Being in such close proximity to our bodies, surely we will know when something has gone awry, right? Surely your body will tell you?
That's what I thought too.
However, for nearly three decades, something lay dormant in my system I knew nothing about.
It is amazing what you put up with as a child in your naïve, innocent world-view. As a child, I learnt pretty quickly to hide my “white things” and not tell anybody. Especially with the reaction I got from other kids.
"EWWW!!!!," yelled a kid once when I was at a party.
Here we go, party trick time. Kids thinking it’s funny to play practical jokes. But there was no trick. I started to get confused and looked around me. The kids started pointing to my face.
"What’s that? Gross."
I touched the side of my mouth in horror to feel a white glob. It must have found its way out of my throat and somehow managed to end up on the side of my mouth. I brushed it away in horror and turned a shade of red. I laughed it off, saying it was some cake. A victim of the pecking order of a child’s social hierarchy by standing out in a weird way, I was silent and reticent for the rest of the night. Then I decided to go home early. Thinking it was my fault, I never explained what happened to my parents. Maybe they’d think I was strange too.
As I reached adulthood I had become acutely aware that these horrid tiny flecks were a big problem. I’d be on a date, talking to a guy, then, ERRGHHH, up comes a white thing. I would run off as fast as I could to the women’s toilets, blaming it on a stomach upset, smiling as if it was all a bit of an unexpected surprise. I would never let my date kiss me. I could just imagine if they got it in their mouth; how mortifying it would be. Was it infectious? What if I gave them my disease?
What on earth were these strong smelling, whitish, yellow globs yielded from my throat? I'd had them since I was a kid, it was time to investigate.
I took my ghoulish samples to the doctor to get tests done. In respect to medical professionals my doctor was doing all he could.
"We can’t find anything wrong with you," he said. "We have done every test imaginable. We don’t know what these white things are."
I remember I was at the doctor’s clinic for my first round of tests. As I sat down, I noticed there was only two of us in the waiting room – a lone man and myself. I picked up a magazine and flicked through it as a distraction. After a few moments, the man opposite me leaned forward and asked in a hushed tone, "What drug are you here to kick, heroin? Pot?"
"Sorry?" I replied, shocked by his audacity.
"Don’t worry, I am here to detox too. You look like you are withdrawing, what drug are you kicking?"
"No, I’m here for something else," I replied angrily. I turned red but no one seemed to notice that. The receptionist looked up at both of us and gave me a glance. The man diverted his eyes not so much in embarrassment but in belief that I was still hiding a secret.
Little did I know, I actually was.
As he could not find anything, my doctor was contemplating giving me anti-anxiety medication for hypochondria. Stacked against medical convention, which yielded no results, how could it be anything else?
"Are you sure you are not just stressed?" the doctor asked.
I did not like the direction this was going. I started to get the uneasy feeling he had begun to think I was exaggerating, or perhaps even bringing it on.
I began to feel hopeless. I was already twenty-two and still there was no answer. I gave up, though I desperately wanted to find a cure. While this problem couldn’t be quantified or measured, it certainly made an appearance at the most inopportune times.
I decided to go to specialists. I went to an ear nose and throat specialist, which entailed having my lungs checked, my tonsils examined, and all other relevant areas perused. I got my stomach checked and had an intestinal colonoscopy. I had stools examined, blood tests, drank special liquids and fasted. I was checked from head to toe.
I almost ran inside to find out the news when my tests were done. With their more detailed expertise, they would find out what was wrong.
Nope. Nada. Nothing.
Then finally, after thousands of dollars spent on health potions, tests, diagnoses, and no insight, my problem was glaringly simple – I had oral thrush, right?
This was a sign of Candida or a yeast infection but if it was linked to Candida, I could not understand how. I had no other symptoms. I had no stomach bloating, flatulence, skin irritation or anything else belonging to the subset of Candida related symptoms. I seemed allergic to nothing. I almost wish I was because then I would find the answer. However, my Candida curiosity led to a new mind set. There were no tests for Candida, as yeast overgrowth appeared on the interior linings of the intestines. Candida was all symptom related. I’d also read about parasites, mysterious infections, and diseases that had eluded medical science. Illnesses are not always apparent despite the advancement of medical science.
There was one last specialist I had not tried – a gynecologist. Apart from a few niggling cramps, I really had no reason to go. Someone told me to go though, just in case. I’d always dreaded going to one and always felt embarrassed and intruded upon. Reluctantly, at twenty-one, I had one last test. I was ready to just live with it, maybe take those pills.
I entered the specialists room to hear the news but I was so preoccupied by my condition, I began to drift deep in thought. I was so busy worrying about not getting an answer I nearly missed what he told me.
"You have a teratoma," he said.
"You have a teratoma."
"What does this have to do with my reproductive system?" I asked emphatically, shocked by the answer.
He told me that teratoma was Greek for small swelling or little monster. Another term for this was dermal ovarian cyst. In other words an organism had tried to develop via the skin and had become attached to my ovaries during my own gestation process. My body had unsuccessfully tried to form another being, leaving behind remnants of a human, replete with hair and teeth. He told me I had one on each side of my ovaries and they were six centimeters in diameter. His words reverberated through my head. I had never heard of a teratoma before. I never even knew these sorts of things existed.
Prompted by fascination for all things medical considering my unwitting long-term illness, I looked up what a teratoma was. I was shocked to find many stories of people who had experienced impacts of much more developed beings in their system. I thought I was plagued by bad luck. In fact, I was one of the lucky ones.
Despite medical developments you never know what illness it might be. The truth is out there. But sometimes it requires thinking outside the square, a random hunch, a whim, a bit of meaningless advice, to act upon it.
After surgery and a fortnight of severe pain, I was finally up again. Though the suffering was worth it; far more than I realized. My “white things” had disappeared, that was for sure!
I went back to my GP to explain my result. I walked in the door swiftly and advanced towards the reception desk. The same receptionist popped her head up and I explained I was there for an appointment.
"Who are you?" she questioned in a puzzled tone.
"It’s me, Kerry."
"No! It really is you?" I confirmed it with a vehement nod of my head.
"I’m sorry but I didn’t recognize you, you look completely different. If you don’t mind me asking, have you had plastic surgery?"
"No," I laughed, "I just had a minor operation."