Of course, in my research and conversations with my doctor, other great reasons to continue with an IUD implantation were revealed: it is as effective as the pill I have always relied on for family planning, if not more so, because there is no room for error. (I’m embarrassed by how many times my “BCP” alarm came up on my phone while I was running and then I completely forgot until the next day to take the pill after arriving home.) I don’t have to worry about pharmacy pick-ups or calls to the doc for refills, as the IUD can stay in for 3-5 years with only an occasional check-up. And since I’m not planning on staying in my current town forever, this is especially appealing—because I have no interest in finding a new doctor; my OB-GYN is great and the only one I’ve ever had.
So back to yesterday. I had a 3:15 appointment and honestly expected to be out by 4 based on all my research and the doctor’s explanations. Let me preface the rest of this story by saying my doctor is incredibly experienced (he delivered my little brother nearly 24 years ago…) and a very smart guy. He knows his patients well and always remembers every detail of my last visit, including complaints, worries about my endometriosis, etc. He knows what he’s doing; there wasn’t human error at play. He walked me through every step of the implantation, showed me the device and it all seemed very routine. He performed a pelvic exam and explained the quirks of my body from a gynecological perspective before the implantation began. Here’s more information than you ever wanted about my uterus: it tilts downward and to the right, meaning the long wand that wants to go straight in to implant the IUD is quite literally against a wall. He warned me of a few pinches and a bit of cramping, and I thought I could just breathe through it. I’m a yoga teacher, after all.
During implantation I felt immediate cramping, compounded by the fact that I was already cramping from being off the pill (for a whopping one day. THAT’S how much of a hormonal mess I am.) and experiencing discomfort before having a device implanted in my uterus. Doc kept explaining everything, including “I’m changing my gloves” and checking in, “Feel it? You okay?” every couple of seconds. I am just so glad I had the wear-with-all to tell him that it was starting to hurt WAY more than I had anticipated. And that I was able to articulate that I was starting to feel lightheaded. Luckily, that didn’t come until the implantation was complete.
What followed was one of the scariest experiences I can remember having. The nurse put a cold compress on me immediately; I was sweating profusely. She kept running back and forth between the sink and me to keep my temperature down with cold towels but I just kept getting fuzzier and fuzzier. I told them I was losing feeling in my fingers. They kept encouraging me to take deep breaths, relax, don’t panic. Doc kept his hand on my wrist the whole time, monitoring my pulse and communicating it to the nurse. They kept me talking, asking questions and explaining what happened and was happening: my heart rate plummeted and I was having so much trouble breathing, which was making things worse because I couldn’t oxygenate properly. My vision started to go, and I asked to roll to my side so I didn’t have to hold my head up anymore. My fingers and toes went tingly. They propped up my legs and kept rushing over cold towels as long as I was talking and responding about my levels of “okay-ness” and, I imagine, my heart rate wasn’t in a dangerous place. This went on for, I believe, about 20 or so minutes. I vaguely remember finally letting my eyes close and not breathing well. Doc goes “Snap her” which I then immediately learned meant for the nurse to give me smelling salts, which… oh my god. Ow, that burned. But it got me to breathe, which was the goal.
A few moments after the salts I started to come to and then threw up everything in my stomach. After that, though, I started to stabilize. I got feeling back in my fingers and toes, and after about an hour, I was able to sit back up and start the process of figuring out what happened. I realized that I’d been panicking about things like my class I was supposed to teach that night, how I was going to get home, and the fact that David was all the way in DC for work and I was alone. That certainly hadn’t helped me breathe. When I could see well again, I immediately texted David since he knew I was in procedure, and a few friends to help me get my class covered. I got a few offers of ways to help me get home, should I need it. But after a long while—seriously, about 2 hours after the start of the appointment—I felt stable and back to normal and drove myself home. (No one panic; I only drove because I knew I could. I had enough offers for help and a few other people I knew I could call if need be that I wouldn’t have had to if I didn’t want to.)
I called David and my mom and was surprised to realize I was crying. Hysterically. I was so scared and so emotional, but also so grateful. This cannot be stressed enough: My doctor had to return to other patients about a half hour after my meltdown, but he checked on me every couple minutes. The nurse NEVER left my room. She held a water cup for me, she gave me more gowns to wear when I was freezing (after sitting in a sweat-soaked shirt for an extended period of time, that’ll happen), literally held the towels I threw up into, asked me questions to keep me talking, offered to put my socks on my feet for me, propped me up and down, helped me roll to my side and then my back. She was amazing, and I could tell I gave her a big scare—the other nurse in the office came in to check on HER at one point, on the doc’s request.
THIS is the importance of quality health care for women—and every American, really. This is the importance of letting doctors do their damn jobs. This is the importance of respecting the expertise of the medical community and not bringing opinions about acceptable behavior (or, to be more honest, the desire to punish women) into the mix. I was so, so grateful throughout this experience for a devoted nurse and doctor who care about women’s health and do their jobs in order to HELP PEOPLE. I will never cease to be thankful for nurse Maureen who sat with me, stroked my arm, answered my questions, and helped me feel safe. There was a point during the almost-blackout where I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I was in so much pain and couldn’t bring myself back to the surface, but at the time I was aware of the fact that I was in the hands of people I could trust completely and who would do everything necessary. (I heard them discussing whether I would need oxygen at one point, right before I started to come to.)
The why is a little sketchy, but a combination of the angle of the instruments during my implantation, due to the shape and slant of my uterus, and where my cervix came into contact is a big part. That caused a vasovagal reaction, which isn’t NORMAL, but can happen. The early stages of my reaction, Doc said, were common—I suspect it doesn’t usually go quite so far, but hey, I like to keep people on their toes. He likened it to the reaction some people have when having blood drawn. For me, I’ve had something sorta kinda similar happen years ago, in response to a SUPER painful tattoo, actually. I got lightheaded, nauseous, and almost lost vision for a few seconds. (A few seconds and 20 minutes are drastically different measurements of time though, obviously.) For whatever reason my body sees puking as a reasonable response to pain? Oh, and it also happened once when I had sun poisoning, but that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, the point is, there is no point, but I know for sure that part of my panic was induced by absolute fear and surprise. If you’re planning on getting an IUD, DON’T let this story deter you—but, please do be aware that if you feel lightheaded, it’s okay. It’s happened before to another person, so don’t panic. (I’m not a medical professional, this isn’t medical advice, etc.) I don’t know if reading a blog post about this happening to someone else would have helped me take more deep breaths and not be so afraid, but maybe it would have. Who knows?
Like I said, there is no point. This is just a thing that happened to me yesterday and now you know about it too.
But for real, I would love to hear from anyone with an IUD about their experiences, if you’d like to share. Moreso what you experienced in the days and weeks that followed. When I came to, I told the nurse I’d felt like I’d just gone through battle and all I wanted was to put on fuzzy socks and drink tea and go to sleep. And then the emotional rush was a fun surprise too. (Psst. I cried when writing this post.)
I sincerely hope this doesn’t deter anyone from getting an IUD if it’s something you want to do. Everything else went just as the doctor explained it would and the implantation was a success. From what I understand, most people would have been out of that 3:15 appointment by 4 p.m. I just had to be ~special.~
Oy, ladies. Turning it over to you now, because I’ve talked enough for one day.