Health / Life

My Fibroid and Hysterectomy Journey

surgery fibroids uterus abdominal hysterectomy journey needle suture stitches Angela Conley

Time is so weird. While these last 3 weeks feel like it’s been a long time, it also doesn’t. Especially since 75% of my time these weeks has been in my oversized armchair cozied up with a plush blanket, heating pad, and the TV. It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta do it.

To recap, I had a total abdominal hysterectomy three weeks ago for removal of a mass that was believed to be a fibroid (it was later comfirmed as such by the lab). I’ve debated talking about this issue since not everyone is keen to reading about female issues. Well, that’s bullshit. We women should be able to discuss our female issues more freely–perhaps if we did, we would stop trying to be superwomen and seek treatment sooner. It should be no different than any other health issue with any other part of the body.

Plus, my mind has become soft from all this TV and movie watching, so I need to exercise it. However, I don’t yet have the mental capacity for thorough editing, so it’s a bit long. Lucky you! Here goes…

The Beginning

The fibroid diagnosis came 2-3 years ago during my preventative exam with my OB/GYN. I had no idea there was anything growing inside me and had no symptoms, so he said we would take no action unless it began impacting my life. All was good.

Roughly a year ago, that bugger started showing symptoms: slight pain, pressure, and various bladder issues (thankfully, none that required wearing diapers). Still, I powered through it, adapting and making changes. I thought I just had to deal with it.

With the fibroid came that swollen abdomen, but I thought the pooch was just part of my age. It wasn’t until my annual exam this summer that I mentioned the pressure to my OB/GYN, and she confirmed that my uterus felt enlarged. Even at that time, I was in denial. I never mentioned the bladder issues. I never mentioned how winded I felt when I did a full forward bend even though I was fit and flexible.

She ordered an ultrasound, which lacked proper results for her. She then ordered an MRI, which really freaked me out. I’d never had an MRI before and the concept of it felt so invasive—even after reading more about it. But it was harmless & I finally got confirmation as to what was causing me to take residence in my bathroom: a 12cm x 10cm fibroid that was pressing right into my bladder. It felt so good just to have some kind of confirmation that yes, something was off.

Of course, there was room later for more anxiety. From that point, my doc referred me to a gynecologic oncologist for surgery. I was the youngest patient in his waiting room and felt out-of-place. Fibroids very rarely are cancerous, but knew if the fibroid ended up being malignant, I was in good hands.

From the time I mentioned the issues during my annual exam to surgery was only 2 months. I researched all the treatment options and was very okay with my doctor suggesting hysterectomy because I didn’t want to deal with this again. Also, I lacked that wanting children gene, so fertility was never a concern for me. I love kids, just not having my own. He advised it would be a vertical incision, from my navel to pubis, which was concerning. However, I got a good vibe from him and trusted in his opinion. It would be a tougher recovery, but I knew I could stomach it (awful pun intended).

The Big Slice

On the days leading up to surgery, I found keeping busy helped distract me from my anxiety. Intuitively, I knew everything would be okay and that I was making the right decision, but fear still crept in there at times. Mostly, it was the typical fear of not waking up from surgery.

It really hit me once we were back in the pre-op area. I hadn’t even gotten into a hospital gown yet and started feeling a panic attack. My boyfriend, wise zen yogi he is, helped me breathe through it, gently reminding me how important it was for my body to not be stressed from my mind. That didn’t take long before I got out of it, but I still didn’t want to sit on the bed yet. Once I was tethered to the IV and in a gown, they gave me warmed blankets in the bed. Whoever thought of the warm blanket concept before surgery is a god (or goddess). I felt so cozy in my little blanket cocoon. I think it tapped into some memory of being an infant again.

I still asked them to give me something before the operation to relax me. It didn’t make me dopey, thankfully, just calm. Which is good because they didn’t knock me out until we were in the operating room– so I got to see it! One of the docs talked me to about our city, probably to evaluate how I was feeling. He wasn’t from here, and asked me what I loved most about Toledo. My answer? All of the trees. Not my loved ones, but trees. I blame the drugs.

As it turns out, there were multiple fibroids discovered during surgery (that appears to be common for other women). And I have pics to prove it– I asked for them, since I’m nerdy like that and see these invasive chunks as a testament to my strength. My old man and stepdad wouldn’t look at them, but my stepdad’s girlfriend was happy to see them.  My friends were amazed to see them as well. (Again, a testament to women’s strength.)

Recovery: Enjoying the Free Cable

When I groggily awoke in the recovery room I noted the fish mural on the wall and how I felt I had been gutted like one. It was some gnarly pain that made it hard to inhale deeply and even speak. If you know me, that’s pretty bad. If I ain’t talking or eating, something is wrong.

As scared as I was for morphine, it really did its job. I tried to use the pain pump sparingly, but my nurses advised against it so I would continue receiving it. When my pain greatly subsided the next day (or maybe day 3?), I was taken off the pump and given Percocet, but that made my woozy. They gave me meds to counter nausea, but it didn’t help. I was more willing to deal with some pain than feeling like I’d yak or been drugged so I tried half a pill (at their discretion) and still didn’t like how I felt. Thankfully, I’ve had no more opioid medication since the 3rd or 4th day.

Almost all the nurses were great. There were just a couple that didn’t seem to have a nurturing bedside manner. I was glad not to see them often yet grateful to those who took a little extra time with me, especially to talk about non-medical stuff. That gave me a sense of normalcy you lack when you’re in the hospital. I also enjoyed all the sitcoms and funny movies I could watch since I have no cable at home, but had to master a slight verbal chuckle since normal laughing hurt.

In the hospital, I walked. A lot. It was such a slow process (and still is), but I pushed through it. I walked more than they told me to so I could pass that painful gas. I never thought I’d want to fart so much before in my life. Or that I’d even have trouble doing it!

I burped a lot, but that didn’t count. I’d been given laxative and gas-X to no avail. I tried gum, ginger tea, warm ginger ale, cold ginger ale, more walking, and drank baking soda with water—but no farts. I fibbed on the 3rd night and said I had farted, because if not, they were going to give me a suppository or enema to make it happen. (I’d have refused those.)

See, the day before surgery I had to do a liquid diet and bowel prep (horrible times), and the nurses said I couldn’t have solid food until I farted. So I hadn’t had solid foods for 4 whole days. It felt like my digestive system was in shock. I just knew farting wasn’t gonna happen until I got actual food to wake my system back up, so I lied. NOTE: I’m not advocating lying about this; I just knew my body well enough to do so. The next morning, I had a tiny breakfast of bland scrambled eggs and toast, and wouldn’t you know, those intestines really kicked in. I spent half that morning in the bathroom. That day, I was discharged.

There’s No Place Like Home

Right after leaving the hospital, we went to the pharmacy to fill my prescription. I was given Tylenol with codeine and while I didn’t need it that day, I wanted it on hand just in case. I haven’t had to take it yet and have been great with regular Tylenol. I want to take the least amount of narcotics as possible.

That walk into little old Rite Aid was a wake-up call. (Message!) I thought that short walk would be OK but it left me exhausted. I came home and napped right away. Oh how good my own bed felt, even with all my throw pillows on it so I could recline and sleep.

And because I’m stubborn, a few days later, I thought it was good to pop in the grocery store for a few things. I needed real food that was nutritious, no more soup or jello! My stepdad drove and came in with me to get something from the opposite end of the produce section. But that still ended up too much for me to handle, especially when I had to walk to the other side of the store for an emergency trip to the bathroom. Oy.

I was cleared to drive one week after surgery if I was not on pain medicine. That was scary, feeling like I was a brand new driver again. I was scared of everyone else as I made my way to the post office and probably drove under the speed limit. On the way home, I took the side streets to avoid traffic.

Three Weeks Later

Now I can totally do those quick grocery store pop-ins… well, they’re not quick, but still good for a couple items. Sometimes they still drain the hell outta me, though. I’ve read, “two steps forward, one step back.” This is so true. Driving is much easier but I have only done short errands. A small rectangular throw pillow under the lap portion of the seatbelt is very helpful for cushioning. I also park in a way I only have to drive straight out. Backing up requires more twisting of my torso than I can do.

I can do light chores at home, but no sweeping, mowing, vacuuming, or raking. My old man, family, and friends have been wonderful through this process. Having a strong support system is so helpful, even if it’s just to give you a bottle of wine for when you feel better. (It was needed after the election results.)

Getting out of bed and this comfy chair is much easier now. The 30-some staples were removed from my incision and steri-strips were added. It still  feels sore but is more like an irritated feeling, like when you skin your knee on the sidewalk. I’ve found gently rubbing it (not massaging) with my hands helps a lot. It may just be soothing, but it’s wonderful.

I’m still wearing the binder that I woke up from surgery in. I don’t fasten it too tight, just enough to give extra support when I need it. I tried walking yesterday without it and it hurt. Lesson learned. I do take it off more than at first, like in the evening. While I love it, it feels relieving to remove it—like taking your bra off at night.

The binder helps reduce the appearance of the swelly belly too, but I’ve adapted to that. It’s ironic that I really look pregnant now. However, the big belly has been a great excuse to shop for new clothing. I’ve found leggings, especially maternity leggings, have been a huge help. I just wear something loose on top, like a flannel or tunic sweater, and I’m good.

Mentally and emotionally, I’m doing fairly well. I have had some emotional moments where I just feel overwhelmed with all of this, but I get through it. I’m now working on getting my mind back, because it doesn’t feel as sharp as before. I’ve got to exercise it like before, especially so I can get used to working again when that day comes.

In spite of how tough it’s been, I know I made the right choice. I have an awesome support team of coworkers and loved ones who have helped with things like flowers, washing my dishes, picking me up dinner, and giving me a recovery gift full of mani/pedi items and wine. I’m deeply appreciative for this and even the smallest thing matters.

Each day I feel better and my body gets back to normal. I still have to remind myself that it’s a slow process, but in the end I will feel even more awesome.

 

 

 

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