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“I Bled Like A Tap”: A Menstrual Health Emergency Amidst A Pandemic

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

The Context

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The advent of the pandemic, along with its attendant evils like poverty, starvation, the economic slowdown, and the ecological crisis, has brought with it anxieties related to questions of ill health and mortality. The stress of trying to remain productive and positive in these times of escalating catastrophes certainly takes a toll on one’s physical and mental health, but sometimes it can manifest itself in very unexpected, traumatic ways.

Suddenly, death becomes a very real concern, and hospitals, which are the last places one would like to find oneself in during the Covid-19 pandemic, becomes one’s sanctuary.

The story below has been written by a cis woman in her 40s, who recounts – as vividly as her memories would allow her – the traumatic events leading up to her sudden hysterectomy in May 2020, in the hopes that it reaches people far and wide, and that her experiences can inform and educate (and hopefully prepare) her menstruating friends about an unusual gynaecological condition that can affect anyone without warning.

The Anecdote

 “I will never forget you,” said the senior gynaecologist, Dr S. A surgery as important as a hysterectomy was nowhere on the radar even a week before this happened. Why am I writing about it on social media? To narrate my experience and spread the word around. I wish I had read any such post and had an inkling of an idea of how tormenting an experience it can be. I am 43 years old and this is the month of May 2020.

I have always had a fairly good gynaecological health. In other words, I didn’t need to visit a gynaecologist over the past 10 years. I had a good work-life balance, and amidst the lockdown, I was going for brisk walks every evening, besides doing regular office work and household chores. My music filled up the remaining time. Things were sailing smoothly. I was feeling fit and fresh. Around the second week of May, I realized that my periods were late by 10 days. My body didn’t say anything that could feel off the mark. Yet, it was a short and startling journey that started at a breakneck speed. I had a 4-day roller coaster ride whose impact would last a lifetime.

Day 4

I had a sudden unsettling feeling in my lower abdomen and managed to reach the bathroom. What I saw was a stream of blood and thick clots gushing down my legs. I stood there for 10 long minutes while the blood kept gushing. I felt quite exhausted while sweat drenched my body. I cleaned myself up and called my husband who had stepped out for something.

He rushed back home and we thought it was one odd incident and hoped that it would not repeat. Despite all our hopes, these episodes kept repeating every 4-5 hours, exhausting every bit of my energy. As if the bleeding wasn’t enough, there was something more painful that kept growing in intensity. With every such episode, my blood pressure would hit a sudden low and I fell unconscious.

This was growing to be the most painful part and I began dreading every upcoming episode of bleeding. How much was too much? Let me try to give an idea of the amount of bleeding. The usual pads were of no use and I started wearing XL diapers that were kept for my ailing father-in-law. The diapers were flooded with each episode.

Day 3

The local GP was called up. She prescribed Pause MF 500 mg. And asked us to visit a senior gynaecologist whom she knew. The day went in a haze, where the medicines didn’t have any effect on me. I was bleeding and fainting again and again.

Day 2

I was rushed to the hospital in the morning. The doctor gave one quick look and instructed her team to take me to the emergency ward immediately and said, “Quick! She will collapse at any moment.” The hospital team was prompt enough to shift me to the emergency ward and began the drips and Pause MF through intravenous channels. The doctor also gave me a hormone injection to control the bleeding. My haemoglobin was tested and found to be 10 (12-13 being the desirable range).

Day 1

I stayed over the night in the ward till the next afternoon. There were no episodes in those 24 hours. The doctor gave me a dose of iron supplement and discharged me. We posed for selfies with the young nurses as per the hospital protocol and started for home at 7.30 pm. By the time I reached home, I started bleeding again. That night I had 4 more episodes of bleeding and finally collapsed in my husband’s arms.

Day 0: 6 am

My husband somehow made me sit in the car and drove me back to the hospital. We asked for immediate emergency help and I was wheeled in. The attending junior gynaecologist had a look and said, “I think you will need a blood transfusion. Let’s get you ready for that.” The cannula this time was thicker for the upcoming blood transfusion. I was quickly shifted to the female ward where the junior gynaecologist Dr N came and met me.

She said, “You have lost a lot of blood. We will begin a blood transfusion.” Dr S joined Dr N and said “Even if we want to know what has happened inside, we need to raise the Hb level. The current Hb level is 6 and it is impossible to sustain anaesthesia with Hb 6. Let’s transfuse blood and wait till it reaches 8. Tomorrow morning, we can do a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) to check if there is any abnormality or tumour or fibroid, etc.”

3 pm: Blood transfusion began. Pause MF and hormone injections were also administered at the same time. We spread the word around for donors who could come to the hospital to donate blood. Responses came from unexpected quarters. It was so humbling to know that people were willing to drive and come amidst the lockdown, and these were people who didn’t know me at all. It was remarkable to see them come forward for a cause, and particularly for an unknown individual.

5 pm: Another episode of bleeding. The doctors were a bit baffled. But they still said that we shall have the D&C the next morning.

7 pm: Junior Dr N came and met me. Her duty for the day was over and she was ready to leave the hospital. She checked me one last time and was about to leave.

7.15 pm: Another episode of bleeding and I could feel that my body was giving away. I barely managed to say, “Take me to the ICU.” Dr N rushed back to my room and checked. I heard her announce “Code Blue” while I went into a state of shock. The Code Blue team gathered in my room in no time and prepared to rush me to the ICU. Before leaving the room, I could barely say a couple of words to my husband who was visibly perturbed. I wasn’t sure whether I would see him again. I asked him to take care of himself and he broke down and said, “I will bring you back.”

I woke up half-dazed amidst many doctors and nurses in the ICU. They were discussing strategies to plan my medication and immediate surgery. I could hear some voices but could respond zilch. The only thing I could feel was that the bleeding continued. They poked me from all directions to prepare me for the OT and transfused more blood for the upcoming session in the OT. I could sense the nervousness all around me. Dr S was there and the surgeon Dr D was on his way.

They wheeled me into the OT at 11 pm and the anesthesiologist asked me whether I would like a General Anesthesia or a Local Spinal Anesthesia. I thought, let me avoid the trauma of local anaesthesia and said, I’d like general anaesthesia. The team then kept explaining how it was better if I chose local over the general. The recovery would be faster. I understood the inherent meaning.

Later, I came to know that as my husband stood outside the OT, the anesthesiologist met him and said that a patient with such low Hb might not survive general anaesthesia. “You might not get the patient back.” Inside the OT, I thought over and knew that local anaesthesia was the only option for me to survive the surgery. I finally gave consent to spinal anaesthesia. Meanwhile, Dr S came in and said, “We have had enough of heroic deeds, let’s do a hysterectomy right away. You are BLEEDING LIKE A TAP. There is no point in doing D&C anymore.”

I asked her, “Did you talk to my husband, what did he say?” She said, “He said, do anything. Just save my wife’s life!” I had no way to meet my family one last time. I felt like I was touching the last bit of my inner strength and agreed to the hysterectomy. I had one last question, “Doctor, will I come back?” She gave me a nervous smile and said, “You have to.”

So then they injected me at the spine and I was asked to lie down. Dr S and Surgeon D operated on me. It was an open abdominal hysterectomy and I needed 5 units of blood during the entire process. Trust me, it takes a great amount of mental stamina to hold on when one is aware of an open belly with a scalpel, scissors and god knows what! I lay there on the operation bed and wondered when I would be out of this quandary. That is the time I felt that time held a mirror to my inner self to look for the very last resource of strength and patience. A minute felt like an hour. They wheeled me out at 1.30 am.

At the end of the surgery, the discarded uterus was cut open and showed to my husband. It had no cyst, fibroid, tumour…absolutely nothing. The biopsy report which was delivered a few days later gave a clean chit too. The doctors kept repeating, other than a hormonal imbalance, there is no apparent reason why this could happen. We have not seen anything like this in our career spanning 20 years! The rest is the story of the little bumpy road of slow recovery and homecoming. The day when my kid fed me the little spoonful of food was a day I never thought could come so soon.

He grew up a bit, and I grew a bit older, but we also grew a bit closer, reaching out over our abilities and inabilities. It is also an amazing story of friends and colleagues who volunteered as blood donors. I owe you all a heartfelt gesture of gratitude. Good Samaritans of friends stood by my husband’s side and later attended to me in the hospital to ensure that I came back home safe. Texts and phone calls, good music also poured in the much-needed warmth to my frayed nerves.

No words can suffice to express my gratitude to them for being there as pillars of support in these times. And as I said to a dear friend, how would I know otherwise, who were the ones who loved me? She said with a wide grin, “Oh dear, you could have just asked! I would have told you the truth. You need not have shed so much blood to know just this much!” 🙂

This post is for all my friends (and their caregivers) who are hitting or will hit menopause sooner or later. I belong to the privileged class, yet my privileges didn’t give me more than 4 days where it felt like a car that started at 100 mph and wouldn’t stop until it crashed. I care for your well-being. I want you to know that without any apparent reason, one can start bleeding like a tap till closure with a surgery.

I want you not to be scared, but prepared that this can happen to you too. Do keep in touch with a good gynaecologist and if ever you see more blood than usual, do not wait. Rush immediately and seek help. Remember, I had no identifiable medical reason for this near-death experience. The doctors were clueless. You need not be. Now you know that this can happen to anyone, anytime. Wish you lots and lots of good health. If you feel that more women should know about this story, please feel free to share the post.

Author’s note: As a remotely located friend who was in touch with this brave lady only over the phone, my experience of her trauma has been exclusively second-hand, witnessed only through her lens – her words and anecdotes. I will recount a few moments here that have particularly stood out for me:

  • A few days before she was taken ill, she did seem to be quite stressed out to me as I saw her managing her home, work, and hobby in the Covid lock-down. I remember asking her repeatedly to slow down, to take breaks, to not stress herself out quite so much. We are humans, and if we don’t give our minds and bodies the rest they deserve, they will wreak havoc on our health and force us to take the rest we had been avoiding all along.
  • While traumatic, this experience has strengthened the bond between herself and her husband and created this wonderful teachable moment between her husband and son. Their son, while initially in shock over the things he was witnessing all of a sudden, was eager to help since the beginning. To help deal with the shock, the father calmly explained how certain things are considered to be kept hidden from the men in the family according to traditional Indian middle-class values, and that there is no reason to make such distinctions between various jobs at hand. He further explained to the young teenager how and why relationships are important to tide over such emergencies, and how one can show their love and support for their partner or mother in such circumstances.

What is significant about this episode is the absolute necessity to demystify a woman’s body for a man, and for parents to take the initiative to do so, and not hide anything from their children – especially when the matter is this serious. The author of this anecdote is the only woman in her household so, of course, the primary caregivers, in this case, were all men.

To be ignorant or squeamish about a cis woman’s bodily functions in such a case could potentially be fatal. The fact that her husband was not and her son was helping, went a long way in saving her life. We all need to be best prepared to deal with any medical emergency in our families – whether COVID or otherwise – in a calm, rational and humane manner. We need to be there for each other, to prop each other up in times of need, and to create as stress-free an environment as is possible in these incredible times.

Pic credit: Designed by Freepik

Disclaimer: This post appeared first on https://silencedconversations.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/bleeding-like-a-tap-a-menstrual-health-emergency-amidst-a-pandemic/ on 3rd July 2020.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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