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!

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