Hi ho, hi ho. It’s back to work I go…

So it feels like it’s been a while since I updated. A quick look back reveals that in my last post I said my referral back to gynae gave me an appointment at the same time as my next GP appointment, with the elusive Dr M.

Anyway, I’ve now seen my consultant again, who was surprised to see me back. He examined me and said I still have this granulation tissue I’ve talked about in previous posts. He removed some of it with something called polyp forceps, which wasn’t as painful as it sounds. He then examined me internally and said there’s still some granulation tissue there, which probably explains why I still get occasional pain. The whole thing was uncomfortable and inelegant but him feeling my tummy was far more painful than removing bits from up me jacksie!

I have to go for a scan next week to see what’s going on in my abdomen, which continues to be tender. Consultant said it might be an issue with my bowel, considering where I was wincing as he prodded and poked. Oh joy. He did tell me I’d done well after the procedure and examination, which he’s never done before. Maybe he’s had some bedside manner training?! I have truly mixed feelings about this scan – part of me hopes it shows something they can fix, so I can stop being in pain and know I’m not being a wuss. The other part of me hopes it shows nothing so I can be left alone; I get fed up with being examined and poked about. Then I feel guilty because there are so many women in the world who don’t have access to the healthcare I do, and women who are experiencing MUCH worse than I am.

Anyway, last week I finally began my phased return to work as an English teacher in a state secondary school. I have to say, work have been great so far, and have listened to me and what I feel I can and can’t do. I asked for a day off last week, which they gave me on Wednesday, splitting the week into two manageable chunks. The mistake I made was in agreeing to be in school the full day on Monday, my first day back (though not teaching). I agreed to this because I thought I’d manage okay but it was way too much after five months off and still having pain. On top of this, I was still taking a strong dose on a long course of antibiotics for an internal infection so was feeling grotty anyway. Even just sitting in the office, working at the computer was too much for that first day. Thinking about so many different things, talking to lots of different people, trying to be all positive and pleasant when I just felt like lying down and crying was too much for me. I didn’t really know what to expect returning after such a long absence. I thought it would be like returning after maternity leave, and to some extent it was, but much more intense, presumably because my body has been through so much and I’m obviously still not fully right after the surgery, never mind the instant and intense menopause.

So I didn’t sleep much that night and ended up in floods of tears in bed at 7am on Tuesday last week, when I was supposed to be in school until 2pm. I was sensible and spoke to my head of department, again in tears, who gave me a hug and agreed I could go home at lunchtime and do fewer hours on Thursday and Friday. This week, I’m on fewer hours, having done two half-days in school so far. I’m off today (Wednesday), which is a life-saver, and am teaching most of my lessons on Thursday and Friday (bar one tomorrow for my appointment with Dr M). For anyone contemplating their return to work following this surgery, I have to admit that I MASSIVELY underestimated the physical and mental impact going back to work would have on me. It’s one thing feeling okay when you’re pottering around the house, or doing odd work-related things, like I did. It’s a completely different matter when you actually have to do these things, and have to think clearly  and have to communicate effectively and positively. On my first day back, someone asked me if I’m fully recovered. I’m not, but couldn’t tell this person details of why I’m not (in a busy corridor surrounded by pupils) so I just said that I’m not 100%, which is a huge understatement.But when you’re seen around the workplace again, after a long absence, most people will naturally assume that you’re ‘all better now’. Even now, I’m finding it wearing to be constantly almost pretending that everything’s okay and it’s hard to admit that I’m struggling physically, whether it’s because of the pain or the swelly belly or the lack of sleep, and mentally as well. When I’m being honest, I feel like I’m constantly whinging and being self-obsessed. So, all in all, I’m very lucky that my head of department and headteacher are being very supportive at the moment. I just worry a bit about how soon they’ll get sick of me if I take too long to get back on my feet again.

The other thing about teaching, of course, is that it’s not just the actual contact time with the pupils – the lessons themselves. It’s the planning the lesson and preparing resources, Powerpoints etc. beforehand, as well as the marking afterwards. Monday this week, for instance, was down as a half day, but I still had to come home and prepare my lessons for yesterday morning and mark a set of books before the next lesson. So even though my phased return timetable for this week states Monday morning, I actually worked all day, it’s just some of it was done at home. It’s something I need to be careful about and I’ve been very disciplined and I prepared lessons for today and tomorrow before I left yesterday so I can actually have a break today.

I have to say, the pupils have been great. There’s just the one class I’ve kept from last year (now Y11), and though they’re a noisy bunch, they’re actually great kids and do seem to understand why I’m not in all the time, even though they don’t know the exact surgery I’ve had. The Y10 class I’ve picked up are a delight; there’s a trainee currently teaching my Y9 class (which helps my getting back into the swing of things); and the Y7 & Y8 classes, though they have some characters, are quite manageable. It’s the kids that make this the job it is: challenging, knackering and exciting; inspiring, satisfying and at times frustrating. It’s been lovely this week to be visited in my classroom by pupils I taught last year, but don’t teach this year and I’ve already had some hugs and a chocolate muffin! So despite all I’m saying, it IS good to be back.

On a serious note, one final thing I’ve noticed – and this again is for anyone who’s had the surgery and not yet gone back to work – is that when I’m at work it takes a lot less time for the whole swelly belly thing to kick in. Before I went back, it was late afternoon or early evening before my abdomen swelled uncomfortably. This week I’ve been swollen and sore by lunchtime. I wasn’t really prepared for that, and even this morning my tummy feels like I’ve already been on my feet all day (it could, of course be related to whatever’s going on in my abdomen). Luckily I’ve found that I can tolerate a lightly filled hot water bottle on my stomach, which does seem to help the swelling, as well as lying flat on the sofa and some painkillers. So it’s manageable.

All in all, it’s been a bit of a rocky start to my phased return. I have underestimated the toll being back of work would have on me physically, mentally and emotionally, even on a light timetable. And I have overestimated how far along I am in my recovery and how much I can do physically and mentally before I become exhausted. I’m also a lot more emotional these days, which is of course the whole no-hormones thing, and I’m already feeling twitchy because there’s marking I haven’t done and my lessons aren’t as dynamic as I want them to be. Luckily (?) my body is more than capable of reminding me that I had a highly invasive, major surgical procedure just a few months ago and that I’m still not fully recovered.

Hope this helps any woman who is contemplating their return to work after hysterectomy, and anyone who knows me to understand where I am in my journey at the moment. It certainly still helps me to write it all down. Next post will be sometime after the scan – I’m not back at gynae until December 21st, but will see how work progresses.

That all for now, folks. x

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Quick update & ‘Hallelujah moments’ news

So, a quick update on the whole healing thing. My referral back to gynae has now come through and it’s on the same day, at almost the same time as my next (and hopefully last) appointment with my GP. I can’t change the gynae appointment (I’ve tried) so I’ll be grovelling at the doctor’s on Monday to see when they can give me another appointment with this particular GP, who is so popular that time with her is beyond precious. Wish me luck!

Anyway, these are the Hallelujah moments I’ve been looking forward to (see a previous post), and a brief update on where I’m up to with them.

  • not having to roll out of bed in the morning – getting there, getting easier to pull myself up & can now sit up in bed fairly comfortably
  • being able to lie on my tummy – still hurts but nowhere near as much as it did even a couple of weeks ago; need to let myself down onto my stomach slowly, can’t yet roll onto it
  • getting out of the bath without it hurting – pretty much there; hurts a bit when I sit up from lying and when I lean forward to stand up
  • being able to get off the sofa without pushing myself up with my hands (done this once!) – think I need to concentrate on doing this one to use my tummy muscles more; suspect it’s more habit now (though abdomen IS still tender)
  • not getting ‘swelly belly’ when I do anything remotely physical – still get this; physio said it’ll go on for a year, which I’ve heard elsewhere; wasn’t as bad as I was expecting after a longish walk yesterday – maybe only looked 5 months pregnant, rather than 7!
  • not having pain in my ‘cuff’ – not there yet – still getting pain, maybe even a bit more recently (presumably to do with granulation tissue and having a bloody hole in it?!)
  • going to the toilet without any pain – getting there; still some discomfort in bladder as described in an earlier post
  • not spending days on the sofa unable to do anything remotely physical – fewer of these now
  • having sex again!!! – check! No details in public post, though. If you’ve had, or are having, a hysterectomy (particularly TAH BSO) and have questions etc., leave a comment & I’ll get back to you – there are some things I WON’T discuss publicly online, but this is a serious issue for women who’ve had this surgery)

This has been a really useful and positive exercise, especially having had a bit of a setback this week in my recovery/healing. I AM moving forward, even if it feels like I’ve taken a step back. If you’re waiting to have this surgery or are in early recovery, I’d recommend making a list of ‘Hallelujah moments’ as a record of your recovery journey. It’s quite therapeutic and does help you to keep perspective.

Anyway, that’s all, folks! (Really need to get a picture of Bugs Bunny!)

Week 18 – Whinge Warning & TMI

This post is really for women who maybe have had the surgery and have had similar experiences, as well as to inform women awaiting the surgery about something that can happen, and finally for readers who know me – to explain why I’m being such a self-obsessed mardy cow at the moment. Sorry. Maybe also for anyone who is supporting a woman through this surgery.

So this might all be a bit negative because I’m getting a bit fed up with this whole recovery thing now. It’s now 4 1/2 months since my hysterectomy and it still feels like I’ve been hit by a truck. It’s been one thing after another: a wound infection lasting three weeks; the wound coming apart and taking nine weeks to fully close; granulation tissue on my vaginal cuff which apparently still isn’t fully healed and still has quite a deep hole in it. On top of this, despite the mountain of supplements I’m taking, I’m still struggling with some of the menopause symptoms. The hot flushes aren’t as frequent now, but I regularly go hot and cold, my joints are starting to ache, I rarely sleep through the night and the fatigue can be crippling. Even last week, I had a sofa day on the Thursday when I just could not get my lard arse up and about. The memory loss and brain fog aren’t much fun either. I’m hoping they’ll get better when I get back to work, which now won’t be next week, but hopefully in two weeks time.

Having said all that, up until yesterday, it’s been a good week. I swam 50 lengths quite comfortably on Monday, nice and slowly, and I had a session with my physio where she was pleased with my progress from last week and pushed me quite hard this time. All told, I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

This next paragraph might be TMI, especially if you’re a bit squeamish about bowel stuff, as I’m going to talk about a ‘Barry’. So I woke up yesterday and went to the loo as usual. My bowel is settling down now, even if it does sometimes want to do its job at some funny times (like in the middle of the night). As I went to flush to toilet this time,  though, I noticed a lot of blood in the bowl and on my stools. It was like someone had painted my poo with bright red paint and the water was bloodstained as well. Now, I’ve never experienced this so my initial reaction was panic. However, consulting Dr Google, I read on the NHS site that if the blood is bright red and appears to be resting on the stool (lovely word!), it’s probably nothing serious. There was a lot of blood but absolutely no pain at all, so the two most likely culprits are haemorrhoids or diverticula. I did want to try to check what was happening though, so tried to have a look with a mirror. Not very elegant, I’m afraid and I’m only glad I thought to close the bedroom curtains as I looked – don’t think the neighbours would’ve recovered from seeing that one! Anyway, as I was attempting to examine my own bottom (remember, please, that I still can’t fully pull myself up from lying down), I also noticed that I had some vaginal bleeding. This puzzled me, and for a few seconds I actually tried to work out how blood could get from my bottom to my lady-hole. When I realised that it was actually coming from inside me, the bottom bleeding was forgotten. I have no womb, no fallopian tubes, no ovaries and no cervix. I should have no bleeding so I was more concerned about this blood than the other.

Before I noticed the second blood, I had decided to just ring the doctor and try to speak to someone, just to confirm my self-diagnosis. However, realising I was bleeding from both ends, as it were, I wanted to see a doctor. My first thought was that I’d overdone things with the physio the previous day and I was concerned I might have done some damage. So I rang and asked to see a female doctor. I ended up seeing the same GP who initially referred me to gynae in the first place, but who hasn’t seen me since. Anyway, she had a look and examined me front and back. Like me, she was more concerned with the vaginal bleeding and looked there first. The up-shot is, I still have granulation tissue on my cuff and apparently a small hole in it, which is quite deep, but she doesn’t think it goes “all the way through” – eek! I’m really fed up to hear this, because, having been told that my cuff looked healthy last time, I thought I was all healed up. It seems not quite and I’m being referred back to gynae, with a request that, while not urgent, they see me as soon as they can. This probably explains the low level pain I’ve been getting in that area, which I was just putting down to being more active. She took a swab, which I’ve to ring about tomorrow, Friday. She also said that the pain in my tummy might be caused by fluid in my abdomen. Anyway, the bleeding seemed to stop during the day yesterday (though I’ve noticed some spots today), and I just seem to be ‘leaking’ some clear stuff – again, sorry if TMI, but I don’t think this is uncommon and hopefully my rather lurid description will reassure any woman going through similar complications following hysterectomy surgery. It’s the kind of stuff that NO-ONE tells us. (I really hope that none of my pupils ever read this!)

(BTW – The bottom bleeding was from a haemorrhoid that I didn’t know I had that coincidentally decided to do its first ever bleed on the same day as my fanny! Serious point, though, if you ever do find a lot of blood when you empty your bowel, don’t panic. If it’s bright red and on the surface of the stool, it’s likely to have come from the anal area rather than the colon. It’s scary to see but painless and harmless. It’s not always a sign of bowel cancer. Apparently, dark red blood actually mixed in with the stool is more of a concern and should be checked – not sure how you’re meant to tell, though!)

I’ve had a phone call from my school today, asking me to go in to meet the new headteacher before half-term, prior to my return to work after half-term on a phased return. I have mixed feelings about this: I’m a bit nervous about meeting my new boss under these circumstances (way to make a good first impression!), and while I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things at work, I am concerned about how I’ll cope physically with the demands of the job. I do tend to put myself under pressure to keep on top of things, and I tend to do long hours and I know I won’t be able to do that to begin with. I do have an understanding head of department, but I’m concerned that once I’m back, it’ll soon be forgotten that I’ve had the surgery – schools are such busy places like that. I do want to get back to normal as soon as I realistically can – I SO want to not be a bloody patient anymore!!!

Anyway, well done if you’ve got to the end of this post without feeling icky. The next one will probably be about getting back to work.

That’s all, folks!

Week 17 – First Physiotherapy Session (Warning: A bit intimate in paragraph 4)

So just an update on another stage in my hysterectomy recovery. In this post, I’ll describe my first session with a physiotherapist. I had to request a referral  for this from my GP as I was given very little advice at the hospital. I was given a leaflet to read the day after my surgery (at which stage my blood oxygen level kept dropping because I couldn’t even breath deeply) and the physiotherapist returned the next day to ask if I had any questions. At that stage I didn’t.

That was the sum total of any physio input, but I’ve learned that it was more than some women had. During my recovery, I’ve joined a closed group on Facebook, of women who have had, or are having, a hysterectomy in whatever form or for whatever reason. There’s been a thread just this last week about what physiotherapy advice and support women have had, if any. One thing that has truly astounded me during my recovery is the HUGE variation in provision, procedures and advice women are given in the lead-up to, and following, their surgery – and this is definitely the case regarding physiotherapy.

I’ve said in a previous post that there’s a really useful site online for an Australian physiotherapist who specialises in women’s pelvic health. Look here for the site. Now, I need to be shown how to do physio exercises – I don’t get it from reading it. I need to see it. So I’ve used a couple of her videos, but probably not enough. Apart from finding it difficult to isolate specific muscles from a written description, another reason I requested a referral was because I’m still getting pain, and it still doesn’t feel like my bladder and bowel have fully recovered from the surgery either.

Anyway, my referral came through and I had my first appointment a couple of days ago. The only experience I’ve had of physio prior to this was to attend one visit with my idiot son who fell out of a third-floor window earlier third year and broke his pelvis. That visit involved him  going into their gym and trying things like the treadmill, static bike etc. so I sort of assumed that my visit would be the same. It’s very different. It’s actually more akin to visiting a doctor. When they rang with the appointment, they told me that because my issue is gynaecological, the physio would want to examine me. I assumed she’d just want to feel my abdomen to see what the muscles are doing. She actually did an internal examination as well,  feeling inside my vagina and my cuff area while I squeezed my pelvic floor muscles and coughed. I wasn’t really expecting this, but it seems the world and his wife have been up there in the last few months so I took it in my stride! Anyway, it seems my pelvic floor isn’t as strong as I thought it was – surprise, surprise. I thought if I could stop myself mid-stream, they were strong enough. But there’s more to it.

Anyway, having examined me internally, she then felt my abdomen and was surprised at (a) how much pain I’m still in, and (b) where I’m feeling the pain. Apparently it’s not normal to still have a tender abdomen at this stage and the physio thinks I’ve got a lot of scar tissue that’s causing the pain. I’ve just been assuming that it’s just normal slow healing, but apparently not. The worst part of the whole session was when she made me lie on my stomach. Now, I hadn’t lain on my stomach since before my surgery, because it bloody hurts. It’s direct pressure on my tummy that’s still the most painful so lying on my stomach was incredibly painful and I almost cried – I think I had tears in my eyes and my voice broke. That’s when she mentioned having “a lot” of scar tissue. But she still made me do it, and I’ve got to do it three times a day for the next week. I’ve now done it four times and it still hurts while I get onto my stomach, but then it’s not too bad. Everyday household things hurt, like if I forget and push the kitchen drawer with my tummy to close it, or if I accidentally lean on something, it hurts. Victoria (the physio) says I have to work through the pain to loosen the scar tissue, so I have a whole new respect for anyone who has suffered an amputation or a severe break and has to learn to walk again, for instance.

Anyway, she’s a Pilates teacher so the exercises she’s given me are based on this. I’d already asked my GP at my last appointment about doing Pilates and she’d said leave it for now, but the physio thinks it’s not a problem. So, I’ve decided to wait until I’ve had my six weeks physio and then join a class. Victoria gave another booklet with the exercises in – here’s the link for anyone who’s interested.

I probably should have started by saying that before any examination or exercises, Victoria asked me a whole load of questions about my health and medical history, preganancies etc. There were specific questions about my bladder and bowel, and I’ve learned that apparently it’s ‘normal’ to empty your bladder once during the night but two or more times isn’t. I’ve been getting some pain while I urinate, especially as I finish, and I’m sometimes a bit ‘stop and start’. I’m trying to be quite descriptive as I know of at least a couple of women who are reading my blog who’ve also had the surgery and might have similar symptoms. We’re told so little about the effects of hysterectomy, and I’ve learned so much from chatting with, and reading the posts of, my fellow hystersisters. Anyway, she thought it was worth just mentioning to my gynaecologist. At least I know there’s no bladder prolapse (she felt!). I must admit to feeling a bit fed up that the pain is scar tissue rather than just slow healing – at least with healing, I’d know that eventually it would stop. With the scar tissue, I’ve got to work through the pain to sort of ‘soften’ the scars. Maybe back on the painkillers, then.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone in the same situation as me. I really am getting there physically, even if I occasionally wish I’d never had the bloody surgery. Anyway, to end, she must have done something right as I went for a swim straight from my session with her, and swam 40 lengths rather than my rather pathetic usual 20!

Just a quick check-in…

Well, it’s now 4 months since my operation and, though I’m still signed off work, my recovery is progressing, albeit slowly. I’m getting there.

My ‘cuff’ (where my cervix was) is now healed and apparently looking healthy (though I’m still getting some pain there), and almost a fortnight ago, I got the okay to swim. The first time I swam, I didn’t take my goggles into the pool because I assumed I’d just fanny about in the shallow end (no pun intended). I swam 20 lengths (!) and felt fab afterwards. I took things really slowly and stuck to the side of the pool just in case, and stopped when I got pain.

I can now cough without holding my stomach, and although I still ‘feel’ it, it’s not so much pain as a pulling sensation now. It still hurts a bit when I sneeze but even that’s getting better. I still can’t pull myself up from lying down and am still rolling out of bed but things are getting noticeably easier. A couple of times, I’ve been able to get myself up off the sofa without pushing with my hands! I still can’t tick much off the ‘Hellelujah moments’ list, but I can at least foresee a time when I’ll be able to – I suppose 4 months is still early days. I’ve been told by several nurses and a couple of doctors that it’ll be 6 months before I start to feel really well again, and the surgery stops being the main thing I think about. I’m still getting pain, especially when I’m physically active, so it’s no surprise, I suppose, that it’s still on my mind almost constantly. I’m not taking painkillers regularly these days; I’m using the pain to tell me when I need to slow down and I want to be aware of what’s going on inside my body.

I know that even now, I need to take things easily and did overdo things on Monday past when I did the ironing, then mopped the kitchen floor and then wandered around town for a couple of hours. I ended up looking, and feeling, about 7 months pregnant and was in pain just walking back from town. A couple of co-codamol and a lie down improved things greatly though. I cleaned the oven out yesterday and again had some pulling pains, so I know my body is still healing itself. I fully intended to go for a swim yesterday but was too knackered so maybe today.

I think I’m now at the stage they warn you about – where I’m beginning to do more things physically and sometimes forget that my body is still healing itself. Consequently, I sometimes overdo things and my body reminds me that it needs time to heal. There’s also the frustration, of course, with it being such a bloody long process. I keep thinking, right – it’s been 4 months now. I should be doing this, this and this. I’m still comparing myself unfavourably with women in the Hysterectomy group on FB, who had their surgery after me and seem to be doing more than me, then reminding myself that many of them are 10-15 years younger than me and have had keyhole surgery rather than open. But still…

One thing I am finding, as well, is the menopause symptoms aren’t really abating, even with the cocktail of supplements I’m taking. I had a few days with hardly any flushes and thought they’d stopped but they’re back with a vengeance, my memory is still pretty rubbish and my energy levels are very hit and miss. I sometimes wake up keen to do loads (cue ironing/kitchen-floor-mopping/town-wandering) and then regret it afterwards and end up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. Other days, I still can’t get off the sofa.

Having said this, I’ve joined a closed group on FB of women who are at various stages of going through menopause and my symptoms aren’t as severe as many, so maybe the supplements are working. My legs aren’t aching as much now, either. I’ve also pretty much eliminated caffeine and alcohol (though had a sneaky glass of wine last night – the first in a couple of weeks at least) and am eating loads of fresh fruit and veg, and protein-rich food for healing. I’m seeing the doctor in November to discuss things again, so we’ll see. I had a migraine last week, though not a severe one, so I suspect she still won’t want me to have HRT but she might have some other ideas.

While scrolling through FB yesterday, I came across a post in the Menopause group about how the body produces oestrogen and explaining how declining levels of the hormone bring on the symptoms. There was a diagram of the womb/tubes/ovaries and I got a little jolt when I saw it because it really dawned on me then that that diagram no longer applies to me. I felt sad and excluded. I thought I’d come to terms with losing my female organs, but obviously the regret and sense of loss is still there. The whole thing still feels like a triple whammy: (i) the physical and emotional impact of major surgery; (ii) losing those parts of me that made me a woman and gave me my children; (iii) being plunged into sudden menopause and all that that entails. I suppose it’ll take some getting over.

Anyway, just thought I’d share some thoughts. The peaks are getting higher and the troughs shallower, so I’m getting there.

Bye for now x

Peaks and troughs, menopause moans and hallelujah moments…

Well, as the title suggests, I suspect this post will be a mixed bag.

Recovering from such major surgery isn’t a walk in the park. I’m finding there are more ups and downs than I ever imagined. I knew before the op that a hysterectomy is a major procedure, but really had no idea what I was letting myself in for, both physically and emotionally. At the moment, I sometimes can’t help wondering if I made the right decision (to have the hysterectomy): I still don’t feel like I’m feeling the benefit of it yet, but maybe I’m looking back with rose-tinted spectacles. I wasn’t offered an alternative, however, and I do wonder if I asked all the right questions when I saw my consultant. I did ask if he could just remove the fibroids (he said no, they were part of my womb), but maybe I should have asked if an abdominal hysterectomy was the best/only way to do it. We put a lot of faith in the medical professionals who treat us, of course, and trust them to do what’s best for us, rather than what’s easiest for them… Rather unfairly, I’ve found myself feeling a bit angry at my consultant, like it’s all his fault, although my rather rushed check-up at six weeks might be to blame for this. Well, it’s all too late now, of course.

I’m now 13 weeks post-op and still have highs and lows: in terms of what I can do physically; and more and more in terms of my emotional state. It seems that as I continue to heal physically, the emotional effects of what’s been done to me become more apparent. Of course, I no longer have my ovaries, so am in Surgical Menopause. When I saw my GP three weeks ago and was discussing my menopause symptoms with her, she said the last vestiges of oestrogen have now left my body and it’s struggling to cope with the shock. Apparently, the body produces huge amounts of Follicle Stimulating Hormone in an attempt to “make contact with” ovaries that are no longer there. I’m a bit miffed because when I had my pre-op assessment back in May, I asked the nurse whether a surgical menopause would be more extreme than a natural, ‘phased’ one and she said no, it would be just it would have been if I’d kept my ovaries. But every site I’ve looked at online confirms what I’d feared – the suddenness of losing my ovaries has plunged my body into what I can only describe as ‘hormone freefall’. I think the following paragraph, taken from the Women Living Naturally  website says it all, really:

In addition to the physiological changes that occur during hysterectomy, there can also be emotional and psychosocial changes after the surgery. The natural, gradual transition from peri- into post-menopause normally gives the woman an opportunity to gradually adjust to her biological and emotional changes and to ease into the second part of her life. Women undergoing surgical menopause don’t have the luxury of easing into it over time. Rather, the woman is faced with both the challenge and opportunity to establish a new hormonal balance and make the mental adjustments necessary to not only deal with the shock of surgery, but also to establish a relationship with her new and different body/self.

I’m now experiencing much more pronounced highs and lows than even in the first few weeks following surgery, and reading phrases like “immediate menopause“, “plunged into menopause” and “abrupt cuff-off…sudden onset“, while they help to explain what to expect, go no way at all to actually preparing you for what it feels like to experience an instant menopause. It’s the suddenness of it, like flicking a switch. I think it’s the complete lack of control over what’s going on in my own body that’s the hardest thing to get my head around. I do of course know that we don’t control the processes our bodies go through anyway, but this just feels more, somehow.

Case in point – last Friday, I went for a short walk. I’d had a couple of sofa days (fatigue is a menopause symptom as well as a result of recovering from a major surgical procedure, and my iron levels are a bit low as well) and I wanted to get some exercise. I only walked for about half an hour but by the time I got home, my belly was swollen and really sore and I also had a lot of pain inside, in the ‘cuff’ area (where they stitch you up after removing your cervix). I spent the rest of the day back on the sofa and was really emotional the next day, crying over the slightest little thing and generally feeling sorry for myself. I found I was crying without even realising I was crying until I felt the tears on my cheeks and just felt unbelievably sad about everything. I can rationalise why I was feeling like this, and I know it probably won’t be the last time, but it didn’t stop me feeling all weak and pathetic (a phrase I’ve used a lot over the last three months). I’ve posted on FB far more since my operation than before it, and I put a post up to say that I was having a bit of a dip in my recovery. The replies I got from my friends really helped, with one friend stating that I wouldn’t expect to be fully recovered three months after losing a limb, and reminding me that my ‘lady bits’ affected the whole of me. Everyone reminded me that “it’s okay to not be okay” and told me to continue to share how I was feeling because it’s perfectly normal to feel like this. My body has been through a lot and three months is still early in terms of a full recovery. Thanks, all.

Other menopause symptoms rearing their ugly heads are:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • dizziness
  • aching legs
  • insomnia
  • mood swings
  • memory lapses

Apart from these, it’s a walk in the park!

Several people have said to me that it’s a bad idea to compare my recovery with those of other women who’ve had the same surgery; we’re all very different and there are many different reasons for having a hysterectomy. My head gets this, but it seems I’m still doing it. I’m still listening to other women on forums or Facebook groups who are up and about, back at work, going to the gym – and I can’t even go for a swim because I don’t know if I’m healed enough inside yet. On the plus side, some women have had even more complications than me, and many, far more severe. While I wouldn’t wish these on any woman, it’s reassuring to think that there are women who are ‘worse off’ than me – if that doesn’t sound too selfish.

Right, enough of the whinging. Time to focus on the hallelujah moments. These are the ones I’ve had so far:

  • sleeping through the night (no waking up for pain relief)
  • the first ‘Barry’ (see earlier post)
  • walking into, and back from, town
  • picking something (light) up off the floor
  • being able to tie my own shoelaces
  • driving for the first time (albeit not very far)
  • being able to cook a meal (though last night I had to ask my other half to put the casserole in the oven as it was too heavy for me to left down)
  • my wound finally closing (August 17th – D[ressing]-Day!)
  • the first shower
  • the first bath
  • doing some light housework

These are the ones I’m SO looking forward to:

  • not having to roll out of bed in the morning
  • being able to lie on my tummy
  • getting out of the bath without it hurting
  • being able to get off the sofa without pushing myself up with my hands (done this once!)
  • not getting ‘swelly belly’ when I do anything remotely physical
  • not having pain in my ‘cuff’
  • going to the toilet without any pain
  • not spending days on the sofa unable to do anything remotely physical
  • having sex again!!!

So, I think that’s all for this time. My thimble-sized bladder, huge belly and sore ‘cuff’ are all complaining in unison, the buggers.

That’s all, folks!

3 months in – milestone moments

Well, it’s now 12 weeks since my operation and I’m still signed off work.

It’s been an eventful journey thus far, with good times and bad, milestone moments, and ‘yardstone’ and ‘footstone’ moments.  There are so many things I can do now that I couldn’t do in those early weeks, but I still find I can overdo things and my body lets me know in no uncertain terms when I have.

They tell you to move about as much as you can as soon as you can.With this in mind, and living at the top of a steep hill, my first exercise was simply to go out of the kitchen door at the side of our semi-detached house, walk to the front gate, along the street to the back gate and back to the kitchen door. I used to call this ‘walking the wall’ (there’s a low wall!) and I used to do this a few times a day. I suspect the neighbours, at least those who didn’t know about the surgery, thought I’d gone a bit bonkers – but then I’ve always said I fully intend to be the mad woman on the corner who gets eaten by her cats when she dies!

On a serious note, though, this was the extent of what I was capable of  physically for those first few weeks – it was a big deal when I did it the first time; I was still in so much pain but knew I had to move about to help my recovery. Small steps, small steps. Now I can walk into town, a walk of about 20 minutes and a couple of times have even walked back, though I often resort to the bus as I’m still getting pain, and the more I move about, the worse the pain. It’s really good to think back to those early weeks, though, and remind myself just how far I’ve come – particularly on the days when I still feel a bit sorry for myself.

On a scale of 1-3 (which was what they used in hospital) though, my pain is now 1 and occasionally 2 but never 3 these days. Small steps again! Yesterday was a ‘2’ day, with more regular pain where I haven’t yet healed inside, and a more uncomfortable abdomen than I’ve had in a couple of weeks. It really does seem to be two steps forward, one step back and is a constant reminder that I’m still healing big-style. Even now, I’m still more comfortable lying down than being upright for any length of time – a consequence I suspect of my internal organs (definitely my bladder!) lying on what is actually a healing  wound where my cervix was – eek! Yesterday I walked in to town and wandered around for less than an hour, and boy did I know I’d done it. I’d woken up feeling a bit tired and sore so I got the bus in and back. I’m conscious of walking the line between getting enough exercise to make me feel better physically and emotionally, and not overdoing it and stressing my healing body too much. It’s not easy to judge even now, and I’m generally not taking the painkillers anymore as I’m using the pain to tell me when it’s time to rest.

Another thing of note (don’t know if I’ve said this before) but since my pre-op assessment on 31st May, I’ve lost a stone in weight. However, my belly now has its own post code, so I’m not really sure how that works? It’s good to be lighter, though, and I just hope I can avoid putting it back on. Roll on the day I can go swimming!

Other milestone (yardstone? footstone?) moments include the first time I did a proper sneeze, not all that long ago actually. I’ve always thought that you can’t stop a sneeze but have learned that in effect, you can – at least I’ve been able to stop the hurricane-style sneezes that I naturally do. These days, I can sneeze and cough almost without impunity, though I still find it more comfortable to hold my tummy when I do. Small steps, like I say.

Waiting for my incision wound to become a scar felt interminable, and  another definite milestone moment came on August 17th – my own personal D-Day. In this case, the D means ‘dressing’, though, for it was on August 17th, some nine weeks after my surgery, that my incision finally fully closed and I became dressing-free. Oh, the absolute joy of leaving the Chronic Wounds Clinic with NO DRESSING!!! I felt like I was going commando! Even now, three weeks later, being able to shower in the morning and even have a bath occasionally, is heaven, even if getting up out of the bath is both inelegant and uncomfortable.This was up there with the infection finally clearing after three weeks and the first relatively pain-free ‘Barry’ (see earlier post) and the first night of sleeping through without needing pain relief at 2am! Once again, small steps.

I was a bit concerned that this post would be a bit negative, a bit whingy, a bit self-indulgent, but I seem to have focused on the positive aspects of my step-by-step recovery from what is after all major surgery. It’s not all plain sailing, however, and even as I sit here on the sofa, almost upright, with my laptop on my knees (another milestone moment), I’m getting pains. Pain in my abdomen (which seems to be going through a sensitive phase); pain deep inside where my cervix was (really must come up with a name for that, but it’s ‘right up me jacksie!’); pain in my legs (which is apparently a lesser-known symptom of the lovely menopause – oh, joy). It still hurts when I go to the toilet, when I stand up for too long and when I bend or stretch. It even hurts when I do my pelvic floor exercises (I really must ask the doctor about some physiotherapy next time I go). It hurts when I get up off the sofa, when I stretch my legs out after having them bent at the knee while lying in bed and when I need a wee (which seems to be all the time at the moment). Just about everything hurts to some extent. But we’re talking number 1 on the 1-3 scale: just enough to remind me that my body’s been through a lot recently (in case I forget!).

I’ve never been anaemic in my life, even after two pregnancies, and I’m a regular blood donor but my last blood test showed my iron levels are a bit low – another reminder that I am apparently only mortal. Everything else is fine, though: liver, kidneys, red and white cell counts, platelets – all fine. I find it amazing how the human body can repair itself after the most extreme trauma. Anyway, I’m taking iron supplements in the form of iron-rich water from Snowdonia, which tastes so bloody awful you have to mix it with something else (not gin, unfortunately) but is apparently much easier to absorb in this form. Indeed in the absence of HRT, I’m taking enough supplements to sick a battleship and have just ordered some Red Maca on the advice of a hyster-sister on the Hysterectomy Association forum. As I’ve had a couple of hot flushes in the time I’ve been writing this post, here’s hoping all this works!

Can’t remember if I said this last time, but after much soul-searching and research, I’ve actually watched some surgical videos of the operation I’ve had. This was to help me to really understand what’s been done to me and why I’m not ‘all better now’ after 12 weeks. I had been getting (and if I’m being honest, still sometimes do get) incredibly frustrated and fed up with not being fighting fit. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s helped me to understand why I’m not back on my feet yet. It’s also made me ashamed to realise just how little I knew about how my body was constructed inside. I rather naively thought, ‘Oh, hysterectomy. They’ll just cut me at the cervix and stitch me up.’ I think I really thought it was just a cut inside. I didn’t realise how many ligaments, nerve and blood vessels there are. I didn’t realise that the uterus is a huge muscle that provides support to other internal organs and, I think, the skeleton. I now realise and am no longer beating myself up for not bouncing back immediately.

Anyway, as part of my hysterectomy clearly involved replacing my bladder with the thimble from a doll’s house, and I’m currently experiencing my third hot flush since I started typing, I’m going to end now and (1) go to the toilet and (2) stick my head in a bucket of ice. Okay, so maybe I won’t do the second but I’m SO doing the first.

Bye for now. x