Australia is currently weathering what Senator Derryn Hinch has told the ABC is “one of the biggest medical scandals Australian women have ever been subjected to” after a government report found that 10,000 to 15,000 people incurred serious side effects after receiving transvaginal mesh implants.
Transvaginal mesh is a net-like implant inserted into the body to prevent pelvic organ prolapse (POP), or to put it another way, to keep the uterus, bladder, and rectum from sliding out of place or into the vagina.
According to the American Urogynecological Society, pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs in about half of women ages 50 to 79, whether because of age, injury to the pelvic floor (like from a vaginal birth, surgery, or fractures to the back and pelvic bones), chronic straining, smoking, nerve and muscle diseases, menopause, or other reasonably common factors.
The report comes a year after hundreds of Australian women joined in a complaint to the Senate, according to CNN. In the complaint, women alleged that transvaginal mesh caused them extreme health complications, and that doctors overused it as treatment without sufficiently informing their patients of the consequences, or exploring other routes.
In its report, the Senate says it now wants to see mesh used as a “last resort.” These 11 stories—all submissions received by the Parliament of Australia—illustrate why.
1. “It’s just pain, pain, and more pain merely to exist.”
“My life has been impacted in every way. I am in constant pain, so I cannot do what I used to do, and I must lie down horizontally every hour or so because the pain becomes unbearable. I have experienced bleeding, constant bowel and urination pain, and insomnia every night; I cannot sleep because I am in so much pain. I have always been very active, going to gym, walking, cycling, but everything is very limited now. Every movement hurts. I used to be sexually active prior to this, but now I absolutely cannot. It’s just pain, pain, and more pain to merely exist.” —Stella Channing
2. “I can’t sit upright in a chair for longer than 15 minutes at a time.”
“I was told by my implanting surgeon that I would be back at the gym within 10 days post-implant procedure and that I would be like a 16-year-old virgin after the implants. To this day, I can’t sit upright on a chair for longer than 15 minutes at a time due to the searing pain that travels across my lower abdomen and deep into my pelvis… It took a good 14 weeks, not 10 days, post implant before I was able to get out of bed and walk again. I still, to this very day, experience the same burning pain, even after the removal of both meshes. I describe my pain as being cut open and set alight. It’s a deep, burning, searing ache that intensifies with movement.” — Joann
3. “A piece of plastic was hanging out of my vagina”
“Add to this my personal experience of trying to teach full time with a piece of plastic hanging out of an open wound in my vagina for the last three months. I can assure you that it was not just an inconvenience or a trivial or superficial incident.” — Fiona
4. “It felt like barbed wire inside me … I grieved my sex life for a long time.”
“The first time we tried to have intercourse it felt like barbed wire inside me. My husband could also feel the mesh. This [came] as a massive shock as my professor had told me I would be like a new woman after childbirth everything would be tighter. I grieved for my sex life for a long time as my husband and I had only been married 6 months.” —name withheld
5. “My life revolved around being close to a toilet.”
“I was completely bladder incontinent, bowel incontinent; I couldn’t have sexual intercourse. I continuously had bladder infections. I developed chronic thrush because of it. I was sick for years. My life revolved around having extra clothes, pads, being close to a toilet and hoping to God that when I had a shower my bowels wouldn’t release themselves on me. That was my life.” —Timnat
6. “I noticed a smell that I described as rotting flesh.”
“By 3 months post-op I was getting pain in my vagina, bleeding and there was mesh eroding out through the side of my Vagina, I noticed a smell that I described as rotting flesh, I went to my GP, who thought I had a fistula and sent me back to my specialist for review. I saw him and he said it was just a small hiccup, he would ‘snip’ the small bit of mesh out in his surgery, and he did OMG, it hurt so much and I left, with him telling me to take a couple of Panadol and I would feel ok. This went on for a couple of years, with 4 major surgeries for mesh erosion and multiple trims in his rooms. I was assured this was not very common.” —name withheld
7. “Making love was like sleeping with a cheese grater.”
“My husband began complaining that making love to me was like sleeping with a cheese grater. His penis would be cut when we had intercourse. The pain and embarrassment made me anxious, sick and depressed.” —name withheld
8. “I was unable to do normal things without debilitating pain and fatigue.”
“I dragged myself to work each day and on weekends I was bedridden. I was unable to do normal things like shopping, cooking and housework without debilitating pain and fatigue. My relationship with my family, friends suffered as I could not handle social activities. Not being able to care for my new grandson broke my heart. Surfing was impossible and walking the dogs or doing other light physical exercise was just too painful.” —name withheld
9. “I have spent tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for treatment.”
“I cannot work because of my medical issues, which has caused financial problems. The costs for treatment for my pain and other symptoms is ongoing. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for treatment, after private health insurance claims. My last surgery cost $8000+ out of pocket.” —name withheld
10. “I now rely on medication so I can smile at my children.”
“I have attempted to keep my physical and emotional pain from the ones that I love, and I’ve pushed on through so hard so I always get back on track, back to being the mum that I always was and the hardworking woman I strive to be. Others cannot believe I’d end up broken, but I am. I suffer with post-traumatic stress, huge anxiety and I have recently accepted that, yes, depression is real. I now rely on medication so I can smile at my children, look at my husband and remind him of why he married me. I can’t attend work anymore. I am no longer able to pretend that I am okay. The pain slowly kills your soul.” —Harriet
11. “I have pawned my wedding rings, jewellery.”
“The surgery cost [for mesh removal] is $9,600 which I haven’t got yet but have pawned my wedding rings, jewellery, set up a crowdfunding page and asked my children for money to help as I am determined to have it as I need this product out of me before it causes more damage. My three children live in the United States so going through all this on my own has been very stressful.” —name withheld
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US
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