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SHARING IS CARING

Abdominal Hysterectomy - TAH - Stephanie's Story

From the Princess Stories Articles List

Princess Stephanie's Story

Dear Everyone,

In twenty-four hours, it will all be over.

At the moment, my mood is jumping wildly back and forth--half the time, I rationally tell myself that I'm doing the right thing, and the other half the time, I'm all in a panic:

- Am I doing the right thing?

- Will I be in horrible pain?

- Will by body ever be the same after the surgery?

I'm in good shape now--aside from the enormous fibroids, that is--and every time I go to a gym class, or carry a heavy box or run up a staircase, I can't help thinking, how long will it be until I can do this again? And then I ask myself, why am I doing this to myself?! As I said, when I think about it all rationally, I know it's the right thing, but it's hard to control those pesky emotions.

For some reason, I've had the song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" caught in my head all day. (I suppose it's better than when I had my cervical myomectomy, and the song in my head was "Goodnight Sweetheart.") Anyhow, I take the song as my brain's own message to me that I'll still be the same person afterward that I am now--just no uterus.

Okay, now I'm ranting, and I apologize. But it did feel good to put it all down, so thank you for tolerating me, and for sending all your good wishes.

Stephanie

*****

Dear Everyone,

In the weeks leading up to my hysterectomy, I craved information about what was going to happen to me, and I devoured anything on this board that went into the specifics of the procedure. Therefore, for those of you who are awaiting surgery and are (like me) information junkies, I am going to give an extremely detailed day-by-day account of the whole experience.

However, if you've already had your operation, don't have time to waste on novel-length posts or simply don't like long-winded journalists like myself, please skip on to the next message!

As I said, I'm going to do this day-by-day--this first post is about the day of the operation.

My operation (a total abdominal hysterectomy, losing the cervix, keeping the ovaries) was scheduled for noon, and I had to be at the hospital at 10 a.m. My mom had volunteered to take me, which was good, because it meant that Alec (my boyfriend) could work that day and take off later in the month, when I would need him more.

At the hospital, I checked in, then went into admissions to sign the all-important I- promise-the-hospital-will-get-paid documents. I went back to the waiting area and chatted with my mom until someone came to take me to pre-op. My mom and I said a tearful goodbye, and then off I went.

The nurse had me go to the bathroom, then showed me into a large room filled with people on gurneys, each in a little section that could be partitioned off with a cloth drape. She closed me into one of the sections and told me to strip and put on a hospital gown (opening to the back). When I was done, she opened the curtain and had a gurney rolled in. I climbed on, and was covered with blankets that had actually been warmed up for me (nice touch, that!).

Soon the anesthesiologist arrived. He and I chatted merrily as he inserted a tube into my arm, starting an IV, an antibiotic and finally, some sort of happy drug. "After I give you this, you're not going to care what else we do to you," he said.

"How long till it takes effect?" I asked.

"Ask me again, and it will already have taken effect," he answered. Sure enough, an instant later, the room started swimming.

The next thing I remember (barely), I was in the operating room, and the surgeons and nurses were moving me from the gurney to the operating table and strapping padding all around my legs. I asked what it was for. "To keep up the circulation in your legs," someone said. "How long do they stay on?" I asked. "Until tomorrow," came the answer.

The anesthesiologist and my own doctor leaned over me. The anesthesiologist said, "Now we're going to send you on a trip. Where do you want to go?"

"Bali," I answered. One second later, I was out.

I woke up an instant later on a gurney in the recovery room, FREEZING! "Cold, cold, cold!" I whimpered, and the recovery room nurses piled blankets on me, finally warming me up. I think I was brought in about 2:30, and I lay there until about 4:30, by which time, I felt quite awake, but oddly, not in pain.

As a nurse and an orderly rolled me down a hallway toward my room, I saw a tall man looking out a hallway window--my mom's husband, Ted! "Hi, Ted," I called out, but the orderly never slowed. "Bye, Ted," I called back as I rolled away. He scampered after me to my room, where my mom was organizing the few clothes, books and tapes I'd brought along. When she saw me come in, a wonderful expression of relief spread across her face, because I apparently looked quite well and lively.

The nurse hooked me up to the pain medication machine, and explained that whenever I hurt, all I had to do was push the button and I'd get painkillers straight into my IV. But here's the deal: I never needed the machine. I didn't feel comfortable, no, but I couldn't consider what I was feeling to be pain, either. To me, it felt like an exaggerated version of the muscle ache you get from a serious abdominal workout, combined with medium-size

menstrual cramps. But no way was it worth taking drugs over. (By the way, I had no problem with either nausea or constipation, I think partly because I didn't use the pain meds.)

I had the IV, of course, and a catheter. Strapped around my legs were the odd pads that they'd put on in the operating room. These turned out to be sort of magic fingers, which every five minutes or so would contract up and down my legs, giving me a little mechanical massage.

My mom and her husband stayed for a while sent a message to Alec to let him know I was fine then left. I checked my answering machine, returned a work call about some artwork for an article I'd written, called another friend to tell him I was fine, then started dozing.

To my delight, Alec was able to finish work and rush to the hospital before the end of visiting hours, so we had some time together, too. After he left, I slept, still feeling very little pain. I lay flat on my back, not moving, until the nurses came in and started to insist that I lie on my sides from time to time. This was a major challenge--the muscles just weren't there, and my belly felt strange. For me to stay on my side, they had to prop me up with many pillows.

The nurses also monitored my blood pressure and temperature throughout the night, every hour or two. I began to run a fever, so they fed me Tylenol, had me put cold packs under my armpits and on my forehead, and eventually (around 4:30 a.m.), called in the resident (cute as a button--right out of kindergarten), who took off my dressing to make sure there wasn't an infection.

Wow, the first glimpse of the incision! It was about five inches wide, very low, held together with staples. Not nearly as hideous as I'd feared, though. Dr. Kindergartner didn't quite have his bandage-removing technique down yet (ouch! hairs!), but the wound looked good. Nevertheless, he started me on some antibiotics, just to be safe, and I went back to sleep until sunrise.

Day One

The morning after my operation, I was awakened early by one of the three doctors who were in on my surgery, a very nice woman I'd never met before. She told me that I was lucky my incision turned out so small, because the fibroids were very big--the five largest, she said, were each about the size of a baseball, and there were a handful of smaller ones, too. To put this in perspective, let me mention that just before surgery, I weighed in at 106 pounds, so five baseballs was a serious load to carry around in my belly!

After the doctor left, the day's nurses arrived: a registered nurse named Elizabeth and a clinical partner named Sylvia. The doctor had given the okay for the catheter and the leg massagers to go away, so Sylvia gently removed them all. I had been apprehensive about having a catheter, but it really wasn't bad at all, and certainly never painful, even as it came out.

Once I was detached from all that, Sylvia said it was time for me to stand up. She put a chair in front of the sink in the bathroom, and then helped me to my feet. It's funny how quickly a person can forget physical sensations, but already I don't remember exactly how it felt to stand up that first time. It wasn't easy, I know, but all I remember was more of that exaggerated muscle soreness. Sylvia propped me up as I hobbled into the bathroom, and then helped me into the chair by the sink. I was desperate to brush my teeth, but before I had been in the chair for even a few seconds, the world started going black, and I felt myself dropping toward the floor. Sylvia caught me and pulled me against the back of the chair, and the next thing I knew, she was wiping my face with wet towels and bellowing for another nurse.

She and Elizabeth dragged the chair back toward the bed, as I weakly muttered, "But what about my teeth?"

"Never mind the teeth!" said Sylvia, as she and Elizabeth hoisted me into bed. "You can brush them later." During the excitement, I'd also had some vaginal spotting (enough to soil the sheets, my socks and my hospital gown), but Sylvia and Elizabeth deftly changed my clothes and all the linens around me.

I felt better as soon as I was back in bed. I was now allowed to have liquids, and breakfast soon arrived: a pair of apple juices, a container of Jell-O and some chicken broth. I'm a vegetarian and a picky eater on top of it, so I just had the apple juice, but oh, it felt good to have some sort of nourishment again! (I stayed on liquids for the rest of the day, more apple juice and some vegetable broth.)

My own doctor arrived soon after breakfast. He said that he had particularly enjoyed the operation--it was good and challenging, and it gave him the chance to show off in front of one of the residents. "You were very impressive," he said.

As far as my little adventure in the bathroom, he said not to worry too much--I hadn't eaten for a long time before, I'd been lying down flat for many hours, and I'd recovered quickly. He recommended that I sit upright in bed for a while before standing again. (Those mechanical beds they have in hospitals are great, by the way.)

Through the day, I had a stream of visitors: Alec came and went several times, my mom and her husband spent the afternoon, and some doctor who specialized in pain medication came to see me. He was very surprised that I hadn't needed any painkiller and suspected that I'd been given epidural morphine. But he was even more surprised to see in the anesthesiologist’s report that I hadn't. He said that people who work out (which I do) have a different reaction to pain, then he told me a really limp joke about a prostitute and an anesthesiologist. Fortunately, it wasn't very funny, because it really is hard to laugh after surgery!

During Alec's second visit, I once again tried to stand, and this time it went fine. In fact, with Alec towing my IV along, I was able to walk all the way to the end of the corridor and back. Later, I went even farther with my mom and her husband. Walking wasn't painful, but there was a sort of tightness all across my belly, as well as a heightened sensitivity to each footfall.

Day One also gave me my first bout of crankiness (which I think Alec mentioned in his post). I was already thinking to myself, "Okay, so why aren't I well yet?" I couldn't help but compare with the night before, which thinking back seemed so much easier. I didn't remember it being so hard to get out of bed, or feeling that tightness against my stomach, or anything. But when I thought about it rationally, I realized that the reason I was more comfortable the day before was because I didn't move at all. But when you're recuperating (or at least when I am), the discomfort that remains demand all your attention, and you forget about what you've overcome.

During the night, the nurses bothered me less, and I was able to get up by myself and go to the bathroom. Though I had some more spotting, which bummed me out a little, I was able to brush my teeth, and it was neat to reflect on just how far I'd come since the morning. I also passed gas that night, which made me happy, because I knew that the next day, I'd be back on solid food.

Day Two

My second morning in the hospital, I was again awakened by the woman doctor who helped out during my surgery. Because my fever had broken during the night, she said that I could have my IV out.

She also looked at the incision, which led to a little disappointment for me. The day before, I had been pleased to see that my stomach wasn't that swollen, and I'd hoped that I might avoid the dreaded swelly-belly. But this morning, my abdomen was indeed all puffed up, in a very lumpy and asymmetrical way. Oh, well, I thought. This too shall pass.

My nurse for the day was a Nigerian woman named Demi ("Like Demi Moore," she said), who removed my IV and then told me I'd have to change rooms. She bundled all my belongings back into their bags and led me across the hall to a new room (also private--hurray!) that looked exactly the same as the first. After she left, I gingerly moved around the room, unpacking the least heavy items. This wasn't too tiring, so I decided to have a shower, too.

I was a little apprehensive, since I had passed out in the bathroom the morning before, but I found that the shower was built for patients, with rails to lean against and an alarm-string to pull if anything went wrong--fortunately, nothing did. To protect the incision, a nurse taped a little plastic sheet to my belly so that it would dangle down and keep the wound dry. And, oh, it felt good to be clean again!

After the shower, I found my first solid food waiting for me: a bowl of rubbery cream of wheat. I forced down as much as I could manage. Later in the day, for lunch and dinner, I requested simple vegetables--spinach, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes--that I hoped would pass easily through my system.

As on the day before, I had a succession of visitors, and again, I spent much of the day hobbling up and down the halls. With each walk, I was able to go a little farther, and I did feel my abdominal muscles getting more relaxed.

But there were two problems. First, my left arm was growing more and more sore. By the end of the day, the spot where my IV had been was swollen and actually hurt more than the incision itself. Second, my fever came back.

In the evening, my doctor turned up. He explained that the soreness in the arm was due to an infiltration, and said because the fever was back up to 100, I would have to have an IV in the other arm, so that I could have more antibiotics. Boo, I said.

After the IV was back in place, I took my longest walk yet through the hospital corridors, with Alec carrying my bag of antibiotic juice beside me. But the evening's big milestone (at 4 a.m.) was my first bowel movement! It didn't hurt at all, to my delight, and I have to tell you, I cheered for those little turds in the toilet bowl as if they were returning war heroes! I felt one giant step back to normal.

Day 3

We have a private joke, Alec and I, about waiters and waitresses in Thai restaurants. I'm not sure why, but whenever we eat at a Thai restaurant, we find that our waitperson has some irresistible compulsion to constantly rearrange everything on the table. I mention this only because when my nurse came into my room on my third morning after surgery, she immediately moved everything in the room--including me! She roused me out of bed, saying, "You can't eat in bed!" and dragged me over to one of the chairs in the room. She then repositioned everything else and bustled back out.

I called Alec and whispered into the phone, "I think my nurse is from Thailand!" And sure, enough, it turned out that she was. Her name was Usa, and she soon liberated me from the IV.

This morning I found that I was not only able to eat, but wanted to. Hunger had returned! Unfortunately, I was still stuck with the same gloppy hospital food. I have to warn those with upcoming surgeries--I was lucky enough to be in a fancy-schmancy hospital, but even so, the food was darn near unspeakable. There were these iridescent orange sweet potato patties, with the consistency of-- Oh, I don't want to think about it anymore! I was just glad that my taste buds didn't reawaken until my last morning there.

After I choked down breakfast (more cream of wheat), I took my first solo stroll down the hallways and got back just in time to see my doctor. Time for my staples to come out.

For those of you who don't yet know, there are apparently two ways to close up the incision--sutures and staples. Though I'd been reluctant to have my skin stapled shut, my doctor had promised that it wouldn't be painful, and added that staples left a much cleaner wound. Staple away, I had told him. So, when I woke up from the operation, I found my incision held together with about twelve little staples, each one less than a quarter of an inch long, running perpendicular to the incision.

Now, the doctor hopped up on my bed to extract the staples. Naturally, I had pictured one of those office-type staple-pullers, but the real tool was considerably more delicate--more like a tiny pair of pliers. The doctor grasped the first staple in the middle and gently wiggled it to and fro, until it lifted away from the incision. It sounds horrible, I know, but it really didn't hurt. The doctor went along the incision, pulling out one staple after the next, as I watched intently. "Maybe you want to do one?" he asked.

"My next hysterectomy," I answered.

With the staples in, the incision had been raised up above the surface of my belly, like a little bit of fringe; but as soon as a staple was gone, its part of the incision flattened out, flush with my own skin. By the time he was done, the whole incision had gone down and, in some places, was already hard to see. I marveled at this, remembering that less than three days before, that bit of me had been totally open to the world. The doc then put nine little strips of tape across the incision to protect it. These, he said, would probably stay on for about a week.

After he left, Alec arrived, and we took more walks, including one very long one out the corridor, down the elevator, and into the public section of the hospital. I had started wearing street clothes the day before, because it made me feel a little more human, but out here in the real world, I found they could be a bit of a liability. See, when you're wearing a hospital gown, everyone knows you're a patient, and they expect you to move slowly.

When you're back in your civvies, no one can tell that you need a little extra time and space, so they get impatient and push around you. Still, it felt good to be among the healthy again.

Alec and I returned to my room and packed up my books, clothes and audio tapes (these were great--I particularly recommend Sting and Crowded House as recuperation music). He left to go get the house ready for my return, and I waited for my mom and her husband, who had kindly offered to drive me home in their big car. Alec and I both drive Miatas (two-seater convertibles), so my stepfather's boat-of-car sounded pretty good.

When the honorable parents arrived, my old friend Usa brought me a wheelchair and rolled me down to the front door of the hospital. Not to sound ungrateful here, but the architect who suggested large bumpy tiles for the front lobby had obviously never ridden across such things in a wheelchair three days after abdominal surgery. Youch! But I made it to the door, to the car, and home without incident, and that's the end of my little hospital saga.

Since then, each day has been a mixture of read-walk-eat-sleep, followed by videos at night. At one-week post, I still have the swelly-belly, which is still asymmetrical. But on the whole, I feel that I've been very fortunate, and I'm already glad that I had the operation.

I hope this has been of some use to those of you in waiting, and I wish you all as smooth a recovery as mine has been so far!

Three-Week Report

Today is exactly three weeks since I had my TAH (keeping the ovaries, not the cervix), and aside from moments of grouchiness tied to the unhappy business of having to rest, I'm doing very well.

I started driving (with my boyfriend accompanying me) 16 days after the operation, and the day before yesterday, I took my first solo trips (to the library and to a massage). What freedom! What bliss! I'm so happy to be back in my little Miata!

Overall, I'm feeling so back to normal that I'm amazed. I do tire more easily than usual, but that could be at least partly due to the RECORD-BREAKING HEAT (grr) that is afflicting So Cal at the moment. My abdomen is still slightly swollen and tender to the touch, but less than it's been, and the muscles seem almost back to normal. I can now sneeze and sit up without much thinking about it. (Actually, I do think about both, but the thought is generally, "Hey, that doesn't hurt anymore. Cool.")

It's funny, having starting on this board as a terrified newcomer awaiting surgery, to find myself on the other side of things like this. I feel as though I'm standing at the far end of a tunnel, calling back to everyone who's following me down this path, "You'll never guess what! I think there is a light at the end of this thing, after all!"

So that's today's message--a happy one. I hope everyone else has a recovery as easy and uneventful as mine has been so far!

Stephanie

04-12-2003 - 11:21 AM


SHARING IS CARING


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