So... I bet you're all wondering about that whole "scalpel to my lady bits" thing, huh? Well, I'm going to tell you all about this horrible terrifying experience I recently went through, even though it seems kind of embarrassing and involves repeated use of the word "vagina." But here's the thing - most of the reason I was so terrified by the experience is because I'd never heard of anything even related to what was happening to me, even though my doctor claimed this kind of thing is "actually pretty common." So it's common, but no one ever talks about it? Well that's dumb, because all that means is that every time it happens to some woman, she's going to be terrified because she has no idea what's happening to her, in spite of the fact that it's "actually pretty common." So I am going to shed some light on this subject, in the hopes that I can help even one woman somewhere out there feel a little more peace about her gynecological health.
In short, this post has nothing to do with me wanting to talk about my vagina, and everything to do with me wanting to help other women with their vaginas. I am so selfless.
So last week, I was noticing that every once in a while, I would sit in some certain position (not always the same position - different positions at different times) and feel some discomfort down below. Not pain per se, but definite discomfort. I would shift slightly, and it would go away. I figured maybe my pants were riding up or something - no big deal. But after about three days of this, on Friday night, it finally occurred to me to check if anything looked or felt unusual in the area. And here is my first piece of advice to you women out there: If you feel unusual discomfort in your vaginal area, check it out ASAP, rather than waiting. If there's nothing wrong, great, and if there is something wrong, finding it sooner is better. Also, finding it when you can get an appointment is a good thing; finding it on a Friday night when you won't be able to see anyone until Monday is REALLY UPSETTING.
So yeah, I grab a mirror to check things out - if this grosses you out, 1) you need to grow up and start understanding that looking at your genital area when your HEALTH is in question is not dirty or gross, and 2) you should probably stop reading this post right now, because you are only going to get more grossed out. Okay, now that only the mature adults capable of handling health-related discussions are left, let me continue. I grabbed a mirror and inspected the area, and in less than 10 seconds I could see the problem: a large swollen mass on one side of the vagina. I poked gently with a finger and could tell that it was a lump about the size of a super bouncy ball, just hanging out under the skin. It was tender to the touch and a little red. I had never seen anything like this before in my life.
Needless to say, I was FREAKING THE HECK OUT.
Keep in mind that it is 10:30pm on a Friday night. I am smart enough to realize this is not the kind of thing that requires a trip to the emergency room, but I'm certainly not going to just sit around and ignore this huge lump that is NOT supposed to be anywhere near my vagina. So, like all intelligent people when faced with a health concern, I turn to Dr. Google. Now if this were something common (and it turns out it is) that people talk about (it turns out they don't), then I probably would have found some quick info on what it was, alleviated my concerns, and decided to make an appointment on Monday. But Googling "vaginal lump" produces all sorts of info about genital warts, herpes, and - the most fun of all - various cancers. Nothing eases the mind like having your worst fears confirmed by Google: I might have cancer in my hoo-ha.
I was sobbing by this time, because seriously? WHAT IS HAPPENING DOWN THERE? AM I GOING TO DIE? I AM NOT READY TO DIE! And who the heck do I talk to about this? I was unwilling to call my mom, who was, I could be sure, already asleep, and who would, I was definitely sure, only become terrified with me but still have nothing useful to say. I couldn't think of a single person to whom I would feel totally comfortable saying, "I have a lump on my vagina and I'm freaked out that I might be dying of cancer." I told myself Tpiglette probably would not mind the TMI-nature of it (and when I eventually did tell her, I turned out to be right), but I was still embarrassed. And if I couldn't even talk to my best friend, there was no one else I was going to be able to talk to about it. Except for medical professionals.
So I called Kaiser to talk to an advice nurse. She was extremely unhelpful. She told me nothing about what it might or might not be, and she told me to call back the next morning - anytime after 6am - to try to get a same-day appointment to see a doctor. I set my alarm for 5:55am to wake up and call for an appointment, because I wanted information ASAP. I called in and got a much more helpful nurse the second time. She informed me that the OB/GYN department wasn't open at all on weekends, so I wouldn't be able to get an appointment until Monday - thanks, Friday night advice nurse, for getting my hopes up about a weekend appointment. Saturday morning nurse also gave me the first real clue about what it might be: a Bartholin's gland cyst.
"The Bartholin's gland is a tiny organ on each of the labia (vaginal lips), near the opening of the vagina. ... They make a small amount of fluid that lubricates the vaginal lips. If a flap of skin grows over the opening of one of the glands, the fluid backs up. It causes a round swelling called a cyst. The cyst can grow from the size of a penny to larger than an orange, although most don't get bigger than a golf ball. Cysts can be tender."
Finally! Real information! This did, indeed, sound exactly like what I was experiencing. It also did not sound deadly. Praise God! Except, of course, I was still terrified, because it still might be something much scarier.
I called in at 6am Monday to get an appointment, and got in to see a doctor at 2:30 that afternoon. Tpiglette came with me to keep me sane. I was called in pretty much on time, and taken through the basic tests - blood pressure, weight, temperature, etc. Then I was taken into an exam room and told to get naked from the waist down and the doctor would be with me shortly. Then I sat half-naked in a cold impersonal exam room for 27 minutes. Waiting for the doctor always sucks, but there are probably relatively few times in your life that it sucks more than when you are half-naked (which is a little uncomfortable in the best of circumstances) and afraid you might have a terminal illness. It was a looooong 27 minutes.
Finally, the doctor came in to do the exam, and pretty much as soon as she began she confirmed that it was a Bartholin cyst. Since it was large enough to be causing me problems, she recommended draining it. This procedure actually wasn't too terrible - so far as medical procedures can go - but it was still unpleasant. I had to have a shot of local anesthetic to numb the area (yowza), then she took a scalpel and made an incision (which I thankfully did not feel) to drain it. Fortunately, my cyst was not infected, so it drained clean. Then she wanted to insert a small catheter to keep the incision open and let it continue draining - without that, the chances would be higher that it would come back again. But try as she might (and she tried many times, and that anesthetic was not as powerful as I would have liked it to be), she couldn't get the catheter in and/or to stay in. Eventually she said she couldn't torture me anymore, and we would just have to hope it didn't come back. (So far so good.)
I was in quite a lot of pain on and off through the rest of the day after the anesthetic wore off. Imagine how a really painful cut feels when it's still fresh - like a big paper cut. Now imagine it on THE MOST SENSITIVE PART OF YOUR BODY. Yeah. By a couple days out, though, I was feeling pretty normal again, and thankful to have been assured I didn't have any kind of cancer. All's well that ends well, right?
Except... it really bothered me that I had never, in my ENTIRE LIFE, heard anything about this "actually pretty common" thing. Tpiglette had also never heard of it. My boss, B., and coworker, A. - whom I also told - had also never heard of it. So far, the only person I've talked to about it who had heard of it is a physician's assistant at a women's clinic, so yeah, I expect that she would have heard of it. But no one else.
Doesn't that seem wrong?
Our health is important, and that includes our vaginal health. If we avoid talking about it because it means having to use words like "vaginal," then that's dumb and we need to get over it. If I had found a lump in my breast, I don't think I would have been nearly as freaked out, because I know that women find lumps in their breasts and I know that it is often a benign cyst of some sort, though it can be cancer. But a vaginal lump? I'd never heard of it until it happened to me.
So now I've told you about it, and if it ever happens to you or anyone you know, you will be a little more information-prepared than I was. I hope it's helpful.