This is the next installment in the story of why I chose to have a hysterectomy at age 25. Readers who have just arrived will want to click on the “uterus” tag at the bottom of this post to go back to the beginning and read parts one through four to catch up. I’m sharing my story because there are too many women out there in the world with health and fertility issues, and although it seems there are Viagra commercials on almost as often as shills for McDonalds, no one wants to talk about women’s health. Why it’s acceptable to be constantly reminded of flaccid penises but not angry uteruses makes zero sense to me.
Dr. W., the lovely gynecologist who swore he wouldn’t give up until he found a way to help me, played his only hand: the IUD that cranked the burner under my uterus, already simmering with rage, to a full-on boil that reduced my life to rubble many days. I called her Augustine during most of the time she and I were at odds, because she really did remind me of an angry ruler in the middle ages. I was the lowly serf, and she was the bitchy red-headed queen who took herself too seriously and threatened to have me publicly executed if I did even the slightest thing to anger her. It was an ugly stretch of my life that ran close to four years by the time I had her forcibly deposed.
After Dr. W. admitted that he was out of ideas, and I spent a good chunk of my life foggy-headed (and unable to drive) on strong prescription anti-inflammatories and hunkered over because I hurt too much to keep my spine straight, I decided to campaign in earnest for a hysterectomy. Dr. W. told me that he was reluctant to perform the surgery, since it was considered an extreme measure and was exceptionally rare in a woman my age. He explained that during his career, he had only gone ahead with a hysterectomy on one other woman younger than thirty, but that her situation was different than mine because she’d chosen to have two abortions before the surgery; he took this as a sign that she was serious about not having biological children. This information made me livid: I was not less certain about having surgery to end my pain and improve my quality of life than the other woman; I had just lived my life differently and made I’d never faced an unwanted pregnancy. It was yet another point in my journey where my life and choices were compared to other women who had nothing to do with my situation, much like the repeated advice from a line-up of different physicians to have a baby and hope that would help relax my uterus.
Before he’d schedule me for the operation, Dr. W. required that I see the head of women’s surgery at the hospital where he worked (essentially his own supervisor) to gain approval for the procedure. I was fine with that, but I waited nearly another six months for the appointment, during which my pain and cramping remained horrific and my resolve to cut Augustine loose grew stronger.
The head of gynecology and fertility was a very kind man who had obviously been a surgeon for decades upon decades. He explained that in my situation, there were really two options: hysterectomy or painkillers. He had no idea what was wrong with me (which was the only song all the doctors knew) but he was willing to support my decision either way. Managing my pain with medication had not worked to this point, and after reviewing the list of prescriptions I’d tried, he admitted that my only remaining options were narcotic based pain-killers like Vicodin: I explained that I was very concerned about the stress placed on my other organs by the analgesic drugs, and that I wasn’t willing to doom my kidneys or my liver to preserve my uterus. The head of surgery made certain I understood what a hysterectomy meant long-term, and how serious the procedure was, and approved the surgery when he was satisfied that I fully understood the ramifications of my request.
As a last gasp attempt, he also prescribed an anti-inflammatory suppository (ick) that was often used to manage pain after surgery, hopeful that it could be a solution to my problem and I would opt out of the hysterectomy. Without giving too many details that could deter readership, that prescription was a major bust. I “took” one dose, then experienced vision that zoomed in and out like my camera lens, muffled hearing, and vertigo that almost killed me in the shower. Drugs, clearly, were not for me, and I called Dr. W.’s office to schedule the surgery.
I requested a date many months later that would fall close enough to my Christmas break at school to limit the amount of work I would miss while I recovered. Because the date was so far in the future, I was assured the surgery could happen in mid-November, when I wanted it to, and I went painfully on with life, counting down the weeks to freedom.
After a number of months with no word from the hospital, I called the surgery bookings department to find out when my procedure was scheduled, since I needed to make sure my schedule was aligned with the school calendar. I was only in my second year of teaching, and the type of contract I held at the time meant I wouldn’t be paid after my 20th day off, so I needed to ensure my unpaid days were kept to a minimum. The nurse in bookings said the date wasn’t processed way back when I’d requested it, and the earliest they could get me in was late spring. This was the moment when I came unglued. There was no way I could keep working another six or seven months feeling as wretched as I did. She insisted that she couldn’t help me, or sneak me into the range of dates I’d originally asked for, because my condition was not considered serious and I had no priority over other patients.
In October of that year, I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding during a brutally heavy period. If you saw me in my fabulous tangerine dress, smiling away in photos, you wouldn’t have a clue that I was on a double dose of painkillers so I could stand up straight while the day passed in a haze. I remember very little of that wedding, except that I was praying my Diva Cup wouldn’t fail me and wishing I felt well enough to dance. Sadly, what should have been a day of celebration was one of my lowest points during the wait for relief from Augustine.
The day before Halloween, the hospital called to inform me I was scheduled for surgery November 9th. Yes, ten whole days later. It was a jack-o-lantern miracle. I immediately threw myself a party.
Truthfully, the party was for Augustine; I felt it only right to give her a proper send off, like the cheering crowds of peasants crowded around the guillotine while the monarch climbed to her doom. I called my female friends and family, and we gathered in my living room to say goodbye and good riddance. I hauled out the artificial Christmas tree and decorated it with all the things I’d never need again; we referred to it as the “Hystmas tree.”
Since it was a celebration, I made food for all the ladies. Like all the other elements of the party, even the food followed the hysterectomy theme.
I figured it was fine that the some of the uteruses on the cupcakes looked a little twisted, since it was a pretty accurate portrayal of the situation.
The most memorable part of the whole event, though, was the piñata a very good friend made for the occasion. It was a giant uterus, complete with veins and a couple of cysts, the kind of thing that suited our celebration perfectly but would frighten the children at a birthday party out of wanting cake. Yeah, we beat Augustine to pieces in the backyard in effigy. That piñata met its end after numerous violent smacks with a broom handle. Although I’m generally a pacifist, I readily admit the thwacking felt incredibly satisfying.
I felt fully supported by the wonderful women in my life, and it took my mind off the stress of getting ready to leave my classes with another teacher for six weeks. Most of the women in my family have had to see a gynecologist for some sort of horrid problem, so it was an afternoon with people who “got it” as much as anyone could. Laughing instead of focusing on my fear about the procedure and hospital procedures was absolutely the best approach.
The Hystmas party was the right way to celebrate my rapidly approaching surgery date, because things were about to get uglier.
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