When I decided to discuss my history of severe uterine pain, I didn’t anticipate chapter after chapter of the gritty details. I guess enough time has passed now that many of the events related to my hysterectomy have blended together.
These days, I think of Titanic as a movie about love and tragedy, and I vaguely remember some singing and a giant blue diamond on an even bigger boat. The first time I watched it, though, it dragged on far longer than it should have –my bladder was achingly full but that’s beside the point– the ship took as long to sink on the screen as it did in 1912, and bloody Celine Dion would not shut up. The saga that lead to my hysterectomy is the same way: as brutal and drawn out as it was at the time, I generally only think of the highlights now.
If you’ve just found my little blog, head on back to part one so you know everything that’ll be on the test. If you’re returning, thanks ever so much for coming back.
As I mentioned before, I had less than two weeks’ notice for my surgery date. Luckily, a suitable replacement teacher was available to cover my classes for the six weeks I needed to book off. Teachers don’t get to just book a surgery date and leave on the expected day: we also have to make sure the substitute teacher is set up and provide her with materials and an outline of what needs to happen while we’re away from school. Trying to get things ready for my stand-in while I was struggling to organize my own life and prepare mentally for major surgery was challenging, but I got it all done somehow.
I have mentioned before how wonderful my surgeon, Dr. W. is. The only downside to the guy is his pre-surgery intestinal protocol. Other women I know have had to take laxative tablets or have enemas before their hysterectomies, so I anticipated something similarly unpleasant. What I didn’t expect was the prescription he wrote me for Fleet liquid laxative. Apparently, Dr. W. believes in being extra super thorough.
When I picked up the two little bottles, I was encouraged by the label that assured me the “pleasant lemon ginger” would make my laxative experience agreeable. I pictured a spa-like evening, maybe a mud mask or one of those peel-off nose strips to cleanse my pores while I cleansed my bowels. There I was again, wrong, gulping it down in a tall glass of tepid water as instructed. I did not detect any lemon. I did not taste even a hint of ginger. I did taste gut wrenching, salty, salty, salty evil. As fast as I could swallow the stuff, it came back up. It was a two steps forward and one back kind of scenario. We won’t discuss what happened after I finished drinking the stuff, okay? I’ve blocked that out of my memory almost entirely, and it’s not something I want to relive.
The best part of the whole Fleet experience? I was instructed to do it all again the next day. Luckily for me, my mom mentioned my agony to a family member who suggested mixing it with Orange Crush instead of water, and it took the edge off the taste enough that I didn’t throw up during the second round. I will state, rather unsettlingly, though, that Orange Crush has enough dye in it that it stays orange, if you catch my drift.
On the morning of my surgery, I arrived at the hospital at the requested time, cranky because I hadn’t had any solid food in more than two days, and no water since before midnight –like a Gremlin. I was scheduled to be on the table at 1 pm, and the hours leading up until go time stretched out terrifyingly ahead of me, so I asked for a sedative as soon as I finished signing my life away.
My mom hung out with me in a room for all the folks awaiting surgery on that floor of the hospital, me in my classy blue gown with the ribbons in the back. The room was exceptionally warm, but a woman I didn’t know got up off another couch and tucked a blanket around me. I tried to protest, telling her my armpits were already steaming, but she tucked it in firmer and said that I wasn’t sitting in the most ladylike fashion (I blame the Ativan) and the entire room could see my business. Bless that woman. My business was in for a rough enough day without being on public display.
Because I had never had children, my hysterectomy had to be performed through a standard abdominal incision. Many women who undergo the procedure have the less invasive vaginal procedure, which heals much faster and doesn’t involve a big owie across the belly, but I considered myself lucky to finally find a gynecologist who was willing to remove my uterus, so I decided to take what I could get. Also, my childless state meant every nurse and intern who read my chart before I went to the operating room tried to talk me out of having the hysterectomy. It was a rough morning.
By the time they were ready for me in the room with the big lights, it was almost three hours past my scheduled surgery time. Because I’d begged not to be stuck with the IV until it was time to put me under, I was seriously dehydrated and feeling like absolute crap by the time Dr. W. was ready to operate. During about the last two hours of my wait, I lay on a narrow gurney in a mostly dark room, without my glasses because the hospital people took them away so they could be locked up in my room. Other patients, mostly really old ladies, came and went on their gurneys, and no one talked to me. I was cold, blind, and terrified. At one point, a woman in scrubs I didn’t know found me crying in the dark and told me dirty jokes until I cheered up. I don’t know if she was a nurse or a cleaning lady, but part of me thinks she was an angel sent to get me through that particularly ugly part of the wretched day.
When it was finally my turn, I was astounded by how bright the lights in the operating room were. They burned my eyes, and so did Dr. W.’s bright yellow scrubs. Before they put me under, I turned to him and stated in my most serious teacher voice, “Dr. W., I used to do swimsuit competitions, and I’d like to still look good in a bikini when we’re done here. If you need to sneeze while you’re cutting, can you take a few steps back, please?” He looked at me funny, and then the room swam and I was gone.
I remember only bits of being in the recovery room, but I do remember how much my stomach hurt. After the hospital folks decided I was ready to go up to my regular room, they wheeled me right in my bed, and every jolt across the grout in the tiles was agony. I managed to control myself until they lifted me into my bed; then I howled like one of those jungle monkeys. My poor roommate.
While I had excellent care from the nurses on the women’s ward, my recover was ugly because the painkillers usually prescribed following these kind of major procedures hate me. Demerol gave me hallucinations of cockroaches (rainbow coloured) the one and only time I’ve taken it. I’m allergic to one of the drugs they usually pair with morphine to relieve post-op pain. I had one of those morphine pumps with the patient-operated button, and I caught heck the first morning after surgery because I’d pushed the button more than 150 times in the night. Of course, the pump was set to deliver a limited amount of painkiller, so most of those button punches were fruitless, and I kept hitting the button because I hurt so much.
Morphine, the only analgesic I could take and only a partial solution to my pain, caused another issue for me. Within the first few hours after being released to my room, I started to vomit. Now, I don’t vomit like most people. I puke with enough drama to be in a Vegas show for really gross people. I’ve been a projectile vomiter all my life, and the morphine allowed me to attain record distance. At one point, I doused a person standing at the end of my bed while I was snugged back against my pillow. It was all very horror movie, really.
Most of the people who came to visit me in the first couple of days stayed only a short time, largely because they were afraid of me, the vomit champion of the world.
In case you’ve forgotten –I haven’t– all this puking was happening shortly after Dr. W. cut my belly open, removed and rearranged what he came there to see, and stapled the works back together. Believe me when I say violent heaving with a fresh stomach incision was the most physically painful experience of my life. Additionally, I was vaguely terrified in my druggy haze that the staples would pack it in and I would be looking at my own viscera at any moment. Somehow, thankfully, they held things together.
The morphine also worked as a kind of truth serum. On the day following my surgery, I informed my father that although I loved him, the handlebar mustache he’d recently started sporting was “just terrible.”
My roommate throughout my hospital stay was a sweet lady about twenty years my senior. She had big hair and favored electric blue eyeliner, but it’s possible the eighties were her favorite decade and she just wanted to keep the fun going. Either way, she had her hysterectomy the day before mine, so all the things that were coming up in my recovery calendar, like having the catheter removed (hooray) or the first shower, happened to her first, which made me relax. I hate all things medical, and the thought of yet more nasty little procedures was pretty terrifying, to be honest. Like she promised, having my staples removed on day three was a little pinchy but really didn’t hurt.
Wait, of course I’m being honest. I told you about my experience with Fleet laxative. It doesn’t get more honest than that (thankfully).
When I finally got to have real food again, the lovely folks in the hospital kitchen sent me a bowl of soup. Why a woman who vomited many dozens of times in 48 hours would be served cream of cauliflower soup was beyond me, and it smelled so awful that I couldn’t really eat it. The two bites I choked down felt like aquarium gravel in my mouth, but we figured it was just a reaction to all the medications that were given to me before, during, and after surgery. I don’t do well with pharmaceuticals, so all the odd little symptoms made sense for a person like me.
During the three days I was in the hospital and once before my surgery, nurses came every eight hours to inject me with an anti-coagulant called Heparin, because Dr. W. wouldn’t want me dead of a blood clot after all the work he did on my lady parts. The needle had to go into the muscle in the back of my arm, and by the time I was ready to go home, I had the most incredible bruises. If you didn’t know I’d had major surgery and saw me in a sleeveless top, you’d think I went to a Volkswagen convention with a particularly vicious punch buggy enthusiast. I really should have photographed those bruises: they were astounding.
My hospital stay, however ugly, was improved so much by the excellent nurses who looked after me. One nurse in particular was incredible and I could tell she was truly dedicated to her profession. I don’t know how some people come to work every day to face vomit and blood and God knows what other nasty things, but I’m so grateful the nurses on my ward were as compassionate and as knowledgeable as they were. There was one nurse who was pretty surly with me, but she had to change my sheets several times and I vomited on her once, so I attribute her mood to my relentless puke. It was okay, because I was awfully sick of my vomit, too.
By the time I was ready to go home, I still couldn’t eat. The nausea lifted very quickly after I came off the morphine, but my mouth still hurt inside and everything I tried to chew felt like it was cutting my mouth. At home, I tried everything, even bubble tea, but I couldn’t eat anything comfortably. Finally, I looked inside my mouth. It was a horrid mess. I explained to my momma that I thought I had thrush from all the antibiotics, and she insisted that thrush only happened to babies. Nevertheless, we made an urgent appointment with my family doctor, who took one look at my tongue, grimaced, and immediately wrote me a prescription for a mouthwash to kill the yeast infection in my mouth.
The mouthwash burned a little bit, but I had high hopes. Unfortunately, it was a swish and swallow kind of deal, and the swish was fine but the swallow made me throw up. Yes, again. Back we went to the family doctor for a prescription of super strong Gravol.
In the midst of all the puke (ugh) and the yeast (ick), and the aftermath of having someone cut my stomach open (ouch), something strange happened. I woke up in the hospital on day three, and noticed a change. For the first time in close to three years, I woke up without cramps. Even though I felt like last week’s roadkill, the symptoms that drove me to gynecologist after gynecologist were gone.
I took it as an excellent sign.
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