* * *
Most people don’t like being in hospital.
I’m no exception.
In fact, having had so many bad experiences in hospitals, I have to steel myself to even get through the front door. So after a long first night, I would have loved nothing more than to bust out of there at the first sight of the sun. Unfortunately, I needed to be there for a little longer.
Here’s how the rest of week 1 played out…
If I thought I’d been hurting on day one, I was in for a treat on day two, when they removed the gauze they’d packed me with. It felt like birthing an echidna, or a baby wearing a jumpsuit made of sandpaper.
And it was more than a week before I could take a proper deep breath; before my stomach no longer felt like it had been inflated to the size of a whale while I had been unconscious.
To top it all off, the large dose of antibiotics they gave me during surgery totally wiped out my digestive system, apparently destroying all the work I’ve done over the past few years. After the surgery, I couldn’t keep anything down. Not even the magic Ondansetron wafers helped (nor did the IV version). My stomach acid was sitting so high in my throat, I struggled to breathe. I panted with nausea, every single fibre of my being focused on not throwing up (that’s the perfect way to tear all your internal stitches). They had to give me regular doses of a different kind of IV anti-nausea medication, just so that I could breathe, and keep down a few spoonfuls of cereal.
After two nights in hospital, my pain was under control, and I could have gone home… except for the fact that I still couldn’t keep anything down on my own. Not even my plain rice flakes cereal with A2 milk, the food that’s been my ‘safe’ staple for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the way through the past few years of mounting intolerances. No matter what other crazy stuff is happening with my body, I’ve always been able to digest that. But now, I no longer could. I was left with nothing. Still, they were ready to send me home. When I told them I couldn’t go home unable to eat, they just shook their heads at me.
“We didn’t operate on your stomach, you know,” one nurse primly informed me.
Thank you, dear nurse. It might come as a surprise to you, but I am aware of the difference between a uterus and a stomach!
But the body is all connected. Antibiotics have one job: kill bacteria. They’re good at their job. But they’re not discerning, they wipe out all bacteria. Not just the bad kind that causes infection, but also the good kind that digests food.
You knew that my kidneys weren’t operated on either. But it didn’t seem to surprise you when they were struggling, turning my urine brown like I was severely dehydrated (despite the fact I was hooked up to IV fluids and drinking copious amounts of water). That’s because you know that the kidneys are in charge of filtering and processing all the anaesthetics and heavy painkillers you’d given me. They hadn’t been operated on, but they were struggling, and that was understandable.
But my stomach was apparently in a different category. Why was it conceivable that one part of the body could be affected by things that had been done to / given to me, and yet inconceivable for a different part of the same body to be affected?
I asked them to talk to my doctor about an alternative anti-nausea medication. They still hadn’t organised that by 9pm, so I ended up staying another night. At the handover from day shift to night shift, the nurse in charge told the new nurses that “this patient could have gone home today, but she just didn’t want to”.
I would have loved to spit out a snappy reply, but it was all I could do not to cry.
The next day, when asked if I was “ready to go home yet”, I asked them again about the anti-nausea meds. I was again assured that they “hadn’t operated on my stomach” and it was “all fine”. They told me I just needed to get home, to get back into my usual routine, and then I’d feel better. Eventually, when I kept insisting, they organised some anti-nausea medication for me, so that I could hopefully keep some food down at home. The only thing they could offer me was Ondansetron wafers or tablets. I wasn’t hopeful, seeing as neither the Ondansetron wafers nor the IV Ondansetron had helped me. But it was better than going home with nothing. I accepted the box of tablets, and went home.
For that first week, I could only manage two dessert spoons of cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I lost three kilos that I didn’t need to lose. Sitting up made my surgical pain worse. Lying down made my nausea and reflux worse. I lay propped up on pillows, trying to breathe over the acid that was choking me, while begging my body to let me stay up just a little longer before I had to lie down and drown again.
But that wasn’t even the worst part of the first week.
For those first seven days or so, I lost myself. I don’t mean having my uterus taken out messed with my identity, or my perception of myself. I mean, I literally didn’t feel like me. And that terrified me.
The combination of anaesthetic, surgery, antibiotics, pain, heavy painkillers, nausea, and hormone changes (as my ovaries adjusted to no longer getting blood flow from my uterus)…it was too much for my system. I cried a lot, often about nothing: I just sobbed. I was moody, and irritable. I was lonely, but I didn’t want anyone around. I felt like a completely different person. Sometimes I’d think to myself ,”What if I’m stuck like this? What if I’m never me again? What have I done?”
I kept reminding myself (and calling on others to remind me) that what I was feeling was normal, and would pass. But I was terrified that it wouldn’t. I felt like I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. I hated my body. I hated myself.
Because I wasn’t myself.
Maybe not ever again.
(P.S. Don’t worry, it did get better! I’m now in week 4, and feeling much more like myself. But it was a long, slow, hard journey to get there).