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So You’re Going to Have a Hysterectomy – Tips on Coping Before and After Surgery

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When I had my recent surgery, I found that there were few resources available on hysterectomy. There are a number of books and articles to help you cope with becoming a new parent. But the books and articles available on dealing with a hysterectomy were delegated to a few pamphlets in my doctor’s office, a couple of books on and only one in my local library. The listings available through inter-library loan were limited … and very dated.

Although medical procedures have changed dramatically since your mother’s age, physiologically, women have not.

Today’s woman has more “stressors” in her life than her mother or grandmother did.

We live in a world of juggling family and children amid jobs that compete with men for decent pay.

For many of us, that means longer hours at work and farther commutes. Our daily lives also include e-mail, cell phones, ipods, microwaves and SUVs filled with future soccer stars. And we thought our mothers had it rough taking care of us and holding down the fort every day.

Throw in the distraction of painful dysmenorrehea or endometriosis, fibroids or adhesions, and suddenly the daily struggle is further exacerbated.

For a number of women, the decision to have a hysterectomy is the answer to relieving a portion of those struggles and improving her quality of life.

I had about six weeks to prepare for my surgery. My ob-gyn was all too familiar with my many health complaints—increasingly painful heavy periods, horrendous PMS symptoms, throbbing migraines, backaches and an elevated blood pressure during “those days.”

I had tried every remedy he could think of. Even medically postponing my periods to three to four times a year.

The problem WAS my periods. The decision was easy. Knowing what to expect wasn’t.

To begin, once you’ve decided, you need to do a little planning. For those of us with a Type A personality and Wonder Woman lives, it means planning with your family as well as your employer.

My husband is an over-the-road tractor-trailer owner-operator and my son is a teenager just coming into his own. I’m full time in sales/marketing for a specialty chemical company and moonlight as a Mary Kay consultant and volunteer firefighter-EMT.

I expected that because I’ve had a C-section and am active, I’d be back to work in two to three weeks. In reality, I was out seven weeks.

Your recovery period is as individual and unique as you are. Factor in your age and your body’s co-operation.

Prior to surgery, your insurance company or HMO will probably expect an endometrial biopsy prior to giving their approval for surgery once they receive a call from your doctor’s office. I wished I had the reassurance of a friend to tell me that it was not as scary as it sounded. Contrary to belief, although people will tell you that countless needless hysterectomies are performed daily, doctors AND HMOs don’t readily allow unnecessary surgery. Hopefully, your doctor’s office will strive to make you as comfortable as possible by talking you through it as mine did.

The procedure is done in the doctor’s office and is similar to a pap smear. Take a couple of ibuprofen about an hour before and plan on some minor cramping later.

You will have a pre-surgical visit with your doctor a couple days before the big day. The day before you’ll be doing a bowel prep-kit with LOTS of laxatives and water. DON’T plan to work the day before. A few days prior you’ll also have blood drawn, an EKG and chest x-ray.

Treat yourself to a new bathrobe with a wrap-tie belt and loose sleeves, decent slippers and a few loose stretchy gowns. You will need the robe to cover up those hospital gowns (and your behind) and drape over your one shoulder while you pace up and down the hallways after surgery with your IV on a pole. Choose something tasteful and comfortable over the sexy slinky stuff. Pack one of the gowns as well.

Plan ahead with your hairdresser for a trim and/or coloring a few days prior to surgery. Fill any regular prescriptions and pack them even if the nurse tells you that you won’t need them. My hospital didn’t have my daily asthma diskis. Their pharmacy also would have had to give me ten tablets to equal the dosage of my daily hypertension medication. I was glad I brought them and so was the med-nurse. Forget getting a manicure, as you won’t be allowed to wear nail polish.

Purchase a few loose tops and elastic waist shorts or slacks or sweats, slip on shoes and some comfy stretchy underwear. Even consider purchasing the next size up. You’ll need these items for the trip home, your first trip to the doctor’s office after surgery and recovery at home. Please-no thongs or string bikinis. The after-surgery gas will take days to pass and you will look and feel quite bloated. I recall packing what I thought was loose clothing and being unable to wear it for the ride home because it was just too uncomfortable with the gas. I actually left the hospital in a nightgown and robe. One of my co-workers told me she had to wear her daughter’s maternity clothes for a few days until the gas subsided.

Plan to purchase a few other “luxury” items: a Fleet enema (the enema helps to relieve the gas), a package of Gas-X, stool softeners, mini pads, a good bottle of vitamins with iron, and some frozen prepared dinners.

Your first few days will be spent focusing on trying to pass gas and cope with the pain. I recall waking my husband at two am with a cry like a Banshee for some pain medicine the first night I was home.

Another must-have is a child’s sippy cup with a top. You will be very thirsty after surgery. It amazes me that medical procedures advance daily, but hospitals will still hand you a foam cup of water and a straw for you to juggle after abdominal surgery. Luckily a wonderful nurse on the night shift brought me a sippy cup from pediatrics after having to help me change my gown several times.

Prepare to make yourself get out of bed and walk as often as possible after surgery to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs.

If you are fortunate as I was, someone will hand you a small pillow to hold against your abdomen after surgery when you first get up. You will come to treasure that item for many days to come. Remember to find out where the pillow came from (usually it’s the hospital auxiliary) and send a thoughtful thank you note to its creator as well as to the nursing staff for their care. A box of thank you notes and stamps will also come in handy for flowers and gifts friends give you.

Don’t bother packing fancy shampoo. A better choice would be a spray-on dry shampoo, your favorite deodorant and cologne, a toothbrush and some lipstick or lip balm. You won’t be showering for a couple days, however a little cologne and lipstick goes a long way in making you feel human again. Leave any novels home, too. You probably won’t feel awake enough to concentrate on a book. Pack a little money for television and telephone rental. Leave the cell phone, ipod and laptop home. Most of these things mess with hospital’s telemetry and are just distractions to someone who really could use a little rest.

So what will your first days be like after surgery?

You’ll awake in your room when someone asks you to scootch over on the gurney to the bed in your room. Your first breath will whisper a request for pain medication. Your throat will be a little sore from the tube that was there helping you breathe during surgery. Someone will instruct you on the use of the device that automatically dispenses morphine through your IV. You’ll notice that a catheter has been placed in your bladder and some contraption is on your lower legs. The catheter will probably be removed the next day when you get up to walk. Some women will be ready to go home as well. Your time will depend on you, your doctor and your HMO.

Have someone drive you home and pick up your medication. You won’t be allowed to drive for a while. I discovered that you actually need abdominal muscles to steer the car and for getting in and out of it.

My doctor prescribed Hydrocodone for the pain, which I took in the hospital as well. I had a great deal of difficulty keeping food down for the first few days due to relentless vomiting. Upon visiting the doctor a few days after surgery, the nurse suggested a switch to Darvocet in an effort to calm my stomach. Thankfully the switch worked. Keep in mind that pain meds and your sudden lack of activity can make you constipated. Factor in your post-operative gas and you’ll be uncomfortable for a few days.

Easy remedies are walking, water and stool softeners. Put on those slip on shoes and increase your activity a little each day. Pace the driveway occasionally then graduate to up and down the block.

You’ll feel the need to rest. Don’t fight it. I was surprised by my need to nap and sleep and snooze.

My doctor didn’t want me lifting heavy things so my husband and son were delegated to doing the laundry, getting groceries and doing many of my regular activities. My purse actually felt too heavy. I had difficulty opening and closing the windows. All of these inconveniences are temporary. Balance your day to allow time for some activity as well as your need to rest.

Let’s talk about a controversial subject: menopause and HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Four days after coming home from the hospital, I felt like my husband’s Freightliner had hit me. My doctor had sent me home with a prescription for Premarin and it sat on the counter a few days. It took me a couple of days to realize that my agony was full-blown menopause. I started the Premarin and experienced relief in a couple days. In fact I felt great. Really, REALLY great. I started having dreams about sex. I remember feeling like I was “one Hot Mama!” Two of my friends told me they experienced the same reaction. None of this was in the little booklet from the doctor’s office. Right now I wouldn’t trade my Estrogen for a Lexus.

My ob-gyn wanted me to mention that I had a lot more problems, especially adhesions that he said were like “someone had poured superglue” on my insides. Not all women have the same volume of problems I had.

Coupled with the freedom from periods from hell, I was a new woman. I’ve returned to a good quality of life and am pleased with the outcome of surgery.

For many women, a hysterectomy is elective surgery your doctor has offered as an option to your specific medical problem.


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