Visit to a new surgeon today

Today I saw Dr. Linda Giudice at UCSF – the same hospital where I had my diagnostic laparoscopy three years ago.

She is every bit the rock star that the World Endometriosis Foundation and endometriosis.org brag her to be. :)

A friend of mine says she told me awhile ago I should go see this doctor. I believe her, and I am kicking myself for not forwarding the email convo with her to a text document I keep with all my endometriosis files, or forwarding the mail to my Living With Endometriosis email account. I really have to get better at sending copies of convos in other sources to myself in an endo-only location where I’ll be sure to see it again and follow up. Part of the issue too is that Dr. Giudice is in San Francisco, and I was certain I could find a good reproductive endocrinologist/surgeon in the East Bay. My stubbornness cost me over a year, and continued let-downs via other doctors.

Learn and move on…

I guess I can say I can’t be curious about those other doctors now, eh?

So, the details of the visit:

I was weighed, measured, BP and pulse taken, and an intake nurse met with me to begin my medical history. Dr. Giudice walked in and said normally she would let the intake nurse do all this but I’d been made to wait 10 minutes already, so she was going to spare me that. I lit up like a light when she walked in and enthusiastically smiled and shook her hand. I couldn’t contain my excitement, hee hee.

We went over my history and Dr. Giudice was totally on the ball, receptive to the medical paperwork I had to offer, asking the basic questions about where my pain is, what it feels like, when the pain happens during each cycle, and all that. She asked what I’d tried for the pain, if I’d try further hormonal treatments, if I’d try the Mirena IUD (no to ANY and ALL further hormonal treatments). She didn’t put up any arguments to my ‘no’ answers.

She had a look at my surgery report and said it looked like stage I endometriosis. It felt like a scene in a movie where a record player needle is suddenly ripped from the playing record, heh, and I told the doctor that per my follow-up interview with my surgeon (and handed her the hardcopy of said interview, as well as color photos of the surgery), I think I really am at moderate or stage III endometriosis.

Dr. Giudice had a look at the interview notes and the color photos and exclaimed her thanks to me – that those made the picture A LOT more clear – and she agreed, yes, I do have moderate endo.

Now that I think about it , endo is endo, if I have it, it shouldn’t matter the stage, but for some reason there in the office, I really needed her to really take a look at everything I had. I dunno, would I feel like I’d been telling lies if I was at a different stage than reality dictated? Why does it matter the stage if the pain itself is real?? Why does it matter the stage if two different surgeons can’t agree on what stage it is, but can agree that it is endometriosis?
I mean, seriously. But there I was, afraid I might not be helped perhaps, if I only had stage I endo.

I told Dr. Giudice how I’d met with Dr. Streitfeld and he said based upon my history, my surgery report and the fact that I did not have pain relief from the endo, that I might have adenomyosis. She said it was a possibility, indeed (adenomyosis is where some inner uterine lining is found within the middle layer – the muscular uterine wall. The inner lining has different cells than the middle or muscular layer, and should therefore not be in the middle layer at all. Rogue endometrial growth in this middle layer is very very hard to treat, so said Dr. Streitfeld and Dr. Giudice. In fact, Dr. Streitfeld had said that the only way to cure someone of adenomyosis is to take the uterus out).

Dr. Giudice also told me that based on me telling her that I get rectal bleeding about a week before my period each month, and that I’m always constipated and bowel movements are very painful during menstruation, that it’s quite possible that I have “rectal-vaginal involvement” where the endometriosis is concerned. She says it’s unfortunately very easy to miss during a laparoscopy, and that I should get an MRI.

Dr. Giudice asked if I had pain radiating down my legs, and if I am painfully sensitive to the touch anywhere else on my body. I told her how I get pain radiating down my tops of my legs and inner thighs down to my knees every month up to a week before menses, and said I am only sensitive to touch on my legs in general, but I am sure that with the legs, it’s due to overloaded liver and kidneys.

Dr. Giudice began telling me about nerve inflammation, and illustrated how endometriosis brings its own nerve bundles with it and attaches to existing nerve clusters belonging to other organs, and that’s why we get such radiating pain. She said that even if there is no actual endometriosis on a particular part of the body, the fact that an endo nerve sac had joined up with an existing nerve line – that’s what is triggering the pain on down the line.

My jaw dropped. I looked at the nerve clusters she was drawing for me, and exclaimed something like, “That’s exactly what Dr. Ian Fraser talked about a year ago, and there was no publicity on his findings! I JUST saw this for the first time recently!”

Dr. Giudice looked surprised, then smiled, and said she got to meet with Dr. Fraser in the past three months.

OH MY GOD. THAT IS SO AWESOME! So they’re on the same page! She agrees with his findings or is at least intrigued by his findings and is willing to cite his work to her patients. There is hope. I told her that I’d written to him, that he’d apologised to me, saying ‘we’re not there yet’ – i.e. he has a lot of work ahead of him. I told Dr. Giudice that I told Dr. Fraser I’ll wait and I’m happy to give him all the P.R. he needs. She smiled and even giggled at that.

We also discussed the ideas that some doctors are pushing – neuropathic pain and muscle memory. “Kind of like phantom limb”, said Dr. Giudice. She wanted to know how I felt about seeing a physical therapist and also trying out antidepressants to try to reprogram the brain from continually saying, “OMGWTF I’M IN PAIN OW MAKE IT STOP”.

I told her I’m on board with the physical therapy and the idea of muscle memory. I told her how I try to keep things loose through the wide hip circle belly dance move, and that a masseuse I had in the past also knows a lot from experience and training about muscle memory vs. endometriosis.

But the antidepressants, I told her, I’m not so sure about pursuing that right now. She nodded and said it’s not really her area, anyway – she just wanted to put it out there.

We then went to the exam room – I consented to a transvaginal ultrasound and a pelvic exam, and mentioned I’d been having right side ovarian pain for at least the last two menstrual cycles, and was worried about another ovarian cyst.

Dr. Giudice let me watch the monitor and explained everything to me as she worked. Her speech cadence and body language informed me that my uterus does not look normal to her, and she described it verbally and on the ultrasound report as “globular”.
Fascinating.
I had warned her before putting the scope in me that I have a tilted uterus and to go slow, and she did the best she could. She confirmed for me that my uterus is tilted backward a bit (retroverted), and said that with the uterus being “globular” and the cervix not being where it is supposed to be, that it could account for some of my pain, and more importantly, it is commonly seen in women with adenomyosis. :(

Dr. Giudice moved on to my ovaries, starting with the right side, and immediately found a black spot. She marked it on the screen and said it appears to be a 0.9cm endometrioma, a.k.a. chocolate cyst on the ovary.

She spotted two follicles on the right ovary; one being the endometrioma, and moved to the left ovary. The left ovary contains four follicles and no cysts or endometriomas. Dr. Giudice looked puzzled and asked me my age. When I told her I am 38, her face relaxed and she said it made sense, then. She thought I was younger, and now it made sense – she said that with age, women produce less eggs, and she told me she is seeing a “diminished ovarian follicle reserve”. She was quick to add, “I’m not saying you’re going into menopause tomorrow…” and I told her that’s okay, it may sound aweful but I’m really looking forward to menopause in the hopes that it burns the endometriosis out
(during menopause, there is a severe lack of estrogen being produced by the body. Endometriosis needs estrogen to thrive and grow).
Dr. Giudice nodded emphatically at my hopes.

She then said she’d like to do a rectal exam, because of what we’d talked about earlier with the whole possible rectal-vaginal endo issue. I winced and groaned. My legs stiffened even tighter right there in the stirrups. It had already been painful enough to get the transvaginal ultrasound and the pelvic exam, because I’m so tight, small and tender in there to begin with. I warned the doctor that I have painful hemorrhoids and to please be as gentle as possible. I consented to the rectal exam because I know why she needs it, and I have known for years that I have rectal-vaginal involvement, even if the first surgery missed it. And eight months ago, Dr. Kate O’Hanlan also insisted upon a rectal exam for the very same reason. Of course, Dr. Giudice asked me FIRST and didn’t proceed until I gave her permission.

Sadly, the end result was the same as last time – I got hot, shaky, weak, quite nauseous, and totally emotionally rattled.

Dr. Giudice finished up her exam, told me an MRI was definitely warranted, and took off her gloves to come stand by my side and hold my hand because she saw me gripping my fists and clenching my teeth. A tear spilled from my left eye. I began babbling about how I’ve had these stupid hemorrhoids since college, when there was a lot going on in my life; my brother was facing prison time, I got knocked up and chose not to keep it and was told by my doctor I’d probably miscarry anyway…plus a full college load to deal with. Dr. G reminded me to breathe, and asked if I’d ever tried psychiatric counseling. I told her oh yes, a few times, now. I told her I’d seek it again.

The doctor and her assistant left me alone in the room to take as long as I needed to collect myself. A nurse came in to ask if I needed a pad, a drink of water, or anything. Once everyone left, I began sobbing. I cried and cried. I shook like a leaf.

I wondered, what was I upset about, aside from a painful rectal exam? Is that all it took to break me?

Or is it the fact that I now have to consider adenomyosis and rectal-vaginal endometriosis on top of my original endo diagnosis? Or that rectal exams seem to be part of the package, now? Or that even Dr. G admits to not being able to really do much for me, but she’s trying and she cares? Or am I having a problem knowing consciously that I’m getting old and that due to decreased egg output, menopause will start in a few years? Or, hmmm, am I really beginning to wonder if I should *gasp* have children before my well dries up?!
Seriously, I am a confused bundle of emotions right now. Not being able to pin exactly what was making me THAT upset, especially when I didn’t sob *during* my last rectal exam, made it all the more necessary that I just shrug and go with it, and let the tears pour forth.

I needed ten or more minutes on top of that in the waiting room to collect myself. The right side ovarian pain had set in again, and I took 600mg Ibuprofen and washed it down with the nice warm water that the nurse had given me. Warm liquids good, cold liquids bad where pelvic pain is concerned.

I called my husband the moment I got back to my car, to tell him how it all went.

I called work the moment I got back into my town at 1pm, and took the rest of the day off.

And it wasn’t until 6pm tonight that I was able to start journaling about my doctor’s visit.

And only now, at 10:55pm, I am finally able to finish my journal about my experience today.

*big sigh*

Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

I am immensely, immensely happy to have finally sought out Dr. Giudice. She was there the whole time – referred by a friend even – and I finally found my way to her.

I have a lead for a physical therapist (my last GYN gave me some leads but they didn’t work out – scheduling/timing problems I think), and I have a script to get an expensive MRI, and all of this has to be done in the next two months, during which time I’m also shelling out money for a visit back to Michigan (it’s been six years since I’ve been home), and also shelling out money for school (to get my Montessori head teacher degree).

But it has to happen this way.

And after that, probably another surgery. We’ll see.

I have to stay brave. I still have lots of options to try out. I haven’t exercised everything, yet.

I’m kinda terrified of coming to the end of all available options, including menopause, with no pain relief. The idea of having gone through 24 years and having 20+ years to go with this pain if nothing continues to work – yeah I think that’s the crux of my emotions right there.

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