In Her Head is a Herald campaign for better women's health services. Health reporter Emma Russell investigates what's wrong with our current system and talks to wāhine who have been made to feel their serious illness is a figment of their imagination or "just part of being a woman".
A mum took out a $30,000 loan to get her uterus removed after spending more than a year on Taranaki District Health Board's wait list in crippling pain.
"That money should be going towards my son's education," Sanjana Chand told the Herald the day before she had the surgery.
The 41-year-old, who was born in Fiji and moved to New Zealand in 2007, has suffered endometriosis, adenomyosis and fibroids since she was a teenager, though she wasn't officially diagnosed until decades later.
"I have fainted at my workplace too many times, have been to the emergency department on multiple occasions with the pain and was only told that I have to manage my pain somehow," said Chand.
When she finally got an appointment with a specialist at the DHB, Chand said, she was told her only option to get rid of the pain was a hysterectomy.
Initially, she received a letter from the DHB in June 2020 saying she would have her surgery in four months, but she was never given a date.
Four months passed and she still hadn't heard anything. She tried contacting the DHB but was repeatedly told there was a delay and someone would be in touch soon. Six months passed, then a year.
In June last year, Chand received another letter informing her she was booked in to see another gynaecologist in September before she could get a new surgery date.
"When I tried to ring the Taranaki District Health Board, no one would answer. I even sent an email to the booking team asking why I'd been given another appointment when I should have been given the surgery date.
"And the response was, the gynaecologist that saw me initially is on leave due to his own health issues, so now I am given to someone else. Looks like I am bumped off the list. It's not my fault, so why should I suffer?
"I mean, seriously? When I should have been given a surgery date, I am given another appointment.
"I actually don't blame the doctors and nurses, they are amazing and only trying to help - but they are helpless because no matter how hard they try, if the system sucks, nothing can be done."
Her husband and employer have been a massive support, but the impact of waiting in excruciating pain was soul-destroying, she said.
Chand had been studying to become an accountant but after passing her final paper with a B+, she had to withdraw from the course because of ongoing pain.
"I can't even walk properly because of my back and pelvic pain," she told the Herald at the time.
She said she was lucky to work with an amazing boss, who understood and gave her time off to rest at home because she was regularly fainting at work.
Taranaki DHB's chief operating officer Gillian Campbell said the DHB received a complaint from Chand and investigated the delay in her care.
Campbell apologised on behalf of the DHB to Chand, saying she understood waiting for surgery was stressful.
Hospital staff were under extraordinary pressure and high patient demand challenged them on a weekly basis, Campbell said.
The pressure resulted from a Covid backlog, an increased number of referrals from GPs and other community providers and a rise in emergency surgeries.
"We are aware and concerned about the length of time for patients to receive surgery for gynaecology problems. However, we need to prioritise surgery in order of urgency, with conditions such as cancers taking precedence."
The average wait for routine hysterectomy surgery at Taranaki DHB was 283 days (9.4 months), Campbell said. This was significantly longer than the national target of four months from a specialist appointment.
Chand got fed up with waiting. She took out a $30,000 loan and paid a private gynaecologist in Auckland to remove her uterus.
She had the operation in August. When the Herald checked back in with her three months later, she said: "My recovery has been amazing, life is so much better now after the surgery. I even play golf."
Her message to Government officials was: "Please don't let another woman or young teenage girls suffer like me. Please help because we aren't just numbers, we are people."
What are endometriosis, adenomyosis and fibroids?
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue normally lining the uterus grows either on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or intestines.
It can cause severe pain and in some cases leaves women infertile.
The longer it's untreated the worse it gets - the Herald has spoken to many women who have waited more than 20 years to be diagnosed.
Adenomyosis causes the uterus to thicken and enlarge.
It can cause heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding, severe cramping, pain during sex and blood clots that pass during a period.
Medication can help relieve pain and lessen heavy bleeding but removing the uterus (hysterectomy) is the only known cure.
Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus. Sometimes these tumours become quite large and cause severe abdominal pain and heavy periods. In other cases, they cause no signs or symptoms at all.
The growths are typically non-cancerous. The cause of fibroids is unknown.
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