When it comes to the menopause – knowledge is power

Tree silhouetted in radiation fog

In my memoir, The Cactus Surgeon, I mention the possibility that perimenopause could be causing some of my health symptoms. I wrote that section about nine months ago, so here’s an update…

Earlier this month, I picked up my first HRT prescription. It’s taken me seven months to get it, and I had to stand my ground with the GP. Several friends and colleagues have since asked me about this because they feel nervous about approaching their own GP. We shouldn’t have to worry about this, and I’ve found that knowledge is definitely power. Whilst I was able to adapt to my perimenopausal symptoms, it was beginning to affect my work and relationships. There are also protective benefits of going on HRT, reducing the likelihood of a range of health issues, some of which run in my family. I felt it was something I both wanted and needed.

So, how did I get to this place? During lockdown, I started to experience heart palpitations, and my fingers would often go numb in bed. Sometimes I’d lose my grip and drop things. I spoke to a private GP, and she dismissed it all. Listening to my heart, she said it was fine and that numb hands were normal in bed. I was relieved, but part of me didn’t believe her.

Then my brain started to struggle. I began to forget things. It was like my brain was wading through treacle, and a veil was hanging over me. I would walk around the house, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. I would burn food on the hob, walking away to do something else and forgetting it was there. I had to write endless lists, and some weeks were torture at work. I couldn’t get my words out. I couldn’t remember details from conversations even an hour previously, and as for the week before – forget it! I was honest with colleagues – “I’m sorry, I’m having a really brain foggy day” – and I found ways to cope. My notebook became essential. If things weren’t written down, they just slip away, like the fading trail of a jet plane in the blue sky. I often forgot to do something I’d promised my daughter, making me feel like a terrible mother. It was a bit like ‘baby brain’ when months of being sleep deprived make you walk through life like a zombie. Yet, I was sleeping well and looking after myself.

In the Autumn of 2021, I rang up my local surgery to hear that wonderful sentence, “you are number 26 in the queue”. After ninety minutes I got through!
Two weeks later, I was called by a GP. After I said I was calling because of perimenopausal symptoms, he asked me no questions except “do you get hot flushes” and then organised some blood tests. They came back normal. I didn’t pursue it as my symptoms happened to ease.

In the New Year, my symptoms came back with a vengeance. The joints in my hands became very painful after typing all day. I was putting a bit of extra weight on, but only around my middle. My skin was very dry. Periods were very haphazard in terms of duration and flow and were very irregular. I watched the Davina McCall TV programme. I read the book by Dr Louise Newson and downloaded several menopause apps. Everything was telling me I needed HRT.

I rang the surgery again, “You are number 14 in the queue”. This time a nurse called me back. She was abrupt and said, “aren’t you a bit young for menopause?”. I was made to feel as if I shouldn’t be bothering her. I mentioned the joint pain, and she quickly said, “could be menopausal but sounds like a bit of carpal tunnel”, but offered no advice. Yet again, I was asked to do blood tests. I told her I’d done those already, but she insisted. Guess what. They came back normal.

I researched carpal tunnel syndrome, and whilst it is rare to get it from typing too much, it is not impossible. I had been typing in the day for work and all evening to write my book. I now wear wrist splints at night, which has massively improved the joint pain. I no longer get numb hands at night. So, the nurse did help me a bit after all.

I was given free access to Peppy’s app via my health insurer. I already had two menopause apps – Balance (great for tracking symptoms) and Moody but hey, why not look at a third. I was glad I did. Via Peppy, I was able to have a direct chat with a menopause expert. After sharing my symptoms, they agreed that I should qualify for HRT. This gave me great confidence to go back to the GP.

Finally, I had another phone call with a different GP. He said I was very young to have perimenopausal symptoms and wanted to send me for further blood tests. I was thoroughly fed up with being sent for blood tests. I stood my ground and said that to my mind, I clearly had perimenopause symptoms and was entitled to HRT. I also reminded him that I was nearly 45 and didn’t feel I was that young to be experiencing it. To his credit, he checked the NICE guidelines and agreed with me. He then asked me which HRT I would like. Eureka!!!

Two weeks later and I already feel a little bit better. My skin is softer, and I feel brighter. It does feel like the veil is starting to lift. I haven’t noticed so many heart palpitations. I am still forgetful and easily distracted at work, and I will continue writing everything down, but it feels like hope is on the horizon. I’m on a low dose, so there is the option to increase after three months if needed.

At work (Perrywood Garden Centres) we’ve drafted a menopause policy and we have someone coming in to do a medical workshop with ladies, and a manager’s awareness session. Hopefully, this extra knowledge will ensure that my colleagues can feel confident in accessing the support they need from the NHS.

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