Updated: Sep 3, 2022
I was a bundle of nerves that morning. I didn’t try to eat. The light breakfasts suggested by the hospital were all foods that would leave me feeling more hungry than if I didn’t eat anything. I did drink black coffee and water as fluids with no milk were allowed until 10am.
Getting into the car I joked with Steve that he would have to child lock the car door so that I didn’t jump out and make a run for it at traffic lights. I remember staying very quiet on the journey, taking deep breaths and keeping myself as calm as I could.
I had not met anyone who would be there on my operation day apart from one student nurse who'd attended my pre-op appointment as an observer. To go into an operation with a general anaesthetic is daunting, and although death in the operating theatre for a hysterectomy is unlikely it didn’t stop me reminding my husband of the whereabouts of my Will and life assurance policy!
Once we drew up in the Nuffield Hospital carpark I tried to follow the advice in the admissions letter and phone the ward from my mobile. My mind froze. The pin code I use to unlock my phone multiple times a day completely deserted me. Several panicky moments later I rememebered it and then I found couldn’t remember how to make a simple phone call. I have had the same phone for a couple of years! Bizarrely it connected me to a mobile helpline, nothing to do with the hospital, and I couldn’t stop a pre-recorded voice message playing. I have no idea how that happened, it’s never occurred before or since. Watching as I had this mini meltdown Steve pulled out his phone and took over, called the ward, passed his phone to me and I verified my details. Simple really.
A nurse came down to the doors with me. Due to the pandemic the hospital wasn’t allowing visitors, so I gave Steve a kiss and he drove off. In some ways the no visiting policy was a good thing. It meant that Steve only did the two hour round trip when he dropped me off and picked me up at the end of my stay. I felt the hospital were doing what they could to control covid, which was reassuring. Abdominal surgery is uncomfortable enough without contracting an illness that can produce a continuous cough!
On admittance I was taken to my room, small, but perfectly adequate and my own space thank goodness. I am a natural introvert and if I am feeling poorly or low in energy I need time alone in peace and quiet to recuperate. I’m the last person to start chatting and making friends in hospital and the few times I have found myself on a ward I have slept very badly. Thank you again to my Guides for arranging an private hospital upgrade for me!
The window overlooked trees and a pond of some kind, mostly hidden by foliage, but I could see some water. The window opened too, just a few inches; it meant I could get some fresh air which was welcome. Like many women my age I have a tendency to overheat, and hospitals always feel too warm.
I unpacked. I’d invested in a couple of new nightdresses – no pyjama waistbands to irritate a tender tummy. I’d also bought a lightweight satin dressing gown. I was glad of that over the stay and when I got home too as overheating became even more of an issue post op.
I’d been admitted at 11.30am, but I knew my surgery wouldn’t be until the afternoon. On reflection as I was nil by mouth that day taking the foodie magazine Olive to browse might not have been the ideal choice of reading matter, however I was too nervous to notice any hunger. I did have a dry mouth and got permission to swill my mouth with water. I had to rinse and spit it out, but it helped a little.
In the early afternoon my surgeon came to see me to discuss the operation. I’d previously been told by my NHS consultant to expect a vertical incision on my belly because my fibroid was so large. My surgeon reassured me that he rarely did this as it takes longer to recover, and I would probably have a bikini line cut. He said as long as the fibroid was smaller than a baby’s head it would be sufficient.
My NHS consultant had also advocated removing everything, uterus, cervix and ovaries, so that there was, ‘nothing left to go wrong’. I wasn’t very happy about that! This ‘take it all away’ approach was one of the reasons I’d dragged my feet about consenting to having the operation when it was first mooted. Why should I sacrifice healthy parts of my anatomy? I’m sure there are some women who would feel reassured that ‘it’s all gone’ but I really didn’t want that.
My surgeon said he could look at the condition of my ovaries and cervix during the operation and as long as they appeared normal for a woman of 55 he would leave them. In his opinion there was some benefit to preserving the ovaries post menopause, they could still generate a certain amount of hormones, including testosterone, which can ‘give you some zip’.
His pragmatic approach came as a relief. Once I knew a hysterectomy was likely and started to talk about it a friend bravely divulged that her sex life had never recovered. She’d had a full hysterectomy, including removal of her cervix. I really appreciated her honesty and openness. My surgeon confirmed that women do report that sex is more satisfying and they are more likely to achieve orgasm if they still have a cervix. I don’t know if any medical studies have been done, the way he worded this sounded like it was anecdotal evidence.
The gung-ho ‘take it all away’ approach and the vagueness around the quality of sex post hysterectomy reflects how low in importance women’s sexual health has been rated. I couldn’t find much information out about this. I’m pretty sure that if there were surgery choices for men, some of which might affect their future enjoyment of sex, the pros and cons would be clearly spelled out in the official literature so that the man could make an informed decision.
I asked my surgeon to let me know the weight and measurement of the fibroid as my last MRI scan was over two years previously and I felt it had grown larger than ever. I thought I’d perhaps made a weird request, but in the event he took photos and emailed them to me. Perhaps it is pleasing when someone takes an interest in your work?
Next I received a visit from my anaesthetist who had one of the kindest faces I have ever seen. He radiated the most benevolent aura and I felt reassured that he’d be looking after my vital signs during the operation. It felt to me like he had an angelic presence working with him, whether he was aware of it or not. I was still nervous of course, but visits from these two professionals made me feel that I would be in very skilled hands.
The young student nurse who had attended my pre-op appointment came to see me. She asked if it was okay to follow me into the operating theatre to watch the procedure. It was good to see a familiar face. I mentioned getting my fibroid weighed and measured. She suggested asking for it in a jar. I’m not sure if she was joking, but that seemed a step too far at the time. I did think later we could have given my uterus a ceremonial burial rather than a perfunctory end in the hospital incinerator.
The afternoon wore on and I started to wonder if my surgery would be fitted in that day. At 5.00pm I was changed into a rather fetching back-opening hospital gown. At least there was a respectable overlap at the back, unlike the NHS show the whole world your bum version. I was also measured for some very fetching thick white support stockings and my whole look was finished off with bright red non-slip hospital socks. Any thoughts of making a run for it would be foiled by this outfit!
I was asked to lie on my bed I was wheeled down to theatre. It felt so strange to be wheeled along supine when you are utterly capable of walking at this stage. It felt faintly comic, like a scene out of university rag week. Pub crawl anyone? Once I arrived outside theatre, I was met by the anaesthetist and a couple of nurses who made friendly small talk whilst a canula was inserted into the back of my left hand. “You don’t sound Welsh?”
“No, I was born in Essex.”
“Do you have a dog?” No idea how we got onto that!
“Yes a springer spaniel.”
“I’ve got a cocker spaniel,” and that’s where the conversation faded out.
I came around post-op with complete numbness from the waist down. I’d been given an epidural as well as general anaesthetic. There was no pain at all.
My surgeon popped in to let me know the operation had gone really well and to show me the photos he’d taken on his phone. He also gave me weights and measurements. He had needed to remove one ovary, which he showed me a photo of. My uterus had fused with it, so although it looked healthy enough an attempt to separate the two might have caused unnecessary bleeding. I was struck by how beautiful the ovary was, like a stylised pink flower bud on a 70s album cover. Sadly once I got home I discovered he hadn’t emailed that photo, so I have to rely on the image in my memory.
My fibroid had grown and had enlarged my uterus to 18cm x 16cm, the size of a 20-week pregnancy. It had felt bulky and uncomfortable. Looking back I delayed getting the operation done, but I do believe in Divine timing. Maybe if the pandemic hadn’t occurred I would have gone for it sooner, but in the circumstances this felt like the right time and the right place for me.
Would you like to read more? Find out how the first 24 hours after my operation went. You can subscribe to my Blog to get updates.
Note: I am sharing my personal experience of having a hysterectomy and letting you know what I found helpful or unhelpful. This is not medical advice. Please consult your medical practitioner if you have any questions or concerns about your own treatment.