Updated: Sep 3, 2022
The second night after my operation started well, I was making up for the lost sleep of the night before. The same caring team of nurses were on duty as had seen me through the pain of the first night, so I felt safe to relax and sleep. I woke in the middle of my night with a strange feeling of numbness in my left hand. I wondered if I had been lying on it. I put my bedside light on and looked. I was alarmed to see it was swollen. It looked like a surgical glove that had been inflated. The swelling continued halfway up my forearm and my fingers wouldn’t bend. Scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to see!
I pressed the call button and this time the male nurse attended me. Full marks to him for staying calm as it was quite a sight. He inserted a second canula into my right hand for the IV drip and removed the original canula from my swollen left hand. He assured me that the swelling would go down of its own accord. Thank goodness the numbness had woken me. I dread to think how badly swollen my hand would have been by the morning. The swelling did go down, although much more slowly than it arrived. Within a couple of days my hand returned to normal.
Day Two - Wednesday
I woke to wind pain, I’m sorry, I know that’s not glamourous, but not much about having a hysterectomy is to be honest. Sadly, the morphine did nothing to mask this particular pain. I was reassured that trapped wind is normal and the result of having your abdomen opened up in the operating theatre, as well as being so stationary after the operation. The aim now was to get me up and moving, which was more achievable as the epidural had fully worn off. I’d had been given a catheter as I was in no fit state to get myself to the loo for the first 24 hours. Now the catheter bag was strapped onto my leg (another great look) and I was encouraged to have a little walk about in my room releasing any wind I could.
I felt really weak and could only manage to be upright for a few minutes at a time but it was a huge relief when I managed to expel a teeny, tiny fart. I am grateful that the window was open as it smelt incredibly stale! From there I made it my aim of the day to release as much wind as I possibly could. Apologies to the staff, but I expect they’ve had to deal with worse.
I'd taken a variety box of herbal and fruit teas with me to hospital, but the hospital offered mint tea too and I was given pots of that to help ease the wind. The pain was mostly gone by the end of the day.
Later my beloved morphine pump was taken away. I was sorry to see it go, but I had noticed I’d needed to dose myself less and less frequently and normal painkillers were having an effect. I also had the catheter removed later on. From now on I had to haul myself up and I felt grateful to have the bars of the hospital bed for support. Walking those few steps to the ensuite was a doubled-up affair; I instinctively folded my arm protectively over the wound as I tottered there and back.
I’d taken ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens with me to read in hospital. A friend had sent it as a Christmas gift from America and I’d saved it up – I knew I’d have this operation time coming up. It was good to immerse my mind in an engrossing story once I was back from my morphine haze. I hadn’t realised how much of a stir Crawdads had created over here. I lost count of how many nurses commented on it, either because they’d read it, or it was on their own reading list. I had to make one nurse promise to give me no spoilers as I got near to the end! The book was the perfect length for my stay, I finished it on the morning I was discharged. I would certainly recommend packing a good book, and if it proves an easy talking point with staff so much the better.
I am so glad I left my laptop at home even though the Nuffield boasts wifi. I know I’d have been tempted to check my emails from my hospital bed! Instead I made the decision to handwrite my diary and stayed away from the keyboard so that I didn’t get drawn into attempting to work. For once in my life my work was properly shelved and I could focus fully on my recovery and well-being. This marks a big change of attitude for me, but if my Sacred Vessel teachings have taught me anything it is how important caring for and honouring your physical body is.
A different Physio came to see me in the afternoon. She was terribly posh, with a jolly hockey sticks accent and matching persona. I thought she was fun. My breathing had been shallow since the operation and my blood oxygen levels were still too low. She encouraged me to take deeper breaths and began to teach me about deep breathing. This to the woman who leads most of her visualisations with, “Take a few deep breaths.” My diaphragm and intercostal muscles simply felt too weak to move properly. I physically could not get a deep breath as much as I tried. I found over the next week or so that my breathing righted itself naturally.
One really useful NHS App the Physio showed me was Squeezy. This has been developed to coach you to do your pelvic floor exercises properly. After hysterectomy a strong pelvic floor is more important than ever, not just for avoiding stress incontinence, but also reducing the risk of a prolapse. I am sure some amazing women remember to do their pelvic floor exercises all by themselves, but I am not one of them. Squeezy was cheap to download and it gives you daily reminders on your phone. The default setting is for three times a day, which I dialled down to two as I know three reminders would irritate me and I’d end up ignoring the alerts, or disabling the app.
You can also adjust the number of pelvic floor squeezes and the duration of the ‘long squeezes' if you want to. I lowered the number and duration in the early days as I couldn’t physically manage them and then adjusted them back up as I’ve recovered. I have my reminders set morning and evening and nine weeks on I am still completing my exercises twice daily. I can sneeze or cough without any concern. Hurrah! I’d say it was worth every penny.
The Physio also gave me a realistic recovery timeline, not just the six weeks cited in the NHS literature before you can pick up a filled kettle, or a shopping bag, but the time it takes to fully recover. She said, “Think of Christmas as your goal.” I am starting to feel a lot more ‘normal’ at nine weeks as I type this diary entry up, but I am aware that my physical stamina still needs building and there is still some residual tenderness. I have since come across sites since the operation that say most women will be aware of their hysterectomy on a daily basis at some level until the six month stage. Several women I spoke to said they needed a full three months to recuperate before returning to work, and my own GP advised that three months is normal.
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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.