Artist-Turned-Patient Donates Painted Guitars to Raise Funds for Women’s Health
Michelle Piscitani will never forget the day she sat in a doctor’s office in Washington, DC, where she reported troubling symptoms and disabling pain.
She was in her 20s, frightened and functioning at about 30 percent capacity.
But the doctor simply patted her on the back and said, “you’re fine. Just let me know when you’re ready to have a baby, and we’ll talk.”
For 12 years, Michelle sought a diagnosis. All the while, the pain persisted, radiating through her pelvis, leaving her bedridden for entire days. She passed blood clots the size of golf balls. She was exhausted from blood loss. She feared she might have cancer.
Today, Michelle’s symptoms — and pain — are substantially better, thanks to the Chronic Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis Center at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Out of gratitude for her care, Michelle, who is a commission artist, custom painted two guitars that will be auctioned off as part of the Women Who Rock concert benefiting Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). Researchers at MWRI, who include Michelle’s doctor, Nicole Donnellan, MD, are working every day to find better answers and treatment options for all women.
The incident in that doctor’s office in 2016 was far from the first time Michelle had felt dismissed. She knew what she was experiencing wasn’t normal, but no matter how many times she consulted a physician, she heard the same refrain: you’re fine. You’re young and healthy. This is all just part of womanhood.
Furious, Michelle decided to start expanding her search for help. After connecting online with other women who experienced similar symptoms, she began making a checklist of criteria for her ideal doctor: a surgeon specializing in endometriosis; if possible, someone who had completed a fellowship.
Eventually, Michelle — who had relocated to the Pittsburgh area — found Dr. Donnellan. It seemed like the answer she’d sought for so long.
“I kind of pleaded with the scheduling person,” Michelle said. She told the scheduler: “I can’t function anymore. I am begging you to get me in.”
It was a refrain Dr. Donnellan and other clinical staff at the center have heard all too often.
“Listening, from the get go, is key,” Donnellan said, because so many patients have been told their pain is normal and have felt unheard.
Such was the case with Michelle, who brought her husband, Matt, to the appointment, too.
“It was a total change of environment and feeling. It was like she knew exactly how to talk to us. There was no feeling of gaslighting,” she recalled of Dr. Donnellan. “It was the biggest weight off my chest. I was heard.”
After an MRI and ultrasound, Michelle underwent surgery to remove endometriosis lesions from her ovaries, bowels, bladder, and outside of her cervix. Endometriosis is a condition in which the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus in other parts of the pelvis.
After the procedure, Dr. Donnellan sat Matt down and explained what she had found and how Michelle might feel while she was recovering.
“It was a simple thing, but it was so relieving,” Michelle said.
Best of all, her symptoms improved dramatically. Today, she functions at about 70 percent capacity, and her quality of life has improved dramatically.
“Our goal is to make you in control of your pain, instead of your pain being in control of you,” Dr. Donnellan said.
For Michelle, it was empowering to finally be heard: “To all the girls out there suffering in silence: pain is not normal,” she said. “Listen to your body and fight for your health, talk openly and fearlessly about all the embarrassing details so we can end the stigma.”
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