True Life: I Survived a Bartholin's Cyst
Cool fact: our vaginas have this awesome ability to regulate moisture.
Lesser known cool fact: that moisture comes from two, small, pea-sized, egg-shaped glands just on the inside of our vaginal opening that secretes it. Those are the Bartholin's glands.
Even lesser known, not so cool fact: sometimes, one of these glands can have their opening clogged causing a back up of the secretion, then swelling, then infection, and then, possibly, even an abscess.
Yeah, so... Mine abscessed. And, had I known what it was beforehand, I could and would have handled it waaaaay earlier.
Disclaimer: This post has very little to do with our positioning as a website unless you want to see this as a women's rights to health knowledge issue... But this is a community and, really, I just want to inform as many people with a vagina as possible- I wish I had known.
On one lovely Thursday, a few months ago, I woke up feeling like, well, I don't know- maybe my lymph node near my groin was swollen? Oh, crap... I really didn't have time to get sick. I proceeded to down a ton of lemon/ginger/turmeric tea all day while hoping that my immune system would handle the rest before anything became worse.
Day 2: Nope. Even more swollen. Definitely must be getting sick. Crap.
Day 3: Okay, maybe I should google this- is this normal? DO I HAVE HERPES?! By this point, walking was painful and my poor boyfriend was having to endure me re-asking him about his sexual history in a frantic search of what was to blame for the side of my vulva swelling up and feeling like a small egg had been surgically implanted by aliens. Called OBGYN and booked her next available appt for the next Thursday.
Day 4: So. Many. Tears. At this point, the Internet has narrowed down for me a few options: torn and coiled muscle, STD, or a Bartholin's cyst. The latter seemed to be the most fitting. I called my sweet, dear friend who had just finished med school and made her FaceTime with my vagine. She confirmed my suspicions- she, too, was 99% positive that it was a Bartholin's cyst and that I needed to call my OBGYN, tell them that this can't wait, and get in ASAP or consider going to the ER before anything gets worse. (Although- side note- sometimes having it handled by someone who is not specialized in the "area" can lead to long-term damage of the gland... Or so the interwebs warned me. And, well, the interwebs never lie.)
The nice part about this? She said it was decently normal and typically completely random- probably nothing that was of my own fault.
The terrifying part of this? That this is decently normal and typically completely random- probably nothing that was of my own fault.
I called and left a message on the after-hours machine for my OBGYN and a very dear nurse called back within the hour:
Dear nurse: "Oh, no. You've been sitting on this for four days now? If it's gotten worse, it'll only continue to do so by now. Yeah, I'm going to squeeze you in tomorrow- can you be here at 8:30am?"
Me: "YES. PLEASE."
DN: "Just so you know, this is actually pretty normal. It's not something that you can really avoid if it's going to happen. [another moment of both comfort and terror for me] But I had one a few years ago and- let me tell you, because I've had three children too- I'd rather go through childbirth again than another Bartholin's cyst. You're a champ for holding out this long."
I did not feel like a champ. Nor was I ready to endure childbirth or anything possibly worse than it. I did NOT sign up for this.
I couldn't sleep from the pain. My boyfriend was medicating me every four hours and having to help me move enough to pee. I didn't want to eat or drink anything for fear of what would happen when I would have to move the next time. I spent the next 13 hours quietly crying while spread eagle on my sofa in front of the Disney channel.
I have NEVER felt pain like that before.
Day 5: I waddle into an empty office and get escorted into the bathroom where a nurse has to help me pee into a cup to confirm that I'm not pregnant before doing any sort of procedure. I'm finally shoved (literally) onto a medical table and straddled in. Next thing I know, my dearest and bravest doctor is clucking under her breath about how big this one is and is gently patting my knee while she's tucking what I can only describe to be a puppy pad into the front of her shirt.
...Then she puts on goggles. I am horrified.
Thank god they drape a paper blanket (fancy, I know...) over my legs so I can't see the rest, but the only thing I felt from that point was the burning of the needle numbing the area with local anesthesia.
Apparently, what I didn't see though, was the squirt of blood just from the prick of the injection since the swelling was already so bad. Nor did I see my doctor making an inch long incision inside of the opening of my vagina and getting sprayed with pus whilst doing so. I still feel terrible.
BUT I INSTANTLY FELT BETTER. Even through the numbness, the pressure release was immediate and distinguishable.
After draining, she inserted a balloon catheter with an additional drain into the gland to keep it from collapsing after it's angry journey. I drained greenish goo for the next three days before it was swiftly and surprisingly removed and I was left with nothing more than some light pain via friction for the next two weeks.
No, I couldn't work out or walk that far for the next two weeks. I DEFINITELY couldn't have sex. But I had survived an attack of a gland that I didn't even know I had and, for that, I was insanely grateful.
Two and a half weeks later, and everything was back to normal...
I URGE you- PLEASE- if you feel that one side of your vulva is inflamed and starts to feel tender to the touch or you can feel a distinct lump, CALL YOUR GYNO. Now. Not later. Definitely not tomorrow. Just go.
The Internet suggested sitz baths and heating pads to help the cyst break up and the gland pop open. Did it help me? Absolutely not- it made it so much worse. I think possibly because mine was already too far along? Maybe it'll work for you if it's still mild enough, but I'm no doctor. So, once again, CALL YOURS.
Ice didn't help either. Instead, I freezer burnt my vaginal lip on that side. No fucking joke.
Just go see a professional and PLEASE learn from my mistake.
Your dear and loving vagina-supporting friend,
*We are DEFINITELY not medical professionals (despite my father's pleading...). Please seek the advice of your doctor before treating anything on your body.
**If you need to learn more/see a diagram (posting graphic pictures really didn't seem necessary after that visual commentary), check out The Mayo Clinic's blurb about it.