Heather’s Vaginal Hysterectomy
Age at Surgery 40
Location: Brunswick, Maine, USA
I approached my doctor because of very heavy menstrual bleeding. I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t really leave the house during my periods. I switched to a menstrual cup, because of the greater capacity, backed up by a heavy pad, but there would be flooding that would occur that would inevitably lead to disaster. I was tired all the time. The thought of “doing my day” overwhelmed me with dread every morning. I wanted to move out of our farmhouse because it required too much effort. I had a friend who took a prescription medicine to reduce menstrual bleeding, so my intention of going to the doctor was to ask about that. An ultrasound found several uterine fibroids. My doctor didn’t like the prescription drug I mentioned because of dangerous side effects. I read a book called “The Hormone Cure” by Sara Gottfried and was convinced that I could shrink my fibroids and reverse my heavy bleeding by rebalancing my hormones. I took progesterone for several months to no effect. Did I mention I was miserable?
One ObGyn I spoke with thought my uterus was too large for a vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomy, so if I decided on surgery, I would likely require an abdominal hysterectomy. She suggested I try a Mirena hormone IUD to see if that might help reduce my bleeding. A second ObGyn didn’t feel that the IUD would be likely to work. She felt confident that she could perform a vaginal hysterectomy, laparoscopically assisted. I left her office feeling like I was nibbling around the problem with the prescription drug idea, the hormone idea, and the IUD idea when there was a solution–real, complete, and long-term–staring me in the face: a hysterectomy. I was terrified, but I scheduled the surgery.
I reported to the hospital at 8am. I had general anesthesia plus abdominal nerve block injections. The doctor explained that even though I wouldn’t be conscious to experience pain, studies showed that suppressing pain messages from ever reaching the brain reduced post-surgical pain. My uterus was very large and my surgery was longer than expected because the doctor had a difficult job to extract it vaginally by cutting it out bit by bit. I had my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix removed; my ovaries remain. I also had a bladder sling, which is AWESOME: No more drips in my panties when sneezing. My iron levels were rather low going into surgery and I lost a bit more blood than average, so I had two bags of IV iron prior to leaving the hospital. The lab results showed that in addition to many large fibroids, I had adenomyosis, which contributed to my menstrual pain and bleeding. My doctor said the Mirena IUD would NOT have helped me, so I felt better about my decision to have surgery.
Upon waking, I was relieved, hungry, and thirsty. I was walking in short order. I felt very bloated and burped for 12 hours straight, I swear. I have no idea what that was about. I heard that it may have been related to the gas they use to pump up your abdomen in surgery. That was probably my greatest discomfort.
The only real complication I experienced was getting my bladder to wake up. I could urinate, but not much. For hours, I walked, urinated a few drops, sipped water, repeat. The nurses used a portable ultrasound machine to determine the volume of urine in my bladder, and it was a lot. They suggested catheterization. I asked for more time. An hour later, they checked the volume of urine in my bladder again, and thought the machine was broken because it was higher than the range of the machine. They brought in another machine from down the hall: same results. They inserted a straight catheter and drained A LOT of urine from my bladder. Like 1600 cc’s, or a couple of Nalgene bottles’ worth. I was lucky my bladder didn’t explode. I wish I could say I was much more comfortable after that, but my whole abdomen felt wretched, but in a dull, generalized sort of way. I never reported a high number on the pain scale, I just felt like crap. I didn’t sleep much. The nurses were a little stingy with pain meds. I was released from the hospital the following day, but only after I had been taught how to self-catheterize, meaning I had to insert a straight catheter to drain my bladder every several hours after urinating until the catheter didn’t yield any additional urine. It was horrible, but the alternative was a catheter attached to me 24/7 and a trip back to the doctor for removal. At that point, I just wanted to go home and be left alone to recover.
I felt pretty wretched after surgery, I’m not going to lie. I shuffled around like an old lady, too tender to move much. Getting out of bed was a trial, getting on and off the toilet was a trial, getting up and down the stairs was a trial. I couldn’t lay flat on my back or on my side, so I slept propped up on pillows and took naps in a recliner. I was much more liberal with pain medication than my stingy hospital nurses–I followed the dosage instructions to a T–and that was a relief. I was able to sleep. I was finished with the self-catheter after two or three days. I would say after a week, I was mainly off opioids (though I kept taking the 600mg ibuprofen, per doc’s orders) and my recovery was easy. Not “I went back to my normal routine” easy, but “the pain was totally manageable and there was steady improvement” easy. I watched a lot of movies, read a lot, listened to audio books, took daily naps, took a daily walk of increasing length. I was cleared for normal activity after 6 weeks. I didn’t rush it, I just took that time to heal. I’m glad I did.
I did struggle with constipation during recovery; that was a drag. I followed all the recommendation by my hystersisters: prune juice (yuck!), miralax (very helpful), stool softeners, lots of water, walking, etc. It seemed like it was a constant concern for awhile. I’m not sure if that was due to the general anesthesia, the opioids in recovery, the iron supplements for my anemia, or all of the above.
My health has been fabulous since my hysterectomy. My energy didn’t recover right away, like many have reported on this site. I had pretty severe iron deficiency, so it took a long time just to get my blood built back up. I’d say I felt good after about six months. Now, after a year, I forget I even had the surgery. Sex is normal again–I had some reconstruction of my pelvic floor, so it was tight and a little uncomfortable for a few months after I was cleared for sex. I am taking my two young teenage girls to France in a couple of months, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t had surgery. I literally would have been laid up in a hotel room when on my period, number one, but also I just wouldn’t have had the motivation or drive to plan and execute a trip like that, and I wouldn’t have had the stamina to walk and explore even when not actively bleeding.
One of the thoughts that went through my head when weighing whether or not to have surgery was that I could just wait until menopause. I was 40, after all. I think of that now and just am so grateful that I chose surgery. I would have lost a decade of my life, potentially. The last decade with my kids at home, the decade when my husband and I are young empty-nesters, a precious decade of my relative youth when I can travel and hike and camp and explore. My husband says I’m the “old me” again in terms of positive outlook and energy. I am aware that I took a gamble: on my hystersisters recovery thread, there were many women with complications, who were readmitted to the hospital, who were in more pain for a longer time than I was. It’s kind of like deciding to have kids: You hope for an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby; sometimes that’s how it turns out, sometimes it isn’t. You roll the dice and hope for the best outcome because you’ve decided it is worth it. I was very lucky that the surgery was relatively easy and that I have a much better quality of life today because of it. It was the right decision, as it turns out.
My advice to women considering a hysterectomy is to keep your head about you when reading literature by the anti-surgery contingent on the internet. I appreciate natural healing, I have read all of Christiane Northrup’s books, I was a hippy in college; I get it, okay? And I appreciate the drive to understand women’s health and promote healing rather than just chopping out body parts to solve every problem. HOWEVER, the fact that my ailing uterus–my wonderful uterus that gave me two beautiful children, but decided for some reason to slowly kill me later in life–could be removed with only a week of serious discomfort is a freaking modern miracle. My life is transformed.
Practical advice: stay on the nurses to keep up with your pain meds while in the hospital; stock your cupboards with gas and constipation supplies; and don’t rush your recovery. Be patient, live a life of leisure for a couple of months so you can return to your old life better than ever.