What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I told doctors the pain started about a week ago. The truth was that I had no idea when it began.
I got back from treatment in mid-February, so this was my first month experiencing New York City not stoned and drunk (or, crunk). Also, it was my first time being on a mild dose of mood stabilizers and mania-curbing anti-anxiety medicine, ever.
A week after getting home, I got that vicious stomach bug -- you know, the one that makes you barf up bile every hour for a day and wish your mom was around, and then realize you’re an adult and there’s a chance you could die alone in a pool of your own vomit.
After that, I got my period.
Whilst mooning, THAT pain began. I think.
I brushed it off as the typical horrendous-period symptom. What seemed abnormal, though, was that I was texting my roommate to pick me up cupcakes at night when I was laying in bed (when I’m usually doing Pilates in bed), wolfing it down, and not feeling a hint of fullness. Also I was starting to feel sad. Or SAD? I just wasn’t sure.
After my period came and went, I started a BluePrint cleanse -- I thought the persistent ache in my organs might be my (cupcakes’) fault.
Then, holy shit, I got my period again? The pain got worse, and it was now very apparently in my lower right abdomen. I realized there’s probably an important organ there that I can’t fix with green juice. I made an appointment with my general doctor.
Since I know you’re thinking, “You have a ovarian cyst,” I’ll tell you: Yes, that’s totally part of it. But there’s a twist. (That’s both a pun AND foreshadowing!)
The pain got excruciating to the point where I won’t let my doctor near my stomach, so she sent me to get a CAT scan to rule out appendicitis.
After chugging shitty, chalky CAT scan drink and hanging out in that office for four hours, the front desk lady says, “Caitlin, you don’t have appendicitis, you can go back to work.” I call my doctor’s office, leave a message, and beg her for painkillers. She calls me back, I miss it (of course), and her message says, “Sure, but we need you to get an ultrasound tomorrow to make sure your ovary isn’t twisting.”
I wonder, “What did she just say?” But I have Vicodin, so I can experience the relief of not feeling like I’m going to vomit from pain for a few hours. I stay at my office late and catch up on work.
I don’t even bother Googling “twisting ovary.” (Possible riot grrrl band name = The Twisting Ovaries.)
The following morning, I have the day off, as I’m supposed to go to Montauk with my boyfriend to live out his fantasy of frolicking on a vacant beach off-season, à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As I pack, he urges me to call my doctor. I do, twice, and finally give up trying to get a hold of her.
“Well, time for sexy weekend in Montauk -– on Vicodin!” I say. “Let’s just deal with it on Monday.”
And when I’m texting with my mom, telling her how I’m leaving, and I’m sure it’s a cyst, and she’s had them too, so she gets it, some lady urge makes me call my gynecologist.
My doctor’s staff sounds extremely serious when I describe the pain, the CAT scan and the twisting. They schedule me a transvaginal ultrasound on the Upper East Side.
Getting a transvaginal initially makes me feel gross and panicky –- it came into the news with cases of the GOP pushing for women choosing abortion to get it a few hours before their procedure -- so naturally I attached an icky stigma to it. I ask my boyfriend to come with.
Other than getting penetrated with a cold, lube-covered prod, I thought it was neat. (However, had that been required before my abortion, I would’ve been livid and cried the whole time.) I felt giddy and curious, and was asking the cool ultrasound technician, “Ooo, are those my insides?” It was a whole lot of fun until she exchanged glances with the other technician in the room and told her to get the doctor immediately.
They ordered us to go to the ER at the nearest hospital, Lennox Hill (which, fun fact, is where Beyoncé and Jay-Z had Blue Ivy), and say my gynecologist and her team will meet me and go over whether they’ll need to do surgery or not. They tell us not to stop for food or clothes.
(Little do they know, our car is packed full of clothes for what’s now seeming like a distant idea of a weekend getaway.)
We get to the ER, I see my gyno all suited up in surgery gear, and surprise! Of course she wants to perform surgery. I start crying. I get in a gown, they hook me up to an IV, and she explains what’s going on:
It appears I have a huge cyst on my right ovary that’s so large and heavy, it’s cutting off blood flow to my ovary and causing it to twist, called an ovarian torsion. My right ovary is three times larger than my left. And as the cyst grows larger, and the blood flow got smaller, the organ is slowly starting to die.
This also explained why my hormones were telling me to eat cupcakes in bed and get SAD and pick fights with my boyfriend as I was packing for Montauk that morning. (Left that part out there. But yeah. That happened.)
My gyno says she needs to look inside me [shudder] and see if they can remove the cyst and untwist the ovary. Or, she says, the cyst may actually be a tumor; in which case, they would need to remove the whole organ. But the good news, she says, is that I’m young and healthy and have two ovaries and my body only needs one.
I say, “Sure, OK, whatever.”
Her team prepares me for surgery, and I remove all my jewelry, my contacts, and my thigh highs. In the pre-operating room, even though I’m scared, blind, and feel like I’ve taken my right ovary for granted, I’m cracking jokes and everyone is laughing, even my boyfriend, who is nearly crying. Then the team’s French(!!) anesthesiologist comes in for the TALK.
Indeed, going under anesthesia is a serious matter for anyone. For people with bipolar, though, coming out from anesthesia can be extra freaky –- it can induce mania, or even end it (if you happen to be in it). Or, of course, it can do absolutely nothing.
I don’t tell him about the first time I came out of from anesthesia thinking I was in the movie "The Labyrinth" with David Bowie (“Write she’s VERY SENSITIVE on her chart!” I remember the nurse saying) or the second time I came out and went straight home and smoked pot for two weeks in bed to prevent myself from crying. I shake my head, tell him yes, I understand how this works, and nothing abnormal has ever happened to me.
They wheel me into the operating room where music is playing, the whole team operating team is attractive, and I truly feel like I'm in “Grey’s Anatomy” from what little I’ve seen of the show. Then a hot doctor instructs me to peel off my underwear in front of everyone -- and not in a sexy way.
I pass out, have dreams, and wake up to my gyno telling me that they had successfully removed the cyst and untwisted the ovary, and she has to go. “You’re leaving?” I cry.
“Yes,” she says. “Just rest.”
A few minutes later, the pain is no longer just throbbing in my right side, but in the cuts all over my stomach, and down my throat, where they stuck a camera for surgery. There was no way I can rest, so I cry and squirm in my bed.
“GIVE ME SOMETHING,” I finally whine to no one. I try to make eye contact with one of the nurses in the recovery room. Without contacts, everything is a blur of whites and pastels. A nurse finally comes over. “I’M IN SO MUCH FUCKING PAIN,” I tell her.
“You just came out of surgery, so it’s natural for you to be in pain,” she says.
“I’M IN SO MUCH PAIN. I HAVE ANXIETY. READ MY CHARTS. PLEASE GIVE ME SOMETHING.”
She leaves my bedside. I hide under the sheets and cry some more.
My boyfriend shows up about 10 minutes later. Before he can even talk, I yell at him. “Why weren’t you here when I woke up?” I sob.
“I’m so sorry,” he says. “They wouldn’t let me in until just now. How are you?”
“HOW AM I? I’m in pain! I feel like I’m fucking dying! And I CAN’T SEE! Do you have my contacts?”
“No, I’m sorry.” he says.
“FUCKING GET THEM!” I push him. I rip out my oxygen tube out from my nose and kick everything off my bed.
I hear the mass of pastels in the corner murmuring about anxiety and my meds and me freaking the fuck out. Another nurse scurries over. “We’re getting you some Ativan for your anxiety, and your morphine tube was twisted (THE IRONY!) so we fixed that.”
My boyfriend comes back with glasses. I can see now, and the Ativan kicks in. So does the morphine.
Albeit being a little embarrassed, I’m relieved I’m not the worst patient in the room -– my neighbor bit one of the nurses.
Time passes, I don’t know how much, and I’m the last patient left. I ramble happily, don’t feel that killer pain -- just some odd tightness in my stomach. I sit up and announce, “Let’s go to Montauk!” My boyfriend asks if I’m sure. “Yes I’m sure!” I say.
I get dressed and sit in a chair, and eat a muffin, with the IV still attached. “Sorry about my behavior,” I tell these two nurses. “I just was in pain. And I couldn’t see. Do you have my scripts?”
They give me paperwork to sign for discharge, unhook me, and cover the holes in my arms with gauze and medical tape.
One nurse pushes me in a wheelchair to the hospital entrance, I get into my boyfriend’s car to go to Montauk, and then we’re pulling into a CVS.
“Why are we here?” I ask.
“Didn’t you want to get your scripts?”
“Mmm… yeah! I did,” I say.
So we hop out, and I run over to the pharmacy. The grate is pulled down.
“It’s closed!” I yell. We start to leave, when I make a sharp turn. “Let’s go get beauty products!”
“Do you seriously want to do this now?” my boyfriend asks. “It’s 11:30.”
“Yeah, I’ll be quick.”
And now, here, finally, are all the beauty products that I’ve never bought in my life that I suddenly needed while I was high on morphine and Ativan after surgery:
Maybelline Lasting Drama by EyeStudio Gel Eyeliner in Blackest Black, $9.99
Why it made sense at the time: It comes in a pot so I can feel like Cleopatra when I put it on or something!
What I think about it now: I find it especially peculiar that I picked up this product since I’m a Make Up Forever Aqua Liner Enthusiast. Like, I stock UP on that shit.
Now I feel like such a snob! This eyeliner is easy to apply (and uh, fun, like me on morphine predicted it would be), and definitely holds up to its waterproof and smudge-proof claims. As I cry constantly, especially since I cannot handle pain at all, and I wear black eyeliner every day, I’m a VERY good tester for these kinds of products.
Liquid Lip Smacker Lip Glosses, 5 piece, $9.99
Why it made sense at the time: I had you when I was little!
What I think about it now: I’m keeping the Strawberry flavor to go over lipsticks for nostalgia only. The rest I’m giving to my friends for Easter. Except for my roommate, who literally just walked in the room, picked them up, and said, “Why would you EVER buy this?”
Katy Perry Lashes in Oh, Honey! by Eyelure, $6.99
Why it made sense at the time: I have a flash-memory of running towards this saying, “Zooey Deschanel!”
Also, I had “Teenage Dream” in my head when I first came to after surgery, which means my team must have been playing it while fixing my innards, right?
What I think about it now: Even though I have no eyelashes, I’m still not a big false-eyelash fan. When I do wear them, I go for e.l.f’s no-nonsense essential kit, and keep a stock of them. (They’re a dollar.) For the sole reason that my boyfriend said he asked me, “Where are you going to wear those?” as I picked these up, and I gave him a DEATH STARE (this is all according to him the following day) I will surely wear these and report back soon.
Milani Shadow Eyez 12-Hour Wear Eyeshadow in Aquatic Style, $7.49
Why it made sense at the time: Pretty mermaid eyes!
What I think about it now: Pretty mermaid eyes!
I rimmed my whole eye with the chubby crayon while cooped up in our room in Montauk watching Bravo for twelve hours as the beautiful ocean splashed onto the shore outside my window and loved the look. I cannot wait to wear it out in the real world once my lower abdomen swells down. As an eyeshadow, I’d use it never. Once it’s on, it’s staying put –- you won’t be able to blend it.
Scunci Knotted Hair Ties
Why it made sense at the time: PSH, I’ll never DIY these!
What I think about it now: I got The Twist Band which is like the OG that started this knotted elastic trend. I kind of feel like a sell out getting these. Oh well. ‘Tis the way of trickle down.
Why it made sense at the time: I love nude nails!
What I think about it now: I do love nude nails.
Mini Vaseline Cocoa Butter, $1.99
Why it made sense at the time: It’s mini!
What I think about it now: I may still swear by a certain all-natural lip balm from Vermont. (I will write a post dedicated to thee later, oh loved one.) But this is still pretty adorable. Mini products KILL me. But not like my ovary! Oh my god, I do not take you for granted any more, tiny organ.
My other roommate who works as an ultrasound technician at Lennox Hill also came in while I was writing this after he read my reports and said my ovary is supposed to be the size of an almond. He said my right ovary, before surgery, was the size of a uterus! Then we all started laughing.
Ow, it still hurts to laugh right now.
This was waiting for me when I got home sexy getaway-turned-recovery retreat.
So I know people have stories to tell me at this point, so let’s do this!
Follow me on Twitter: @caitlinthornton