188 GP visits to get the right diagnosis

Michelle Sutherland.
Michelle Sutherland.

At 43, Michelle Sutherland’s ongoing ordeal is one made infinitely worse by the knowledge that it took more than a decade and a half to diagnose.

The anguish of missed opportunities among the 188 visits to her GPs over the years is something that haunts her still.

“When I was about 15 or 16 I started an apprenticeship as a hairdresser,” she says. “Everyone noticed in the salon how much I was sweating, so I kept going to the doctors.

“Eventually, 188 visits later to the GP, I was finally diagnosed with full menopause in 2009.”

The impact on Michelle was devastating. Knowing that it had happened to her as early as her teens, but her visits to medical professionals had often ended in her being dismissed.

“They were testing me for years, and they never tested me correctly once.

“Basically the GPs just don’t know how to deal with that at all. They kept saying it could never have been the menopause because of my age.

“I never had any periods for a few months, so I was put on the pill to try and regulate it but it disguised the symptoms.

“I was suicidal. I felt quite lost, and just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

“I knew I felt really ill, but doctors were even sending me away with pamphlets about sweating too much, and just not taking it seriously at all.”

But it was years after she first visited her GP, she found out the truth.

“I eventually came off it at about 27 years old to try for a baby with my partner.

“I was supposed to start IVF that day. The whole time they were looking through my blood tests at the hospital, and I went in for IVF and they told me ‘you can’t do it because you’ve no eggs at all’.

“I was absolutely broken. I just stayed in. From that day I never left my house for nine months.

“I gave up my job, I was so depressed.”

But after trying to come to terms with it all, Michelle found help online, contacting others who had been through a similar ordeal.

“It’s been an absolute lifesaver. I’ve been able to deal with my anxiety a lot better and able to get out a lot more and feel like a normal person now that I know there are so many people in the same position.

“I thought it was basically me and I was left to it.”

However, having lived through the ordeal and researched the condition extensively, Michelle also takes pleasure in being able to use that knowledge and experience to help others.

“It’s definitely helped, being able to reach out and help if someone asks a question, and you know the answer – it really makes you feel better.

“I’m able to help other people now, which is brilliant because I’ve done a lot of research myself.”

Now, with a little help, Michelle has been blessed with a daughter.

“They told me I’d have to go on a waiting list for about three years to try and get an egg donor. It’s a rare thing to get an egg donor.

“I had one attempt that failed, and then another four years later I got my second attempt, and I have my wee daughter now.”

Michelle says egg donors can really help make dreams come true.

“Most people are completely amazed when I tell them.

“I don’t think a lot of people realise that they can donate their eggs. It’s a rare thing to get an egg donor.

And while life is improving, Michelle feels that better training can help make it easier for GPs to get the right diagnosis.

“I’m definitely more positive now, because I’ve learned to be able to deal with it on my own.

“With the news that I’d got an egg donor, and I have my daughter, my life just changed.

“Some people don’t get that chance.

“I can’t say anything about GPs, they have a really hard job, but I don’t think they have enough training to deal with anything like that.

“It really upset me going through all that. I’ve seen about five GPs and none of them have been able to treat me or figure it out.

“I’m still sweating, it’s unreal. I have to stand with a fan on at work, but all my clients are very supportive.”