Health Stories

Horror illness: Doctor’s said it was all in my head

'They all thought it was a fantasy'

Suffering intense pain, Olivia demanded answers.

Here, Olivia Hyslop, 22, tells the story in her own words.

Scrolling through Instagram, I sighed as I saw photos of my mates having fun.

Yet another weekend stuck indoors, I thought to myself.

I’d been in so much agony that I could barely leave my bed and this was becoming a regular problem.

When I first got my period at 13, I started experiencing the most horrendous cramps in my tummy. As most girls get period pain, I assumed it was normal and that I just had a lower tolerance for pain than other people did. But when Mum saw how much I was suffering, she took me to the doctor. ‘You shouldn’t be feeling like this from a period,’ she insisted.

Dismissing our worries, the doctor said, ‘You’re a teenager, it’s probably just because your body is changing.’

But the pain just wouldn’t go away. Mum took me to countless doctors and hospitals for other opinions. They suggested constipation and would send me home with laxatives, but nothing fixed it.

Living with pain
It was hard to live a normal life with so much pain (Credit: Supplied)

It started to affect school and my social life, too. I had to miss classes and my grades quickly started to fall. Whenever I did go to school, the other kids would ask why I was never there. If I said I was sick, they thought I was just making it up. ‘How can anyone be ill that much?’ they’d ask. Luckily, my best friend Jasmine would stick up for me. But they weren’t the only ones who thought it was all a fantasy.

Mum was determined to get a proper diagnosis. But despite multiple X-rays, they couldn’t detect a problem. My doctor suggested that it was all in my head. Gobsmacked, Mum cried, ‘How can you even say that? Look at the agony she’s in!’

Along with the pain, I was feeling really withdrawn from normal life. All I wanted was to be ordinary. But by the time I graduated in 2013, I had failed most of my subjects. I did manage to keep up a part-time waitressing job, when the cramps weren’t quite so bad.

olivia and mum
Mum and me – she was my rock (Credit: Supplied)

In 2015, my doctor said all the symptoms suggested I had appendicitis, so I’d need surgery to remove my appendix. Coming around after the op, the surgeon revealed that it wasn’t appendicitis at all. ‘We found that you have endometriosis. It means you have abnormal tissue outside your uterine lining,’ he explained. ‘This is what’s been causing the pain.’ I felt relief – finally there was a true diagnosis.

They had taken photos of the endometriosis, but hadn’t removed it. Instead, they recommended strong pain relief to fix the problem. So I was put on a dosage of three-a-day of various painkillers, including tramadol and codeine. And for a while it was great. The pain subsided and I was able to get on with my life. But it wasn’t long until it was back and I found myself in agony once more.

Returning to my doctor, he simply told me to up my dosage. So I doubled the quantity, taking two of each pill rather than one. Once again, the aches came back and I found myself unable to do anything. This cycle continued and it reached a point where I was taking more than 24 pills a day. I felt like a zombie, unable to go to work or function properly. The painkillers just knocked me out and my whole body was constantly numb. Most of my time was spent sleeping.If I felt a twinge of pain, I’d find myself reaching for more medicine. It changed me physically, my face puffed up so much that I looked like I’d been stung by a bee.

IV pain relief
Me, after 13 hours in emergency on IV pain relief (Credit: Supplied)

It was so upsetting to hear about my friends having fun when I couldn’t even leave the house. Ringing my mum at work, I’d sob down the phone to her, ‘Is my life always going to be this way?’

Every few weeks we would be back at the doctors pleading for a solution, but taking more pills was all I was offered. It was the most frustrating situation and I couldn’t see a way out.

Unwilling to accept the doctor’s solution, Mum took my illness into her own hands and got in touch with Endometriosis New Zealand for a second opinion. After hearing my story, they recommended a private gynaecologist in Christchurch. He was shocked to hear about the treatment I had been recommended. ‘You need an operation to laser it away,’ he said. I felt exhilarated, it was like someone finally knew how to treat this properly.

Four weeks later, I had the operation. This has to work! I hoped. When I woke up, although I was sore, my usual stomach pain had gone. They’d also found a tennis ball-sized cyst on my ovary which they removed.

The doctors found a tennis ball-sized cyst on my ovary (Credit: Supplied)

I felt like a million bucks. Now I’m finally able to live a normal life and it’s the best feeling in the world. Studying to be a nurse, I’m also making up for lost time by hanging out with all my mates.

There is a 10 to 20 per cent chance that the endometriosis could come back, but I’m just focusing on enjoying life again. I never thought it would be possible.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!

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