I’ve decided to share my story because until this happened to me, I had no idea about any of this and had never met a woman to whom this had happened. My hope is that by sharing, more women will be educated and take action much faster than I did.
In July of last year, I went to get my annual exam. As part of the exam, the nurse did a blood drop test for anemia wherein I was diagnosed with mild anemia. The prescription was vitamins fortified with iron. I left the doctor, went over to CVS, picked up some vitamins and didn’t think about it again.
Two months later, I’d be in the emergency room bleeding to death.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the anemia. Like many woman my age – forty – I’ve developed fibroids over the years. I have a fairly large one that can be felt if you palpate my lower abdomen. This translates into pretty heavy bleeding every time I would have a period.
The bleeding had been getting worse over the last few years, but my doctors kept telling me it was normal and if it ever got too bad we’d “deal with it then.” I trusted my doctors to know what they were talking about.
The bleeding was manageable if uncomfortable, but it wasn’t to a point where I felt like I couldn’t deal with it. By the time my doctor would diagnose me with anemia, I was resigned to doubling up every month and using tampons along with pads just to make it through a couple of hours. I would joke that I should buy stock in Kotex.
Being an epileptic, I take my health fairly seriously. So, after getting my vitamins, I began to look at ways to maintain my iron. I’m not a big meat eater, especially red meat, so I was looking for the vegetables that would give me the requisite iron and found out that Spinach is a great source of iron. I found a smoothie called the Green Monster (which is delicious) that has baby spinach in it and I drank one every single morning. Little did I know that spinach also contains oxalates which inhibits iron absorption.
I thought I was ensuring my iron intake, I was negating it.
As the days wore on, I grew more lethargic. I could barely climb my steps to my bedroom. I couldn’t concentrate. I was irritable. I began to have seizures again despite being seizure free for almost a year.
Then, a month after my diagnosis, I got my period and never stopped bleeding. It was not completely unheard of for me to bleed for two weeks. It had happened occasionally, so I didn’t think much at day fourteen of bleeding. But, it was unusual for me to be in pain and cramping horribly that late in my cycle. I usually cramp just one or two days.
This would continue for another three weeks. One particular night, I was unable to get comfortable due to the pain. I went to the bathroom to tend to my feminine requirements and get some painkillers and woke up sprawled on the floor with a massive knot on my head.
I’d had a seizure. I called a friend to take me to the ER. Despite telling the doctor that I was menstruating and had been diagnosed with anemia, he focused on my seizure history and assumed I needed my meds switched.
In reality, my iron levels were low enough to induce seizure. That can happen to anyone, not just those with epilepsy.
Three days later, I would be lying in bed trying to sleep. The pain was horrible. I was moaning. My dogs were in bed with me and they were whimpering and nuzzling me. I was soaking through an overnight pad and a super plus tampon in a matter of minutes. Literally, once it took 15 minutes for me to soak through my clothes.
I was alone at home, so I called the ambulance to get me to the ER. When I got there, I was informed that my iron level was so low they didn’t know how I was functioning. They kept me in the ER long enough determine that my levels were falling drastically. Before the night was out, I would have three bags of blood transfused along with multiple bags of iron, potassium and estrogen.
They also planned to do an emergency hysterectomy. I went from mild anemia to being threatened with a hysterectomy in the span of two months!
I refused to consent to the hysterectomy. I wanted to know my options. The doctor was great and we discussed what else I could do. In the end, I opted for a endometrial ablation along with a tubal ligation and a regimen of iron supplements. In short, they burned out my endometrial lining to stop the bleeding.
I wasn’t philosophically opposed to the hysterectomy. I’m done using my uterus for child-bearing, but I didn’t want to begin hormone therapy so young. My mother developed breast cancer as a result of Estrogen therapy and I didn’t want to take the risk.
The surgery was successful and almost a year later, I’m finally where I need to be with my iron. Until this happened to me, I didn’t know anemia could be so devastating.
So, to all my sisters out there, take that diagnosis seriously and be aware that just because a food is iron rich, it doesn’t mean your body can make use of the iron. Don’t make the same mistake I did.