The Uterus Chronicles, Episode the Last

Welcome to the last installment of The Uterus Chronicles! If you  need to get caught up, here’s Episode 1 and Episode 2.

As mentioned at the end of Episode 2, I had found the right doctor for me (who ended up being a surgeon), and had scheduled my hysterectomy for August 7th 2012, a week and a day ago.

(There are other places to go for in-depth information on hysterectomies, alternatives, risks and whatnot – one of the best places being the HysterSisters, celebrating their 14th anniversary this month. I learned a lot at their site, though I wasn’t a frequent contributor. )

So, last week I had my hysterectomy. I actually walked into the operating room – wow, what an experience! I tried to catalog as much as I could with my writer’s brain. It’s true, operating rooms are very white, very bright (even without those huge lights over the bed turned on). Two nurses were counting surgical instruments (of which there were LOTS – like, way too many to be used on my body); the Chief of Anesthesia was there doing his thing prior to giving me an epidural; a couple other nurses were busy doing something (but they were behind me, so I couldn’t see what they were doing).

As soon as I felt the numbing go down to my toes, I swung up my legs and settled on the operating table before the epidural settled into my butt. And that’s pretty much the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery.

Soon, I was happy to get settled in my own room. The doc took pictures of my incised uterus (which I am NOT sharing here – you’re welcome!) and showed the hubs before I got to see them – and I must say, the photos were impressive. As reported elsewhere, the typical female uterus is 6-8 cm. Mine was 22 cm. I liken it to the size of a little kid’s soccer ball (for four-year-olds). Plus, my uterus held over 40 fibroids of all sizes and calcifications, the largest of which was 8cm. Apparently, my OR team was impressed (and I ended up being the talk of the doc’s office staff, as well, lol). All in all, it needed to come out. I’d made the right decision.

After some hemoglobin issues during recovery (my body recalibrating itself), and some pain med issues (they bumped me up to percocet), I finally came home Thursday evening. Grateful to be here, despite the heat.

One of the takeaways from this experience for me is, surprisingly, the pain management. I had a low, bikini-cut incision that was carefully stitched internally and seamed with glue on the outside (kinda neat, I think). I can tell when I’m in pain (besides, you know, the pain) – the area around the incision gets hot. It never got hot in the hospital, nor did it when I was on the percocet. (I switched over to the vicodin when it became apparent that I’d never eat solid foods again while on perc.)

“Staying on top of the pain” is more than mere med-speak. It’s real, it’s vital, and it’s damned hard to do. Do I sleep, or set my alarm to take my meds at the right time? I’ve gotten all discombobulated the past three days, which has made the pain management difficult. The boys are working with me, and I’ve got a whiteboard telling me what to take when, but still getting the right pills inside me at the right time has been interesting, frustrating, and an intellectual exercise (how in the hell do soldiers, who live by “toughing it out”, deal with pain meds?).

Other writers may write really well on drugs – I, however, am not one of them. It’s too hard for me to keep my story in mind as I write, so until the pain meds get tapered to just ibuprofen, I’m sticking to reading and blog post writing (because that’s about my attention span, lol).

As my doctor said, the body heals slower when in pain (which is why he advocates an epidural during surgery – keeps a lot of the pain at bay those first 12 – 24 hours). Staying pain-free is imperative to healing, at this stage. I’m also learning that just because I might not be in immediate pain (when the vicodin has kicked in and I’m floating) doesn’t mean it’s okay to haul around  cast iron pans, or gallons of milk, or that I should bend over to feed the cat. My old nemesis  friend, patience, keeps patting my hand and telling me to relax and about an hour after the meds kick in, I do relax. But I’m looking forward to this part of the journey being over.

The big takeaway for me, however, is to encourage everyone to pay attention to your body. When I was in my twenties, I kept a couple pages in my day planner to detail my monthly cycle. Days I started, how heavy the flow, etc. I only wish, now, that I had kept it up through the years. If I had, I might have caught that my periods were getting heavier; that I was gaining weight without changing my eating habits; that my stomach seemed hard, and bulgy (because, you know, it wasn’t my stomach).

I wish I had mentioned the heavy periods to my doctor; that I’d complained more about the little things that could have led them to a diagnosis of fibroids sooner.  More than anything, I wish our culture wasn’t so afraid to talk about uterus issues. I wish I had had a community of women to turn to when things started to change (the curse of being in a small nuclear family without an extended family).

I have that community now. Women I’ve been friends with have opened up to me and shared their experiences. They’ve taken me under their wing and assured me all will be well and I believe them, completely. But not having that community is why I posted such a deeply personal topic on this blog in the first place. I didn’t know where else to go, didn’t want to whisper about it, and saw no reason to hide an issue that may face every woman (or her friend) at some point or another.

Speak up. For yourself to a doctor. To a friend in need. Reach out and help where you can, and ask for help when you need it. Women’s health, while it has come a long way, is still in many ways a shadowy part of medicine (in the fact that uterus issues aren’t openly talked about) and it doesn’t have to be that way. It SHOULDN’T be that way.

Plus, we’re all getting older. PAY ATTENTION to your body. Make notes of how you feel, maybe once a month. I’m not advocating being paranoid; I’m advocating being aware. Its so easy to ignore stuff that may be bothersome; but if you can catch a health issue before it becomes an emergency, you and your loved ones will be far better off.

Okay my chicks, lecture over! Back to our regularly-scheduled Wine Fridays…thanks for listening.

~ ~ ~

This concludes Christine’s two years of health issues. She will be back to her regularly healthy self very soon, and appreciates your patience with her. She has renewed her warranty for the next 50 years, to her hubby’s satisfaction.

 

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39 Responses to The Uterus Chronicles, Episode the Last

  1. Rachel Firasek (@RachelFirasek) says:

    I’m so glad everything went okay and that you are among the healthy again! Keep us posted!

  2. Christine, glad to hear you’re through the worst.

    I do want to echo your caution to not pooh-pooh health symptoms. Unfortunately, my tendency is to figure that I am really fine. I may not be so fine. Five or six years ago, I ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics because a bladder infection — I had ignored the symptoms — had traveled to my kidneys. I was convinced I had pulled a muscle in my back, but my partner, who had been in the health field, convinced me to go to the doctor to get it checked out.

    • Christine says:

      My husband is my barometer. When I tell him something, he either says “get it checked” or “you’re fine”. I do, however, actually have to talk to him about this stuff before he’ll ante up an opinion, lol!

      It does help to have a partner to talk to.

  3. Great advice, Christine!! Glad you can put this episode behind you and look forward to a healthier you!

  4. Laurie Cunningham says:

    My doctor kept my uterine assembly pickled in a jar – it was that screwed up… Like you, I knew something was wrong, but being younger (I was 31 when I finally had surgery), no one was willing to do anything. When I finally found a doctor who would, the first thing he asked was, “Don’t you want to talk to your husband?” I had had my tubes tied 6 or so years before (that’s a whole ‘nother story…), so I said something to the effect that he’ll be happy to have me back since my life revolved around my pain and incapacity for 3 out of 4 weeks a month. It was one of the two defining moments in my life.

    The other one was having my knees done. Like you, I found the pain management very difficult. I was on dilaudid and oxycodone in the hospital (4 hours apart, but each separated by 2 hours). I was flying. I heard things, I saw people who weren’t there and talked to them. It took 3 weeks after I got home for the hallucinations to fade. I found that making sure I took my pills became the defining purpose of my life that first month. Now I know how an addict feels! But, it’s very true that you don’t heal as well if you’re hurting, so, even though I didn’t like taking them and having to take 2 senna pills twice a day so I could keep pooping, I kept it up. Because of that, I think , my recovery was swifter than anyone imagined.

    While you don’t have physical therapy (terrorism, to be sure), it will take some time to accustom your body to the new world order. It will be such a surprise and delight – you won’t even believe it!!

    Good luck in your recovery – your future will be awesome!!

    • Christine says:

      Laurie, let’s see – you were 31, so I would have been…um..25? and you were down in San Diego still, while I was up in Los Angeles at that time. I never did get the whole scoop (at the time) as to why you had the hysterectomy, but I do remember my mom saying it was something you definitely needed.

      Good for you for sticking to your guns. We weren’t close, but still it was something “not talked about” in families…so unfair I think! I like to believe I’d have gone to you as a resource if I’d been more aware.

      Cheers hon – it’s been great getting reacquainted via the internet these past couple of years!

  5. Glad that for major surgery, it went smoothly. Hope you feel 100% soon. Many gentle hugs.

    I’ve written on pain meds before. Luckily it was a piece that was supposed to sound surreal!

  6. Tanya Hanson says:

    Glad things went well and hoping the recovery is complete and soon! I gotta wonder why it’s not called Utero-ectomy or something like that. What the heck’s a hyster? I know I neer had one LOL. Love you, sending hugs and prayers…and see you SOON. xoxo

    • Christine says:

      Tanya, lol on the utero-ectomy! After much research (okay – wikipedia, which came up blank, and the huge Random House Dictonary of the English Language), I found that it comes from the Greek hystera meaning womb or uterus.

      Other than that – no clue!

  7. Maria Powers says:

    My only suggestion is that you might not want to be doing Wine Fridays and the Vicodin at the same time (wink) or perhaps you do?

    Happy to read that you’re home and dealing with the pain management stuff. You have certainly had a couple of interesting years as in the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Of course the next two ‘curses’ are even better, “May you come to the attention of powerful people.” and “May your wishes be granted.”

    Just thought I’d throw them into the mix today. Big hugs!

    • Christine says:

      Too funny, Maria! Luckily, I still have empty wine bottles littering my desk so I don’t have to actually drink wine (it tastes kinda yucky right now, anyway). But thanks for looking out for me…and thanks for the other two “curses” – I do appreciate it!

  8. Cara King says:

    Wow. What a lot you’ve been through! I’m sure this post will spread a lot of good information around the blogosphere….thanks for doing that. And I hope your recovery is speedy!

    • Christine says:

      Cara, if I’ve helped you listen to your body more, then I’m happy! Thanks so much for dropping by!

  9. Robena Grant says:

    Glad to know you’re almost feeling like your old self. And you sound good (must have written this during that fifteen minutes of clarity between the pain meds.) Thanks for having the courage to share your journey. Stay well. Get strong. See you soon.

  10. I’m so glad that’s over Christine! You will get a little stronger everyday, just rest easy, and mind your meds. Big hugs to you lady!!!!
    Also, I agree with Maria – we can wait on the Wine posts for a while. 😉

    • Christine says:

      Sasha, you’ve been a bright spot on this journey – thanks for being there! Hugs woman!

  11. So glad you are making progress, feeling better….and I think it was wonderful of you to share the story. One thing I definitely find is that I tend to “work with” whatever is wrong with me for far too long before I sort of sheepishly mention it to the doctor, who is a wonderful lady and chides me nicely for putting up with the symptoms rather than seeking treatment. But my grandmother was a nurse who felt doctors were miracle workers (not saying they aren’t!) and I got whisked to the doctor for shots and evil tasting meds at the drop of a hat as a child! So now I hold back….sending good wishes and hugs!

    • Christine says:

      Veronica, I think you will find, if you start keeping a healthy diary, that you will pick up on stuff that isn’t “right” a lot sooner and will be willing to bring it up to your doc. But without that documentation, it’s really easy to feel that well, maybe we’re exaggerating the number of times such and such has happened. No one wants to be a whiner – but it’s a lot harder to classify it as whining if you’ve kept a diary.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  12. Roz Lee says:

    So glad to hear you are on the mend. I would dearly love to read what you have written ‘under the influence’ !
    You are so right about the code of silence when it comes to women’s physical issues, including sex. From a medical standpoint, I’m afraid there are still too many male doctors out there who would rather think it’s all in our heads than admit that they don’t understand how we can know something is wrong when our bodies do all that crazy stuff every month anyway. Just like in the bedroom, we’re often incomprehensible to the male population! Kudos to you for opening the dialog and persevering until you found the answer that was right for you.
    Wishing you a swift recovery!

  13. I’m so glad all is well, Christine. And I think it’s awesome you chose to write about your experience. It’s definitely something every woman needs to be aware of. Great advice about listening to your body.

    As for pain — I live with it daily, but I just can’t function on pain meds. I know there are those that drive around (scary thought to me), work, and live every day taking some form of prescription pain meds. I just can’t do it. For one thing, I hate the way they make me feel in general. For another they give me raging headaches. There is no way I could write or function well enough to do anything else while on pain meds, so instead I take more aspirin than I should and pray it doesn’t tear my stomach up.

    I hope you heal quickly and things get back to normal for you as soon as possible.

    • Christine says:

      Rhonda, I think chronic pain and recovery pain are two different animals. One is more of a daily management, while the other one is merely temporary until healing occurs.

      So sorry you’re burdened with chronic pain. My heart goes out to you!

  14. Sarah says:

    You are one awesome woman. Thanks for this post, and for the insight and encouragement. All I can say is Amen and Amen.

  15. Christine, congratulations on getting past the surgery. Hope you continue to feel better every day, and really appreciate you sharing all the gory details (if not the gory photos. Also appreciate those NOT being shared.)

    We have or may all be there someday; it’s not helpful to ourselves or one another if we all pretend to be Superwoman.

  16. Carolyn says:

    What a wonderful post, Chrissy! I’m so glad the worst is behind you now and you can focus on healing. I had an epidural once and had a headache for over a week. Ack! But it sounds like you’re doing great and I’m so proud of you for talking about it and keeping us informed about your progress.

    One thing that I found very helpful is, when walking, I carried around a folded blanket to hold against my incision for support. I imagine a small pillow would do the same.

    Let the gang pamper you for as long as it takes. From your emails it sounds like your gang is very accommodating. Sending healing thoughts and lots of love your way. 🙂

  17. Catie Rhodes says:

    I am glad to hear you’ve done something to get some relief. Finding the “right” doctor is one of the hardest things to do. I am not sure why that is, but I’ve never been one of those lucky souls who didn’t have to “try out” several doctors, vets, dentists, optometrists to find the one I wanted to use. Good for you for not giving up. 😀

    • Christine says:

      But you’ve found the right docs now, right, Catie? It is hard, but good for you for listening to your instincts!

  18. Lindsey says:

    It’s great to hear that everything went well, but I’m sorry you’re in pain!

  19. Yes, it’s so important for us women to have these discussions. I find that if I mention perimenopause or night sweats or sleep issues around women in their forties, they usually jump at the chance to ask me if I know anything about their symptoms.
    Thanks for starting this one. And glad you’ve come through this worrisome journey time so well, and with your creativity and good humour still so strong! Look forward to seeing you when your body catches up with the rest of you. 🙂

    • Christine says:

      Chellesie, there’s a terrific book by Susun Weed about Menopause – the symptoms, and what you can do at a very basic level to alleviate them. She goes through six levels of symptom relief, the last level being the extreme medical answer. Very interesting, and very good reading to keep informed.

  20. Joanie says:

    I don’t know that I’ve actually “enjoyed” your blog journey, but I truly appreciate you sharing it with us. What a great lesson. And I love the way you documented the surgery area as you prepared to go under. Did chronicling everything in your mind make you relax? It would probably get me worried I’d forget something {laugh}. I’m so glad it all worked out for you. Get all better soon!

    Joanie

    • Christine says:

      LOL Joanie – I guess I’m glad you didn’t “enjoy” the posts regarding this journey! In the operating room, I really wished I had a camera and could take photos. There’s no way I can remember everything about the room, but I do remember how it felt, and how it made me feel. They keep those rooms COLD! And they had some sort of plastic blanket on top of me that had hot air piped into it to keep me warm. Very strange, but I didn’t have time to really get used to that before I was out.

      I’m 2 weeks post-op and doing VERY well – the meds are now on an as-needed basis rather than a clockwork every-four-hours. Thanks for hanging with me on the journey!

      • Tye Green says:

        I just found your blog as I’m doing research and anticipating my own TAH for fibroids on the 23rd. Your experience with the enlarged belly and symptoms are just like mine. It didn’t seem like you were too nervous though which I completely envy! My writer brain is going completely wacky on me; creating all types of scenarios. I’m terrified! I do have a very good doctor which kind of brings my mind to ease. But not by much. All that to say, I appreciate your uterus episodes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

        Tye

        • Christine says:

          Tye, I highly suggest you check out a surgeon who specializes in gynecological surgeries, rather than a regular OB-GYN. I went the surgeon route, and had no issues – a couple of friends of mine did the OB-GYN route and had troubles. I just think it’s safer to go with a surgeon who does it all the time, rather than one who also examines women, delivers babies, etc. In the long run, do what feels right in your gut. Good luck!

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