She is recognized in Barbados as a theatrical performer producing and acting in skits at a number of public places but what is less known is that Kathy Ife Harris endured and beat endometriosis.
Her story is both an inspiration to the average one in three women with chronic pelvic pain and about three to five out of every ten having problems getting pregnant who are likely sufferers of the painful ailment. At the same time, her story is less complimentary to local doctors around 1994-1995.
During a recent National Drug Council’s public presentation on endometriosis, Harris volunteered to essay her experience of two surgeries at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, two follow-up corrective procedures in Cuba after the Barbados operations and eventually being rid of that persistent painful discomfort which afflicts many women.
Delivering a lecture earlier this month themed Painful period: could it be Endometriosis, the Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and British Fertility Society Certified Lecturer Specialist Dr Damian Best, said endometriosis is a monthly agony that comes on before or during the period but is much more painful and devastating to the extent that it renders some women incapable of doing any useful work at that time.
Medical science is unsure of the cause of endometriosis, but what is known is that outside of surgery it never goes away because any successful medication must be taken until menopause. That surgical procedure and the medicinal treatment carry risks for those of childbearing age who wish to have or continue having children.
Harris said that unlike most other women, she had no pain until she suddenly had to be hospitalized because “I was practically bent over backwards. At that point the pain came because my endometrial tissue [the cause of endometriosis pain] formed a tumour that had my uterus and bladder fused”.
Harris claimed doctors said she had a cancer of the bladder but following an operation six weeks after hospitalization, her endometriosis was diagnosed. She spoke of being put on six months of hormone medication with Zoladex. Dr Best explained this once-a-month treatment by injection puts a sufferer temporarily into menopause, stopping the period that is usually accompanied by the pain.
“It put me through menopause, so I would be standing and I would just start sweating from head. The water would be dropping off of my hand. I would feel so sick like I would drop,” she said, and complained that there was no follow-up treatment. Dr Best warned that such hormone treatment had to be continued until the patient reaches the age of true menopause.
“Luckily, I had friends who had connections in Cuba,” Harris said, explaining how that connection emerged as the saviour from the pain that had returned. Harris said that in Cuba, “they did a full hysterectomy, and removed part of my bladder”. She said that operation came non-too-soon as doctors told her she was risking losing the entire bladder by waiting around in Barbados with the endometrial tissue growing. Prior to leaving Cuba she suffered a rupture.
“So, I had urine now coming through my vagina. They had to put [in] a bag. I was in Cuba for two months. I couldn’t stay longer. I came back to Barbados with a catheter tied onto my leg,” Harris said, explaining that she attempted to continue an almost normal life, “I did everything I had to do with this bag. I travelled. I made life as happy as I could.”
Assured by a local doctor that the rupture can be fixed, she underwent another operation at QEH but “by the next day, [the] hole opened again”.
Harris thanks then Health Minister Liz Thompson, whose intervention, she said ensured a return trip to Cuba “and the problem was solved. I had other medical problems, but I never had a problem with that again”.
“I sympathize and feel for anybody [who has] endometriosis. It’s a horrible disease, very horrible, but we find ways to deal with it.” (GA)