Tears of relief stung my eyes as I pulled on my jeans. As I walked out of the nurse’s room, I gave her a grateful smile and thanked her once again.
Because although I’d winced from a sharp burst of pain after she’d donned surgical gloves to pull out my long-forgotten coil, my physical discomfort had subsided.
Now, I only felt relief. Relief that my symptoms hadn’t been the cancer I’d suspected, but because I’d left my IUD in for too long.
Weeks earlier, I’d requested an appointment with my GP – concerned by grumbling twinges that resembled period pains, though it’d been years since I went through the menopause.
The pain made me double over when it took hold, and I’d then bleed for about a week.
After confiding my symptoms to the receptionist, I was asked to get to the surgery as quickly as possible.
I hadn’t been overly concerned by what I thought would turn out to be a minor irritation, but once I saw how keen the doctor was to get me seen by a specialist, I began to suspect there was something more sinister happening. I started to panic.
As my GP examined me on a couch behind a curtain, my knees were shaking.
Then, when my GP said I needed to be checked to rule out womb cancer and a hospital appointment should be made within days, my heart became heavy.
My doctor was quite stern. ‘Please keep calm,’ she said, witnessing my escalating stress.
I was now very anxious, with flashbacks of an already well-trodden path of oncology meetings, hushed predictions, and life-shattering diagnoses.
‘Please don’t tell me to keep calm,’ I immediately shot back. I was terrified, and with good reason, having lost not one but two loved ones to cancer.
Both learning they had months to live in a journey that began in this very room.
Heading home from my appointment, I felt scared and was dreading the worst. I rang my friend Katie, and she promised to come with me to my hospital test in three days’ time.
Because the thing was, we’d both been in this situation before, with my husband Neil and my best friend Carol, Katie’s sister.
Devastatingly, they didn’t make it.
Neil had been diagnosed with melanoma six months before he died in May 2012, aged just 44. Carol’s diagnosis came only six weeks before she passed away with lung cancer in May 2017, aged 45.
I’d already outlived two of the most precious people in my life and here I was, exactly where they’d been mentally, wondering what on earth was coming next. Hoping for the best.
I was completely lost without them, changed beyond recognition. My future, confidence, and everything I felt I knew about life, pulled from me.
To be here now, facing these tests and potentially starting the same journey was unbearable.
There was no way I could tell my daughters, twins Emily and Melissa, now 24, about what was happening. I couldn’t bear for them to worry about me after all we’d been through as a family.
I was a wreck. Hell to be around as I snapped at the slightest thing as my not-too-illogical worries took hold.
So, it was Katie’s hand I held as I sat in the waiting room of the hospital, waiting for my exploratory scan. And her who, with terrified eyes herself, helped calm my breathing when I had a panic attack, thinking of what may come next.
My recollection of that initial hospital visit is now a complete blur. They said I should come back three weeks later for a ‘procedure’ – but as I look back, I can’t even remember whether they told me what they thought was wrong.
I couldn’t face a waiting room where both Neil and Carol anticipated treatment, at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, so I went to Walsall Manor, just five miles away.
As a nurse nudged my legs apart, this time, I shook so much my knees almost knocked.
I was so scared, and everything became a haze of dread.
‘There’s something up there,’ the nurse said. ‘I think I can detect string.’
I was baffled. What on earth could she mean? My days of needing tampons were long behind me.
‘Have you ever had a coil?’ she asked.
It took me a minute but I then remembered that, yes, I’d had a coil fitted. About 15 years ago.
I was erratic taking the pill, so the Mirena coil was a sound option back then. A busy mum of twins, with a loving partner, I knew the odds for conceiving twins for a second time – 17 to one. We weren’t taking any chances.
Somehow, I never grasped what should happen when its time was up. That it needed to be removed.
The Mirena coil as it’s now more commonly known, is reportedly licensed to be fitted and used for five years. If fitted in a woman aged 45 or over, it can be left until the age of 55.
How could I have blanked something so important?
But the thing was, as a widow at 44, contraception and sex were the last things on my mind. Neil had died in 2012 and, by my reckoning, I’d already forgotten all about my coil as a busy working mum of twin girls.
Instead, I’d been focusing on getting through my grief. Trauma clouding my memories and judgement.
So now, after a doctor’s appointment, a scan, and a return visit where I had my coil removed, I was suddenly free of worry. A weight was lifted.
This time, going home after my appointment, I was elated. I decided I could, and should, tell my daughters what’d been on my mind and apologise for my grumpiness.
There’s little information available to inform women of the dangers of a coil staying in too long, with sparse medical statistics or research about the issue, even if it seemed to me someone always knew someone it had happened to.
Conditions that can be caused by a forgotten coil include peritonitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and uterine perforation. More seriously – and thankfully very rare – effects are a pyometra (which means pus in the uterine cavity) and actinomycosis, a bacterial infection.
For anyone who thinks they may have overlooked the fact they have a coil, as life gets in the way, I’d say go and tell your doctor as soon as you can. Don’t be embarrassed – it’s better to check sooner rather than later as the risk of complications could grow.
And, if you’re someone having a coil fitted for the first time, please be a little savvier than me.
It’s good to remember it’s your responsibility to remember when the coil is due to be removed and a new one considered. You should get a little card with suggested dates on, and it should go on your medical notes as well.
So don’t forget and put yourself through the unnecessary anguish I endured – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
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