Men don’t get hot flushes. Men don’t have ovaries. Men don’t have a clue.
I’m sorry to be mean to those of the other sex, but it is so. Ms K, and I are sitting in her living room, chatting, doing non-energetic stitch work. Her method of choice is cross-stitch, I embroider. We’re discussing how useful men are when it comes to understanding how hormones affect us. Which is not at all. At least not our men.
“Why haven’t you put fire on?” asks Mr K, having just returned from his evening out.
“Because we both keep having hot flushes and we’re fine as we are,” we both reply.
My friend is menopausal. I’m younger than her and my menopause should be still some years away, but I’m on Zoladex, a drug they use to treat breast cancer, prostate cancer and endometriosis. I’m having an induced mini-menopause. It means saying goodbye, temporarily at any rate, to periods and hello, however reluctantly, to premature hot flushes.
“Mr K doesn’t get hot flushes,” says Ms K, “he just doesn’t understand the urgency of it.”
“It’s hard”, I say, “I wake up in the middle of the night, waiting for it to happen. And then suddenly I’m burning! It’s instant. I’m fine one second, and then my skin is burning, and I’m on fire. I have to get my duvet off me pronto before it becomes unbearable. Then I have to wait for it to pass so that I can cover myself, as once it passes, I’m freezing.” I roll my eyes. She sighs in a silent agreement and looks down to count her crosses.
“I just don’t understand why you can’t just ‘let it pass’,” shouts Mr K from his little study.
My friend and I look at each other and simultaneously roll our eyes. She snickers. We both ignore him. What does he know, right?
“Does your start in your tummy?” she asks, “My sister’s, like mine, start in the tummy.”
Mine don’t. I suppose every woman’s experience is slightly different. Mr K goes to fetch us some water. When he re-enters the room, I’m having one! I can see panic on Mr K’s face as he realises what’s happening. I’m waving myself furiously with my embroidery hoop in a futile attempt to extinguish the fire inside me. Mr K tries to be supportive by fetching me my fan. He finds it. He fans me.
“You can’t ‘let it pass,’” I say after the statutory 2-4 minutes – typical duration of a hot flush – “It’s just so intensive! I think it’s different because the source of the heat is from within, not from outside, and you can’t control it. It’s very disconcerting.”
“Why does it happen in the first place?” ponders Ms K, “What is the actual point? What is it meant to do?”
“No idea.” I reply.
“Did I tell you about my onesie?” she asks.
I give her a vague look.
“Oh, I bought it in Asda. It’s great. I look like a sheep in it.” she enthuses.
My look of vagueness metamorphoses into a look of concern.
“So this one time, I put it on, went downstairs and immediately got a hot flush. I couldn’t wait to undress so I just ran outside through the front door to cool down. I couldn’t go back it for fear of fainting from overheating, and I couldn’t undress outside for fear of my neighbours seeing me naked. So I just sat there, not knowing what to do.”
My body’s shaking with laughter. My friend is mad.
“What did you do?” I ask
“I had to wait for it to pass. Mr K was highly amused when he saw me, sitting on the porch in the dark when he came back from work.”
“Never!” I said, narrowing my eyes at Mr K.
“More wine?” asks Mr K.
We both nod. Men don’t get hot flushes, but they do get us. And it feels a bit easier because I’ve shared the story of my suffering and somebody understands very well one aspect of it. I don’t feel quite as isolated, quite so alone with it all.
The precise understanding of the condition is not all. Sometimes it’s about acknowledging that you don’t understand and supporting the sufferer through it nevertheless.
I’m quite glad that, unlike my friend’s, my hot flushes will stop soon, once my course of injections is finished. I never told tell her that, because gloat as much as I’d like, I know that sooner or later, they’ll come back. And it’s no laughing matter.
Women tend to be self-conscious when they experience hot flushes. Mine are not easily visible, some women’s are.
I say, find yourself a friend, and have a little joke at the expense of your suffering. In your face, hot flushes, I say, you shall not be the conqueror of me.