So the date for my operation was set – June 13th, 2016.I had around a month to prepare myself physically, psychologically and emotionally for a major, life-changing surgery. I’ll try to describe each in turn.
In the bumf the hospital gave me, it said the usual stuff about preparing for surgery: stop smoking, stop drinking, eat healthily, lose weight if you need to, get fit etc. I don’t smoke, so that was fine. I generally don’t drink huge amounts, but was drinking a bit more than normal, finding my recent job change quite challenging. I stopped drinking the day I saw the consultant. I bought myself a smoothie maker (a Nutribullet, which I love) and started making smoothies with the right types of food to prepare my body for the trauma of surgery and for an instant menopause. Check out here, here and here for further information, especially if you’re a woman of a certain age. I learned about phytoestrogens and what foods to eat to get them. Luckily, it’s mainly foods I eat anyway:cereals, seeds, pulses, beans, brightly coloured vegetables, and – yay, garlic! Also soya products. So I bought some tofu (which I didn’t even eat when I was vegetarian for 17 years, and which I threw away after my surgery!), and started eating soya ‘yoghurt’, which I do like. I’m still having soya ‘milk’ on my cereal in the morning (but it’s not getting anywhere near my cups of tea!). Anyway, I ate healthily for the month I had before the surgery, to give my body the chance to heal well. The best laid plans and all that…
I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to doctors and hospitals; give me a dentist over a doctor, any day. And I was preparing to have a major surgical procedure, lose my lady bits and instantly begin menopause proper, all in a couple of hours in theatre. It felt, and still feels, like a medical triple-whammy and has taken some getting my head around (I sometimes think I’m still not there quite yet, but it has only been a few weeks).
I read up as much as I could in the four weeks I had, bearing in mind I was still working full-time and preparing what I could at work, so as not to disrupt my classes’ learning any more than I had to. I went into hospital thinking I was prepared and knew everything I needed to. Not really so. Since my op, and during my recovery, I am realising how little I actually knew, and how little I was told about what I would and wouldn’t be able to do, and it would feel like after the surgery (but more of this in a later post).
I joined the forums on the Hysterectomy Association, a UK site run by a lady who’s had the surgery, and an excellent source of information, advice and support from women who understand from experience the thoughts and feelings and questions you have as you prepare for, experience and recover from hysterectomy. This is the site I’ve used most regularly in the last few weeks and it’s helped enormously. There’s a different forum group for each month of the year so I can chat with women who are at the same stage as myself in their recovery. No question is too silly and it’s mutually supportive.There’s an American site called HysterSisters as well, which seems very similar, and although procedures, protocols and even some medical terms are a bit different, women’s thoughts, feelings, concerns and questions are the same.
Now here’s the thing. Hysterectomy is by its very nature an emotional procedure. Medically, it’s a hormonal surgery regardless of what exactly is removed. By the time a woman needs a hysterectomy, she has been controlled by / beholden to / governed by her hormones. Especially if she has endured years, or even decades, of heavy, painful periods or conditions like endometriosis. Most women who end up having a hysterectomy are grateful to be freed from such conditions, but I feel there’s still an emotional cost. Our wombs are a huge part of us (often much larger than they should be – mine was the size of a melon when they took it out!). They remind us of their presence every month; they allow us to create our children; they define us as women. And when a woman no longer has her womb (tubes/ovaries/cervix), it’s a huge wrench, emotionally as well as physically. You’re left asking questions: Am I still a woman? Will my partner still love me? Want me? Will he (or she) see me differently? What happens in my abdomen – is there just a big space where my womb was? (Apparently the other organs just shift about to fill the space. I was a bit disconcerted to be told by a nurse that when a woman has had a hysterectomy, they do bladder scans like they do for men because that’s where the bladder ends up!) I was lucky enough to have had my children, but I can only imagine it must be worse for women who desperately wanted children but were unable to have them.
Now, some of you might think this next bit’s a bit whacky. One of the ways I decided to prepare for the emotional impact of my surgery, as well as the likelihood that I would be a gibbering wreck on the day of the operation like last time I had surgery, was to have a chakra-balancing crystal treatment. Very New Age. Very alternative. Very fucking effective. I was completely chilled and relaxed about the whole thing, even as I walked down to theatre at 10.30am on the 13th of June this year. Now, I realise that not everyone will be interested in reading about this, so I’ll do a separate post that you can choose to completely ignore.
NB The link above isn’t to the place who did my treatment, but has quite a nice introduction to chakras and crystals. I had my treatment at this place, in Lancaster, Lancashire.