting cancer isn’t an immediate death sentence these days and there are lots of treatment options open to an early-caught malignancy. But it’s hard to stay positive. I feel as if disaster looms over me like a storm cloud which will break on Tuesday when I have my diagnostic hysteroscopy. These days while I wait for the appointment are slow and difficult. I’ve lost my appetite and I can’t sleep.

The other problem is that if I do get good news – the all clear – I’m unlikely to believe it and still want preventative treatment of some kind. Scans, tests, and cameras can’t detect microscopic particles that can implant and grow elsewhere. Recur. Pop up a couple of months or years later.

It’s all so terrifying, and it seems so easy to get. A thickening of the lining of the womb. That’s all it is at the moment – that’s all it’s known to be. But it’s suspicious, and is often an indicator of cancer or pre-cancer, especially at my age. I’d be delighted with a diagnosis of pre-cancer, but I think I’d still want a hysterectomy.

Oh I don’t know. I shouldn’t guess at what I might or might not want IF I get a bad news diagnosis. I should try and get my mind to live in the moment, take each day as it comes, concentrate on the now (and other cliches easy to say and almost completely impossible to do). I should, I should… I can’t, I can’t.

Wait. I have to wait.

The best way to wait is to keep busy. It’s the weekend and I’m seeing friends on both Saturday and Sunday and there are the children to look after and the ex-husband to chat with. My ex-husband has been kipping on my sofabed for the last five weeks since he split up with his girlfriend and had nowhere to go. It’s very odd but it’s actually quite nice having him around, especially now as I’d be more lonely and worried dealing with this on my own.

Back to waiting.

The Doctor Phoned & It’s Not Good News

SIGH.

And SIGH again.

A few days ago I had an ultrasound on my womb and it showed some fibroids and a thickened lining. I don’t know by how much, but this is not good news. I get the feeling that it’s quite likely to be cancer. It was such a horrible shock to get the phone call. You can tell when a doctor knows something is serious by the words they use and their tone of voice. This was serious. She wasn’t making me any promises. My world reeled about my head and my breathing became shallow. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. I had a sense of a gulf opening up, a crossing over into another world, the world of medical problems, appointments, treatments and severe anxiety.

In a few days’ time I will go for a hysteroscopy where they will investigate further and possibly take a biopsy. For the last 24 hours I’ve been in a horrible state of terror. I have no appetite. My mind has gone into overdrive catastrophising all sorts of painful suffering, early death, and grief-ridden, orphaned children. Last night I couldn’t stop the thoughts coming, wave after wave of them, frightening me ever more and more.

I didn’t sleep a wink. The demons crept all over me until 5:00am. I went to the loo four times, ate a yoghurt, went on social media, read the news, did Wordle, drank water, tossed and turned in my bed… It was horrible.

I’ve now had 24 hours to let it sink in, so although I’m still very, very anxious, I’m not completely overcome by the fear as I was last night.

For any women reading this, wanting to know my symptoms, this is my timeline so far:

18/05/2018    Started HRT patches for first time

10/01/2021    Stopped HRT patches

14/04/2021    Cervical screening showed HPV virus

18/06/2021    Hot flushes so severe I restarted HRT

15/09/2021    Coil removed, stared using ‘Utrogestan 100’ progesterone tablets instead

08/12/2021 – 14/12/202    BLEEDING

17/12/2021     Doctor’s appointment to discuss bleeding, presumed to be menstrual cycle breakthrough bleeding, told me to have monthly 3 days off progesterone, and she’d refer me for a scan but it wasn’t urgent (not two week pathway)

07/03/2022    Ultrasound of womb showed thickened uterine lining and a couple of fibroids

09/03/2022    Referred to hospital gynae team

15/03/2022    Hysteroscopy and biopsy(?)

I Don’t Have Covid [Any More]

I have now largely recovered from having the Omicron version of Covid. It wasn’t a mild experience for me. I’m 52 and have no underlying health problems but my symptoms were unpleasant and lasted a full two weeks. It was a proper flu. I don’t know why I had it so strongly when plenty of people much older than I had it more mildly. But that’s how Covid-19 works – it kills some, and others don’t even know they have it because their symptoms are so mild.

I feel that having Covid has made my migraines worse. I’ve had more than usual lately, four or five since becoming ill. That was horrible. So much pain. Also, the anxiety was always there: will it get worse? How bad will it get? When will it end? The Alpha and Delta versions of Covid were known to seem to get better after about a week to ten days and then suddenly get a lot worse, leading to those poor souls having to go into intensive care. This doesn’t generally happen with the Omicron version but I was still worried that I might prove the exception. I didn’t though.

I’m now coughing up the last bits from my chest, it’s my only remaining symptom two-and-a-half weeks after first becoming infected. I strain to clear my throat but I’m on the up. It’s slowly leaving my system and I feel relieved that I will now have natural immunity (on top of my waned and largely ineffective three vaccinations). I believe my natural immunity will be more fulsome, more multifaceted, than vaccine induced immunity and will last much longer.

Here’s to a brighter future?

I Have Covid [Day 8]

So I have had exactly eight days of Covid symptoms. It began on Day 1 Wednesday 16th February when I woke up with a sore throat. Jack, my young son, had Covid at that time – it was his Day 6 – so I know exactly where I got it from. It seems schools are an absolute caldron of infection with the children passing infections around like sweets. And those sweets always end up with the parents of course. If ever there’s a more deadly version of Covid I’m taking my kids out of school immediately. It’s where all our illnesses come from.

Yesterday I had a raging, awful migraine. It was so frightening because of how rapidly it hit. I’d say it was about half an hour from feeling okay to feeling in a lot of pain. They don’t normally come on so quickly. A few weeks ago I had a private consultation with headache specialist Dr. Shazia Afridi, after a disappointing and very unpleasant NHS appointment with my (male) GP who sneered and shouted at me for daring to ask questions about migraine treatment. During the course of our excellent 45 minute discussion Dr. Afridi told me that Covid makes migraine worse. I was so glad to have had that talk with her and to know this about Covid because I’ve had two migraines in six days, which is frequent even for me. Six days prior to testing positive for Covid I had also had a migraine so in total that’s three migraines in two weeks, which has been truly awful. It’s difficult to distinguish a real proper migraine from the normal Covid headache at first because pain is everywhere in your body, but when it starts to morph into agony just above the eyebrow you suddenly realise what it is and rush to swallow a triptan. Sadly by then it’s a bit too late and the stomach is already in gastrostasis meaning the tablet won’t get absorbed quickly because the stomach’s not digesting effectively any more. It means longer in agony and longer to battle the rising panic before pain relief slowly ebbs in.

After taking the triptan yesterday, getting to bed early and sleeping long and well, today my Covid symptoms have dramatically lessened! I can say that right now, 9:30am, I only have mild tinnitus, congestion and a cough. The congestion is all in my head stuck solid, but there is loose congestion in my chest which I cough up regularly. But that’s it for now. No other symptoms. In the old days I’d easily go to work or the gym with just congestion, but I’m still in self-isolation. I tested positive on my LFT this morning and it’s my legal duty – until tomorrow!

Yes that’s right, self-isolation laws for Covid come to an end tomorrow, my Day 9. I will still be coughing and will almost certainly still test positive. Today’s test was strong and immediate so I doubt it will suddenly be completely gone tomorrow, but legally speaking I can go out and mingle again – get my shopping, go to hospital, visit my parents… But of course I won’t be doing any of that. Just because there’s no law against it doesn’t mean to say I’m doing it. I wouldn’t dream of going near my elderly parents and I’m going to continue to stay at home, go nowhere, do nothing. It’s boring now, after eight days, but my infection was so strong that I would be very concerned about giving it to someone else if I treated tomorrow as my ‘Freedom Day.’

At least the most awful suffering part of the illness has passed and my appetite has returned. I’m convalescing. It’s curious that I never got the fatigue that a lot of people complain of. That wasn’t part of my experience – just the predictable tiredness from lack of sleep.

So that’s my dispatch for today. I may wait a few days and file my last report about my Covid when I feel my symptoms are over so that there’s a record of exactly how long it went on for and how long I continued to test positive. If there’s any relapse or anything bad happens I’ll write about it when it happens. In the meantime, I’ll go back to my ironing and watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Versus The World’ – the ideal antidote to dreary Covid isolation days.

I Have Covid [Day 5]

Every day of having Omicron so far has been suffering, pain, exhaustion, anxiety and discomfort… until now, Day 5. I haven’t needed to take any pain killers today for the first time in a while and I feel brighter inside, less trembly and weak. I’m not weighed down with pain. I feel optimistic. I’m still coughing all the time and have a sore throat and a headache, but the intensity has gone – the disease doesn’t dominate me any more.

Since getting Covid I haven’t been able to sleep at night, whether through discomfort, anxiety, or some mechanism the disease has on the brain keeping the mind alert and bouncing around the ceiling as the body languishes exhausted on the bed.

The night before last, I’d gone to bed at 9:00pm, slept between 12:00am and 2:00am then stayed awake struggling and exasperated in the dark until 7:00am when I finally got to sleep in broad daylight until 10:30am. That was following several nights of only getting a few hours sleep and I really couldn’t take it any more. So yesterday I asked someone to buy me a bottle of Night Nurse and I took a swig before bed which enabled me to finally sleep (in two halves) for a combined total of eight hours, and that has made a big difference.

Today, Day 5 I have a sore ear, constant tinnitus, a headache, a sore throat, coughing and fatigue – with the sore ear being the worst discomfort. In order to get a good sleep tonight, which I think is essential for the body to heal, I will take another swig of Night Nurse and with any luck will be able to report on yet more improvement next time.

I do feel sorry for the Queen who, at age 95, has now tested positive for Covid too. I truly hope she doesn’t have it as badly as I did, but if she does at least she’s lucky enough to have on-tap top medical advice (something that’s impossible for us regular citizens). Doubtless she will not have the same level of suffering and anxiety as those of us left dealing with the illness alone.

Here’s to everyone’s GOOD HEALTH!

I Have Covid [Day 3]

Well this is horrible. Worse than I expected. For me, it’s not been a question of simply having a couple of days in bed and then slowly getting better. On Day 3 I feel I am still getting worse. I now have a stomach ache which I didn’t have yesterday or the day before, and a feeling of slightly constricted breathing. I have diarrhoea. My right ear is blocked and I have tinnitus. I have a headache, a sore throat and a cough. I’m completely congested in the nose, and blowing my nose often and sneezing too. I haven’t had worse colds. This really is the flu. I can’t sleep much. Back ache woke me at 4:30am (this is my usual back ache from prolapsed discs) then the Covid discomfort was too great for me to fall back to sleep despite swallowing paracetamol. I feel delicate, kind of jittery and too hot. My chest is heavy, my throat sore. It’s scary. I’m anxious about it all. I’ve had three jabs but they don’t seem to be making it mild for me! At least I know for sure it’s Covid Omicron because I had a positive PCR result today as well as my two positive lateral flow tests.

Today, on this wild day of Storm Eunice, I feel worried, alone and pretty unwell.

I Have Covid [Day 1]

I got a faint positive lateral flow test today. It finally happened. Intellectually, I know it’s extremely unlikely anything bad will happen to me especially since I have had three vaccination jabs, but I’m still anxious. My symptoms include the feeling that a small fire is burning in my chest, I have a runny nose, migraine, sore throat, sneezing, and a cough. The migraine and tight chest are the worst symptoms at the moment and I’ve had to take a triptan for the pain, but most people who’ve had Omicron say it wipes you out for a couple of days and then you start to feel better and are left with a lingering cough and sometimes fatigue (although fatigue isn’t currently one of my symptoms). This is the case with my son. He was pretty ill for two days and then spent the remaining days with a cough that’s slowly getting better. Ho hum. Illness here we come. I’m already up to the hilt with paracetamol, ibuprofen and my triptan. I don’t want to get any worse.

The Great Parking Fine Con in the News

Throughout my time of writing ’50’ I was involved in a long-running battle with Euro Car Parks about a parking charge notice (aka “parking fine”). Right from the beginning, I wrote that it felt like a con, a money-making scheme, a honey trap for the owners of the car park and nothing to do with me parking in a prohibited place.

On November 12th 2019, I write: “I’ve decided to contest the parking charge notice. It came about because I parked my car outside, but adjacent to, a car park in town in an area where there were no signs about parking restrictions and no yellow lines of any kind. It was just a neat little space outside a car park, on the road. In front of it was a large planter for some kind of bush. Behind, two other cars were parked either side of a small barrier, neither of which were in the car park either. It seemed to be a well-known spot. I had had lunch with Lindsay in a café and when I got back to the car there was the dreaded yellow pouch attached to the front windscreen. I won’t win the appeal, no-one ever does, but if I have the courage to take it further and not back down when they threaten court action I could avoid this unfair fine. It’s a game of chicken. These car parking companies repeatedly menace and pressurise you, but if you don’t back down you have a chance especially, as in my case, when you haven’t even parked in the carpark that the fine applies to!”

I didn’t back down and for over a year ignored threatening letter after threatening letter – usually written in large print with red banners warning me of imminent court action, debt collection, and a greatly increased amount to pay. My ‘fine’ was tripled in price.

For months I felt harassed, bullied, and frightened, but because I strongly believed it was an immoral practice I refused to give in, I refused to pay up (although I did think about it a few times because the letters were so intimidating). Sadly, I’m sure the sheer persistence of the letters and the way they were worded so aggressively would have been enough to make most people pay. But somehow I found the courage to continue to refuse. I emailed Euro Car Parks several times and hand wrote them a letter until, a year-and-a-half later, the letters dribbled to a halt and they apparently gave up. I never paid the money. But I bet 95% of people who undergo such a horrible experience do.

And then this morning, three years later, I read this on the news: Minister Neil O’Brien said: “Private firms issue roughly 22,000 parking tickets every day, often adopting a system of misleading and confusing signage, aggressive debt collection and unreasonable fees designed to extort money from motorists.”

It’s such a vindication, such a glorious paragraph to read, because it exactly sums up my experience. It’s wonderful to have it recognised officially that these car parking companies enact aggressive money-making schemes on often innocent members of the public. It’s so greedy and disgusting. I’m very glad the government is finally recognising this as a dishonourable practice, capping ‘fines’, and cracking down on the worst offenders. AT LAST!

Why Did I Write 50 (Diary of a Middle-Aged Woman)?

As I approached my fiftieth birthday I found myself thinking more and more about ageing. I would look in the mirror in the morning and increasingly see wrinkles and sagging where before there used to be bright eyes and smooth skin. I saw hollows emerging, skin creasing, blemishes that were permanent features as opposed to passing irritations. What is this weird spot thing that never goes away on my inner thigh? Why have I got a purple mark on my lower lip? When did these soft brown flecks appear on my forehead?

For the last few years of my forties, my ageing really bothered me. I was still single. But was I still young? How was I going to find a partner looking like a grannie? How could I be fifty years old already? Where had my life gone?

At the beginning of the diary I write:

“The problem is that my mind hasn’t aged in counterpart with my body. I’m not inwardly flabby, worn out, and aching, and although I may have wrinkles around my eyes, grey hair under my highlights, aching knees, and hips that give way, my attitude to life is still open and optimistic. I feel fresh, mentally. My sense of adventure and need for fun hasn’t diminished. I want to learn, see, and do new things, and broaden my horizons. I still want to travel the world, experience different cultures, and immerse myself in unfamiliar environments. I love being challenged. The spirit is willing, it’s just that these days the flesh is starting to complain a little.”

So, approaching my half century I suddenly had the idea of writing a diary beginning on the day of my fiftieth birthday and continuing for exactly 365 days to record what it feels like to be a modern, menopausal, English woman in the year 2019 – 2020. A treatise on ageing and death, an honest (sometimes humorous, sometimes philosophical) examination of what the menopause feels like, how a “mature woman” copes with middle-age, hot flushes, dating, and parenthood – a thinking woman’s Bridget Jones Diary; with kids!

Yes, I still had two young children to add into the mix, and of course, what I didn’t realise was that half way through my year of writing, a new disease would emerge into the world. ’50: Diary of a Middle-Aged Woman’ became an accidental work of witness to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a record of the fear and anxiety in those early days of lockdown as the death toll rose and we all thought we were doomed. Having health anxiety at the best of times, this was extremely worrying for me. I didn’t have a partner to comfort me, to talk issues through with, to make light of the whole terrible situation with much-need humour.  I was extra specially careful about staying away from people and constantly washing my hands, nevertheless, in early April 2020 I managed to catch Covid and was never more terrified in all my life. My existential worries about the aesthetics of ageing were blown away by my very real fears that I was about to slowly choke to death on my own sputum as I gasped for breath and my organs gradually failed. Very little was known about the virus back then, and all things considered it felt like we really were living in calamitous dystopian times.

I wrote: “2020 has been the year of catastrophes and disasters. At the beginning, there were appalling bushfires across Australia that killed one billion native animals, destroyed property and wildernesses, and resulted in an unprecedented ecological disaster for the country. It was horrific. Then there was a plague of locusts in Kenya, and murder hornets in America, a volcano in the Philippines, flooding in Indonesia, an earthquake in Turkey, and a deadly avalanche in Kashmir.”

Writing my diary was a great comfort. I was able to set down my fears, expand on my worries and, having got it out of my head and onto paper, it was somehow consoling. Talking face-to-face with friends and family wasn’t allowed during the lockdown and dealing with the isolation and loneliness was something everyone was having to surmount, but I think it must have been especially hard for the very elderly, confused and frightened stuck in their nursing homes without any visitors allowed. I just thanked God it wasn’t my time yet. I hope there’ll be more compassion by then, but it’s not guaranteed.

Putting my thoughts down on paper gave me the feeling of being witnessed and understood, it helped me navigate my way through those bizarre times. Each time I wrote an entry I recorded the rapidly rising death toll and infection rates for that day (which were being announced on the news stoking the flames of terror). I became somewhat obsessed by the numbers.

I furiously, sometimes desperately, continued to scribble my thoughts, not just about the new coronavirus and all its ramifications, but about ageing, the menopause, and the struggle of home schooling and parenthood. It might be a cliché to say, but my diary became my best friend, the place I turned to when I was in a panic or frightened and where I recorded the hilarious and frustrating things that happened – my various struggles and triumphs.

The year I wrote my diary also happened to be the year when my relationship with my parents began to change significantly. I started noticing my mother was experiencing symptoms of some kind of neurological disease and that she was becoming less able to do things for herself and think clearly. Her hands trembled and her muscles stiffened. My father too was gradually going downhill, losing weight, strength, and dexterity. I had to reconcile the changing nature of my relationship with them, where, instead of me turning to them for help it was now the other way round: it was they who needed me to open the lid of a jar, make a doctor’s appointment, or change the bed sheets. I could no longer ask them for favours, such as collecting the children from school if there was a crisis, or looking after the kids if I needed to go out, even for a short while. It was now too much for them. More and more, I was facing life on my own caring for the young ones on the one hand, and my increasingly frail parents on the other.

Somewhere in amongst all the anxiety I felt I was losing myself. Just as I’d glimpsed freedom on the horizon with my children edging towards their teenage years, my parents declined and a global pandemic shut everything down. Life became small and even more inward-looking. We all stayed inside our homes and could only sigh and watch from a distance as spring began to display her magnificence as normal. What was happening inside our dark, anxious minds was in sharp contrast to the emerging colourful buds outside.

I decided to self-publish my diary and make it available for other people to read, not just for readers to experience what life is like for a menopausal, middle-aged single mother, but later, as a moment-by-moment historical record of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, how we felt about it at the time, and how it affected and changed our lives forever.