Natalie Bricker remembered her menstrual cramps first became really painful for her during her senior year in high school.
“I thought it was normal because my mom had the same thing,” she said. “It was an, ‘I dealt with it, you have to deal with it’ kind of thing.”
Starting with her gynecologist, Natalie visited a series of doctors to try and figure out why she was in pain. Even after being put on medication and birth control pills to help mediate the pain, nothing was working for her. Natalie’s physician also sent her to a vulvar specialist, who performed a laparoscopy to confirm endometriosis.
When the specialist couldn’t find any evidence of endometriosis, Natalie felt like she was at a dead end. Her long journey to find a solution to end her pain had lasted years, and hadn’t given her any answers. She was still having lower back pain, bladder and bowel pain—which included a persistent burning sensation when urinating. She frequently felt the need to urinate even though her bladder was empty. Intercourse was also painful for her.
“From tensing my muscles to get rid of the pelvic pain, my pudendal nerve ended up flaring up and I had tingling down to my feet,” Natalie said.
Natalie’s Type 1 diabetes further obscured a proper diagnosis, causing some doctors to mistake her symptoms for diabetic neuropathy—a complication of diabetes that can include damaged nerves in the hands and feet.
“Unfortunately, with diabetes, it’s always the first thing doctors want to blame. I’ve learned to not accept that,” she said.
Natalie first heard of Reproductive Associates of Delaware (RAD) on the radio. Natalie and her husband had been talking about having kids, so the name stuck. Searching online, she found a page about Dr. McGuirk and chronic pain on RAD’s website, which resonated with her. She was interested enough in RAD to discuss going there with her husband—but at the last minute, she reconsidered making the appointment.
“I scared myself out of it, so I didn’t come,” Natalie said. “That was two years ago. I really wish I had come then instead of waiting.”
‘I’m telling you-you do have endometriosis’
Two years later, Natalie still hadn’t found answers for her chronic pain. She remembered RAD, and decided she would schedule an appointment with Dr. Barbara McGuirk. When meeting Dr. McGuirk, Natalie said she was very open to listening to her.
“She’s so sure about everything, which is great,” she said. “I trusted her from the very beginning. It takes a lot for me to trust a doctor.”
Dr. McGuirk listened to Natalie’s story and immediately thought she had endometriosis—a diagnosis in stark contrast to the one Natalie’s vulvar specialist had given her. But Dr. McGuirk wasn’t convinced, and scheduled Natalie for a hysteroscopy and laparoscopy at the Delaware Outpatient Center for Surgery (DOCS).
“She said, ‘You do—I’m telling you, you do [have endometriosis],’” Natalie said.
Natalie said she was nervous before surgery, but also was excited to find a doctor who was willing to listen to her.
“I finally found someone who cares, who wasn’t going to pass me along to someone else,” she said.
During surgery, Dr. McGuirk found several issues that ultimately contributed to Natalie’s pain. After surgery, when Dr. McGuirk was describing how she placed the organs in her uterine cavity back into normal alignment, Natalie remembered being amazed at just how much Dr. McGuirk had done.
“My bladder was higher than it should have been. My intestines were basically glued to the walls, and my ureters were kinked,” Natalie said. “And that was causing my lower back pain.”
At DOCS, Natalie said the staff was knowledgeable and kind, and she didn’t feel rushed out the door after surgery.
“I was really impressed by the surgical center. They take care of you. Their facility is really great, the nurses are great; they know what’s going on,” she said. “They know how to make you feel comfortable. And they know how to give you support.”
Making a Decision Early
It took a few weeks to fully feel the benefit of surgery, but Natalie is slowly feeling like her old self. She said she’s able to return to her job and be active again.
“I felt like a normal person again. It was to the point where my lower back pain was affecting my job,” she said. “I work with kids who have autism, so I’m constantly up and down, up and down, up and down.”
Dr. McGuirk prescribed Lupron and estrogen for Natalie to help prevent the endometriosis and pelvic pain from returning.
Although her lower back pain is gone, Natalie said she is still in pain from her body overcompensating from tensing her muscles, and is currently seeing a physical therapist. She said she wants people to know that there may be some work to do after surgery.
Overall, Natalie said her only regret is waiting too long to make her appointment with Dr. McGuirk.
“I really wish I had come instead of waiting. I feel like the pain that I’m in now could have been prevented had I come to see her.”
“Don’t wait. It’s so important that once you’re in pain, you figure out what’s going on and to work through it,” she said, “Otherwise, it’s just going to get worse and worse.”