In May of 2015, I had surgery to remove two polyps from my uterus.
I can’t say I took it too seriously; I was hyper-focused on my upcoming move back to Massachusetts from my hometown in Ohio. I had promised my son we’d be there by Memorial Day weekend, and darn it, it was going to happen come hell or high water.
When I got the call from the hospital letting me know my surgery had been scheduled for May 25th, it put zero damper on my plans. At this point in my life, I had been making these 1,800+ mile round trips for several years and bragged frequently I could do it with my hands bound and eyes covered, which wasn’t far from the truth.
When I told my friends and family I had “cleared” making this 15-hour drive with my doctor just two short days after my surgery, I may have been slightly fibbing. I did ask my doc, and she did say, “I mean, it’s doable, but…” My ears simply chose to not listen to what came after that “but.” All I needed to know was that it was doable.
I landed myself back in a Massachusetts hospital just a week later, with doctors and nurses telling me I had overdone it post-surgery. Whoops. I knew I would start my next period shortly after the surgery took place, but when this period came, it came with a blind-rage type of vengeance.
My uterus said, “How dare you, after everything I’ve done for you?!” Due to the insane amount of blood loss, I was a bit concerned and had my housemate drive me to the emergency room. They prescribed bed rest for a few weeks, then this once avid hiker could be back on her feet again and out playing in the woods like this tree hugging hippie does best.
When I started hiking again, I could feel right off the bat my energy wasn’t what it was prior to the surgery, but I figured it was due to some depression and anxiety I had been dealing with due to life circumstances, along with the healing process I was so anxious to get ahead of. Selling all of your possessions and uprooting yourself and your children comes with a whole list of wonderful side effects it turns out.
My depression only deepened from there, but I kept moving. I hiked every day that I was able. I was in the best shape of my life, but my energy levels were out of whack. There were days it was not just a struggle, but more so an internal war just to pry myself out of bed. Life was wonky at this point; I had to move from where I had been staying into a house with someone I barely knew, and I assumed—yet again—that my lack of energy was due to the crippling depression and anxiety I had diagnosed myself with. What else could it be? I matched all the symptoms; I had fought depression in my 20s, and I knew what it felt like.
Meanwhile, I had an extremely difficult time holding down a job. I bounced from a heating and cooling place to a real estate office, then to an animal hospital. They all crumbled and fell apart for one reason or another. So I sank. I sank like a ship full of lead. I was out of work for months at this point and feeling quite useless in life. I wasn’t contributing to anything, and my daughter was having a rough time acclimating to her new school; I was failing as a mother and as a human being, which I didn’t understand. I gave up everything to be here. It was the right thing to do, so why was I failing so badly?
I made a doctor’s appointment for my depression. I am so anti-pill it’s ridiculous, but there comes a point when you realize you cannot be a good mother, friend, employee, sister, daughter, or human being if you don’t have the energy to breathe, much less interact. So as silly as it sounds, scheduling that appointment and saying the words aloud, “Hi. I’d like to see about getting put on some anti-depressants as soon as possible,” was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. (When you barely have the energy to raise your head from your pillow, you’ll understand.)
I went through three doctors. The first was older and set in her ways, telling me within three minutes I definitely needed medication and would be seen by Behavioral Health the following week. Behavioral Health didn’t accept my insurance, so I made another appointment to discuss what else could be done. My previous doctor was out, and they considered me an emergency (I believe because I mentioned I was borderline suicidal), so they gave me to a different doc. This doctor—who was male, I might add—listened to everything I had to say for 10 straight minutes, then said he believed my depression may be linked to my heavy periods. I didn’t quite understand how they could be linked, but what do I know? I’m a simple peasant with no doctorate or fancy letters behind my name. So I listened, and made my gynecologist appointment for the following week.
My new gyno was warm, friendly, compassionate, and took the time to listen to what I was purging to her. She ordered several tests, and discovered there was indeed something quite wrong going on inside of me. My blood pressure was through the roof, and my energy level was dropping each month. Each menstrual cycle was worse than the last.
Women, if you go through an “Overnight Extra Heavy” pad every 30 minutes to an hour, please listen to your body and go figure out why. As I learned soon after many blood draws and tests (my poor veins), my iron level had dropped deadly low. I had severe anemia. Normal ferritin (iron in the bloodstream) range is between 50-60 ng/mL (but can be as high as 154. ng/mL). My doctor explained to me she would normally be concerned if someone had dropped to 30 ng/mL.
My ferritin level was 3.6 ng/mL.
I had three doctors look me in the eye and say they have never seen anyone with iron levels this low, let alone someone who could function with any normalcy whatsoever. My primary care doctor told me she believed this severe anemia was mocking depression because I quite frankly just didn’t have enough iron in my bloodstream to function.
My uterus was literally killing me off, slowly.
After the birth of my son in 2010, I had made the decision to have my tubes tied, so I wasn’t planning on making anymore babies in the near future anyway, but I’ll say this: as a woman, one of the hardest things to digest is the simple knowing I’ll never be able to reproduce naturally ever again. Having my tubes tied was always reversible in my mind. I knew there were ways around it, should I choose to have another baby in the future. Being in my early 30s, this was still a very viable option for me, although I had shunned it out loud.
When the decision was made to perform a hysterectomy, I was absolute and determined. I never wanted a period again. The surgery was scheduled, and as I impatiently waited those few weeks for the date to arrive, I experienced my worst period yet. I was grocery shopping with my fiancé and fainted in the bread isle from blood loss. I had even been prescribed medication which is given to trauma victims to stop heavy bleeding, so I swallowed a couple before our grocery trip and thought I would be okay. I was not. This was the last straw.
The surgery would be performed using a robot, and not the Rosie from “The Jetsons” type. I had two IVs, one in each arm, and the anesthesia now coursing through my veins. They wheeled me into the surgical room, and I asked if the giant white machine with octopus arms a few feet from me was the robot they would use for my surgery—and then I was out cold.
I woke up sore and groggy about five hours later. It hurt, but it was manageable. I even talked my doctor into discharging me so I wouldn’t have to stay overnight. Boy, did I regret leaving those IV pain meds!
Women, stay overnight. Take advantage of those intravenous pain meds. You will regret it if you don’t. Trust me on this. I have what I consider to be a fairly high pain tolerance, and that night while just trying to sit on the couch, I experienced more pain than I ever have—and I’ve had two C-sections. This is not like your c-section, so don’t even think about comparing the two surgeries. The opiates your doctor will prescribe you are not enough for that first night. My 12 year old daughter witnessed her mother yell and cry in pain that night, and I will never forget the horrified look on her face. Going home early is simply not worth it. I promise.
It’s been 12 days since my surgery. My seven small incisions are healing up nicely, although I joke it looks like an autopsy has been performed on me. I’m still sore, bruised, and swollen. It still hurts to stand or sit, and even to walk at times. Every woman heals differently, so remember this: don’t let others tell you, “Well, so-and-so was back to work in a week!” Look, if you’re able to be back at your job a week after having your insides sliced like a botched knife-fight, then good on you. Most of us aren’t in peak shape and will need more time to recover. Don’t make us feel like we’re weak simply because our bodies heal differently.
And most of all ladies, do not rush it. Your body just went through a major shock. You will have good days and bad days. My doctor was able to leave my ovaries intact, and “tucked them nicely into their new home,” so I don’t have to worry about hormone replacement therapy. However, I have days where I am extremely depressed that I’ve lost my uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes—the precious temple where my babies were created and birthed. Not to mention my ex-husband and his new fiancé had their brand new beautiful baby girl just days before my diseased uterus was removed. Talk about kicking a sister while she’s down.
Take time to heal both physically and emotionally. Don’t deny yourself this duty. Yes, I absolutely consider it a duty. It is your responsibility to give yourself some much needed slack so that you can bounce back from this with more pep in your step than you’ve ever had—and you can bet that is exactly my plan. Losing your uterus is not losing your womanhood. This has been my biggest lesson.
I turn 35 in just a couple of weeks. I wrote a (bad) haiku and posted it just today:
I have decided
My 35th birthday gift
Will be health, my friends.
I encourage you to do the same, and if you have questions, do not be ashamed to ask them. The only thing I recommend avoiding is staying up until 4 a.m. watching YouTube videos on hysterectomies. The fear these will instill in you is useless and will only cause pre-surgery jitters and senseless fear.
Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.
Author: Shelly Moore Caron
Image: Flickr/Aleksander Razumny Nordgarden Rødner
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron