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!

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