I used to travel a lot. I worked as a dishwasher in Amsterdam, an au pair in The Hague, and an English teacher in France. One problem in going abroad for more than three months is acquiring enough birth control to last the trip. While I don't recall a condom ever breaking, I probably still peed on more sticks than Boy Scouts at a Jamboree.
After years of this, I found my solution in a Human Sexuality textbook: the IUD (Intrauterine Device). It lasts up to five years and is more than 99 percent effective. Copper IUDs are made of plastic and copper. They prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from fertilizing an egg and preventing implantation. Despite the reaction my body had to the IUD, I would still recommend it as an excellent form of birth control.
It started with a pinch, an excruciating, squeal-worthy pinch, which lasted literally a microsecond. That would be my cervix dilating for the first time.
Before the IUD, I thought period cramps were a secret exaggeration. And while I never said it aloud, I also thought allergies were a made-up affliction. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say I was pretty dumb. So let's just get that out of the way.
As it turns out, a menstrual "cramp" is more of a cute little euphemism for what happens when tiny trolls climb into your ladyness, break out their antiquated arsenal of rusty knives, flails, forks, and refreshments and go bananas on your uterus. When someone is lying on the floor moaning from cramps, it's not because it feels better down there. It is because this is the only place that will have us. It's all we can do.
The troubles came on gradually, like an annoying neighbor slowly moving in. First it's just chatting on the patio... three months later they're living in the laundry room. Except the laundry room is your uterus and your new roommate is a dozen well-armed trolls. Four-day periods turned in to 7- and then 15-day periods. And all the other days turned into a PMS cramp fest.
This crept up on me over a period of 7 months. I'd moved to Savannah, GA and was working at a café. I showed up to work one day with a duffel bag of maxi pads. Tampons were a joke. They just got in the way. I was bleeding through two nighttime pads every five minutes and had to run to bathroom constantly. Inevitably the day came when there was a rush of orders and I couldn't get away. Ten minutes go by, twelve minutes... It's getting weird down there. I feel something cold and wet on my ankle. I look down, and see red, not even dripping, just pouring down my legs into my socks.
I raced home, jumped into the shower with all my clothes on and watched what could have been great footage for a horror film shower scene. Trying to figure out how to redress without making a mess out of our otherwise pristine bathroom, I packed my underwear with five maxi pads.
My housemate and best friend, Jane, drove me to the hospital, laughing and snapping pictures. I kept trying to clean up after myself, but much to Jane's amusement, every time I bent over or crossed my legs a clot the size of a gross silver dollar would fly across the room. Three hours and a box of pads later, a doctor comes in.
He's annoyed. I'm hemorrhaging with no health insurance, and he's annoyed. He begrudgingly performs an "exam." Which was more like a "look-see."
"Well, Ms. Squires, you seem to be having a heavy period."
"Yes." I'd expected as much, but it is always nice to have a professional's opinion. "I need this IUD removed."
"Well, removing the IUD is not going to stop your period. You are just having an abnormally heavy period. Wait it out."
"I've been bleeding for 10 days." I said, nodding my head in the direction of the blood clots trailing from the bathroom to the bed. "I've never had periods like this before. Please take it out. It gives me debilitating PMS cramps, and it is making me bleed like crazy."
"Oh!" He's... suddenly pleased and taking out his script pad. "Well, I can't remove the IUD, but I can give you something for the pain." He looks relieved to have accomplished something.
"Actually, Doctor. I'm not in any pain now. I'm just bleeding a lot." He hands me a prescription for Hydrocodone. One of those fancy addictive painkillers that are all the rage with hemorrhaging, blood clot dropping, IUD patients who are not currently in any pain.
Jane, incensed by the helplessness of the doctor, takes the script from me as we leave, and yells in the direction of the hospital staff, "Great! We'll just take this RECREATIONALLY!!"
It was Thursday evening. Planned Parenthood, the only place I knew that would help me now, would not be open again until Monday.
Before going home, Jane and I went to the pharmacy. When I tried to hand the cashier some bloody bills for a prescription and some adult diapers, Jane gently pushed me aside and, smiling, handed the cashier her clean credit card. We returned home. I was pale and mumbling about something when I fainted in the kitchen. Jane helped me to my bed where we laid down sheet protectors. I slipped into my diapers and slept for three days.
I tried to call a cab on Monday morning. But confused and fatigued, I couldn't figure out how the buttons on my phone worked. Against my better judgment, I drove myself to Planned Parenthood. They buzzed me in, pale, diapered up, and holding myself up with the counter, I begged the receptionist, "Please 'elp me. I jus wan sta bleeding."
I was quickly escorted to the nearest exam room, where a doctor immediately removed the IUD. I cursed at it, dropped my head back, and within two minutes, stopped bleeding.
A week later I got a $750 bill from St. Joseph/Candler Hospital.
Interestingly, it is in the following months when things actually got weird. I never did use the painkillers. I wasn't in any pain. But I did pick up some rather strange habits.
I craved dryer sheets... like all the time. I kept them tucked in my sleeves like handkerchiefs. I had a box set up like tissues on my bedside table and I slept with some on my pillow.
I couldn't stop thinking about the foam Nerf Balls from elementary school. The ones I secretly wanted to put my tongue on. I liked to shove them in my face and smell the foam. I have no idea why. Perhaps I ate paint chips as a kid. I went to Target to look for my precious foam ball. I let my eyes unfocus as I wandered, sniffing my way through every aisle of the store. My nose would catch a drift of something interesting in the home furnishings, and, like Toucan Sam, I followed it.
Two hours later, I found myself in the paint section of Home Depot. I could smell it. Hell, I could practically taste it. I sniffed every paintbrush until I found it, a little $3.00 foam roller. I shoved it to my face and smelled it all the way to the register and on the drive home. Jane called it my smelly stick.
I don't smoke pot. I don't have any preconceptions about people who do, but it does nothing good for me. In the weeks around the discovery of my smelly stick, for some reason, maybe because someone had given it to me in lieu of full payment for my side job of cleaning mansions, I started smoking pot late at night. And I repeatedly listened to Transona Five by Stereolab.
Without paraphernalia, I improvised. From our immaculate bathroom, I took the cardboard out of a new roll of toilet paper, cut a hole out of the top of the cylinder, put tinfoil over the hole and using the business end of a safety pin, poked holes to make a screen. I fashioned myself a bowl from which to smoke my marijuana. At night it was just me, my weed, my smelly stick, dryer sheets, Stereolab, and a baggie of ice.
Yes, I was chewing ice. I was chewing ice like someone was trying to take it away from me. Because pot makes me paranoid, I feared that Jane, two rooms over, could hear me crunching. Not wanting to wake her, I took walks through Ardsley Park at 1:00 am with my ice... and all my other goodies. Crunch crunch crunch, sniff sniff, toke, sniff, sniff, crunch crunch crunch.
One day, after two months of my friends putting up with my newest quirks, I was sitting on the beautiful patio of The Sentient Bean, enjoying a delicious glass of ice with my friend, Ellen.
Crunch crunch crunch, sniff, Ellen interrupted herself mid-sentence to yell, "My GOD. Would you QUIT it with ICE! It's like... nails on a chalkboard." A gentleman, taking a break from Brighter Day, the health food store next door, overheard Ellen's plea.
"Have you been chewing a lot of ice recently?" he asked.
"Yes" she says, answering for me, "and it's really getting old."
"Chewing ice is a symptom of iron deficiency. Do you think you might be iron-deficient?"
"I have no idea," I responded.
"Have you recently changed your diet, become vegetarian, or lost a lot of blood?"
"Actually, I did lose a lot of blood. About two months ago."
"I might have something that will help." He returned two minutes later with a handful of sample-sized Floradix Iron+Herbs Liquid Extract Formula.
"Here, try this. It tastes a little like pennies... but also sort of... sweet. Let me know if you notice any changes."
Hmmm... pennies. I didn't know I knew what pennies tasted like, but apparently my childhood palate had enjoyed more than just Nerf Balls and paint chips, because the sensation was familiar. When I awoke later from a nap, all the dryer sheets on the bed irritated me. What the freak is this freakin' mess?
A side effect of Iron Deficiency Anemia is Pica, the compulsion to consume non-nutritive value items like earth or ice.
A few days later I gave the pot to a friend. I threw out my crazy bowl and had no desire to chew ice. All my odd habits faded as my body eventually healed. I still like Stereolab (doubt that could be explained through an iron deficiency). And Jane still safeguards my smelly stick... Just in case.
But after all that, you know what is arguably the strangest thing about all this nonsense caused by an IUD? In those nine months, I don't think I got laid even once.