Two years ago, I met my cyster. She is a lump at the entrance of my vagina, on the bottom right side. She sometimes becomes large and is painful when I sit down or have sex. She eventually diminishes in size, but I can always feel her faintly. She grows or shrinks depending on the time of the month or my sexual activity. She is always there.
Six months after discovering my cyster, I had an appointment with a doctor for something unrelated and I asked if they could check her out. They examined her and told me she was a Bartholin Gland cyst and referred me to a gynecologist. I knew what the Bartholin Gland was because of sex ed but didn’t know it could develop a cyst and be infected. This gland is what secretes lube for your vagina when you’re aroused. This is such a natural process, I never thought it could cause such a problem.
Given the wait to see a gynecologist in Quebec, I only saw one about 6 months after the referral. During the appointment, the gynecologist examined me, confirmed that this was a Bartholin Gland cyst and prescribed me a cream that was half cortisone half clotrimazole (the yeast infection cream). She told me to take more hot baths (even though I’m a bath addict and always bathing) and sent me on my way. I took more baths and I used this cream for the prescribed time, 6 weeks, and my cyster was still present. So, again, after a few months, I returned to the gynecologist. She told me she couldn’t drain the cyst because she didn’t have the right tools, so I’d have to wait until it got worse and go wait in the emergency room to get it drained at the hospital. She then prescribed me the cream again. Obviously, this isn’t the outcome I wanted. I wanted my cyster to leave me and let me have sex and use my Diva Cup without incurring pain and swelling.
A few months later, a year and a half since I’d met my cyster, my cyst became infected. She was no longer a cyst; she had become an abscess. It hurt to walk, lay down, sit and have sex. One night, after having this abscess for a few days, I woke up crying in pain. I decided this is what the gynecologist meant when she said it would get worse.
I knew that this time my cyster wouldn’t heal herself. I went to the hospital at 2am that night. I was seen at 8am by a resident doctor. She told me she’d ask the hospital’s gynecologist what the proper treatment would be and told me to wait. I was called to a nurse desk who instructed me to give a urine sample to see if I had a UTI and they gave me one antibiotic that they said would help my cyst and they told me I was good to go. I have had recurring UTIs and I knew this was not the issue here. I didn’t understand why they’d only give me one antibiotic and tell me to leave but I didn’t want to question medical professionals. I went home, tired from my sleepless night, and fell asleep.
I woke up to missed calls from the doctor telling me that the gynecologist was here to see me and that they were throwing out my chart since I hadn’t shown up. I didn’t understand. The nurses had sent me home. I was crying and in so much pain, so I returned to the hospital again, this time at 2pm. I waited 6 hours again. I finally saw a doctor who saw how much discomfort I was in. I couldn’t walk, pee, sit or lay down without being in extreme pain. My cyster had become the size of a golf ball. A nurse came in to give me pain meds, and then the gynecologist. She asked me if I was sure it was a Bartholin’s cyst because it was so large and high. I confirmed that I was told it was a Bartholin’s cyst and she told me I should’ve had it drained a long time ago. Well, I knew that, I had tried to get help, but I wasn’t taken seriously so here we were.
The gynecologist proceeded to drain my cyst and it was the most painful experience of my life. She pierced the cyst and made sure to get all the blood and puss out by pushing down on the abscess. My boyfriend held my hand while I repeated “sorry” to the gynecologist in light of my multiple squeals and moans. The gynecologist then put a Word catheter in my cyst cavity, a catheter that stays there for a couple of weeks to help the gland form a proper duct. She told me to take Tylenol for the pain and she left me there in the remnants of my cyst, blood all over my butt and a new rubber catheter in my vagina.
I felt so confused and mad in that moment. I went home and rested. The next day, I could hardly walk. The catheter pain was intense, and it hurt to sit, walk, pee, and have bowel movements. I couldn’t walk or function properly for 5 days and the pain lasted 2 weeks. I couldn’t go to work, and I had to cancel a trip I had planned. No one had prepared me for this. After three weeks, I had my Word catheter removed at a private clinic because I didn’t want to wait another 6 hours in the emergency room. This took five minutes and cost me 300$, it wasn’t covered under my student health plan.
I felt so frustrated and sad that this was an unexceptional medical issue, especially for young women in their 20s. Most people I talked to didn’t know what a Bartholin Gland was, let alone a Bartholin Gland cyst and abscess. No one understood my pain or the complexity of my Word catheter. No one I knew had had the same exact experience. My relative told me she had Bartholin Gland cyst once, but she was put under, drained, didn’t get a catheter and never had a cyst again. She couldn’t help me with my catheter pain or tips on how to deal with it. There was very minimal online information and I found most helpful tips on online community boards.
I was so upset that something that happens to women naturally and not that rarely wouldn’t have any information about it online. This was disheartening. I thought to myself, if a man had a painful abscess on his genitals that caused him pain when he walked, laid down, sat and had sex, there would be a cure for it. They wouldn’t have to wait hours in pain in a hospital before being seen. They would be taken seriously.
The medical system had treated me like an unimportant entity, when I had a painful cyst for over a year. The androcentrism of the medical system had caused me pain, the incapacity to work and a missed summer vacation. I’m positive that most women have had negative experiences obtaining proper help for women’s health issues. This is a sad reality.
My cyster is still present despite my draining and Word catheter debacle. The reoccurrence rates are high for Bartholin Gland cysts, despite the painful methods used to deal with it. When I went to the private clinic to get my catheter removed, the gynecologist told me that since I had kept it in for 3 weeks, I’d only have a reoccurrence rate of 20%. However, my cyster was back a week later. Now I just hope she won’t grow the size of a golf ball again and need to be drained. I’ve learned to accept her. She always appears after sex. She sometimes grows larger and is more painful for a few days. I take baths and use home remedies to help her feel better. Sometimes, I forget she’s even there.
Story by Rianna Dutch, Montreal, Canada.