Friday it will have been four weeks since I had my open hysterectomy. So far my recovery has gone fairly smoothly, all things considered. The road to get to this surgery has been rocky at the very least. Aside from the last few years of me feeling terrible every day, by the time I was told in March that this would finally happen, some major changes were made.
First I was told I needed to lose some weight before surgery. I was initially put on a liquid diet, and it was insanely strict. I was consuming about 900-1000 calories a day, drinking 4 protein shakes. I was allowed two cups of certain vegetables and broth, but it was very restrictive. I can’t speak for anyone here, but I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t particularly pleasant to be around. This is where my phony infomercial voice kicks in-but wait! There’s more!
During this time, somehow I ended up hit with my first ever bout of sciatica. I ended up in the emergency room after my hip started bothering me and I was getting shooting pain down my leg. The doctor gave me morphine and toradol, and ordered an ultrasound. When ultrasound called me, initially I was going to have to wait six weeks to get in. The type that I needed, we only have one tech in our town that does them, and that’s how far out he was booking. I was basically devastated. I was in so much pain day to day, and I wasn’t even telling the closest people to me how bad it really was.
Since I was little, I’ve been able to tolerate pain. Like…when I say tolerate, I mean when I was five years old, I got a skull fracture at school, and stayed for the rest of the day. I’d hit my head on the monkey bars, and dented my forehead. Didn’t cry, didn’t make a big fuss. Told them they didn’t need to call my mom, I was cool. They sent me home, and told me I needed to tell my mom I’d hit my head, which is what I did. She asked me if I was ok, and I said I was fine. The teacher called later to check on me, and my mom told the teacher that I’d told her I hit my head, but seemed to be ok. And the teacher said that she just wanted to check, because my forehead had gotten dented. When my mom moved my hair off my forehead, sure enough. We went to the hospital, and I had a skull fracture and a concussion. So, pain I’ve been able to take, generally speaking.
This bout of sciatica, is the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. Nerve pain is a whole other beast. A trip to the kitchen would leave me out of breath, in tears, it was so painful. I didn’t have six weeks. The receptionist did offer a cancelation list, and I crossed my fingers. I didn’t know how likely it was that would happen, but it was something. Wouldn’t you know it, a few days later she called with an appointment that was just a few days after that. I was struggling like mad every day just to do basic things, so I was ecstatic.
I had the ultrasound, and the diagnosis was that I had tendonitis in two spots in my hip that was causing nerve pain down my leg, and I needed to start physio. My doctor gave me anti-inflammatories and toradol, but those weren’t really doing much to combat the pain. One day, while doing my physio exercises at home, something seized up on me. I ended up ugly crying on my bedroom floor and my mom had to pick me up to take me back to the emergency room.
That day, the doctor decided to give me gabapentin for the nerve pain. It took a few days to kick in, but that was what ended up helping the nerve pain in the end, with the physio exercises. It’s not to 100% at this point, but it’s so much better than it was-and I was so determined to get to this surgery that all I knew is I needed to get to a point that I could have the hysterectomy, and get through recovery well enough.
Through all of this, I was struggling hard with the diet, and I was pretty miserable. My doctor that I was working with at the weight loss clinic at the Royal Alexandra was extremely supportive, and after close to two months she let me incorporate some food back into my diet so that I wasn’t completely starving as well as in a ton of pain on top of everything else. So I started eating a little in conjunction with my shakes, and continued to lose. Even though I wasn’t able to be terribly active through this period, by the time surgery came, I was down about 50lbs in three and a half months. My doctors were happy with this, and so was I.
Cue the infomercial voice again-but wait, there’s more yet! My pre-op appointment was scheduled the day before surgery, when usually it would be a few days or a week before. But since I was an out of town patient, this was how it had to be. My surgery was booked for July 15th at 10:45am, and my pre-op was on July 14th at 1:45. They warned me on the phone that pre-op was to be a 3-4 hour appointment, and that I would see several people during that time. Nurses, a pharmacist, an internist, and possibly my anesthesiologist. They’d also take blood and go over results.
I talked to the pharmacist first, who went over all my medications very thoroughly. Then a nurse, who went through my whole medical and family history. While she was with me, a lab tech came in to take my blood. Another nurse was with me after that to go through more history with me. Then the internist came to talk with me and do an exam. During his visit, the results of my bloodwork came back. There was something of concern that came up. My creatinine level was unusually high, and when they went back in my history, it was the first time it had come up that way. So for some reason, my kidney function didn’t look right at the moment, and we needed to fix that asap. The head of internal medicine was sitting in with us at this point to come up with a plan.
The internist said that he could send me off that night and tell me to chug water all night, but that might not do the trick. They wanted to send me to emergency for IV fluids. Now…for someone who is small town and has been immunocompromised through a pandemic, I did not love this plan. Internal panic set in at the idea of having to go to a city emergency room. I bit down hard on my tongue, trying not to cry. I asked if it was possible that I could get the fluids there at the pre-op clinic. That wasn’t an option. The doctor could see that I had become agitated, and he asked me what my concern was. I told him. He assured me that I was going to be fine. He gave me no reason not to trust him, but my anxiety was through the roof.
They were going to arrange things ahead of time, let the emergency department know that I was coming. My mom had been there with me the whole time, always my rock. I was nervous, my limbs moving constantly, I was unable to control my fidgeting. We waited for at least half an hour before we were given the all clear to be sent over to emergency, and off we went. By that time, it was nearing 6pm.
We were walked through a back hallway, around outside, and came up to the glass doors of the emergency department at the Royal Alexandra, and I got my first look inside. I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Oh fuck. OH FUCK. Nope. Nope, nope, NOPE. I can’t, I’m not going in there.”
“You don’t have a choice, this has to happen. Come on.”
So, I’m going to have to straight-up plead hick here, but I swear to God it was right out of an episode of ER. The emergency room department in my hometown is nothing like what was before me at the Royal Alex. My mom grabbed me by the arm, and that’s it, we were going in. I was told that my mom could only stay with me while I was in the triage line, and then once I got a bed. While I was in the waiting room, she couldn’t be with me. This was not what I wanted to be hearing, but not much could be done about it. As we were in line, I told mom to go get something to eat and try to lie down in the car at least for a while. I had no idea how long it could take for me to get a bed.
The triage line alone took more than an hour. I’m not sure if it was the banana muffin I had during my pre-op appointment, or my anxiety, but I lost my place in line to go throw up at one point. So in all fairness triage took a little longer than maybe it could have. It was hot, and I was nauseous and miserable when I finally went to sit down. I had no idea how long the people who were there had been waiting already. I only waited about half an hour before I was called. I felt the eyes on me as I stood up. The glares of “why is she being called already?” I waited for loud booing and for maybe something to be thrown at me as I walked out of the waiting room, but thankfully that didn’t happen.
I was taken back into a curtained room and told to put on a gown. A nurse immediately started putting the nodes on me to do an ECG. “Just a precaution.” she told me. I was a little alarmed, I thought I was only there to get some fluids and be on my merry way. I texted my mom to let her know that I got a bed, and she could come find me as the nurse flitted around doing my vitals. My blood pressure was alarmingly high, no big surprise. “Can your head pop off from high blood pressure?” The thought ran through my mind briefly.
The nurse left after my vitals were all taken, and shortly after, my nausea reared up again and my head was in the trash can. It reeked of alcohol and God only knows what was in there. I saw something with blood on it, and I quickly closed my eyes and chose not to investigate. I was starting to get a sinking feeling at that point.
That night is kind of a blur overall. I went in for my pre-op appointment at at 1:45 on Thursday, and never left the hospital. We were there all night. I went through triage at about 7pm, got put into a bed by 8pm, and didn’t see a doctor until 2am. I had been called in ahead, they knew I was coming. That’s how busy it was in emergency. I was given 3 litres of fluids via IV overnight. That’s how severely dehydrated I was, and what caused my creatinine to elevate so much.
I usually drink 2-3 litres of water a day, and live in AC in the summer all the time, and had come to the city where over a couple of days had barely had any water to drink and been in the heat. I joked about it when I got home “Princess lives in AC all the time and literally sweat herself nearly into kidney failure” but it was almost true. What I do remember vividly from that night, was at one point saying to my mom “What if this is a sign? Should I not do this?”
The doctor who treated me was very no-nonsense. She was determined that she was getting me to surgery, and she’d just keep me there overnight if that’s what it was going to take. I appreciated her approach, it was what I needed at the time. I had no time for wishy-washy. So, I was wheeled from emergency up to my surgical floor in the morning, beyond exhausted.
The surgical ward was an entirely different world from the emergency department. It was bright, and looked much newer. My nurse went through all of the history that was done in my pre-op the day before. It felt like I’d been at the hospital for a week by then.
There was really only one major concern my mom and I had, there’s a history of blood clots in my family. My grandfather died from a blood clot after a brain surgery when I was 13. Last summer, my dad randomly had blood clots in his lungs. A few years ago, my dad’s sister had a blood clot in her arm that caused blockages up into her neck. Now that I’ve done some research, Eastern European bloodlines can carry a condition called Hughes Syndrome, or “sticky blood.” My dad’s side of the family is full Ukrainian, and this isn’t uncommon. So we were sure to bring this up. They administer drugs to combat this anyway, but I wanted to make sure that this was known ahead of time.
We went through everything, and I was given medications I’d need ahead of surgery, and then I was all set. Then we were just to wait until it was my turn. So we waited. And waited. We were told my surgery was going to be delayed. At first we didn’t know by how long. I was scheduled for 10:45. At 1:45, we were told that there were some major complications before me, and mine would be at 3:45. If I wasn’t so exhausted at that point, I might have bolted out the door. But I was there, so I might as well have gone through with it, right?
Finally, it was go time. They were wheeling me to the OR. Once there, I was greeted by a nurse. Once again, we went through my history. She asked me some questions, and then told me that someone from the anesthesiology team was going to come talk to me. He came next, asked me a few more questions. My surgeon came to talk to me briefly while he was there, to confirm what was going to be happening, and she went on her way. Then the anesthesiologist came as well.
Him: Do you want the police baton or the cro bar to knock you out?
Me: Is the cast iron frying pan on the Monopoly board of anesthesi-options?
Him: Oh, you’re good.
I liked my team, they were warm and funny, and put me at ease. When I was wheeled into the OR, they put my bed up to the table I was going to be operated on and told me to scoot over on to it. The resident anesthesiologist was on the other side, and the nurse said “Careful, it’s a bit narrow” and as I slid over I said “I’m going to fall off!” and he said to me “I won’t let you fall.” I believed him.
I laid down, and then the anesthesiologist was at my head, upside down, looking down at me. He smiled at me behind his mask. “All good?” I nodded. “It’s going to be ok, I promise.” He explained that they were going to give me a sedative into my IV, but they’d also give me gas in the mask. He slid it onto my face, and told me to take deep breaths. “Oh yeah, this one’s a good breather.” I laughed. I was out seconds later.
The first thing I remember is my mom coming into my hospital room saying “Hi honey! You did it! It’s over!” And then…relief. Just this complete and utter sense of relief washed over me in a way I didn’t expect. I was too tired to cry, but the emotion was there that I wanted to. The complete exhaustion just wouldn’t let me. Mom sat with me for a while, and the nurse that was with me that morning came in to take blood and check in. Everything went perfectly. They got everything that needed to come out. I was finally free of the things that had turned my body against me.
Over the next two days in the hospital, I slept a lot. Most of the time, in fact. The nurses came in often to take my vitals and administer meds, and sometimes my mom was there. But I slept the majority of the time. For someone who doesn’t sleep much in general, honestly it was pretty glorious. After what I’d been through with the whole pre-op/emergency debacle, and then the stress of my surgery being pushed back by hours, the exhaustion was beyond absolute. My body had already been through so much because of what was going on inside of it for so long as it was, and now the trauma of surgery had taken its toll. I deserved the rest.
On day one in the hospital, the nurses alternated giving me Advil and Tylenol with dilaudid. After the first day, I asked if I could try going without the dilaudid, and from there on out all I took was Advil and Tylenol for my pain. One of my nurses told me that I was handling it better than most people who go through laparoscopic surgeries. But like I said earlier in this post, pain I tend to tolerate fairly well for the most part aside from blinding nerve pain. Even my mom commented that she was surprised at how well I was moving so early on, but they wanted me to be able to move and get up as soon as possible. I was very careful about it of course, but I was determined to get moving as soon as they wanted me to.
I’d had a preconceived notion about what my hospital room would be like, and I was absolutely wrong. I was surprised that there was only one other bed in my room, I had expected that there would be at least two, if not three. One nurse made a comment that I was in the “bougie” section of the hospital, and I can’t say that I was disappointed about that. My other experiences with family being in the hospital in the city were very different, where sometimes there were 3 or 4 people in one room, and the units were noisier. I consider myself lucky to have been where I was.
For everything I went through, for as big a deal as this surgery was, there’s one thing I need to make crystal clear. Our health care system is in a world of hurt, we all know this. Staff are stretched thin, and doing the best they can with what they have to work with. But I couldn’t give the staff at the Royal Alexandra a more glowing review. Every doctor, nurse, tech, and admin staff treated me with respect and care that was exemplary, and I’m so grateful for the team of people I had taking care of me through this journey. From the weight loss clinic to my surgical staff, to the pre-op, emergency and after care, everyone was absolutely fantastic. Our health care workers are overworked, but they still care about us. And it shows.
After I was released from the hospital, my mom and I stayed with a cousin in the city for a couple of days before coming home, just in case there were any complications. Not to mention I didn’t think I was going to be ready to sit in a car with a seat belt for 3+ hours the day I was released with an abdominal incision. So we chilled out for two more days, I managed to get in a visit with a bestie, and then we headed for home, where I would come to stay with my mom and dad while I recovered.
Recovery has gone fairly smoothly for an open hysterectomy, all things considered. The majority of them are done laparoscopically now, so there’s definitely more scarring involved than with most, but it’s all for the greater good. My incision is probably a good ten or twelve inches, and I had a total of 32 staples holding it together. When I went in to have them taken out, part of my incision was a little infected. I was put on antibiotics, but it’s healing now and should be fine. I just need to remind myself to take this seriously and not push things too much, that’s the advice I keep being given. My body has been through a lot, and it’s just going to take time. Luckily, I got a call from my surgeon about the large cyst that they were unable to biopsy before. It was benign, and I am all clear! I will not need further treatment after this surgery on this tired body of mine.
I’m grateful to be staying with my parents through this time, as I didn’t really know how much help I was going to need. I’m lucky that I not only love my parents, but I genuinely like being with them. So it’s not hard to spend time here. This is extra time I wouldn’t normally get with them, and that’s not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. And I gotta say, the food doesn’t suck here! They’re taking very good care of me. As they always have.
There’s one reality that’s fully set in now, and it’s not one I’ve really talked about out loud yet. The hard realization that after all of this struggle, all of these obstacles…the polycystic ovarian syndrome, the cyst, the uterine fibroids, the cervical cysts, the heartbreak in my 30’s, the discovery of how expensive adoption is…that there’s not ever going to be a child. I mean, I knew before, but this is really…it’s final. There’s no accident, no miracle to happen now. I thought I made my peace with it. I may have been wrong about that. Sometimes things are the way they are for a reason, and we don’t get to know why. In this case, I’m always going to wonder.
I can’t stay focused on what hasn’t happened, or what wasn’t meant to be. It’s counterproductive. For now, I need to be working on healing, and feeling better. I am feeling better by the day overall, and the last thing left to do is get on hormone replacement therapy, and see how I feel from that going forward. My body has been through a lot in the last five years, and it’s just going to take time to get back to a healthy place, physically and mentally. I owe it to myself and the people who love me to put the work in. There’s a part of this journey that’s just beginning.