My hysterectomy was in late May, almost three weeks ago now. The surgery went well, and I’m slowly recovering. A lot of the pain has gone (as long as I don’t try to do anything). But my head still feels stuffed with cotton wool. The brain fog is less like fog, and more thick, black mud. Thinking is slow going. Writing is slower still. But I wanted to get this down, while I still remember it. It’s part of my life. And maybe, one day, it will help someone else with theirs.
I’ll write about my recovery, when I can.
* * *
Hysterectomy: day 1
When I arrive at the hospital in the morning, I tell the nurses that Mum and Mr Happy are my entourage. They smile understandingly and let them accompany me everywhere, almost right up until the surgery itself. It helps, having them there. Sitting in the waiting room, we joke about the products being promoted on midday television. Rice cookers and vacuum cleaners and exercise gear. My husband is incredulous that anyone would watch those ads. My Mum tells him of a retired couple who once watched them all the time. The elderly gentleman bought so many (unneeded) things from those advertisements, his wife nearly had to confiscate the credit card!
We trail around the hospital as I sign papers, and get weighed and measured. Repeating over and over ‘in my own words’ what procedure I’m there for. Every time they ask me, I want to say something funny, like ‘cancelling my monthly subscription’ or ‘shutting down my human making factory’. Just off-hand and casual, like I don’t really mind. But the words catch in my throat. I do mind.
I don’t want to be there.
I pass around my printed list of allergies like I’m handing out flyers. I have too many allergies to remember and recite repeatedly. I confirm over and over again that yes, I am allergic to tape. Yes, allergic to all the tapes they have. Yes, even the ‘sensitive’ ones. Yes, I’ve brought my own tape, that I’m not allergic to. Yes, they can have a look at it. Yes, it is pretty awesome. No, I don’t know why all hospitals don’t use it all the time. No, they can’t have the cardboard backing, because then I’ll have nothing to show the next nurse who asks what it is. Sure, they can have a piece of the tape to show their manager.
I’m moved to a bed, and a smiling nurse comes and shaves my lady parts. She’s smiling, but impatient, and rough. By the time she’s finished, I have several painful cuts, both internal and external, that are bleeding. I’m annoyed, because I could have done it more gently myself, but was warned not to by the surgeon. “A nurse will do that,” he had told me, “because it’s important not to get any cuts or nicks, because they raise the risk of infection”.
I’ve organised with the surgeon that I’ll wear my own compression stockings during and after the surgery. They’re stronger than the hospital provided ones, and since I have a blood clotting disorder, that’s important. These ones are bright purple knee highs, and every nurse comments on how awesome they are. I take off the rest of my own clothes, and put on the impersonal blue hospital gown.
I’ve had to fast overnight. That’s not a problem for a healthy person, but I get dehydrated very quickly. It makes operating difficult for the surgeon, and recovery difficult for me. Thankfully, this surgeon and anaesthetist have listened, and I’m admitted to hospital early for pre-surgery IV saline.
Because we know that I’m difficult to cannulate, the anaesthetist comes and does it herself. There’s no poking me and then painfully stirring the needle around inside, looking for the vein that seemed to be there moments before. She gets it in first go, and IV saline is hooked up. My head has started to spin. I look at the clock and work out it’s about 17 hours since I’ve last eaten.
I chat with Mum until a little after 1pm, when a nurse with an Irish accent comes to tell me that the theatre is almost ready for me. My heart gives a funny little thump, because I know that means it’s time to leave my entourage behind. Mum asks the nurse to make sure they don’t leave me on my own for a long period of time. Previously, I’ve been wheeled off for surgery but, due to complications in the theatre, I’ve ended up being parked in a waiting room on my own for hours. Mum knows that, emotionally, it wouldn’t be good for me today. The nurse promises to keep an eye on me. I hug my Mum and Mr Happy, and then I’m wheeled away.
We get to an area buzzing with theatre people. The ward nurse with the Irish accent hands me over to a theatre nurse, explaining that I can’t be left on my own for too long. “Her Mum has let us know that she might be a bit of a flight risk,” she says, patting my leg and looking at me sympathetically. I picture myself pathetically trying to hobble away, and being tackled to the floor by several nurses. I burst out laughing. “I’m not a flight risk,” I assure her. “My Mum meant I might not cope emotionally, waiting on my own for this surgery.” She blinked at me several times as her mental picture of me adjusted, and then she laughed with me.
She left, and another nurse came along, suggesting I could play dress ups with the colourful array of coats hanging next to my bed. I think they were protective coats for theatre staff. She had me in giggles describing a rather overweight, balding, serious looking surgeon who had been in the day before. Out of the whole rack of coats, a selection of about thirty, he’d chosen the one covered with hot pink smiling hearts. Apparently, the combination had looked hilarious.
They move me to a tiny room, facing the theatre doors. My heart is beating too fast. My skin is clammy. When a male theatre nurse walks in with a long, thin gas canister, my sense of humour kicks in, to protect me. “Excellent,” I say to him. “I’ve been waiting for you to arrive”.
He blinks at me in surprise. “You have?” he says, startled.
Yes,” I say, firmly. “I’d like a balloon animal please”.
He looks rather confused.
I point to the gas canister in his hand, saying, “That’s what the helium is for, isn’t it?”
He looks down at the gas canister, and then back at me, breaking into a grin.
“Sorry, no helium in here,” he chuckles.
“No worries,” I say, airily. “A nitrous oxide balloon will do just fine”.
He puts the canister on a cart, and then walks out, still chuckling and shaking his head.
My surgeon pops in, to check if I have any last minute questions. I don’t.
Two nurses come in, arguing about who caught the most fish over the weekend. Nurse 1 says that the other’s count is off, because he’s including several that were only the size of a sardine, and so they don’t really count. Nurse 2 replies that they were still fish, no matter what the size, so he’s counting them. I side with big fish guy, and tell the other nurse that if he throws his line in, and the fish he catches is smaller than the bait he was using, he doesn’t get to count it. Big fish guy gives me a high five.
Other people pop in and out of the tiny room, getting equipment or gloves, checking papers and schedules. I lay there and practise some of the bible passages I’ve memorised. I focus on breathing. I start a story about a fish called Nathan, in my head.
And then…it’s time.
They take me through the double doors, into the theatre. They slide me from my ward bed onto the theatre one. Everyone keeps apologising to me about how cold it is in there. I keep telling them I understand it’s to keep germs down, and it’s okay.
Someone brings me an extra blanket. Big, bright lights are positioned. I see theatre nurses helping my surgeon to get ready.
I feel something slowly spreading through my body. “You might begin to feel drowsy,” my anaesthetist says to me. “I was just about to ask you about that,” I tell her. “I figured it must be the anaesthetic. I saw you inject something into my line a few minutes ago, but I wasn’t sure what it was, until I started feeling it”. She smiles and nods, and tells me to relax. I look at the ceiling, as people bustle around me, and wonder what it would feel like to fight the anaesthetic. I never do. Every time, I just let it…