A menopausal ramble in West Lothian
Autumn is a wonderful walking season. The colours are stunning, the air clear, so I ventured all the way to West Lothian and the Almondell and Calderwood Country Park. After an abortive start in Mid Calder where the path was shut, I parked in the North Car Park at the end of the B8020 south of Broxburn. Unfortunately, there are no direct public transport links, but the X27 runs from St Andrew’s House to East and Mid Calder - from where you can walk.
The Country Park clings to the side of the River Almond as it winds its way to the Forth at Cramond, along part of the 16 mile Shale Trail, a walking and cycling route that pays testament to Scotland’s Oil Rush, now celebrated in the Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry in Livingston (I had absolutely no idea!).
It was my first walk in ages and as I stepped out, I wondered how much of a walk I’d manage. You see, for most of this year I have struggled with what I now know to be ‘crashing fatigue’ - an unbearable exhaustion that suddenly overwhelms the body. The crash occurred after every walk and recovery took two days.
Blood tests showed nothing. ‘Pacing myself’ didn’t help. Eating more protein increased my weight. Drinking more, simply led to peeing more. And then, one day on Zoom, a friend mentioned that she’d had the same problem whilst walking the dog. The solution? Hormone Replacement Therapy.
I knew I was menopausal, but I was over the hot flushes thanks to four acupuncture sessions with Anu Sharma at Soma in Leith. I was also of the opinion that HRT should only be taken if your symptoms were so debilitating as to be adversely affecting your life but now I realise: That is incorrect, and it was adversely affecting my life.
So I watched Davina McCall’s Sex, Myths and the Menopause, available on Channel 4 catch-up, and checked out Dr Louise Newson’s website and bought her book.
Then I did something I never thought a good socialist would do, I booked a private consultation – a 10 minute telephone chat with my GP would not be sufficient to answer all my questions and the Menopause Clinic at Chalmers is reserved for ‘complicated’ cases, with a wait of over nine months for a mere telephone call.
On the recommendation of another friend, I booked a 45 minute Zoom session with a menopause specialist in Devon, at a cost of £120 (cheap if it cured me, inaccessible for most). She was great. We went through my long list of symptoms, from those I thought were just a consequence of ageing – loss of memory and concentration – to those I suspected were figments of my hypochondriac imagination, electric shocks in the hands and feet.
She identified them all as potential symptoms of menopause. More importantly, she validated my feelings and I cried. We agreed a strategy, she wrote to my GP and, armed with both information and an opinion, I booked my telephone call.
And that is when I hit the political block. Utrogestan, is the only body-identical progesterone available on the market. Unfortunately, in Scotland, it is not on the prescribing list. Some Health Boards in Scotland may prescribe it but the Lothians is not one of them. And, although ‘cancer risk’ is mentioned, it seems strange that the risk was evidenced in some regions of Scotland but not at all in England.
I think it’s more of a money thing, in England they pay for their prescriptions whereas Scotland’s prescriptions are free. Meaning that some more expensive drugs may be kept off our prescribing list. Like, for instance, Utrogestan.
Whether or not body-identical progesterone is better, we deserve to know, and deserve to have national access just like our English brethren.
In August, the Scottish Government launched the Women’s Health Plan, the first such scheme in the UK. It includes a list of 66 actions, encompassing menopause, heart health, sexual health, menstrual health and endometriosis. Great news then, but time will tell whether women on the ground experience a real difference.
Menopausal women are leaving their jobs because they feel they can’t cope, or being prescribed anti-depressants, when the issue is actually hormone levels. Women continue to suffer in agony for years with endometriosis. The booking and queuing system at Chalmers is an exercise in public humiliation. These issues need to be addressed in the real world, not just on paper.
I managed six beautiful miles that day before my legs gave way. Walking is important to me. It aids my physical and mental well being, and that extra lockdown stone (on top of my too-many-snacks-stone) won’t shift if I take it easy on the couch.
But I feel fairly confident that in week eight of the patches, I am on the right track. In fact I am pretty much convinced that by Christmas I will be a size ten, running in the next Edinburgh marathon and appearing on Mastermind.
Or perhaps I’ll just have learned how to walk again.
Info: The Women’s Health Plan can be found at www.gov.scot. Dr Louise Newson at www.balance-menopause.com and www.westlothian.gov.uk (for Almondell)
Almondell and Calderwood Country Park