A week ago I was in the hospital’s pre-op room wearing nothing but a surgical gown and hospital socks accessorized by the latest and greatest in IV’s and patient bracelets. It would be another two hours before my scheduled hysterectomy. Up until this point I was calm, even happy to have this procedure done once and for all. But sitting in the actual hospital listening to the doctor’s explanations, expectations, and directions I started to literally shake with nerves.
There’s a reason I keep certain parts of my life private. For some reason many feel the need to share their own experiences, and often, in an attempt to bond and relate, can scare the living be-jeebus out of me with their horror stories. It happened when I was pregnant. It became almost a contest to see whose labor was the worst. Guess what. No one wins that contest.
So when I learned I’d need a hysterectomy because of fibroids, I only told a few people, and many of those only out of necessity. I’m not embarrassed. But I didn’t want to hear the gory details of a friend’s neighbor’s cousin’s procedure back in 1998. Alas, it was not to be avoided. As suspected, I was regaled with tales of woe. It seemed that every story also involved vacuuming. Weird. Every woman in each story started to feel fine, decided to vacuum her house prematurely and was rushed to the hospital hemorrhaging along the way. Some, I was led to believe, never fully recovered (said in a hushed voice, head shaking).
Days before my operation I asked my doctor about these stories. I could tell this was old news to him. He didn’t miss a beat and went on to explain why that was definitely not going to happen to me. I was going to have a Total Vaginal Hysterectomy (TVH) with no incisions if everything went as planned. If it was easy to do, he’d also remove my fallopian tubes just to reduce any risk of future cancer. I got to keep my ovaries. His Christmas gift to me. Thank you. Seriously.
He gave me a 2-4 week recovery, but no running for 6 weeks. I could lift as much as a gallon of milk without worry. I asked about riding my bike and teaching cycle classes. He was fine with it as long as it felt okay to me. I calmed down a little, checked out half the books in the local library, hooked up Netflix in the bedroom and was ready to go.
Fast forward back to surgery day. I’m telling my experience because in the days prior to mine, I scoured the internet looking for others who’d had the same procedure I had and who were as active as I was. My biggest concern was how to deal with being bedridden and how long it really would last. I found almost nothing. So I write my recovery story for future Kims in the
DAY OF SURGERY (Wednesday-Thursday)
I woke up from surgery having difficulty breathing. Anesthesia can do that to some people, and I’m one. I also couldn’t swallow. Once the nurses figured out what I was trying to say they immediately got me on oxygen. If contractions during childbirth are 100X worse than cramps, then my pain post-hysterectomy was 100X worse than contractions. Christian was waiting in my recovery room and held my hand until the morphine and Percocet kicked in. It never really did. I told the nurse my pain was a 5 on a scale of 1-10. Looking back it was more like a 7, but I have a strange need to not want to be a whiny crybaby. And I really don’t want to be a nuisance to nurses who work so hard and have to do really gross things with a smile on their face. So, my pain remained steady for the rest of the afternoon.
They were able to successfully remove my uterus and fallopian tubes, just as planned. The doctor said it was the easiest procedure he’d done in about a month, and one of the easiest he’s done ever. No complications. No surprises. Good. I hate surprises.
Christian left around 11 PM and went home to the kids. We only live a few minutes away from the hospital. Miraculously I was able to sleep a little off and on through the night. My fabulous nurse checked in on me every hour. At 4 AM I could take no more and I almost cried to her about the pain that just wouldn’t let up. We’d been fairly conservative with the narcotics for two reasons: 1. They restrict my airways. It had happened twice the night after my surgery. Scary stuff. 2. They make me violently ill.
At this point the pain was worse than both these possibilities, so we both decided to double my dose of morphine to break through the wall of pain. I had an anti-nausea patch behind my ear. The nurse also added some Zofran to my IV to take the edge of the nausea. Miracle of miracles, the pain went from a 7 to a 1!!! I got two hours of sleep and when I awoke I felt so good I started to cry. There is good in the world.
I read a book until Christian came back around 7AM. The nurse removed my catheter, I attempted to put on a little makeup (I may be sick but I’m not dead!), walked around a little and the next thing you know, we’re on our way home. I remember almost nothing of the rest of that day. That’s probably a good thing!
So, that anti-nausea patch apparently has some serious side effects. One of them is blurred vision. I found this out the hard way. My vision was so blurry I couldn’t read what was in front of me. I had a screaming headache because of it. I decided to risk a sick stomach and threw the patch in the garbage. I was still taking Percocet, although I wasn’t having much pain. Either I was on top of my pain meds, or I was feeling better. I walked a little on my treadmill. Then Christian and Ali took me to the lake by our house to go for a walk. I made it about a mile before I got dizzy and we went home.
My stomach was bloated. I looked 6 months pregnant. Ugh. I was so full of fluids from the hospital that I couldn’t go 30 minutes without using a bathroom. My torso looked like a tube of cookie dough. I did deal with some painful gas. Lovely thought, isn’t it?
I needed a routine, some semblance of normalcy. So I got up and walked on my treadmill. It felt a million times easier than the day before. Once again, swollen belly (swelly belly) but no pain. My vision was almost back to normal. By the end of the day it would be fine. But the headache lingered a bit. After 30 minutes on my treadmill, I decided to test out my stationary spin bike. I had no expectations, so I was overjoyed when I sat down and was able to pedal for 30 minutes pain-free!!! I could have gone longer, but those vacuuming horror stories were still rattling in my head, so I got off, pleased at the one trickle of sweat on my neck. The rest of the day was spent in bed. My brother and sister-in-law came with dinner for the family and books for me! They know me well. My mom stopped by. It was the quietest Saturday I’ve had since the kids were born (they’re 9 and 13).
No pain. Tapering off the Percocet. Bored out of my mind. Entering the land of irritation. Walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes, biked 30, walked 30, biked 30. Then it was back to bed. Neighbors have been so kind brining in meals for the family. Up until this point I had almost no appetite. Despite the size of my stomach, I was actually down 4 pounds. This is not my recommended way to lose your last five pounds. I just couldn’t find much to eat. I was trying to get in a lot of good protein, but by this point, if it looked appetizing, I’d eat it. Funny enough, what I was craving was the saltines and beef broth from the hospital. My vision was back to 100% so I read a lot. Unlike my tonsil surgery, I wasn’t very sleepy. I almost wished I was. I was just bored.
Christian went back to work. Kaitlynne went back to school. Ali was off-track so she was home with me. I woke up, did my spin bike and walk routine and felt absolutely fantastic! Seriously, I felt like I could have gone back to work. Instead I went back to bed. I’ve been good about not lifting anything really heavy. The day dragged on longer than an afternoon at the DMV. Actually, that would have been more entertaining. At least there I could people watch. Took only one Percocet during the day. Got really tired that evening and fell asleep watching The Crown sometime around 8 PM. Slept hard for 10 hours. Heaven.
My life is like Groundhog Day. Woke up, exercised upstairs. Showered and laid in bed with Ali watching movies. Life could be worse. But the boredom is killing me. The mornings speed by, but the afternoons are agonizing. No pain meds at all and I felt great. No pain. I feel like a lazy fraud lounging around in my pajamas all day when I feel just fine.
Today. One week out. I had a feeling I would recover fast, but I had no idea I’d feel this good this soon. I’m still trying to rest during the day. I’m riding my spin bike and walking and feeling totally fine. It’s going to be frustrating when I get back to work and not be able to lift anything heavy, or jump and bounce around. But my follow-up appointment is in early January, so I’ll just have to be patient.
I realize that many women experience a lot more pain after their surgeries. I don’t want to mislead anyone. My recovery is, well, MY recovery. Everyone is different. But I do want others to know that not every experience is horrible, awful, and terrible. I still have the rest of this week off work, but I plan to return to leading classes on Monday. I still have moments when I feel really tired and my belly is still a bit swollen, but I see improvement every day. Bodies are amazing. In all, I am so very happy I had this done. In the long run, it’s really the best decision I could have made.