First of all, let me apologize for taking SO long to write this final chapter of my hysterectomy recovery. I’ve been very busy — well — enjoying my life! For those of you still on the fence about whether or not to get your hysterectomy, I sit here today nearly three months later a brand new person. I am telling you to GO FOR IT. My quality of life has never been better.
The other day I was digging through my purse and stumbled upon a pantie liner wrapped neatly in its blue packaging. I grabbed it and pulled it out and said out loud: “What in the world are YOU doing here?” I had a stowaway in a hidden pocket in my purse. It felt good to know that this tiny little product would no longer be necessary in my life.
Okay, so let’s back up the bus a minute. Let’s go over the six-week follow up appointment since I last left you hanging at the two-week follow up.
I was nervous because the last thing I wanted to hear was that something hadn’t healed properly and that I needed more recovery time. I wanted to hold my daughter so badly. I wanted to pick her up off the ground and hold her in my arms. Six weeks was a dreadfully long time to not be able to do that. I went to this follow-up appointment alone. My wife went to work and my Mama had finally gone home after I was cleared at my two-week appointment and went back to work for a week. Once she was sure I was okay, she flew back home to North Carolina to reunite with her husband and her mountains after being by my side for an entire month.
I got called back for blood work and then to the nurse’s station where they took my blood pressure and my weight. I knew I would be getting a vaginal exam today and all vaginal exams have always made me a bit uneasy anyway. This one, though, held a stronger weight for me than the pap smears and pelvic exams of my past. This one would dictate whether or not I could pick up my daughter. This one would determine if I could take my family to Disney World. This one would determine whether or not I could finally get back to helping my wife around the house as she had already carried that entire responsibility on her shoulders for six weeks (longer if you count the months I was down due to vaginal hemorrhaging from my fibroid). Too much was riding on this appointment and I needed to be cleared.
Dr. A walked into the exam room with his usual happy demeanor and a giant hug. He asked me questions about bleeding, pain, discomfort. constipation, and how my family was doing. No bleeding, no pain, no discomfort, still constipated from the iron supplements, and my family was doing great. It was time for the exam to check my vaginal cuff. The vaginal cuff is created for women who lose their cervix during a hysterectomy. it’s where the top of the vaginal wall is sutured shut where the cervix once was. It’s the reason you can’t lift anything for six weeks. You could risk busting open the internal sutures and therefore create even bigger problems and probably more surgery. I took this warning very seriously — as did my wife. I lifted nothing. Nothing was worth the risk of being down LONGER than I already had been down.
The pelvic exam was about 45 seconds long. You read that right. 45 seconds. I was told everything felt great and that I healed beautifully. That was it. He told me he’d see me next year for my annual well woman exams and I was dismissed.
It was done. I was free.
That night, I arrived home and my little girl ran to me. She knew today was the day I was going to get to pick her up. Mommy had prepped her. I bent down and scooped her up. As I held her in my arms, we took a moment to acknowledge how much we had missed each other. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Luckily my amazing wife decided to video our sweet reunion. You can see it below.
A few days later on October 15th, I got the call that my hemoglobin (iron level) was back in the normal range. Let me tell you. After seven units of blood in six days because of severe and emergent anemia, hearing that I was finally “normal” with a level of 12.1 was amazing news. I knew then that I was in the clear. I could finally stop the iron supplements.
Since then, I have been blissfully living my life. In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and challenged myself to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I succeeded. I have been filling up my weekends with my family with activities and events and living life to its fullest. We had my wife’s parents with us for Thanksgiving and we are looking forward to the joys that Christmas is sure to bring to our family..
I am grateful. Grateful for this incredible disaster of a journey that led me to where I sit today. Happy, healthy, and without the smallest bit of doubt that having a complete hysterectomy was the right path for me. I realize how much I allowed my fear to paralyze me into my own misery. I will not allow that to happen again. My wish and my prayer for you is that you don’t allow it either. If my words have helped just one of you decide to end this suffering and get your doctor recommended hysterectomy then GOOD. My work here is done. No one should have to suffer the way I did – including myself. I see that so clearly now.
And hey! No more periods for me and let me tell you — after a LIFETIME of heavy, horrible, debilitating, and embarrassing periods, I will most certainly drink to that. Cheers, everyone! Happy Holidays to all of you!
The first two weeks of my recovery following my hysterectomy seemed to move slowly at first and then much quicker as I began to work from home which helped to pass a lot of the time. My mom was still with me ~ fixing my lunch, making sure I took my iron and folic acid, doing dishes, vacuuming my rugs, cleaning my patio and my bathrooms, cooking meals for my family, and keeping me company. She helped me get this blog up and running and started, too. She’s a pretty amazing blogger and you can read her blogs HERE.
On the morning of my two-week post-op appointment with Dr. A. I felt anxious. Before my surgery, I had asked Dr. A. what the recovery time would be and when I could expect to go back to work. He told me it all depends. Some women come in on the two-week follow up still moving slowly with significant pain and tenderness and some women walk in like nothing ever happened. Surgery? What surgery? I wanted to be THAT girl but I also knew I was still moving slower than my normal speed and I still had some tenderness in my abdomen. I also knew I NEEDED to get cleared to drive and get back to the office.
In my mind, not getting cleared wasn’t an option. That morning, my wife went to work and my baby girl went to daycare. Mom and I had a quick breakfast. My appointment wasn’t until 1:30 in the afternoon and my wife had agreed to meet me there.
Because I wasn’t cleared to drive, my mom drove me in my car to my appointment. It was the first time I had sat in a car since my drive home from the hospital. This time felt much different. The bumps and swerves had a much smaller impact on the comfort of my abdomen and I took this as a good sign.
I arrived at my ob-gyn office — dressed to the nines in a v -neck t-shirt and men’s pajama pants (YES, OK? I LIVED in men’s pajama pants..and no…not just during my recovery. I am well past my recovery time and am writing in men’s pajama pants as we speak. And I will NOT be shamed.)
Soon after we arrived, my wife walked through the door. I went to check-in. Melissa Parziale reporting for duty! The receptionist pulled up my electronic file and she looked at me with a dash of kindness sprinkled with a bit of shock.
“Um…are you on a payment plan?” I stared blankly. “No. Do I have a balance that requires me to BE on a payment plan?” She looked up at me and said “So I’m going to send you to see the billing department over there and they’ll talk to you.” I nodded and walked down to the other end of the lobby to see the billing department. It was tough to keep financial matters confidential when the look on her face was so concerning and she didn’t exactly whisper her question about a payment plan.
“Hi. I was told to come here and talk to you about a payment plan?” Understand that I had just had my surgery two weeks ago. I had not received a bill to my home yet (and still haven’t from the hospital/s). The billing specialist looked up my account and said “This bill literally just went out yesterday and they’re already asking us to get money from her? ” She looked at her colleague to her right with a disapproving look. She looked back to me. “Have you even received this bill yet?” I responded with a “No ma’am..I haven’t received anything but if you’d be willing to print out what you have that states what I owe you, my wife and I can look at it and make a plan to get it paid.” I was freaking out. Here we go with the financial hardship. Bill #1. Dr. A and his Assistant Dr. L. Gulp. This had nothing to do with the two hospital stays, blood transfusions, blood draws, emergency care, surgery, or the respiratory therapy I received while in the hospital.
She printed out the bill for me. I felt like she felt guilty even talking to me about this bill right now. And then I saw it. Here is Bill #1..the first of the expected 3 to come. Before I continue, I feel that it’s important to mention that my company offers decent and competitive insurance through Florida Blue. Here was my bill AFTER insurance:
Not bad in the big scheme of things IF this was the only bill I would be expecting. As I said, I haven’t received either of the two hospital bills. So far, my bill was at $1660.97 just for my doctor’s time to remove my uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes. I’m not at all saying he doesn’t deserve every penny of this…I’m simply saying hold onto your wallets, ladies because YIKES.
They didn’t request any type of payment from me at that time. She handed me a print out of what was owed to the practice and sent me back to wait on my follow up appointment.
I waited in the lobby until I was called. My mom stayed behind in the waiting room while my wife and I ventured back. My vitals were taken in the nurse’s station. Blood pressure was great. I had lost quite a bit of weight since the removal of my fat and angry uterus. My wife and I were sent to an exam room to wait on Dr, A. We waited patiently but make no mistake that we joked about the giant, spread-eagled vagina that hung on the wall between us because…well… my wife and I have the humor of a 12 year old sometimes and we make no apologies for it.
I was fully clothed and was not asked to disrobe. No paper gown was handed to me and I sat patiently. If I’m being completely honest, I was trying really hard to look like I had ZERO levels of discomfort. This wasn’t true but I also knew deep down that I was able to drive and get back to work if he would only clear me. My wife looked at me and said: “how are you feeling?” My response was “I don’t know how to feel because I don’t know what to expect.”
Dr. A finally came into the room with his giant smile and a super hug. He looked at my chart and we chatted for a bit. He informed me he was not going to give me a vaginal exam today. In fact, his words were “I’m going to leave you alone today and I’ll give you a vaginal exam on your six week follow up. We’ll also wait and test your iron levels on your six week appointment” I was relieved to hear this because I knew I had discomfort and was not looking forward to being poked around in my newly emptied pelvic cavity.
Dr. A moved towards me and reclined my chair back. He lifted my shirt off of my belly to reveal my three incisions that I had been babying for the last two weeks. I had followed Nurse Jennifer’s Instructions to the level. Do not scrub them in the shower. Scrub around them and let the soapy water run over the incisions so as not to disturb the surgical tape that was protecting my incisions from opening up.
Dr. A looked at me and said “Wow…you’ve taken great care of these!!” He seemed impressed. He actually tried to remove the surgical tape that still covered my incisions. He got one off and the other two didn’t want to come off at all. He said “Wow. O.K. Start putting Vaseline on these and they will start to come off.” He cleared me to begin washing my body over the incisions. YES! Progress.
At one point in time, he started talking about the hysterectomy and specific billing codes and I said “do one of those codes mean ‘angry uterus?'” I started to laugh (because I’m awkward and I fill awkward moments about my uterus with jokes and laughter) and no sooner did the words dance off my tongue than the power went out in the building. There we sat….. in the dark just me, my empty pelvis, my wife, and Dr. A. Now, I feel it’s also noteworthy to mention that it was a clear and sunny day — not a cloud or thunderstorm in the sky . In Florida, when the power goes out hard like that, it’s usually due to a storm in the area so everyone was surprised. There was quiet for a brief second. When things get quiet, I get even more awkward. And when things get even more awkward, I make more jokes. After a moment of silence, I said ” You see? I can’t even TALK about my angry uterus or the power goes out!” Dr. A and my wife started laughing. Dr. A said he’d never witnessed a power outage in all of his time at this practice. We actually had to find a new exam room in a different wing of the practice to finish my follow up appointment.
My imaginative brain began to see my uterus — swollen with blood and my massive fibroid, removed from my body, possibly in a trash bag somewhere…clearly with a mind and spirit of its own who had come to my two-week follow up to shut off the power at the very mention of it and haunt me for the rest of my life. But these are the reasons I write. My imagination can get the best of me sometimes.
I told Dr. A. that a few days after my surgery, I noticed my vulva was bruised — black and blue– and I wanted to know why. And when I say black and blue, I am not kidding. It looked like someone (or someones) punched me in the vulva on their way out of surgery. Just for kicks.
The story he told me made me have even more respect for him. He knew I was only open to do the surgery if it could be done laporascopically. He promised me that he had removed uteruses larger than mine without having to cut the abdomen open. When he got in there, he realized my uterus was HUGE. This is actually why my incisions sit higher than normal hysterectomies – because my uterus was so enlarged in actually lifted up into my abdomen. For a minute, he believed he’d have to open me up (by the way I signed a waiver understanding this was a possibility but make no mistake that I never let my brain believe it could be a possibility). He also understood that this just wasn’t a viable option for me with a 2 year old. It would mean a longer recovery period..more time under anesthesia…more time in the hospital, and more time I’d have to go without lifting up my baby girl.
Dr. A. took a deep breath, looked at his team and said “Okay, guys…we can do this…we can do this laparoscopically.” My uterus was so large that he worried about whether he would need to open me up but still he pressed on with our original plan. In order to remove my uterus through my vagina, he placed a bag inside my vagina and internally captured my uterus once it was detached from its ligaments with the robotic tools. Once my uterus was in the bag, It was shaken inside of me to make sure the uterus dropped to the bottom of the bag….kind of like chicken in a Shake N Bake bag. Once it was securely confined within the bag, he began to chop up my uterus into small pieces with the laparoscopic/robotic tools within the bag so that it could all be removed through my vagina and not through a larger incision in my abdomen. This struggle caused my vulva to be completely bruised…black and blue — It got a total beat down. I’ll spare you the picture (because you know I have one). I was grateful for the bruise once I heard the story.
Dr. A told me I was clear to drive. This was amazing news! I asked if that meant I could return to work. He asked me what I did for a living. and when he realized I had a desk job, he said I could return to work the following Monday. I then asked if I could go to Disney World with my family as long as I promised not to go on the rides. I knew he was a Disney fan and that he and his family went often. Surely, he would understand my request. He looked at me and said with clear regret “Look. Give me the six weeks, okay? That’s a lot of walking and you have this vaginal cuff and internal stitches that really need to heal. Can you give me the 6 weeks?”
My appointment was on a Thursday and I was happy I could report to my office on the upcoming Monday and drive myself, too. We are wise to count our blessings where they lie.
So ladies, if you are facing a laparoscopic/robotic assisted hysterectomy, here’s what you can expect during your two-week post-op appointment. If you work a desk job, you will probably be approved to return to work and drive yourself (as long as you aren’t experiencing any complications). You will want to make sure you can press the pedal and break without experiencing pain or discomfort and wear your seat belt comfortably. You will not receive a pelvic exam until your six-week follow up. No matter how good you feel, you must continue to follow your doctor’s orders and refrain from picking up your child (or anything over 20 lbs) until you’re cleared at your six week follow up. This was the hardest rule for me. I felt good but I was still at risk of tearing my internal stitches and destroying my vaginal cuff and risk hemorrhaging. I figured I’d hemorrhaged enough at this point and if I tried to lift anything over 20 pounds for the next four weeks, I would be in big trouble…and that included my beautiful daughter.
We had reached so much success at the two-week mark but my sweet family knew we had a lot farther to go. I also knew that being cleared to return to work meant my Mama would be working on her exit strategy to head back home. Luckily for us, she decided to stay during my first week back at work to make sure I didn’t need anything more from her. She needed to know I’d (we’d) be okay when she left and she did just that.
All in all, ladies, I would tell you that there just isn’t much to the two-week follow up besides a quick external exam to see how your incisions are healing…a possible surprise bill you weren’t expecting, a power outage the moment you mention your ridiculous uterus, and a big fat “denied” to Disney World with further instructions on not lifting a thing — especially your own child — for another four weeks.
In retrospect, the two-week follow up is harmless and usually ends with good news. But remember this: recovery differs from woman to woman and generally takes a full six weeks (minimum) to complete the healing cycle. Following the instructions of your provider is critical during this time for many reasons. Because I had been out of commission for so long, we are now working hard at making every weekend count by making it eventful and full of fun, excitement, and adventure for our sweet girl and our amazing family. Lord knows she deserves it and Lord knows we all need it. ❤
I left the hospital with specific instructions. Instructions on not lifting, bending, squatting, pushing, pulling, coughing, sneezing, riding in or driving a car; Instructions on how to ween me off of narcotics; Instructions on how to care for the three incisions in my abdomen. My stomach was bloated from the surgery and it was sore but I’ll say this again. The aftermath of my surgery was simple, clean, and expected. You don’t get out of any surgery without some discomfort — especially in the first few days or that first week so I was expecting that. I remember praying and saying “If You will just let me wake up after the surgery, I can handle the rest.” I woke up and so (true to my word) I handled it.
Do you know how we all have that one chair in the living room that becomes “our chair”? Mine was always on the love seat next to my wife with my legs stretched out on the footrest and fully reclined to my heart’s content. This is where I thought I would land when I got home ~relaxed with my favorite blanket. As it turned out, that position was not feasible for a couple of reasons. 1). I couldn’t push the footrest down to it’s rightful place when I had to stand up and standing up was already awkward as it was with my incisions. And 2). Laying back wasn’t at all comfortable for me. I found the most comfortable position to be sitting down on the couch with a couple of bed pillows behind my back.
I was instructed to make sure I walked frequently to keep blood clots from forming in my legs. I slept upright in my bed with a husband and a stack of pillows behind me to keep me propped up. After a few days, I felt a weird sensation in my right calf and I immediately began to worry it could be a blood clot. I tried to be better about walking around but honestly, I live in a 1600 square foot house and there really wasn’t any place to go! After doing some research, I read that not lying flat on your back when you sleep can cause poor circulation to your calves and feet and so I removed the husband and the pillows and began to lay flat in my bed. The sensation in my leg disappeared. Phew. No blood clot.
Showering came with specific instructions. Because my incisions had some type of clear surgical tape over them, I was to wash my body around the incisions and just let the soap run over them without actually washing them directly. I was gifted a couple of packages of those sexy mesh panties from the hospital and so I continued to wear them over the next week for comfort and because they put no pressure on my incisions and my swollen belly (and if I’m being honest, I was pretty much rockin’ the entire mesh look) .
I think the best part about showering when I got home was still having to have my wife or my mom help me put my underwear and pants on. I couldn’t bend over — strict instructions not to. So, my showers went a little something like this: Quick shower letting soap run over the incisions being careful not to scrub them. Pat dry. Do NOT rub the towel over the incisions. Put robe on, leave it open, and pace the floors of my bedroom letting my incisions air dry before getting dressed. Yell out to my mom or wife (whoever was available) to come in, grab my mesh panties, get down on the floor and let me step into them. I’m 6’1″ so if you are on the floor trying to get underwear over my feet, my vagina is likely in your face. I swear my mother is an angel. And as for my wife, that was the most action she’d had in eight months so I’m not sure she opposed.
Once that was done, I needed help with my men’s pajama bottoms I was wearing since my surgery and I could generally handle my clothing from the waist up though everything felt like a bit of a challenge.
I remember telling my wife that I wanted to order all new underwear for myself — underwear that would never ever see a period. I wanted my favorite style (boy shorts) and I wanted plenty of them. And once they arrived, I wanted to take my old underwear and burn them. My wife, being the sweetheart she is, ordered me some from Target and when my box of new underwear arrived, I was beside myself with joy.
But here’s the thing I wasn’t prepared for. For the first week, I had no blood, no discharge, no fluid, no nothing coming out of me. And then…all of a sudden, I started to get pretty large amounts of a brownish, yellowish, clearish discharge with a dash of blood tinting it. I didn’t panic because my doctor told me when I should be panicking. He said if I was bleeding heavily, passing clots larger than a quarter or filling up a pad in less than an hour, I needed to get to the hospital. What was happening to me was not this but I was concerned and also very curious. I knew it couldn’t be cervical mucous because well…I no longer had a cervix…so what WAS this?
I did a bit of research and discovered that this was very normal and could continue to happen for up to 6-8 weeks. When you lose your cervix (and sometimes the top half of your vagina in what’s called a radical hysterectomy), the surgeon needs to close the gap where the cervix once was. This is called a vaginal cuff. My wife said it sounded like something Wonder Woman would have had and that I was basically a superhero. This is why she’s my person. Only my wife would make me feel like a superhero for losing my cervix and now having a vaginal cuff in its place. She has a way of making me feel invincible while at the same time being my kryptonite (in all the best ways).
The vaginal cuff is created by stitching the top half of your vagina to the bottom half to bridge the space where your cervix used to be. Those internal stitches take six to eight weeks to heal (though usually by six weeks). As the stitches dissolve and heal, fluid, discharge, and light blood begin to exit through the vagina. So ladies, as the title of my blog clearly states…don’t get too excited just yet and don’t throw out those pantie liners! Trust me when I say you’ll only ruin that nice box of underwear you ordered from Target. This discharge started in my second week following my surgery and stopped right before my six week check-up. I’m happy to say I never needed to use a pad..just pantie liners and that was a huge improvement in my life.
One thing I want to warn my readers about — especially those who are considering a hysterectomy — is this. One day I got out of the shower and was met with a surprise. Now, I couldn’t shave anything below the waist during this two week period (no bending — no risking ruining that vaginal cuff). I was actually quite amazed at how long my leg hair got over the two week period…. but I digress. One day, I stepped out of the shower and I caught a glimpse of my vulva/vagina in the mirror. For a moment, I thought it was fully overgrown with hair from a lack of shaving but a closer look showed me that my entire vulva was bruised — and I mean black and blue (mostly black). My wife was rocking our daughter to sleep at the time. I took a picture and sent it to her in a text that said “what the hell is this??” I called my mom in to see it too (as I said..my poor mother is a saint). It looked like someone punched me square in the vulva on their way out of the operating room. I made a note to ask my doctor about it during my two week check up and I will go into those details in a later blog when I discuss the two week check up but just know this~ If this happens to you, there’s a good reason and not to be concerned. When my doctor explained why this had happened to me, I was beyond grateful for the story behind it.
In my second week of recovery, I was down to one to two Percocets a day (mostly at night to help with sleep) and I began to work from home. I am very lucky to work for a small company with amazing bosses that I also consider friends. They treat me like family and have always taken care of me when the shit hits the fan in my life.
I also have a generous amount of Paid Time Off (which I’ll call PTO from hereon out) that I get each year but this was now September and I had used most of it — especially our family vacation in August to New Jersey and Sesame Place and so I was starting to panic about having enough time to cover my time out of the office. Two hospital stays and a surgery that I would need to heal from for six weeks had me fearful of what the immediate future held for us financially. I know I’m blessed and that a lot of people don’t have the benefits that I have working for the company I work for. My bosses allowed me to begin working from home as soon as I told them I was ready. Now, I didn’t work 40 hours a week but I worked enough hours to offset the PTO I had to use and then they allowed me to borrow against the PTO I’d have accrued by the end of the year to pay back the rest. I remain grateful to work for people who were willing to work with me during one of the most difficult moments of my life. I make a decent living but there would be no way I could afford an interruption in my pay without serious financial consequences. I stand here blessed that there was zero interruption in my income during this time. I say this while holding my breath as we still haven’t received the two hospital bills I’m expecting any day now.
We also spent this time reminding my two-year old that I couldn’t pick her up and why. It seemed like it was multiple times a day that I had to remind her and every time broke my heart but she seemed to be okay for the most part. She liked to see her Mama’s boo boo’s and she liked to count the incisions. She was both curious and concerned but it somehow helped her to understand what was happening and why I couldn’t pick her up and hold her the way I could before. I believe she also understood it was temporary and we spoke positively about it and continued to tell her Mama was “almost all better..not much longer…soon.”
The rest of my first two weeks of recovery were spent watching Handmaid’s Tale, relaxing, healing, and starting this blog. I was pretty useless around the house during this time and I’m horrible at letting people take care of me or watching people do the things that I usually do around the house. I had to get used to it quick, though.
I’m far more useful now which is why you see five days go by in between blogs. I’m busy getting back to my life but I still feel like every piece of this story is worth telling ~ worth telling because it’s important to me that I share it for my own personal reasons. I wanted to get it all out so I wouldn’t forget it and also to help me process what just happened to me. As I sit here on October 19, 2019, and look back to February, it already seems like a lifetime ago..and it’s hard to take in all that happened to me and recount the level of suffering I endured. But I also want to tell the whole story just in case there’s a searcher out there trying to gather information to help her make a decision about her own uterine crisis.
Girlfriend….I’ve got you. You’re not alone. And you can DO this.
“I love that this morning’s sunrise does not define itself by last night’s sunset.” ~ Steve Maraboli
When I awoke the morning after my surgery, I was greeted by a brilliant sunrise. I knew I was going home today and this sunrise was aligned with my spirit which was joyfully dancing with the idea of a new beginning. It was symbolism at its finest and a beautiful reminder that today was a new day and my life was about to change for the better.
That morning was spent relaxing, hanging out with my Mama, and waiting on a doctor to visit me during rounds and discharge me. I missed my wife and daughter and I felt myself growing more and more restless and anxious to get home. I was no longer entertained by Bravo T.V. and wanted the beautiful chaos that was my life.
My pain was being managed well between the Percocet and the 800 mg of Motrin. My iron levels were holding steady. Mom and I had breakfast….followed by some waiting and then some T.V…….and then we had lunch….and then more T.V. followed by more waiting. Finally, I was discharged around 3:00 PM.
I was given a list of instructions. First and foremost how to ween myself off of my narcotics. I was limited in the number they could give me. I was allowed to take 15 home with me and there would be no refills. I’m not a girl who likes to mess with narcotics so I was already focused on weening myself off of them ASAP. My mom helped me develop a tracking system to keep track of what drugs I was taking when and how much of the Percocet I was taking so I could see my weening process. I was so happy on the days where I’d only take one Percocet in a 24 hour period — usually at night to help me with sleeping comfort.
Today, six weeks post-surgery, I still have 2 1/2 Percocet left so I feel good about my weening experience. On top of getting to bring 15 Percocet home with me, my discharge doctor thoroughly reviewed and educated me on the many ways to manage my pain INSTEAD of popping a Percocet.
When the doctor was finished going over these items with me, she looked at me and said “So yeah….. none of these will help you with your surgical pain but I’m required to go over them with you.” I had to laugh. Thanks for the pamphlet of useless techniques to manage my pain that won’t actually manage my pain.
The moment they removed my IV from my right hand was a glorious moment. Even though my triage nurse did an amazing job administering my IV port so that I barely felt it during my three and a half-day hospital stay, there is just something so freeing about getting it removed.
There was also the amazing and comforting feeling of shedding that hospital gown and slipping into the men’s pajama pants my wife had purchased for me from Target so that it wouldn’t be tight on my belly. I also got to put on one of my own loose and comfy t-shirts. I slipped out of those hospital slipper socks with those grippy bottoms and into my own Nike Benassi shoes. This was heaven to me. Now, I just needed to wait until I was dismissed.
I took my last hospital dose of Percocet at 3:30 while I listened to my nurse, Jennifer, explain all my discharge instructions. Jennifer loved to talk and laugh at her own jokes. Jennifer took too long to get me the hell out of there but I remember loving her spirit and her laughter. I also remember tuning her out once the drugs kicked in and looking over at my mom to make sure she was getting all this because I was floating off to La La Land despite Jennifer’s best efforts to keep me grounded enough to absorb my aftercare instructions.
Finally, my escort arrived with my wheelchair. I sat in it and said goodbye and thank you to everyone in the nurse’s station. I hugged Jennifer because…well…Percocet. I remember feeling gratitude for each of them. I said goodbye to the sweet lady who cleaned my room every day. She had opened up to me and my Mom one morning about how she had recently suffered a stroke and had a heart condition. Because of this, she was forced to give up caffeine. She was far too young to be having strokes and I could tell she was scared about what her life would be now and she made it clear that she was definitely worried about giving up caffeine. Being Latina, the tradition of drinking coffee was so laced into her culture that she was struggling with it. She asked us if we knew of any good decaf coffees and teas and it was a very honest and real conversation. I’ll never forget her holding her mop and sharing her story with us~ two complete strangers — me in my hospital gown, vaginally hemorrhaging with my exhausted Mama in the chair next to me.
I also remember her being outside my door as I was being wheeled to my surgery the day before and she looked at me and said: “You’ve got this. You’re going to be great!”. And you know what? I really appreciated that so much. We were connected by our humanity and it was beautiful.
Mom ran down to the parking garage to get my car. I waited inside in the lobby with my wheelchair chauffeur until my mom pulled up in my 2013 Hyundai Elantra. I’m telling you what kind of car I drive not because I’m bragging….. because I’m totally not. There are no bells and whistles on my humble little car – certainly nothing to brag about outside of the fact that it’s paid off and I no longer have a car payment (which is all the bells and whistles I need). I mention it because as I watched my mother pull into the pick up area in my car, I became suddenly aware of how low to the ground this freaking car was. After just having a hysterectomy, I could see that getting in would be a challenge.
Surprisingly, I managed to slide into my passenger seat with little to no discomfort. I will tell you this, though…. the drive home was a bumpy and an abdominally violent one ~ even with the Percocet in my system. I had no idea how much movement is actually absorbed into our abdomen when we drive or ride in a car. It was the longest 30 minute ride of my life and just in time for Orlando rush hour, too, so that was a real treat — especially for my Mom who had to drive me through it.
Pulling into my driveway knowing my wife and daughter were waiting for me was an incredible moment for me. It meant I was home and well on my way to recovering fully and finally able to give them all of me again after so many months being emotionally and physically absent and unavailable.
Knowing that my mother was planning to stick it out with me until I was cleared to return to work gave me peace of mind to know I could relax and focus on getting better. I knew I was blessed. I was one of the lucky ones. And, I knew I was finally on my way to recovering and on to a better and more engaging life. I understood that it would be a challenging six weeks for my family but after that, I would be free and that freedom meant everything.
Oddly enough (as I write this) tomorrow morning, I have my six week follow up with Dr. A where he’ll test my iron levels, give me a vaginal exam, and hopefully clear me to get back to this regularly scheduled program called life. I’m confident I’ll be cleared and I’m pretty sure I’m going to spend the rest of my life celebrating.
The recovery process takes six weeks but the most challenging time was during the first two weeks. I’ll get into that in detail in my next blog. For now, I’m marinading in the memory of leaving the hospital — uterus and blood free –and returning to my home surrounded by my incredible family.
The afternoon of my surgery is fuzzy. I don’t remember much because of the anesthesia. I remember my doctor came to see me in the recovery room and talked to me briefly. He wanted me to stay in the hospital for one more night (normally patients can go home the same day) because of my anemia. He wanted to monitor my levels. I remember that after my 5 transfusions, my hemoglobin was a 9.4 before going into surgery and it was a 9.8 directly following the surgery. That was a crazy great improvement! I remember saying to the nurse “SHUT. UP! Are you SERIOUS?” She looked truly upset and said “Are you okay? Are you mad?” I explained to her that when I said shut up, I didn’t MEAN for her to shut up (literally)..it was a good thing. My levels hadn’t been that high since my anemia was discovered in July. I was ecstatic and she was relieved to know I wasn’t angry with her.
My memory really starts with the day after my surgery but I will recount what I do remember from the rest of the day following my surgery. I remember feeling that the pain was not near what I was expecting it to be. Now that being said, I was also on Percocet and 800 mg of Motrin. Let me tell you, the pain meds are AWESOME. They help to get you through the worst of it. But also, the surgical pain was never really bad throughout my recovery. Uncomfortable? Yes….sometimes VERY uncomfortable but never what I would describe as “bad” and certainly nothing compared to my experiences leading up to my hysterectomy.
What I do remember as far as pain goes during the first 24-36 hours following my surgery was the gas pain. Holy. Shit. During a laparoscopic hysterectomy, they fill your abdomen/pelvic cavity up with air and that gas gets trapped in your body cavity and starts to slowly work it’s way up through your torso and tries very hard to set up camp in your shoulder blades. It was painful to move, painful to turn, painful to breathe, painful to lie still. I felt like a blimp ~ just floating in my hospital bed in terrible pain.
After watching my wife recover from her C-Section when our daughter was born, I learned how painful those surgical gas pains can be and so I forced myself to move through the excruciating gas pain to shift my position in the bed and I forced myself to walk the halls to get the gas moving in the direction is needed to go to get me out of my discomfort. I gave myself a strong dose of tough love.
Now, I don’t want to seem like a drama queen but when I say excruciating, I mean just that. I was yelping out in pain every time I moved. …and I don’t yelp and I handle pain pretty well. If you’re reading this going “Oh hell no..I’m not going to put myself through that..I’ll just continue to bleed until there’s no blood left in my body”, I beg you to NOT go there. Ladies, the gas pain was temporary. It also wasn’t trying to kill me. It was trying to get OUT of me. Once the nurses started giving me Simethicone (hospital grade Gas-X) to help relieve the bloating, it made it easier to move and wait out the time it took for the gas to move.
By the next day, I was feeling so much better but I was honestly feeling it for about a day and a half — the worst of it being the first 24 hours. I promised this blog was going to be honest and so if I’m being honest, let’s get some perspective. I had major surgery where my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix were removed. Multiple internal vaginal stitches were stitched inside of me to create something called a vaginal cuff. Three belly incisions were made so that the laparoscopic tools could be inserted into my pelvic region. All of this happened to my body and the worst post-surgical pain I felt was from gas. So since perspective is everything, gas pain is certainly not a reason to choose to continue to suffer your uterine issues that are holding you hostage to your own life. Bleed to death from my vagina? Or endure a day and half of gas pains? Hmmmm.
The other thing I remember is the first time I had to pee ~ which was pretty soon after I got back to my room. If you remember I mentioned in earlier blogs that I’m a nervous pee-er. Well, doped up on anesthesia and Percocet made zero difference in that department. Side note, I had no idea that Percocet was oxycodone mixed with acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Anyway…back to peeing…I had the urge to pee, and at first I thought “there’s no way I have to pee as much as I feel like I do”. One of the rules (before you can get discharged from the hospital) is that you have to pee and you have to pass gas. Well, I had a feeling I needed and was about to check one off the list but they made it sound like it was going to be difficult to do so I wasn’t confident I actually HAD to pee and wondered if it was in my head.
My mom helped me to the bathroom because I was still pretty heavily sedated from the anesthesia and I remember it being very difficult to walk. It’s crazy when you feel like you’re fine but then you stand up and suddenly you aren’t confident you even have feet anymore. Should I just float to the bathroom then?
I sat on the toilet and the first thing I noticed is that there was no blood on my hospital grade mesh panties. None. Not even a drop. I hadn’t seen that in eight months and I couldn’t believe it. I sat for a while waiting for my body to allow me to pee. It did not want to cooperate. I will tell you that this difficulty peeing continued to happen for 2 weeks so prepare yourself. You’ll need to be patient.
Before I continue, I believe I forgot to mention that before my surgery, the hospital was making me measure my urine in milliliters by peeing in a small bowl attached to the toilet seat that had measuring units on it. Before my surgery, I was averaging 100-200 MLS during each urination. That seemed to be my average volume of urine for at least the two days proceeding my surgery and probably the decade proceeding my surgery if I really took the time to analyze it. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t exactly measuring it before these nurses told me I had to.
So there I sat, with an incredible urge to pee that I was concerned might be all in my head. I waited…and waited…and waited and then finally, a trickle of urine. And then I felt it…the burning. Damn! What in the world was that!? It was like I was peeing alcohol. I continued to pee and it continued to burn. I found out later from the nurse that they had inserted a catheter into my urethra to drain my bladder during the surgery and the burning I was feeling was from the catheter. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That, too, faded after a few days but all that aside…get this. I urinated 500 MLS. WHAT? The nurses’ were even surprised. I’m not even going to say “not to get too graphic” because it’s WAY too late for all that, right? Suddenly, I had a stream of urine coming out of me that made me finally understand the phrase “piss like a racehorse”. Fast, steady, full, and voluminous. And let me tell you this: Here I am — more than a month after my surgery and I’m still peeing like that (minus the burning — the worst of that was gone in 24 hours) . It is glorious. I am still in awe (and a little proud?) of it every time I take a trip to the bathroom. So here’s a question for the ages. What the hell was that fibroid and my enlarged uterus doing to my bladder all this time?
I mentioned in earlier blogs that I had two urinary tract infections within 30 days of each other a month before my surgery. They were my first UTI’s in my entire life. Turns out that my fibroid was pressing on my bladder and keeping my bladder from fully emptying (thus the 100-200 MLS of urine I experienced before my surgery vs the 500 MLS I experienced after my surgery). The urine that could not be emptied because it was being obstructed or blocked just sat in my bladder collecting bacteria until it finally became infected. Sounds fun, right? Let me tell you. If you’ve never experienced passing fist-sized blood clots from your vagina while simultaneously passing pea-sized blood clots from your urethra because of a raging UTI then have you really even lived? I joke…but honestly, how ridiculous was my life before my surgery?
Those are the key things I recall most about that afternoon following my surgery. I don’t remember what I ate. I think I was in and out of sleep. I was having terrible gas pains. I remember my mom was there. It was burning when I peed because of the catheter but listen up….there was NO blood on my sexy hospital-grade mesh panties. None, ladies. Not even the tiniest drop. No spotting…no discharge…my mesh panties were clean as a whistle. That was all I needed to know to understand that I had done the right thing.
This is the one. This is the blog where I talk about my actual hysterectomy so if you’re a woman seeking answers to the unknown, my hope is that this particular segment will bring you some peace of mind and some comfort. First, I want to say that every hysterectomy experience is different. A lot of what you’ll experience is dependent on the type of hysterectomy you have.
The first hysterectomy in history was performed in 1843 in Manchester England and the first total (uterus and cervix removed)abdominal hysterectomy was performed in 1910. Unfortunately, in these times, these surgeries had a 70% mortality rate mainly due to sepsis but also hemorrhage, a condition known as peritonitis which is when there is inflammation in the tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen, and exhaustion. Oh! And it was done with NO anesthesia. Luckily for us women, there have been leaps and bounds made in this (now very common) surgery. In fact, there are approximately 600,000 hysterectomies done each year now and technology has made this one of the most non-invasive surgeries a person could ask for.
In my case, I had my uterus, my cervix, and my fallopian tubes removed. I got to keep my ovaries which means I get to drift into menopause naturally. My surgery was a Robot-Assisted Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy. This is the easiest method when it comes to post-surgical pain, recovery, and the length of time you are actually under anesthesia. In this case, the doctor uses a robotic machine to magnify what he sees and performs the surgery away from your body while controlling the procedure from the “robot”. Once the uterus is detached from the body, it is then removed through the vagina.
My doctor did tell me there would be a chance I’d need to have an abdominal hysterectomy which is where they’d make a surgical incision that was 6-8 inches long (similar to a C Section) and remove the uterus through the belly. Women with large fibroids (me) and an enlarged uterus (also me) run a higher risk of needing this procedure because the masses are too large to remove vaginally.
My doctor seemed confident, though, that he could do it all laparoscopically His confidence gave me confidence. Ladies, on this note, I would advise you to check and see if your doctor even knows how to do a robotic-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy. I was fascinated to learn (from other doctors I met from my practice) that everyone there could do an abdominal hysterectomy (longer surgery, longer recovery, more pain) but that only a small handful of them could do the robotic/laparoscopic hysterectomy. My doctor happened to be one of them. If you don’t know, ASK. And if your doctor doesn’t specifically know how to do it, ask if another doctor in your practice does.
Okay..enough of “just the facts”. BORING. You can look that stuff up everywhere on the internet. Now, I’d like to talk about MY hysterectomy and MY experience. First of all, as I sit here (still technically in recovery), I will tell you that while my body forced me into this hysterectomy, I have ZERO regrets. I truly, truly TRULY wish I had done it earlier. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid of everything and I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to suffer the way I did.
The morning of my hysterectomy started at 5:00 AM. I was awakened by two nurses who had come in to “prep” me for my surgery which was scheduled for 10:00 AM. They handed me packets of what I could only describe as Lysol Wipes..you know..the kind you wipe your kitchen counters down with? I was given instructions. Use one to wipe down your arms. one to wipe down your legs, one for your abdomen, and one for your backside. My mom and I went to the bathroom and began wiping me down. When I returned to my bed, my nose was swabbed with a disinfectant and I was told to brush my teeth with a disinfectant that tasted like Listerine Light. When they were done, they drew blood to check my hemoglobin/iron levels prior to surgery. Once I was disinfected, the nurses left and it was just me and Mom..now wide awake at 5:30 AM. Surgery was at 10:00 AM…I wouldn’t get brought down to pre-op before 8:00 AM…I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Thank God for T.V. I don’t have cable at home so it was a real treat to be able to watch trashy T.V. I would normally never watch.
Finally, my escort came to bring me to pre-op at around 9:00 AM. Now, if you recall from my last blog, the night before my hysterectomy, I was on cloud 9. I was relieved, happy, joyful, all good and positive feelings and vibes. Well. The morning OF my hysterectomy was quite different. I got quiet. And as the minutes grew closer, I became more and more terrified. Even though I knew this was the absolute best thing for me, that fear on that morning was something fierce. I was afraid of dying ~ of not waking up to see my wife and daughter. I had spent so much time away from them during this entire ordeal, I wasn’t sure they understood how much I loved them and how much my whole life was worth living because of them. I knew that if I could just open my eyes at the end of it, I could handle whatever recovery meant for me. Have you ever heard those stories..you know…the ones that say “she went in for a routine appendectomy and she died on the table”…? I didn’t want that to be my story..and deep down, I was afraid it would be.
My escort came and I positioned myself into the wheelchair he brought for me. It was his first day on the job and he was in training. He seemed nervous to me ~ trying to warn me about every bump I might experience along the way. His trainer was there making sure I actually made it to my destination because at one point, my driver looked terribly confused as to which direction he should be taking me.
When I got to pre-op, I was brought into a small room with a curtain for a door/wall and was introduced to two very sweet nurses. One of them asked, “How are you?” And I just started sobbing. Thinking back to my blog about vulnerability, this was one of those moments. My response to her was “Not good. I’m scared. I don’t want to die”, as I cried like a crazy person. Their reaction was amazing. All I heard was “Awwwww…sweetie! You’re not going to die! We do this all the time. We’re going to take good care of you. You’re going to be just fine…but we’re going to give you something for that anxiety before they take you back”. I don’t think I’d ever been so relieved to hear that I was going to be given drugs since Dr. A put me on Megestrol the first time!
I was given a hospital gown that had a hole in the front. The hole was a place for a hose to connect to that would blow hot air on me . The hose looked like it connected to a vacuum cleaner and it blew me up like a balloon and kept me warm. I remember becoming immediately concerned about urinating. What if I had to pee? How would I pee? Would they have to disconnect me? Would I have to just hold it and hope for the best? If you remember in a previous blog, I mentioned I’m a nervous pee-er…the second I think I can’t pee, I’ll need to pee 50 times more than normal. My vitals were taken. I was asked if I had any implants, pacemakers, or jewelry on me. I answered no. It was later discovered that I still had my engagement and wedding ring on my left ring finger. How the hell did I forget THAT one? It’s just a huge rock on my finger… I mean..SUPER easy to forget, right?! It had clearly become such a part of me over the years, that I hardly recognized it as jewelry anymore.
The rings were removed and now it was time to try and find a vein for a second IV to be set. I already had an IV set in my right hand from my morning in triage three days earlier. It had delivered all five of my blood transfusions to my body. I had blood taken from almost every other vein you could see on my arms and hands. The nurses thought the best bet was to try my left hand (which was just punctured that morning for a hemoglobin test — WHICH, by the way was a 9.4! Still anemic but perfectly safe level for surgery).
They injected my veins with Lidocain which is a numbing agent. No other nurses had used Lidocain before they stuck me this entire visit. I started to understand WHY I needed that Lidocain. These poor ladies were having a terrible time setting an IV. I suddenly saw blood coming out from my vein and covering the top of my hand. Apparently my prominent veins on my left hand had actual arteries in them and the artery (which looks like a nodule) kept bending the IV. They were unable to set the IV and (as they cleaned up my bloody hand ) they said “Well…I guess they’ll just have to find a place when you’re under anesthesia.” I’m sorry..what? WHAT place while I’m under anesthesia? My brain scanned every area of my body that might have a vein where they’d only set an IV if I was under anesthesia…it wasn’t pretty. My head can be a dark alley sometimes.
Finally, the anesthesiologist came in to see me. JUST the man I wanted to see. He sat to my right and asked me how I was and I said: “I’m scared”. He said some things that I honestly can’t remember. I told him that the last surgery I had was in 1981 and I threw up after I came out of anesthesia. He said that sometimes that just happens but they would give me an anti nausea medication to try and combat that compulsion should it happen today. He then said “do you have anything you want to ask or tell me?” I said “Yes. Make sure I wake up…and NOT during the surgery, either. I saw that episode of Grey’s Anatomy and I can’t have that happen”. He chuckled and said “I usually get those two requests. Make sure I DON’T wake up during surgery and make sure I wake up AFTER surgery” I remember how kind he was and that he had a red beard.
My next visitor was Dr. A..my OB and my surgeon. I’ve always loved Dr. A’s personality so much. He’s funny. He loves music…he actually brought his Sonos speaker into the exam room when he took my endometrial sample a few days back which relaxed me immediately (I’m a music girl for sure). When my daughter was born via C Section, he made sure to tell us that she was born to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cindy Lauper. That was actually the first time we met Dr. A. He assisted our OB with the delivery of our daughter and our OB retired just a few months after our daughter was born. Dr A then became my OB out of default and because I believed there was something special about him.
Dr. A was always laughing and joking so when I saw his face, I immediately lit up. Boy, was I happy to see this man. But there was something different about him. He was reviewing my chart and he looked at me and said “I’m sorry. How many transfusions have you had since you’ve been here?” “5” I replied. His face got a very solemn look as he stared me directly in the face and said “No more. We’re done with this.” I was not used to seeing him so serious. It kind of freaked me out but also gave me a sense of peace because he cared so much (either that, or it was the relaxant they had just pushed through my IV to calm me down — whatever that was, it was amazing..I’m sure it will be listed on my hospital bill).
He sat with me to explain what we were going to do to make sure I understood it. I had to sign some forms. He promised me there was Motown playing in the operating room (man I love me some Motown). He gave me a smile and gave my mom a smile and off he went. They escorted my mom out of the room and suddenly I was surrounded by nurses. I desperately asked “If any of you pray, I would really appreciate a prayer right now”. Suddenly, a nurse looked at me and said, “Would you like to pray now?” I said “Yes please!” She grasped my hand, bowed her head, and said the most beautiful prayer. I was so moved that someone would do that for me…a stranger…one in 600,000 hysterectomies that year nationwide.
When her prayer was finished, everyone grabbed a section of the outside of my bed and began to wheel me to the operating room. Let me just say that I was disappointed in the operating room. I had been an avid Grey’s Anatomy fan for many years. This room was nothing like I had seen on T.V. Where were the crazy lights? Where was the room where you scrubbed in? Where was the drama about who broke up with who and why? My operating room looked more like the room they were temporarily operating in while they were doing construction on the ACTUAL operating rooms.
At this point, whatever relaxant they had given me was all up in my grill. I was relaxed. All of a sudden, I heard “We’re just going to give you a little bit of oxygen” as a mask was placed over my face. Now, I tend to get claustrophobic. When my daughter was about to be born via C Section, I freaked out when they put the mask over my face. Yes..this is one of the many reasons, we chose my wife to carry our child over me. Just one. Believe me, there are many. It took me 10 minutes to calm myself down and figure out how to breathe through the mask. This particular mask was being pressed on my face and I felt myself start to panic.
The next thing I knew, I woke up. The surgery was done. The two nurses that promised me they do this all the time and that I would be fine were standing there smiling at me as if to say “See? We told you so”. Dr. A came in to tell me about the surgery. My uterus was larger than he expected. I would find out later that it probably SHOULD have been removed abdominally with a large surgical incision but he took a deep breath, looked at his team and said “We can do this.” This is the reason, I was told the surgery would only be an hour to an hour and a half and mine was over two hours.
He told me there was about a Pepsi can’s worth of blood sitting in my uterus just waiting to hemorrhage and that it was just a matter of time before it happened. He said “It had to come out. You’re going to have a much better life now.” And you know what? He was right. Even as I sit here still in recovery, I DO have a much better life. The rest of that day is foggy. I barely remember being brought back to my room…I remember seeing my mom waiting there for me. My mom tells me they had me move myself from my cot to my hospital bed and she was surprised by that. I don’t remember it as I was probably still under anesthesia which (when you think about it) is probably the best time to have someone move themselves from Point A to Point B.
I don’t want to get into the recovery because I believe that is a blog in and of itself and … you know…one step at a time. But ladies!! It wasn’t that bad. It was over before I knew it. I didn’t die. I didn’t even throw up! I lived to see my baby girl and my wife again. I am so much better off without my annoying and hateful uterus.
If you are teetering on what to do…if you are suffering with crazy vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, being held hostage to your period, fear of surgery…ALL. OF. IT…PLEASE…Read this blog a million times…pray on it…talk to other women who have done it. Reach out to me personally. I implore you to STOP finding reasons NOT to have the surgery and focus on all the glorious reasons TO have the surgery. I promise you won’t regret it.
My particular surgery was so non invasive. Today, as I write this, you can barely tell I ever had a surgery at all. I am 8 days away from getting the “All Clear” from my doctor and getting back to my normal life.
Please. Love yourself more than you fear the unknown. I promise you, it will be better..YOU will be better…your life will GET better immediately! If you’re curious about recovery, I’ll cover that in my next blog in full detail. I don’t know about you but the suffering I endured up to my hysterectomy was so debilitating that nothing about recovery scared me. As I mentioned earlier, if I could just wake up after surgery, I could handle it. I woke up. I’m handling it. I’m SO thrilled I did this. If you are in limbo trying to decide whether or not you should have your doctor recommended hysterectomy…my love. DO IT…do it for all the reasons you love so much that are actually KEEPING you from doing it. I promise you a better life lies ahead.
It was just after midnight. Taking a shower had never been so difficult. I could barely hold my arms up to wash my hair. I was dizzy and felt like I might fall. I heard that old familiar sound of my heart pounding in my ears and I was short of breath. It wasn’t safe for me to be in the shower. I knew what this was as I had just been in the hospital four days ago getting two blood transfusions due to a dangerously low hemoglobin level rendering me severely anemic. It was happening all over again. I knew now what my body did when my iron levels dropped and I saw the signs. My mother was staying with us because she flew in to be with me during my first hospital run a few days ago and was still with us. I looked at my wife as I sat on the bed feeling scared and defeated. The new medication plan was obviously not working. “Can you go tell Mom I need her to take me to the hospital?”
Ten minutes later, I left my wife with our daughter and Mom and I were on our way. I laid a towel down on the passenger seat of my car to keep from bleeding all over the seat as my mom drove me 30 minutes to the women’s hospital where my OB told me to go should there be any emergencies prior to my scheduled hysterectomy in two weeks. He had told me this three days ago at our appointment. Dammit. Three days and here we were ~ already heading back to the hospital. Same symptoms as before.
We parked the car and went through the security checkpoint and I was directed to triage. Mom stopped to get her visitor’s badge at the welcome desk. I could barely stand as I was answering the questions the check-in nurse was asking me. I could tell by the expression on the hospital staffs’ faces that they knew I was not well. There’s a certain way nurses and hospital staff look at you when they know you are sick and need help quickly and I found it to be both comforting and terrifying at the same time.
They got me to the vitals nurse right away. Blood pressure, weight, and temperature were all normal and then it was off to see the next nurse who asked me a series of questions in a closed office. A stop at the restroom and a urine sample for good measure and then I was brought back to a small room where I slipped into a sexy pair of mesh panties, a giant pad, and a hospital gown. An IV was placed in my right hand by the sweetest nurse. Let me tell you right now that I am truly kicking myself as I write this for not remembering her name because she was so amazing and I swore I wouldn’t forget her. Blood was drawn and fluids were administered and now we had to wait to see what the hemoglobin results would be. Would I need another transfusion? What would happen to me now?
I had another nurse named Princess. No. I’m not kidding. She looked like a princess, too, and was as kind as you’d expect a princess to be. Nurse Princess also knew my OB very well (I’ll call him Dr. A) and shared a funny antic about his time as a resident. She told me how he made her swoon. It was sweet….well as sweet as you can find anything when you’re wearing mesh panties, crying, and feeling like you’re going to pass out.
She informed me that she was going to perform a pelvic exam and that I would also have an ultrasound to see what was going on with my fibroid and investigate how badly I was bleeding. During my pelvic exam, Princess said “I can feel the fibroid right here” and as she pressed on my belly, I could also feel it. For the first time ever, I felt the giant lump in my abdomen press against her fingers. I could also feel myself gushing blood with every press on my belly. Through it all, I could also feel my mom’s hand squeezing mine and it gave me some peace in the mental chaos I was experiencing. Thank God for her. Princess happily reported that it didn’t appear that I was losing blood at an alarming rate for the moment – 30 cc’s of blood had pooled in my vagina from my uterus which I have since learned is about 1 ounce. Princess thought this was a very good thing. Now, I just had to wait for my ultrasound and my iron levels.
When my ultrasound technician rolled her equipment into my tiny little room, I was more than relieved to discover I would be getting an external ultrasound. I couldn’t bear the thought of an internal ultrasound with everything that was going on inside me. I watched as she scanned my follicles on my ovaries. My wife and I conceived our daughter through IVF and I became an expert on identifying follicles and endometrial lining on an ultrasound screen during that process.
She showed me the monster fibroid that was living in my uterus and I couldn’t believe the size of it. I hated that thing. Somehow coming face to face with it on the ultrasound screen fueled an anger so deep inside of me. This intruder had caused me so much suffering and here I was again….in a hospital….with everyone swirling around me trying to make sense of what was happening to me. I asked the technician how my endometrial lining looked because I wanted to try and understand how I could be bleeding so much for so long and still have any lining left. She looked at me and said “I’m having a hard time finding your lining. It’s being blocked by what looks like a large blood clot.” Again, more tears. I lay there crying. Defeated. Scared. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. Done.
My nurse came in. My hemoglobin results were in. Before she gave me my numbers, she looked at me and said “Okay…we’re going to admit you.” I stared at her as she told me my levels were a 6.4. Not. Good. “You need a transfusion”. I began to sob and she grabbed my leg over the blanket and said “Now, honey..you knew this was probably going to happen. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you knew to come here.” Princess, looked at me and said “We have a plan. You’re going to be okay”. I knew they would be contacting my doctor. I also knew I was where I needed to be – at a women’s hospital whose staff were equipped and prepared to deal specifically with women’s issues. The first hospital I went to (God love them — because they were amazing to me) were not prepared to handle women’s health issues like a hemorrhaging uterus.
I was put in a wheelchair and wheeled up to the 10th floor to a beautiful room overlooking the city of Orlando. There was a pullout couch and I was so glad because I knew there was no way my mother was leaving my side and it made me feel better to know she had a place to sleep. Turned out she would choose to sleep in the recliner chair rather than the bed but I was happy she had choices.
The nurses and doctors were trying to get my bleeding under control (mostly by upping my dose of Megestrol Acetate) and by doing what was called a pad count. A pad count happens when you change your pad. You remove the old one (blood and all) and place it in a bin on the counter in your bathroom. You write on a paper towel what time you changed it. You keep stacking used pad after used pad in the bin until a nurse comes in to examine how many pads you’ve gone through and how much blood is on them. This way, they are able to identify if your bleeding is slowing down, staying the same, or increasing. I will share with you that my ego got put into serious check during pad count time. Not only did I have to gather and collect my used pads into a bin to be examined by another human being, but my mother had to change them for me because I was attached to cords getting blood transfusions through my IV in my hand so I didn’t have the full use of my hands.
I was admitted in the early morning hours on a Monday morning. That day, I would receive three units of blood. The next day (Tuesday), I would receive two more for a total of five blood transfusions. Add that to the two units I had received during my first hospital visit a few days ago, it was a total of 7 blood transfusions in 6 days.
With each shift change, I was visited by another doctor from my OB practice. I actually enjoyed meeting them because I had seen all of their pictures in the lobby of the practice during my well-woman visits and our pregnancy visits but never knew any of them. They were all very concerned about my situation. Mom and I kept asking the same question. “Do you think they’ll move my surgery up?” They were hopeful but there was a hurricane on its way and the operating room schedule was completely full. There was also the fact that not every doctor in my practice knew how to do a laparoscopic hysterectomy with a robotic assist the way my doctor did.
They all worked with Dr. A and all of them had been talking with him during my hospital stay. On Tuesday, I was visited by one particular doctor (I’ll call him Dr. H). He was a young and knowledgeable doctor. He told me that he had been talking with Dr. A. and that it had been decided that I was going to be scheduled for a hysterectomy the following day (Wednesday) at 10:00 AM and (as luck would have it) my doctor was the surgeon on duty and would be the one doing the surgery which meant I would still be getting a robotic-assisted total laparoscopic hysterectomy. This method meant a less bloody surgery, less time under anesthesia, and a shorter recovery time as the uterus is removed through the vagina. The other way would be to open me up (similar to a C Section) and remove the uterus that way.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had it in my head that they were going to work on getting my bleeding under control (which they were doing with the Megestrol Acetate) and then send me home once I was stable to wait out the two weeks until my scheduled hysterectomy. To hear that I had been bumped and that Dr. A. would be the one doing the surgery was an answered prayer.
After he told me the news, Dr. H. left my room and I put my head in my hands and sobbed. My mother stood up and immediately rushed to my side and said: “Okay..what is this?” And I replied through my tears: “It’s good. It’s good. I’m relieved.” I knew why she asked me that question. She wanted to know how to show up for me and to accurately gauge my feelings. It was unbelievable to me that after tomorrow, I would be getting relief from all of this. I wasn’t even scared (yet). All I could feel at that moment was gratitude. I felt like I could finally lay back in my hospital bed, watch marathons of Bravo’s Below Deck and The Real Housewives of New Jersey in peace. I had to stop eating at midnight so mom and I ordered a good-sized meal for dinner.
To make matters more complicated for my family, Hurricane Dorian was making its way towards Florida after it had already devastated the Bahamas and looked like it was going to hit us pretty hard. My wife had the sole responsibility of preparing our home for a hard hit from the storm. My mom drove to our house for a few hours during my hospital stay to help my wife prepare.
To top it all off, my wife and daughter were both down with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease as well. There was no way they could safely come to a women’s hospital where babies were being born while they were both infected with it. I missed them terribly during this time.
Prior to having our child, it was always me and my wife against the world. Now, things were different. Our daughter had to come first. She needed to be in her home..in her bed..with her toys and they both needed to get healthy. The hospital was no place for a two year old — especially one with Hand, Foot, and Mouth. What I’m most proud of during this time is that we truly did divide and conquer. My mom stayed with me. My wife stayed with our daughter. The hurricane ended up turning east and out to sea at the last minute. Even after all the preparations and scary news stories that told us to brace ourselves, we were officially safe from the storm. Another answered prayer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt hopeless and then suddenly had hope beat down on you relentlessly filling you with joy and peace, but that’s what I was feeling on this night before my hysterectomy. I felt relaxed. I felt relieved. I felt joyful. I felt loved. I felt like I was right where I needed to be and in good medical hands with the most caring staff of both nurses and doctors. I felt like I had a reason to smile again. And all this from a girl who was terrified at the thought of a hysterectomy (and surgery in general) and did everything possible to avoid it.
Mom and I enjoyed a cup of mint tea late in the evening before my midnight cut off for food and beverages. We laughed. We hugged. We watched Bravo and we sipped our tea from a styrofoam cup with our pinkies out because we’re classy like that.
They would be coming in the early hours to prep me for surgery and I needed to get some rest. I didn’t know what tomorrow would hold but I knew there was hope on the horizon and that tomorrow would be the start of the rest of my life.
Ladies! Please gather round. Have you ever struggled with spontaneous mood swings? Difficulty breathing ? Do you suffer from urinary issues such as urinary tract infections, or Interstitial cystitis? Do you have epilepsy? Anxiety? Do you like sex….a lot? Do you get emotional from time to time? If you answered yes to any of these issues, then it’s likely you may be suffering from Hysteria caused by a Wandering Womb. Yes, you heard that correctly. Allow me to explain.
I’ve been talking to you in my previous blogs about the issues my uterus had been causing me and my health that led me to an emergency hysterectomy. The term hysterectomy comes from the Greek word Hysteria which means “womb”. Ectomy is from the Greek word ektomia which means “a cutting out of” ~ so in short, the cutting out of the womb. Sounds pretty accurate to my situation. There is another word, however, that was derived from the same general origins and that word is Hysteria.
Today, hysteria is defined as psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychogenic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions. However, hysteria was once defined as an affliction that only affected women. Coined in 1801 the term was used to describe a neurotic condition specific to women and caused by a dysfunctional womb. In fact, it was pretty much used to describe everything that was not understood about women during that time.
Treatment for hysteria involved stimulation of the female genitalia by a doctor or midwife until the woman experienced hysterical paroxysm which some of you have come (no pun intended) to know as an orgasm. This could be done manually, with a hose and water pressure, or (later on in the 19th century) vibrators. As I was researching this topic, I came across a film made in 2011 that now I simply HAVE to see. Have any of you seen the movie “Hysteria”? If so, leave me a comment about your thoughts on the film. If you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer below:
It was believed that Hysteria was caused by a condition written about by Plato (among others) during the Classical Period as well as Hippocratic writers. That condition was called The Wandering Womb. Plato believed that the uterus was a living animal that lived within the woman.
The belief was that the uterus sat inside the female desperate and anxious to bear children. If the uterus sat baron past its peak then it became distressed and began to wander around the body on its own free will and accord. Once the womb began to wander, terrible things would begin to happen to the woman hosting the uterus.
“If the uterus seems to sit under the diaphragm, the woman suddenly becomes speechless….and she experiences suffocation; she grinds her teeth and, when called, does not respond.
When the womb strikes the liver or abdomen….the woman turns up the whites of her eyes and becomes chilled; some women are livid. She grinds her teeth and saliva flows out of her mouth. These women resemble those who suffer from Herakles’ disease (i.e., epilepsy). If the womb lingers near the liver or abdomen, the woman dies of suffocation.”~ Quoted from Classical Antiquity Volume 30/No. 1/April 2011
Unlike Plato, though, the Hippocratic writers of their time didn’t agree that the womb was a separate animal living within the female. BUT, they did believe the uterus could violently pounce on and attack other organs in the body as well as strangle the woman by pressing on her diaphragm.
The only way to return a uterus to its appropriate location in the body during this time would be through a process called fumigation. Physicians would place yucky smelling scents under the nose. That smell would repulse the uterus and compel it to retreat back to the lower part of the body. Alternately, sweet-smelling scents would be rubbed on the woman’s groin and inner thighs. The sweet smells would likewise attract the uterus to the lower part of the body drawing it back to its rightful place within the pelvic region.
It’s important to also note that if the uterus was falling out of the vagina (Dear God…does this actually happen?), this fumigation methodology was reversed. Sweet smells were then placed under the nose to encourage the uterus to move up and foul scents were rubbed in the groin and inner thigh area to chase the uterus away from the vaginal opening and back up to its appropriate place.
So, how did one avoid frustrating the uterus so much that it took to the streets within the body to wander aimlessly about while wreaking havoc wherever it roamed? The solution was simple. Marry as young as possible. In fact, marry as close to the start of your first period as you could. Engage in frequent and repeated sex with your husband and bear lots and lots and lots of children. This would keep the uterus satisfied and saturated with fluid making it too heavy to move about the body.
This was incredibly difficult for widows, nuns, unmarried women, or married women who could not achieve orgasm or bear children (not to mention gay women like myself ~ it’s no wonder my uterus turned on me). These women were more prone to hysteria as a result of not having a husband and regular intercourse because semen was believed to have healing properties for these “lady diseases.”
So why am I writing about Wandering Wombs and Hysteria today? Well, it began because I was researching the very first surgical removal of a uterus in history (which is a blog for another time) and I stumbled upon this little gem. I became Alice traveling down the rabbit hole until I finally took a seat at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to read all about Wandering Wombs and Hysteria. I decided to bring you with me.
As ridiculous as all this sounds to us today, I have to stand here and say this: I freaking get it. We now know that the uterus is held in place by ligaments. I know this because my doctor spent a good amount of time disconnecting my uterus from its ligaments to remove it from my body.
However, let’s not overlook the following facts about my uterus and my situation. My uterus had grown large enough to take over my entire pelvic region. It had risen above its natural position and closer to my diaphragm which caused my surgical incisions to be higher than they normally would be (according to my doctor). It pressed on my diaphragm causing me to have difficulty breathing and it pressed on my bladder causing me to have serious and painful bladder problems prior to my surgery. For example: I had never had a UTI in my LIFE and suddenly, at the age of 44, I had two bladder infections within thirty days of each other.
I didn’t even know about these afflictions until my wandering uterus was removed. Suddenly, I could breathe better. I peed better — and I mean a full and powerful stream that I didn’t even realize I was missing out on….and it’s glorious, let me tell you. How long was I not urinating properly? I’m not sure I ever did prior to having my hysterectomy. And that tummy bulge I could never get rid of no matter how much I exercised and watched what I ate? Yeah. That was my uterus.
Oh, and let me tell you about my Hysteria. Anxiety attacks, panic, cold extremities, restless sleep, chills, a lack of sexual stimulation, orgasm, and gratification due to hemorrhaging for eight months and emotional outbursts of all shapes and sizes. You see? Hysteria. So hey! I can sort of see why Plato and others during his time blamed all of these symptoms and afflictions on the uterus. I mean…come on. I blamed my uterus, too.
Before I get into the details of my emergency hysterectomy in an upcoming blog, I want to take a moment to talk about the weeks and days leading up to it. I want to talk about vulnerability. I have had to work extremely hard at allowing myself to be vulnerable with even my closest confidants within my own tribe. I pride myself in being a strong woman. In my younger years, I viewed “strong” as NEVER being vulnerable to anyone. — sort of like the tag line for that commercial for Dry Idea deodorant in the 1980’s: “Never Let Them See You Sweat.”
Knocking down my purposeful and strategically built “wall of strength” has taken many years and while I’m not perfect at it, I am fully aware that vulnerability is the most effective and positive way to connect with others. This is one of the reasons why I’m sharing my experience in a blog. I get excited when I look at my stats page and see that someone stumbled upon my blog because they did a Google Search for something specific that brought them here. That was me. Constantly in search of answers, experiences, guidance, and just HELP with this terrible experience I was having with my fibroid. Was there ANYONE out there who knew what this suffering was like? I’m hoping to be that beacon of light for someone ~ even just one person.
I became an avid follower of Brene Brown a few years back who did a Ted Talk in 2004 where she talked about the Power Of Vulnerability. As soon as I saw her video, I became hooked on her philosophies and I have been a work in progress ever since in the department of vulnerability. If you haven’t seen her viral Ted Talk on the subject, check it out below:
What I learned through this experience is that once I made myself vulnerable to others about my situation, I noticed that more and more women in my life were coming forward and being vulnerable about their own battles with fibroids and other uterine issues. I suddenly realized that not only was I not alone, the situation that I was facing was actually SO common that I learned a vast number of women were suffering (or had been suffering) all around us and no one was the wiser because no one talked about it.
I began sharing my symptoms and agonies with my boss (who is another strong female) who opened up to me about her own hysterectomy and the suffering she endured prior to her surgery. She offered me guidance from her experience, strength when I needed it and support through the worst health issue I have ever endured. She brought me a heating pad from her home to use during my most painful days, advised me on how much ibuprofen used to help her when she was on pain, researched methods of removing fibroids, advised me on questions to ask my doctor, and guided me through my fear of surgery and the anemia that was starting to take its hold on me.
I learned that a male co-worker of mine’s wife was enduring unbelievable Menorrhagia (extreme heavy menstrual bleeding) and was about to undergo a uterine ablation. She and I were able to commiserate with each other over Facebook Messenger. Her symptoms and experience were very similar to my own. We got REALLY real with each other and found ourselves able to laugh at how ridiculous the level of suffering truly was. It felt good to find someone who knew and understood my suffering and could make me laugh through it.
I learned that the male friends in my life were truly able (and willing) to handle the gory details of what I was physically going through and support me ~ even the guys at work as I openly cried at my desk from the intense pelvic pain I was experiencing. Some hugged me when I needed it, others just talked to me about my options, and some joked with me about it. I needed all those reactions in my life at that time and I appreciated them all.
I learned to engage with my wife on a real and vulnerable level when I was scared ~ especially when the anxiety attacks kicked in…or the pain….or both. I have always tried to be strong for her and I didn’t want to scare her. What I learned is that she wanted to show up for me and in order for her to fully do that, I had to be willing to share my fears, anxieties, and be vulnerable with her. She didn’t need or want me to be strong for her. She knows that doesn’t come easy for me and she met me with open arms. It wasn’t until I decided to fully open up to her, that she was able to comfort and support me in the ways I needed. She has been amazing through these last eight months. She never pushed me to get the surgery because she respected that it was my body and my choice ~ (even though she wanted me to because she had watched me suffer for so long and wanted me to be able to enjoy my life again). She saw me through my depression and anxiety and met me where I was. We are both so grateful we are on the other side of this now.
I learned that it’s okay to need your mom when you don’t feel well and are scared…even at 44 years old. When my mom found out I was in the hospital, she asked if I wanted her to come. I said yes. That was August 29th and here it is September 23rd and she is still here watching over me until we all feel good about her return to North Carolina. My mother drove me to the hospital in the middle of the night, held my hand as I sobbed while the triage nurses gave me a pelvic exam and ultrasound, helped me change my pads and underwear when my hands were tied up getting blood transfusions, slept in the chair beside me in the hospital, helped my wife prepare for a hurricane we thought was going to hit us while I was in the hospital, saw me through my surgery, brought me home, and has been here taking care of me and my family ever since. I can’t even think or talk about her return home without fighting back tears because I just don’t know how to express my gratitude for all she’s done for all of us during this time.
I learned it’s okay to be vulnerable with my two year old, too. I believe children are smarter than they are given credit for. My baby girl knows I have boo boo’s on my belly that are keeping me from being able to pick her up. She knows I have to rest my belly and move slowly. I tell her every day that as soon as I’m better I’m going to pick her up, spin her around, throw her in the air, and give her kisses. She melts my heart when she says it back to me. She gets it and she’s amazing.
I guess this blog is a way for me to thank those who have allowed me to be real about my condition. It’s a way to honor your willingness to allow me to feel and express my vulnerability in all the grief, pain, anxiety, and fear as I was going through it. You know who you are and I am eternally grateful.
My advice to anyone who is suffering with this (or anything) is please don’t keep it inside. Trust that the people in your life care for you deeply and that maybe..just maybe… if you dare to be vulnerable with others, you may actually give them permission to be vulnerable back. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
This is a story that takes place over a 40 day period. It’s my story about my struggle with anemia, 2 hospital stays and 7 blood transfusions in 6 days. It’s a long read but, in all fairness, it was a long ordeal.
I think this blog might be the most challenging for me so far because I simply can’t get my head around the fact that it was anemia that almost took me down. Growing up as a child, the term anemia was thrown around during annual physicals and blood draws or finger pricks. I remember being in college and being told “You’re a little anemic” but there was never any sense of urgency with the announcement. Eat more greens, take some iron blah, blah, blah.
In my mid 40’s, I’m proud to say my blood work has been pretty spectacular for the past decade or so and I work hard at that by watching what foods I put into my system. I have great cholesterol, normal blood sugar, a healthy thyroid, and I have never heard “anemic” to describe me in my entire adult life…until this year.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. There are a variety of different types of anemia and anemia can be temporary or long term and range from mild to severe. In my blog about anxiety (you can read it HERE), you may recall that I saw myself as jaundiced that night and couldn’t feel my feet or get them warm no matter what I tried. Check out these symptoms of anemia:
Pale or yellowish skin
Shortness of breath
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Cold hands and feet
I highlighted in bold some of the symptoms that were in existence the night of my anxiety attack. I just didn’t know what it was and assumed I was dying. In that blog, I also mentioned that it would be 2 nights after my anxiety attack that I would discover what being in the grasps of severe anemia was actually like. The morning following my anxiety attack, I told my wife all about it and that I almost drove myself to the hospital at 3:00 AM because I was convinced my body was out of blood and I needed a transfusion.
When it was first noted that I was anemic, my hemoglobin level was at an 8.5. A normal hemoglobin for a female is 12-15.5. My OB called me with the news and requested I start iron supplements immediately and I complied.
Three days later, my family doctor called me with the results of my blood draw from my physical. I was told I was at an 8.4 hemoglobin and that I should begin iron supplements immediately. Well. At least they were both on the same page. When I checked my online patient portal at my primary care’s office, I saw this note:
Wait…what? Iron transfusion? Chronic problem? Slow. Down. A. Minute. This was absurd. I would start on the iron immediately and I was sure I’d be feeling better ASAP. Remember that during all this, I had been on and off a bunch of hormones and drugs trying desperately to stop my abnormal vaginal bleeding . My bleeding started in February of this year and my anemia was discovered in July. After I stopped the Megestrol Acetate (the man made progesterone that I was only allowed to be on for 15 days), I decided to get the Depo Provera shot on July 29th.
After that shot, my health deteriorated and I was going downhill quickly. I was weak and I could barely keep my eyes open both at work and at home. I kept hearing my heart pounding in my ears and I was finding myself short of breath. On August 26th, I asked my OB to test my iron levels again. Something wasn’t feeling right and I wanted to make sure the iron supplements I was taking were working. On August 27th, I received a pretty frantic phone call from my doctor. I answered the phone and he said “Melissa! Your uterus is not being kind to you. Your fibroid has bled you down to a 6.9 hemoglobin. This means you need a blood transfusion or (depending on how you feel physically) 5 iron infusions. And Melissa… if you aren’t willing to talk about a hysterectomy, then we need to talk at LEAST about an ablation.”
Well, at that point I had already decided I wanted the hysterectomy and I told him that on the phone. We had a standing appointment in two days on August 29th where he would do an endometrial sample and we would schedule my hysterectomy and determine if iron infusions or a blood transfusion would be the way to go in the meantime.
What I didn’t realize then is that any hemoglobin level under a 7 is considered (by hospitals) a medical emergency. In hindsight, I should have been sent to the hospital right then and there. Later that night (just two nights after my anxiety attack) I started to feel a sense of dread and panic washing over me again. I went to take a shower and almost passed out. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I told my wife I needed to get to the hospital. It was 2:30 AM and we rounded up our sleeping toddler and off we went to a small hospital 10 minutes from our house.
I guess I never thought of myself as a woman who had pink lips before but when you’re severely anemic, apparently, your lips turn white The hospital staff couldn’t believe it when they looked at me. I was white as a ghost and my lips matched my skin. I could barely stand or keep my head up. I got in right away and the blood draws began. Once my hemoglobin results were back, the nurse (who was an awesome man — fought in Iraq and had been shot in the stomach during his tour) returned to tell me the news. I was at a 6.2 hemoglobin ~ a medical emergency. It was time for a blood transfusion. The nurse called it “Riding The Red Train” which I guess made it sound cooler than it was but I was scared. How could this be happening to me? A blood transfusion? I thought those were reserved for incredibly sick people.
I was so weak they wouldn’t let me walk to the bathroom. The doctor was concerned that I would fall and hit my head and create bigger problems. I feel it worthy to note that if I’m told or if I feel like I cannot pee when I need or want to then I have to pee CONSTANTLY. I am a nervous pee-er. They brought me a portable commode that I was to use by my bed (and please keep in mind I am still hemorrhaging blood at this point so…yeah…. talk about awkward).
That morning, I needed 2 units of blood. My mom flew in from North Carolina later that morning (and is STILL here taking care of me, God love her.) They got my hemoglobin back up to an 8, gave me a prescription iron supplement along with some folic acid and only agreed to released me because they knew I had an appointment with my OB the next morning to discuss scheduling a hysterectomy and to do my endometrial sample for that surgery. I had a plan and while I was still anemic, they were satisfied to let me go at an 8 hemoglobin with a plan in place to fix the problem.
The next day I went to see my OB. He knew I had been in the hospital the night before and that I was panicking The earliest he thought he could get me on the schedule would be September 18th. I was already freaking out. That was two weeks out! What if I couldn’t wait that long? My uterus was trying to bleed me to death! He told me he had to wait a week to received the results of my endometrial sample before he could do the surgery and the hospital schedule was booked up. He decided to put me back on Megestrol Acetate to “shut my bleeding off like a faucet” (again). I was relieved because the last time I took this drug, it was a Godsend. We all believed this would get me through the two weeks before my surgery. I left happy and convinced that I would get some relief from the bleeding in the interim.
Well, as luck would have it, the drug didn’t work the second time around – not even a little bit. Now I had the Depo Provera shot in me AND the Megestrol Acetate. My bleeding raged on with a vengeance. It was pouring out me non stop with no reprieve.. and I was miserable. My wife called my OB to tell him it wasn’t working. He suggested I double up on the medication and so I did.
Three nights later, I was taking a shower and almost passed out again. WTF? Again? This time, my mom was still here from my first stint in the hospital. I told my wife to tell my mom I needed to go to the hospital and this time we needed to go to the women’s hospital where my OB practiced exclusively. I insisted my wife stay with our daughter while my mom drove me to the hospital. I remember laying a towel down on my seat cushion for fear I would leak all over the seat and panicking the entire 20 minute drive to the women’s hospital.
We showed up around 1:00 AM on September 2nd. I could barely stand up or keep my eyes open. I was short of breath and could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I had been here before. They took me to triage and drew blood. I’d like to pause and say I’m AMAZED at how much blood they take from a person who is suffering because of not having enough blood in their body. They gave me an ultrasound and pelvic exam. I was able to see that monster of a fibroid sitting there on the screen. A 7.7 cm angry BEAST taking up shop in my entire uterus ~ the size of a freaking grapefruit. I pictured it staring back at me while filling my uterus with the echos of its evil laughter. The ultrasound technician was having a hard time locating my endometrium due to a large blood clot that was just sitting in my uterus. Finally, the nurse came back with my hemoglobin results. I was at a 6.4. Shit. In just 3 days time, I dropped from an 8 to a 6.4 hemoglobin. I was once again in the medical emergency category and needed a blood transfusion….again. I sobbed. I did a lot of crying that night. I felt defeated and sad…scared and desperate…depressed and angry.
As luck would have it, I would get 5 blood transfusions in 2 days during this hospital stay~ 3 the first day and 2 the second day. But, on a positive note, I would be leaving without my uterus. I’ll save that story for another day.
My message to women out there who may be hemorrhaging vaginally due to a fibroid (or any other uterine issues). PLEASE. Know the signs of anemia. Pay attention to your body. Demand to be tested if it’s not being offered to you. Know that anything under a 7 hemoglobin is a medical emergency and you must seek help immediately. Severe anemia can cause you to deprive your body of oxygen and put strain on your heart. It is not a joke. It is not a flippant medical term with a pretty name. It is dangerous — especially if you suffer from menorrhagia (extreme menstrual bleeding) you are in jeopardy. I had two hospital stays and 7 blood transfusions in 6 days before I was rushed into an emergency hysterectomy. Let that sink it for a minute.