When my hometown doctor was too far away and my new doctor wasn’t a good fit, turning to alternative medicine helped me.
There are only two kinds of menstrual experiences: good and bad. You either have periods at regular intervals with manageable bleeding, predictable length, minimal pain and negligent PMS, or you don’t. I had difficult periods with the whole spectrum of opposites of the above. But every menopause story is different.
My menopause began when I was 35 and was diagnosed with a 36-pound ovarian cyst, which was removed along with the ovary. Down one battery, I experienced periodic night sweats and more unpredictable periods; I might miss one or two, or have them drag on for two weeks. I had breakthrough bleeding. The steel-bar cramps had begun to disappear, however, and this seemed almost worth not knowing what my hormones would deal me next.
Until I was 46, that is, and I began passing hard, golf-ball sized clots that no tampon or pad could keep from staining my clothing and even my office chair. If I wasn’t squirming from the passing of a clot, I was bleeding so heavily I was filling a super-plus tampon and pad in 20 minutes. My beloved gynecologist was in my hometown, 2000 miles away from where I lived, so I asked my internist for a recommendation. Who knew it was so hard to find an ob-gyn in Manhattan? She had one name for me and I duly went in for an exam.
The exam turned into an on-the-spot D&C, without painkillers, because he suspected polyps. He was right about the polyps and afterward I was prescribed hormones strong enough for a prize mare and scheduled for a follow-up visit for more scraping, but only after admonishing me not to yell the next time.
In careful increments, he moved his fingers from the usual pulsepoint at the wrist up to my elbow, feeling for the flow of my qi, my energy
I’d lost a lot of blood. I was shaky and wan and in need of comfort one early evening a day or two after my visit to the Little Shop of Gyn Horrors. I noticed a business on the main street of my neighborhood that specialized in various massages and aromatherapy and – it barely registered – acupuncture. I climbed up the stairs and told the woman at the desk what was going on and asked if she could recommend a particular kind of massage for me.
She became very serious at my predicament and insisted I see the doctor. Dr. Wang was so new to the U.S. that she had to come in and translate for me. His exam consisted of taking my pulse – for about a half hour – 15 minutes per arm. In careful increments, he moved his fingers from the usual pulse point at the wrist up to my elbow, feeling. The woman from the desk told me in her own broken English that he was searching for the flow of my qi, my energy, which was as out of balance as a Modigliani portrait. The next thing I knew, I was on a massage table staring at the molded tin ceiling, listening to soothing music, with needles sticking out of my big toes and along my legs.
Except for a slight twinge when he inserted the needles, it was painless. I spent about a half hour as a pincushion before he removed the needles. Then a young Chinese woman came in and gave me a massage meant to release anything my abdomen was holding on to. “Go ahead and fart,” she said. “You will bleed more now but less tomorrow.”
I was presented with a packet of herbs, a list of foods not to eat (cantaloupe was one of them, and lemon), and a bill for $175, which I thought entirely reasonable for 90 minutes of tender care. My Manhattan gynecologist was aghast when I called and told him what I’d done and that the Chinese doctor told me not to take the hormones. “If you want to play around like that, I won’t treat you,” he said. I told him I needed to think about it and would get back to him.
Then I called my father, who had spent half his medical career in general practice and half as an anesthesiologist. He’d had his share of gynecology experiences back in the days before specialists came to Montana, and he’d studied acupuncture but never performed it. I explained my options. He thought for a moment and said,
“The Chinese have been doing this for 2,000 years. I’d try the acupuncture.” He added a few choice words for a gynecologist who didn’t at least load me up on codeine before scraping my uterus and asked me to give him details of my therapy. I think I had just become his science project.
A young Chinese woman gave me a massage meant to release anything my abdomen was holding on to
It was simple, really. I went in three times a week for needles, massage and herbs. The clots stopped after a day or two and the bleeding lessened for the first week, then got a little heavier again. Dr. Wang went into overdrive at the news, burning mugwort or other herbs over the needles to stimulate the circulation of my qi. The moxibustion was the only procedure that produced any pain because the needles became fire-hot. But trust me, it was nothing like that D&C.
At the end of two weeks, my bleeding had ceased. My periods pretty much normalized, lighter than before, more infrequent. I’m 57 now. Menopause seemed to pass me by, with the exception of some breakthrough bleeding in my early 50s. That one instance of trauma cost less than $600 and was actually soothing to cure.
Dr. Wang’s English improved by the time he treated me for a pinched nerve, and he has moved to a big suite of spa-like quarters on Wall Street. I miss his small, competent, tin-ceilinged office in Brooklyn and I count myself lucky for having the easiest menopause, after the most gruesome periods, of anyone I know.
Editor’s comment: It is possible that the extremely uncomfortable office D & C also provided a therapeutic benefit by removing polyps; however, this personal experience demonstrates that you have options that include both traditional and alternative health care providers. As in everything, getting the right provider yields the best results.