Surgery offers long-awaited answers for Eliza

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All concentration ... Eliza Meekings competing in the pole vault at the National Track and Field Championships in March. A day later, she was in hospital for surgery in a bid to solve years of undiagnosed pain. PHOTO: ALISHA LOVRICH PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESIGN

By RACHEL MACDONALD

It has been an up-and-down month for Cust teenager Eliza Meekings.

The 17-year-old competed in the New Zealand Track and Field Championships over the weekend of March 8-10, winning bronze in the open women’s pole vault on the Friday and silver in the under-20 women’s pole vault on the Sunday.

The next day she was in hospital admission in six months. The first two were emergency dashes to A&E with pain so bad it made her vomit and pass out. The last time was by choice, in a private bed, to find answers.

“The last two times I ended up on a ward in Christchurch. The pain was indescribable, and nobody could put a finger on it. One registrar even went so far as to imply it was all in my head.

“As I said to mum, how can pain this bad be made up?'” Eliza says.

On that occasion, she hadn’t been able to hold down food or fluids for three days, but was sent home regardless.

At that point, her family made the decision to see a private consultant, who felt she ticked “four of the five boxes” for endometriosis. She was booked to go into theatre the day after the track and field championships ended.

The surgeon found four clusters of blister-like endometriosis lesions in her abdomen to explain the kind of pain she had been experiencing monthly, and on those two occasions, acutely, for the last four years.

“It would have saved a lot of time and pain and missed school and trainings if it had been diagnosed faster and we could have got on to it sooner,” Eliza says.

“We did have a health session on endo in Year 10, but many girls don’t even have their period at that point, so it didn’t really mean much.

“And what does crippling pain look like, individually? I now know that if it interrupts your routine in any way, makes you take time off school or sports, then you should be asking about it.”

This is a point raised by World Endometriosis Society board trustee Deborah Bush, who gave Eliza a follow-up call last week. She was also interested to hear her thoughts on the gaps in the school programme.

Deborah was recently quoted as saying that for years women with the condition have been suffering from inadequate and inappropriate treatment.

Research shows that 27 percent of girls are missing school regularly due to endometriosis pain, interfering with their education and their futures, she says.

Many of those end up struggling to find and hold jobs, as well as grappling with mental health issues, infertility and chronic stabbing stomach pain.

To this end, March also saw new guidelines launched in parliament for doctors, surgeons and all health professionals to follow to help in the diagnosis and treatment of Kiwi women living with endometriosis.

“We have spent decades supporting thousands of desperate patients, some as young as 11 or 12, with many waiting years, even decades, for a formal diagnosis,” Deborah says.

“We just have to do better for the 130,000 New Zealand patients living with endometriosis.”