Poor old belly button. It’s looking worse for wear at the moment. Well, what I can see of it anyway – and I do keep picking at it for a better look, even though I shouldn’t. It’s covered up with bloodied surgical tape and gauze, along with three other puncture marks on my rather pale and squidgy tummy.
It began with a small but certain firmness between my hips, which was unusual because my tummy has never, ever been firm in any way. And let’s be frank, firm abdominal muscles don’t come without a lot of hard work, the kind of which I’d rather put into activities more interesting than press ups and crunches.
A visit to my gynae on Monday revealed I’d been growing a magnificent hemorrhagic cyst on an ovary, along with some – suspected – endometriosis. I say suspected because endometriosis is a curious disease whose presence can only be determined surgically. Although I’m not new to this, having had an operation for it 14 months ago, the news didn’t make me the happiest camper in the world.
‘We’ll need to take it out,’ the doctor said.
‘Can you do it before new year?’ I asked.
He widened his eyes; he raised his eyebrows. I don’t think he was expecting that kind of response. He scratched his chin and looked at his diary.
‘How about Wednesday?’
And so it was that 48 hours later he ended up removing more gunge than he anticipated; I’m to go back for more in two weeks’ time. The anaesthetic made me feel like hell but I’ve since made some observations.
1. South Africa’s healthcare is excellent – if you can pay for it. Despite living in the UK this year, I’d kept my South African medical aid going and I’m glad I did. My Spectator-reading gynae is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and would, I expect, be as at home on Harley Street as he is on Jabu Ndlovo Street. Only he’s much cheaper out here. Having a laparoscopy on the NHS would have meant starting at the beginning, going through a GP, a gynaecologist and a specialist laparoscopic surgeon before joining a waiting list for a hospital bed. I’m lucky my gynae maneuvers cameras and lasers in addition to delivering babies and taking smears. But the people I really feel for are the South Africans whose only option is state health care, the management of which is, in many instances but not all, shambolic, thanks to our overburdened and poorly run Department of Health. For more on this do read Karen Little’s excellent blog, Just Up the Dose.
2. The nurses prayed at the beginning of each morning. Whether or not God exists is one thing, and whether their faith resulted in better delivery is another, but I like that this is a country where people are not so bound up in officialdom that they are not free to do these things. The sound of their singing, complete with harmony, was beautiful to hear.
3. Lots of people have endometriosis but I didn’t know about it until I was diagnosed with it. And here is one of the great mysteries. Doctors don’t know the cause of endometriosis and they can only manage it symptomatically – usually by removing damaging tissue from the pelvic cavity through keyhole surgery. There are many euphemisms for periods, ovaries, uteri and associated problems, and those horrible, sexist jokes about ‘ladies’ problems’ and ‘that time of the month’ circulate on email endlessly. I know we’re in a much better place than, say, 40 years ago, when there was probably no preserving treatment, but let’s start calling things by their proper names. We might find a cause and a cure sooner that way – and my belly button may not have to be reshaped so ignominiously ever again.
On a lighter note, happy new year! The picture was taken in Lions River, KZN Midlands, one of my all-time favourite places, earlier this week. Promise that the next post will be about something more planty.