Journey to a Hysterectomy: The Big Day and Afterwards

Content Warning: Discussion of female anatomy, in graphic and unpleasant detail. Discussion of gynecological problems, in graphic and unpleasant detail. Description of medical abuse. Ableism, sexism, ageism, all of which are internalized, active, and institutional. Reminder: I refer to these things as “content warnings” rather than “trigger warnings,” because I do not take responsibility for the mental health of my readers, some of whom I do not know well. I have listed the warnings that jumped out at me, but I may have missed something. I do not take responsibility for knowing the inside of anyone’s mind other than my own. Also, all experiences are mine and mine alone, and may not be suitable for generalizing to any larger group.

The morning of my surgery, Friday morning, we drove to the hospital with “The Final Countdown” blasting through open windows. I cried with happiness.

Upon checking in, the hospital scanned in my advance directive, and entered in the information from my medical ID necklace, since I would have to take it off for the surgery.

Okay, a bit of a digression here, for information purposes. If you don’t have an advance directive, you can make one fairly easily. Most states have standard forms for them, through your state bar association or through your state board of health. A quick Google search should turn it up. Make sure you’re using the latest version of whatever form is available; I actually rewrote mine in the days before my surgery, because I had been using a form from 2007, and even though the information hadn’t changed, I wanted to make sure it was in the most up to date format, which was a form from 2015. Also, if you can, take the time to go over with your selected agent everything that’s in your directive; make sure that they have a chance to ask you questions, and write the answers into your directive. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’s like having 911 available on your phone: you hope you’ll never need it, but do you really want a phone without the capability?

Also, medical ID bracelets and necklaces. American Medical ID makes excellent quality ID bracelets and necklaces with lots of space for information. They also offer, for a one-time fee, integration with Integrated Health Records, a service that lets you upload a huge amount of information to a website that health providers can access, but only you can alter. This includes the ability to upload a copy of your advance directive, insurance information, allergies, medical history, contact information, and a boatload of other stuff. If you’re like me, and have more important information than will easily fit on a piece of jewelry, it’s good to have something like this so people can access it.

Alright, back to the surgery day.

My husband was allowed back with me into the room where I changed into the hospital gown, and then there was a constant stream of people coming through.

First a set of nurses going over my information as listed in the computer, including my medication allergies, history of seizures, risk of falling, and other information. They added fall risk and allergy alert wristbands to the hospital wristband I already had.

Then a set of nurses giving me an IV. They were wonderful in seeing to my comfort, covering me with warm blankets. They also put on a set of leg wraps that would prevent blood clots during the surgery.

Then another nurse to give me a scopolamine anti-nausea patch, since I’ve had nausea issues with anesthesia before.

The anesthesiologist came to talk to me, and we went over my history, including my anxieties about anesthesia (one of my greatest fears in the world is surgical awareness). I’ve had issues with dental surgery, with anesthesia cutting out very suddenly mid-procedure, so we went over that. She went over with me exactly what I would experience leading up to the surgery: first they would give me a sedative that would relax me, and also might make me forgetful of the next period of time (this varies from patient to patient). They would then take me to the operating room, where I would be positioned for surgery, and they would make sure that the position for surgery was okay for my back. Then they would administer the anesthesia, and I would speak a countdown from ten, or at least as far as I could get before falling asleep.

My gynecologist/surgeon came to talk to me, to go over the surgical procedure itself one more time, making sure I was clear on everything, and making sure I had no more questions going into the procedure.

Then everybody at once came back, made sure I was all ready to go, and they gave me the sedative. After that, I only remember flashes of going down the hallway, a brief flash inside the operating room, and then waking up in the bed after the surgery.

In retrospect, I should have known I was going to have problems with anesthesia from the moment I woke up, but I was really woozy from the anesthesia, and not really in a position to self-advocate.

It’s true that one incident does not make data, or a pattern. When I had my gall bladder out in 2007, I had all sorts of nausea issues, but we weren’t sure what their origin was: it could have been the fact that I was recovering from surgery on my digestive system; it could have been a reaction to the anesthesia; it could have been the infection I developed after the surgery. Now, after this surgery, we know that my body does not like anesthesia, and I need to stay an extra night in the hospital, no matter how fine I seem.

We didn’t know that yet.

I woke up shaking like a leaf, but otherwise doing great. The nurses helped me sit up to a position where I was breathing better, but I had a slight rattle in my lungs. I was given a spirometer, to breathe in and out. I would take this home with me that afternoon. It hurt, naturally, to breathe in that deeply right after surgery, but I did it anyway, which impressed the nurses. Apparently a lot of people don’t expect breathing to hurt – it’s something I’ve lived with so long, it didn’t even phase me. My pain levels were already, even directly after the surgery, lower than normal. I was just incredibly sleepy, and having a lot of trouble staying conscious.

The nurses helped me move from the bed to a reclining chair. I fell asleep again several times, and eventually woke up to my husband sitting by my side. I spent a long time in the recovery area, and once or twice he switched out with my father, who had turned up in case we needed him.

Eventually it came time to deal with the question of whether or not I should go ahead and go home. I felt woozy enough that I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but apparently that was normal. I felt fine, other than that – better than I had in a long time before the surgery. So a nurse helped me to a wheelchair, and helped me to the car, and my husband drove me home, where I slept for pretty much the rest of the day.

The next day, I felt great when I got up, but the scopolamine patch had tangled in my hair, and it came off when I brushed my hair. I think that was the start of the problems.

I had been scheduled to go out to dinner with my father and stepmom on Saturday, but that was canceled when I projectile vomited very suddenly, about a half hour later. I spent most of the rest of that afternoon sitting on the bathroom floor, throwing up all the liquid and the few solids I’d ingested that day and the previous. I threw up until there was nothing left, and then brought up bile. We called my gynecologist, who called in a prescription for anti-nausea suppositories.

I lasted through that night and most of the following day, but it became apparent that the Phenergan suppositories weren’t lasting long enough by a long shot, and weren’t effective enough, so back to the hospital I went, on Sunday.

At this point, I was also in some serious pain, because vomiting causes all sorts of muscle contractions that don’t mesh well with abdominal surgery, and I couldn’t keep down any medications, including my normal medications for my usual conditions, so absolutely everything was flaring up. They gave me fluids, Toradol, Phenergan, and Zofran, intravenously, and that helped immediately. It was determined, after several hours at the emergency room, that I should stay the night at the hospital. My pain medications were switched from Toradol to Dilaudid, which I had never taken before but which I certainly found effective.

I went home the next morning with more suppositories and with Zofran pills as well, and instructions to alternate the two, and also a new scopolamine patch, this time covered with medical tape to prevent a similar mishap to the previous one.

Most of the last week has passed in a bit of a blur; all three anti-nausea medications cause sleepiness, and between the three I’ve spent the vast majority of the time unconscious, but I suppose it’s what I’ve needed to recover. I went gradually from three anti-nausea medications to two to one, and was able to go back on my normal medications as well. My incisions have healed up nicely. There are no stitches; they used a surgical adhesive instead, since the cuts are so small. They’ve started to itch slightly, in the way that cuts do when they are healing, but it’s ignorable.

My pain levels are amazingly low. There’s still some abdominal pain, because I’m still healing from surgery. Surgery hurts, obviously. But the pain that’s there is so much less than the everyday pain I experienced from my ovaries and uterus, and it’s not pain that radiates through my back and hips and legs. This is already an improvement in my quality of life, and it’s only going to get better from here. It doesn’t fix everything, but it sure does make a difference.

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Journey to a Hysterectomy: The Final Week

Content Warning: Discussion of female anatomy, in graphic and unpleasant detail. Discussion of gynecological problems, in graphic and unpleasant detail. Description of medical abuse. Ableism, sexism, ageism, all of which are internalized, active, and institutional. Reminder: I refer to these things as “content warnings” rather than “trigger warnings,” because I do not take responsibility for the mental health of my readers, some of whom I do not know well. I have listed the warnings that jumped out at me, but I may have missed something. I do not take responsibility for knowing the inside of anyone’s mind other than my own. Also, all experiences are mine and mine alone, and may not be suitable for generalizing to any larger group.

The ten days before the surgery were rough.

As a disabled person, I rely on a number of treatments of different types, ranging from prescriptions to over the counter medications to holistic and herbal treatments, to keep myself able to complete even the most basic tasks. Unfortunately, a lot of those turned out to be restricted to one degree or another for the ten days before my operation.

I had to stop taking my over the counter painkillers, which were already the fallback from my insurance recently refusing to cover my prescription painkillers anymore.

I was not allowed to drink tea – and teas of various kinds have been an important part of my healthcare.

At five days before the surgery, I had to start showering with a very strong antibacterial soap called Hibiclens, which is one of the kinds of soap used by surgeons to wash up before operations. It felt vaguely like I was washing my skin off, even though I wasn’t having any of my very common allergic reactions.

At three days before the surgery, I had to start using vaginal douche solution. Even after warming it with my hands, it was cold enough that the process left me shivering for over an hour.

The day before the surgery, I was restricted to a liquid diet. I drank a lot of Gatorade, and had meals of straight chicken broth.

The night before the surgery, I had to use a laxative enema, to ensure that there was the maximum amount of room in my abdominal cavity, so that my gynecologist (who was also my surgeon) would have less risk of puncturing anything that wasn’t supposed to be punctured. This was about as unpleasant and gross as I expected, but at least didn’t last very long.

Altogether, I spent the last ten days waiting for the surgery feeling abraded inside and out, and the fact that I had been off of my birth control pills for a month at that point also meant that I was essentially in a constant state of PMS for the entire time.

Then my very last period hit, in the last week before the surgery. It became apparent that, while the pills were certainly not doing what they were supposed to in terms of regulating my cycle and making my periods bearable, they were still helping, because that was a bad one. I bled incredibly fast, for a long time. My cramps were absolutely awful, and I was pretty much bedridden for those five days. I was concerned more than once that I would have to go to the emergency room because of the speed at which I was bleeding, but it didn’t quite come to that.

(I think I unnerved my husband at least once, when he heard me yelling at my own reproductive system. “Do your worst, bitch. This is your last chance.”)

I had a lot of instructions, and I followed them to the letter. I also pretty much quarantined myself against disease. I have a depressed immune system, and if I became ill in the week before my surgery, it could be canceled. So every time I planned to see someone socially, I checked to see if they were feeling well, and if not, I apologetically put them off. Fortunately, my friends are awesome and understanding, and they realized how much I could not afford to risk this.

The night before my surgery, I was finally allowed to take painkillers, to have some of them in my system at the time of surgery. Because my surgery was at 7:30, I had to arrive at the hospital at 5:30, which meant getting up around 4am. I decided it was pretty much not worth going to bed. I have a sleep disorder, which means I sleep unpredictably. The day before, I napped at random, as I tend to do, and I napped some that night. I also packed an overnight bag, just in case I wound up staying at the hospital.

I couldn’t have slept if I tried. I was too excited. I have a lot of medical anxiety, from my history, but it was pretty much completely drowned out by my excitement.

Next entry will cover the surgery itself, and the aftermath.