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.

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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.