I was sitting in Dr. G’s exam room, yet again. My State sweatshirt is keeping me warm. The sleeve is all worn from me wearing it a lot and biting it when I get anxious. It’s gross, but I can’t help it.

I sigh. I don’t have anything against Dr. G, but I sure as hell don’t want to be here right now. I wish there was some sort of magic pill he could give me. They’d figured out my ADHD and anxiety well enough– why couldn’t they do it for my endometriosis too? Instead, I’ve just been under the knife a couple of times so that they could remove some weird tissue growth, but it just seems to come back. Looks like my endometriosis is just as persistent as my coaches say I am.

Dr. G says that the typical treatment for this kind of thing is a bunch of numbing injections every few weeks. I swear I’m not scared of needles, but I keep passing out, even after the dumb flu shot. A vagal effect or something. I can’t remember the exact terminology, but it makes me feel weak, like a kid. Even back then I hadn’t liked going to the doctor. Of course, that was before all of this started.

Over the years, the endo hasn’t gotten any better, but I haven’t let it get the better of me. I’m just a semester away from getting my degree in PT, killed it on my D2 gymnastics team, and my coworkers say I’m one of the best trainers there is at our gym. I guess I’m just used to living with whatever I have by now. The pain, the bleeding, the lack of sex– that one hurts real deep. Johnny has been pretty understanding about it but I know he wants what I can’t give him right now… or really haven’t been able to give him for a few years. What kind of dude would want this? We’ve been going strong through college but I can’t help but think he’ll walk away if this doesn’t get any better.

I wince, shifting around on the thin paper, my hand going up to my chest as my boob pain kicks in again. The uterine stuff’s bad enough, but this started up a couple weeks ago too. My twin had the same thing, but luckily she escaped the endo. I feel broken and old and defective– things a 20 year old shouldn’t have to feel.

I hear a knock. It’s Dr. G, finally. He comes in at his usual breakneck pace, then introduces a med student who looked about my age. She’s gonna be asking me about my condition, yadda yadda. I didn’t really mind the extra questions– I guess they couldn’t hurt, since nobody else can really figure out how to fix me.

She begins to ask about why I’m here, and I launch into my backstory. I like to talk. It’s nice seeing a new face too, even though I feel like a broken record sometimes going over it all again. Bits and pieces, talking first about my messed up body, then school and work. I linger a little over my stressful semester so far, how online school sucks during COVID. Then Johnny. After that somehow, it all comes bubbling out of me. The guilt. My barren lack of any kind of sex life. How I end up curling up in excruciating pain after 3 minutes of trying, then feel the effects for 2 whole weeks later. I fall silent, a first for me. My throat’s closing up, and tears prick at my eyes. Goddammit, I won’t cry. Not here, not now.

“I just want the pain to go away. It just… sucks.” My voice breaks.

The med student quietly reaches into the cabinet for a miniature Kleenex box. It’s a welcome sight, but I can’t help thinking grimacing when I think of how many women have been in here sobbing about their uteruses before. Of course there are many worse things than endometriosis, so it feels like this isn’t a good reason to cry. Crying makes me feeI weak, broken, helpless… but I accept the tissues anyways. I try to pull myself together as I wipe away the salty tears, blow my nose.

We sit still in a few moments of silence, only broken by the wet sounds of my snot.

“It’s not your fault.” The med student says. This surprises me. I hadn’t even thought about that part of it. For so long, I worked hard to break free of everything that I thought endometriosis made me: doing double workouts at the gym to prove I was strong, studying long nights to battle against how my ADHD set me back, walking on eggshells around Johnny to feel like a better girlfriend for what I couldn’t give him. Besides all the physical pain, I was also angry at my own body for doing this to me. I was doing all I could to make up for feeling less than normal, less than a good athlete, less than a functional girlfriend. Never once did I consciously recognize that I was blaming myself for all of this. But I guess I was.

The student continues on to more soothing reassurances that bodies do their own thing sometimes, that they’ll figure it out. I nod, feeling my tears go away and my fists unclench around the wet tissues as her words sink deeper in.

In a bit, Dr. G comes in and goes over some more treatment options for my endo. Apparently, we can try the needles and see if I pass out, and if I do, surgery’s the next best option. We schedule a time and discuss a couple ways to talk with my mom and Johnny about all of this, so that they understand too. Just for this moment, even though they might take my uterus out (and what twenty something year old doesn’t have a uterus?), I don’t feel as helpless as I have before. Just for now, even though it’s not perfect, I feel like my body and I are on the same page.

As I walk out of there, mind whirling with what we had discussed, of surgery and injections and consent forms and next steps, I remember what she had said.

“It’s not my fault.” I repeat aloud. And this time, I believe it.

– Sara Wang

Sara Wang is a first-year medical student who finds beauty and solace in the reflective process of writing. This piece was selected as winner of the 2021 Gold Humanism Honor Society Narratives in Medicine Contest. Sara is constantly inspired by the patients she sees and anticipates the day when she is a physician who can care for them.

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