Sick and ignored: The tough life of a boarder

Menstrual periods

What remains of concern is just how much menstrual disorders are downplayed in society.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • One morning, Courtney woke up to a soiled bed.
  • She had bled so much, her clothes and sheets were a mess.
  • Tests done revealed she was moderately anaemic, having lost blood steadily for five weeks.

Courtney* loved swimming. She had swam for her school team since she was 10. She couldn’t wait to join high school and swim in the league of big girls.

When she wasn’t swimming, she was fighting with her twin brother Christian* over the remote, the last banana in the kitchen or their mother’s phone.

Sylvia* watched them with mixed feelings as they goofed around on the last week before going off to high school. It had been a long 13 years for her. The twins had lost their dad at only six to a road accident and parenting by herself had not been easy.

Now they were growing up and mum was ready for some peace and quiet around the house but she was also aware of how lonely it was going to be.

She also worried about how they would survive apart for the first time in their lives. Dropping them to school was easier for the twins than for mum but she put on a brave face and drove back home to the dreaded silence. Even the cat was quiet as she shared a silent dinner with the nanny. This was their new normal.

New changes

Courtney settled in well and quickly joined the school’s swim team. She was so busy making new friends and settling into the new routine that she did not notice she had missed her period.

She had started her menses at 11 and after a few months, they had settled into a regular 26-day cycle, bleeding for only three days. During half-term, she mentioned it in passing when mum asked if she needed to restock her supply of sanitary towels. They figured the new changes had affected her cycle and she would settle in gradually.

The second half of the term was more intense in swimming team training with multiple galas on the weekends. Two weeks after half term, Courtney’s period started and she was unable to swim as she did not use tampons. She was excused from the pool but the coach insisted she had to stay in top form by skipping rope, jogging and stretching while others swam.

A week later, Courtney was still bleeding, which was unusual for her, but she figured the disruptions were still normal. After missing swimming for two weeks, the coach sent her to the school nurse. The nurse reassured her and gave her some pills to take for five days. The pills helped. Courtney was happy to get back into the water.

The day after completing her medication, the bleeding was back. A bewildered Courtney headed back to the nurse. Over the next few weeks, she’d take pills to stop bleeding and it would resume immediately she stopped.

Moderately anaemic

One morning, Courtney woke up to a soiled bed. She had bled so much, her clothes and sheets were a mess. She was distraught. She asked the nurse to call her mum and inform her of what was happening. She knew her mum would come for her and take her to hospital, but this did not happen.

Sadly, the nurse was dismissive and told her this was common in girls her age and would settle down if only she stopped worrying.

Courtney stopped visiting the nurse and continued to bleed in silence. She could no longer sleep comfortably for fear of soiling her bed hence was unable to concentrate in class. She felt tired and listless and stopped showing up for her workouts at the poolside. She was counting the days to the end of the school term so that she could go home.

Her coach noticed her absence and summoned her. She did not tolerate absenteeism. She was immediately concerned when she saw Courtney.

The coach broke the protocol that evening and called Courtney’s mother and asked her to go to school the next day. She was brought straight to my office, pale and nervous. Tests done revealed she was moderately anaemic, having lost blood steadily for five weeks. The taps were still running.

She had to be admitted for two days for blood transfusion to enable her rejoin classes as soon as possible to sit her end of term examinations. She responded well to hormonal treatment and her bleeding stopped. Thankfully, this was a temporary upset and Courtney is back to full form and winning medals for her team.

What remains of concern is just how much menstrual disorders are downplayed in society. Had it not been the quick action of the coach, Courtney would probably have been rushed to the emergency room after weeks of raising the alarm to no avail. In the boarding school environment, are we doing enough to ensure the girls are safe?


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