Dysmenorrhea, is it The Cramps?

NOTE: this post may be considered TMI for most males.

This day sucks.

No, nothing catastrophic or cataclysmic has happened. No bad news has crossed my path through the phone, and no one has died. I am suffering from my usual friend... Dysmenorrhea. I've had this problem since the age of 9 (and had boulder holsters for about that long, also.) They have interrupted my life every month for all these years, raining on my parade and removing me from functioning for 5 - 7 days each month. I recall one special concert during my early 20's, which we had anticipated for months; I was the only one of our group who did not attend. My dearest friend questioned my no-show the following day. I explained that I was in bed with The Cramps. "What, all of them at the same time?" she asked (note: if you do not know your fossilized musical groups, that joke will make little sense to you.)

Brief tangent, speaking of fossilized musical groups: my husband brought home an ELO "Best of" CD yesterday, and I have enjoyed listening to Don't Bring Me Down on repeat for the last 20 minutes. How pathetic of me.

Dysmenorrhea is difficult. Those of you out there who suffer from it know exactly what I'm talking about. It isn't similar to "those terrible cramps" that the perky popular blonde girls suffer with in high school. It is almost a week's worth of cramping and sharp pains in the lower abdomen, lower back and thighs. It is nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The pain is caused by strong or prolonged contractions of the muscular wall of the uterus. There is, in my case, a high concentration of prostaglandins (location specific hormones). Research shows that women with dysmenorrhea produce and excrete more prostaglandins than those who don't have as much discomfort. And, there is dilation of the cervix. I had once sat in a hospital ER suffering from an unrelated emergency, and had a bout of pre-menstrual cramps that led the staff to check for pregnancy; I was having what they called "back labor", and the doctor who was treating the initial emergency was very sympathetic when I explained that I go through labor every month. Thank God that he documented it. I have had a steady supply of Anaprox DX, Vicodin ES and a host of muscle relaxants ever since. I pop those babies on a regular schedule the moment I feel the first twinge of pain. I am legally stoned out of my mind for a week each month. But, without those drugs, I would spend that time writhing on the bed, screaming in agony and begging God to let me die. (My problem, by the way, is due to the high levels of DES my mother had to take during all three trimesters of her pregnancy. If you suspect you suffer from dysmenorrhea, I recommend that you visit your doctor for a proper evaluation and treatment.)

Please do not for one moment in your life dare to assume I am a weakling. I have a pain threshold of biblical proportions, and can "Suck it up and drive on" with the best of them. I suffered through three months of a failing gallbladder, complete with passing gallstones, if only because I could not afford to take time off from work to have the surgery (and, because the pain was, in my opinion, something I could live with, I wasn't as proactive with getting treatment as I should have been.) I also was up and about the day after my emergency gallbladder surgery (tip: when you ignore abdominal pain, you will end up being dragged into the ER.) I was at work two days later, despite the stitches and not being able to wear my pant waist at any location other than below my hips (forget wearing the bra. The band would sit on part of the surgical site, which would tear open the suture line.) I deal with excruciating migraines. The only thing that prevents me from plugging on is those lovely cycles of labor.

Let me reiterate: labor. Labor, as in child birth. The lower portion of my body does all the same things that a woman-in-labor's body does... contractions and dilation... except I don't pass a baby through the birth canal. There is no baby. It's just The Cramps. Well, just slam my breast into a mammogram machine and call me Woman, honey!

Jeff is very sympathetic. He doesn't mind my shutting down for a week, and even does chocolate runs at the supermarket when he sees that it is a really bad bout. He makes sure that I'm comfortable, fetching the heating pad and drugs from the closet, seeing that the dogs don't bother me on the bed, and sometimes even sitting on the bed to soothe me by patting my head or rubbing my shoulder. He's a good husband. He's on a chocolate run as we speak.

Tips for those who suffer the same problem: Some women try all sorts of things to alleviate the pain. Doctors recommend laying on your side with your legs propped up. Bullshit. I find that I am able derive more comfort if I prop myself up against the headboard, place a heating pad on my tummy and back, and keep my knees bent (gee willikers, I almost do look like a woman giving birth at that point!) Take your prescriptions on a regular schedule the moment you feel the pain begin. This can be up to a day or two before your cycle actually starts. Most, like Anaprox (an NSAID) are taken once every 8 hours. Find ways to distract your mind from the situation. Some women say the words of a song or their times tables. I prefer to factor square roots, starting with 2 and going as high as I can, in my head. I also recite the books of the bible, since this requires thought on my part. When all else fails, I mentally focus on reciting every dinosaur species known to man, or I try to remember how to recite the days of the week in Italian. Anything that makes you focus on something other than the pain is worth the effort it takes. Push yourself to concentrate on recalling data or calculations. If you get bored, you might just find it is because the bout of pain has subsided enough for you to function a bit more normally again now that the meds have kicked in. That, or you are beginning to out from the drugs.

For more information regarding Dysmenorrhea, visit:

http://www.walterreed.army.mil/departments/gyn/text_files/menstrual health/DYSMENOR.htm

Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) - MayoClinic.com

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