This is personal.
Way more personal than I ever wanted to be online. Ever. But I keep feeling a spiritual nudge to write it, so here goes.
Warning, Possibly TMI.
First, a warning. Gentlemen, and young ladies, this may be way more information than you ever wanted to know about me, specifically, or women’s health issues generally. If you read it and feel awkward afterward, that was your own stupid choice. Now is your chance to go read something else. This is not going to be a salacious post, but it will be honest, and it might make you squirm uncomfortably. Consider yourself warned. Also, I will answer questions posted in the comments here, or via email, or over the phone (if you know me). DO NOT ASK ME THEM AT CHURCH OR THE GROCERY STORE OR MIXED SOCIAL OCCASIONS. All clear?
My physical challenge has been menorrhagia, or heavy periods. In my case, Incredibly Heavy Periods. I went through tampons and maxi pads like the industry was depending on me alone to keep them in business. I had days I didn’t feel safe leaving the house, and I missed out on activities and events I’d very much wanted to be a part of. Essentially every 24 days I wondered if I should take myself to the emergency room, because I was worried I might actually bleed to death. I’ve been very anemic for a long while. For several months I’ve taken Lysteda, a prescription medication designed to cut the bleeding of heavy periods. It worked pretty well, but I didn’t like the side effects of the full dose very much, so I only took half the dose. It still helped a lot, but there were still side effects and I was concerned about what long-term effects there might be, since it seems to be a fairly new drug in the U.S.
I’m writing this because when I went to do my own research about hysterectomies, there just weren’t very many first-hand accounts by other women about their experiences, that I could find (go figure). It was easy to find basic information about hysterectomies, general descriptions of how they were performed, and some really inflammatory and militant websites that decried the “maiming” of women in this way. What I was looking for was some of the basic stuff, sure, but also, some of the personal information. I wanted to understand the potential of how this would affect me.
And so I started digging, and digging, and digging. You know you’re getting serious about research when you dive clear in and pass the 8th page of Google search results and keep going. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have saved many of the links I found that were helpful to me. I found websites saying that unless you had cancer, a hysterectomy was completely unnecessary. A general principle I agreed with but I had no idea how to find a doctor who would both agree and have the skills necessary to conduct a myomectomy, which is the surgical removal of fibroids, preserving fertility (I’m not really worried about my fertility, but someone reading this might be). Also, they can sometimes grow back and I really did not want to go through that.
Anyway, I learned that there are several kinds of hysterectomies, ranging from taking out your uterus, ovaries, and cervix, to taking out only your uterus and leaving everything else intact. I opted for the most minimal, least invasive version, called a laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy with morcellation (if you are really curious, I think there’s a YouTube video – ew – look it up yourself), where only my uterus was removed and everything else was left alone. I have not had any problem with abnormal pap smears or cancer scares in the past, so it seemed best to me to keep as many of my “parts” as I could.
After an initial negative response to my request, Dr. Dots (not his real name) accepted my reasoning based on some of the information I’d learned here: http://www.bandaidhyst.com/, and acknowledged that it didn’t make much sense for him to argue against it, since he got paid the same for what’s basically a much easier surgery for him to do. Besides, what’s a man to say when a woman sits on the exam table and cries for fear of losing a sense of “satisfaction” in her marital relationship? Ahem. The tears were actually related to a physical pain caused by the exam (not common or usual, which made it unexpected, adding to my shock), but hey, if tears work in your favor, use them. I was relieved when he backed off of his objections and I did understand and agree with him that, due to a major abdominal surgery that I’d had when I was 11, circumstances caused by potential adhesions might require a change in my hoped-for plans.
Fortunately for me, everything went great and according to ‘Plan A’. My surgery took somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 hours and I’m now on the road to recovery, although, unlike the website I’ve given you, my doctor insists on a six week recovery time. Ah well, in the end, it’s a small price to pay.
A handful of other tidbits and incidentals that mattered to me, but might not matter to anyone else:
I abhor using narcotic-based drugs. If my pain is not higher than a “7” on the pain scale, I won’t take them. That is not to say that if my pain is below a “7”, I consider it merely incidental and don’t want any relief. However, I was given one option. As long as the IV was in my arm, I could only have IV pain medicine – code for morphine-derived pain med. All I wanted was something like Tylenol or Motrin, but no, I was stuck with the patient-administered drip that I wouldn’t use. Why, you ask? The drip tends to decrease respiration, so they have to put you on supplemental oxygen and monitor your oxygen levels constantly. Just what I need, to neither care, nor remember to breathe. I had one dose immediately after surgery (I think). All I remember is thinking, I don’t really care if I’m breathing enough, just let me sleep. In some part of my brain that was an alarming enough thought that I resolved not to use the drip medication. The other thought I had was that it didn’t reduce the pain much, it just made it easier to lie very still. As a result, I just decided to choose to lie very still.
Unfortunately, my refusing to use the drip didn’t get the IV removed any sooner so that I could take oral, non-narcotic medicine, it just meant that I went the initial 18 hours post-op without any pain relievers at all. This is not necessarily the most optimal situation (sarcastic understatement). So, if you are facing surgery and prefer to avoid narcotics, even in the IV post-op, be sure to discuss it with your doctor ahead of time, so you have options. I can’t help thinking of that Brian Regan comedy sketch that I saw on YouTube:
Ow. It hurts to laugh right now…
Side benefits of refusing narcotics are:
- Reduction and faster resolution of post-operative gas.
- Faster return of appetite and reduction of post-op nausea.
- Less trouble with post-op constipation.
- Higher urine output, possibly due to better toleration of drinking water.
- Faster decrease in dizziness.
- Faster reduction in swelling.
- Increased blood oxygen levels.
Negatives for refusing narcotics:
- You will feel crabbier and less patient with things like, “Sorry, the doctor hasn’t authorized any other medication for you until you are off the IV.”
- Possibly more pain.
- You actually care about the quality of the food you are given.
Eleven days post-surgery update
Here is some stuff you might want to plan for ahead of time:
- Have someone who can stay with you for at least the first couple of days post-surgery. You are not going to be very mobile and you won’t want to carry anything that weighs more than your Bible (and I’m not talking about those fat sets of scriptures that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use either). If you have an e-reader, now’s a good time to use it.
- If you have children who need care and attention, you need someone with you for the first week. I promise.
- When the doctor says, “Don’t drive for two weeks,” he means it. Ow.
- Arrange for someone else to do the grocery shopping.
- Eat freezer meals or let someone else cook. Canned soups are helpful also.
- Consider getting some underwear in a size larger to allow for post-surgical gas and swelling. My whole abdomen was sensitive to the touch and this really helped me.
- Along the same lines, buy a couple of nightgowns that you are comfortable to have visitors see you in. You will be living in your nightgown for the first week at least and it’s nice to have one to wear while the other is being washed.
- The value of muumuu dresses has gone up significantly in my eyes. They don’t bind at the waist, I can sit or lie in any position and not flash the world (or my family) with body parts I’d rather not show off to the public.
- This website called Hyster Sisters is wonderful. Those kind ladies have covered almost every question you could ask about hysterectomies, and if they haven’t, you can post yours and someone will answer you.
- Consider getting a post-partum/post surgical abdominal support brace. I don’t have one yet, but I’ve ordered one. They say it can help side sleepers like me get a better night’s sleep when gravity is putting less pressure on the belly. I learned about this at the Hyster Sisters website I mentioned above.
- I found that taking digestive enzymes and a probiotic supplement really helped my digestive tract resume normal functioning very quickly. No need for laxatives. Of course being laxative-free, may have also been a result of being narcotic-free. At any rate, you don’t want to have to make your ab muscles work hard while you are in the bathroom, know what I mean? For me, enzymes and probiotics take care of that just fine.
- Drink lots of water post-surgery. It makes a big difference in recovery. Keep a water bottle near you at all times and drink, drink, drink.
- Drink water. Lots of it.
- Also, remember to drink plenty of water.
winner-winner, veggie dinner 🙂