The “real” Strange Egg: Kirstie Millar on Endometriosis
I have now had four surgeries for severe endometriosis. Each surgery felt different, and disturbingly similar. I cannot remember my third surgery well. But I do remember the surgeon, he was very kind, unlike the others.
I remember waking up and being disturbed by an extreme pain. I remember the anesthetist, a cheerful man wearing nice glasses. I remember him standing over my bed but I could not see him clearly (pain, in my experience, can sometimes distort your vision and make the world appear watery and distant). I remember him leaving me and coming back, after what felt like an eternity, with a plastic syringe. I remember a cold, sweet gel appearing in my mouth. Liquid morphine. I remember my body disintegrating around me. I remember feeling nothing, except relief.
This third surgery did not cure me. Just as the two before it hadn’t and the one after it wouldn’t. But this surgery was significant, because it changed my understanding of my illness, and myself.
The NHS defines endometriosis as: a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can affect women of any age, including teenagers. It’s a long-term condition that can have a significant impact on your life, but there are treatments that can help.
This definition doesn’t do the disease justice. It fails to acknowledge that trans men and non-binary people can also suffer from this condition. The word ‘condition’ also feels lacking. It is a banal and clinical word. It doesn’t convey any of the terror, the raw viciousness, the messy, bloody chaos that I know endometriosis to be.
While recovering from this surgery I spent a lot of time in bed looking at a print that hung over my small IKEA bookshelf. It was of a painting by Leonora Carrington, titled ‘Ulu’s Pants’ (1952). The oil and tempera painting features a dense, dreamy blue landscape populated by various creatures. There are horses and birds, moth-like figures and ghostly apparitions. They march and meander through the landscape, some explore a castle-like maze in the distance. Beneath a yellow/green beast that perches proudly on a wall there is a small figure, wearing a loose white gown with a red, moth-like face and sharp eyes. This figure sits next to a large, cream-coloured egg.
It first occurred to me that my disease was like an egg when, a few years earlier, a terrifying, earth-shattered pain spilled over my abdomen, seemingly from nowhere. I collapsed. When I woke up, I managed to get a taxi to A&E. Hours later I was examined, given some painkillers and told to come back for a scan. The next day the scan revealed the egg to me. Black and glowing, clinging to my ovary. The radiographer measured it. At first it was the size of a grape, and then an egg, and then an orange.
The doctor told me the only thing they could do is ‘watch and wait.’ I was told to take ibuprofen and return to A&E if the pain returned. A few weeks later that horrendous, mind-bending pain came back. I was asleep and suddenly I was awake. Crawling on the floor. My eyes were useless, the room a mess of flashing, pulsing lights. The pain arrived and pushed everything else out. Nothing existed but me and that ancient, scorching heat. There was no sound, no bedroom carpet beneath my hands and knees, no boyfriend, half-asleep and terrified, standing over me. No thoughts and all feeling. My body became an animal. Eventually the pain calmed down. It was new year’s day and my boyfriend took me to urgent care, which was surprisingly quiet. A disinterested nurse performed another transvaginal ultrasound scan. The egg was gone. It had grown very large and then it had ruptured.
While recovering from that surgery, I spent a lot of time in bed. While waiting for the next dose of tramadol, I would look at Carrington’s painting and think about that figure and the egg. I would watch the December and then the January sunlight appear and quickly disappear again. I would write bad poems and fail to read books. Pain made everything impossible. I was bored and very uncomfortable, my stomach was sore and huge. When I hobbled down the street for a short daily walk, I was conscious that people would think I was pregnant (it wouldn’t be the first time a stranger wrongly assumed my distended belly was due to pregnancy, not disease). My stomach was mottled with bruises and weeping stitches. An infection turned my wounds green and brought on a viscous fever. Hard and round, my stomach looked like an egg. Recovery was slow. I tended to the egg, taking painkillers, chewing antacids, applying heat packs and eating mild foods. Just like Carrington’s creature, wearing a white dress similar to my own hospital gown, I guarded the egg. The egg was my swollen belly. The egg was the glowing cyst clinging to my ovary, illuminating the ultrasound screen. The egg was the pain that wailed at me like a thankless child. But the egg was not me. It was something I was forced to carry, tend to and rage at. I lived with the egg, feared it and felt relief when it faded away. Sometimes I even miss the egg when it is gone. But endometriosis is cyclical — and the egg always comes back.
By thinking of this disease as an egg, I allowed myself to think of my illness as something separate from me. This disease was something that happened to me, lived inside of me, but crucially, was not me. Since I began bleeding at eleven, the severe pain I felt, the years of mysterious illness that haunted me and the long line of doctors who dismissed me as “attention seeking” or “just sensitive”, warped my sense of self. I believed I was weak and my body was wrong.
Looking at Carrington’s painting, I made the decision to no longer fight this disease, I knew I would never win. Instead, I accepted the egg as my companion, my burden to carry. I now know this is true: I belong to the egg, and the egg belongs to me.