Last year I thought the bar had been set pretty high on medical treatment weirdness when they shot high-dose radiation into my vagina. A year later, I’m still struggling with ever-metamorphosing radiation damage, which is extremely painful in its current incarnation.
Things were bad last July (as in blinding, shuddering pain every time I urinated). By August the condition had improved, but new irritations appeared throughout the fall. It was mildly uncomfortable at bathroom time, but not unbearable. However, this spring it all took a turn for the worse. I developed intermittent bleeding, then increased pain when I peed. When I saw my gyno-oncologist in May, he identified what apparently was a radiation sore and prescribed Silvadene cream. Although he assured me it wouldn’t hurt (as just about everything else I used did), it burned like crazy for about 10 minutes. Eventually, though, the cream wasn’t uncomfortable and it seemed to be helping.
Meanwhile, the gyno-oncologist had been in touch with my radiologist about my problem. Understand that I saw the radiologist several times last summer when this first started and got mostly sympathy and a lot of puzzlement–patients just didn’t usually have reactions in her treatments, she said. I’d most recently seen her in February, when she suggested I stop using the vaginal dilator since it might be irritating the problem, but that was the extent of my treatment.
In early June I suddenly got a call from my radiologist’s office that she wanted to see me that week. I went in and discovered my condition is suddenly of tremendous concern. During an insanely painful exam, she confirmed that the Silvadene had done its work but that I now had an ulcer inside the vagina that was causing all the bleeding I was experiencing.
While I was there she called a wound specialist and discussed my case. My radiologist gave me a referral to see this specialist, which I had to put off for a week since I was going on vacation the following Monday.
This past Monday I had my appointment at the wound center at Bethesda North. I am now scheduled for forty sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the first of which is tomorrow morning.
I’d heard of putting people with carbon monoxide poisoning in a hyperbaric chamber, but I didn’t know this treatment helps heal wounds. Apparently it works extremely well, which is music to my ears because the misery has been getting worse and worse. (Of course, some of my most intense suffering has come as a result of medical exams.) Basically, I lie in this clear chamber for one to two hours each day (five days a week) while oxygen is forced into my blood, which in turn helps rejuvenate tissue and promote healing.
I’m not sure how the timing is going to work–another development in my ongoing post-hysterectomy melodrama is that I developed an abdominal hernia and have to have surgery at the end of July to repair it. I told the hyperbaric expert about this and she said, “Well, if we can get at least thirty sessions in…” It won’t be quite that many, but she also said we’ll worry about it when the time comes.
Besides the weird commitment of having to run to the hospital for a few hours every morning, the only other concern is my own paranoia. Oxygen is highly flammable. You can’t wear jewelry or glasses (I guess to avoid the danger of a spark), nor can you wear make-up, lotion, hairspray, deodorant, etc., into the chamber because these things may contain alcohol, which is also highly flammable. On an episode of “Hannibal” last year, Dr. Lechter murdered a girl by causing her hyperbaric chamber to burst into flames, leaving behind a charred corpse. Don’t think this isn’t weighing on my mind. On the other hand, if I can be free of this year-long ordeal of vaginal discomforts and pissing razorblades, I’m willing to risk the charcoal results.