No Womb With A View
2021 started a little differently for me. My social media feed was filled with encouraging posts from fellow coaches, asking “What is your plan? How will you make 2021 your best year ever?” I left them to it. I had a life-changing surgical procedure to focus on. My to do list on the Monday everyone seemed to return to work consisted of writing an out of office reply saying I was on leave, taking a business call from a new client, and optimistically packing an overnight bag for hospital. It was the first official sick leave I’d taken since becoming self-employed, where no-one but you covers your expenses while you’re offline.
The hospital called me in an hour early following a cancellation – a good sign my longed-for hysterectomy wouldn’t be bumped. My first attempt at a less invasive procedure last year ended in me being sent home after sitting awkwardly for hours in a cap and gown, freezing, thirsty and starving due to the operations before mine taking longer than expected. When I finally had the ablation, my hopes were soon dashed. It failed to fix my symptoms. More drastic measures were needed to get my life back.
I was checked in for my hysterectomy and spared the humiliation of standing on the scales again, having provided my weight the week before. As usual, the festive season, which always ends up stretching out until my birthday on January 8, was starting to literally bite me on the arse.
I tried to keep my nerves at bay and focus on what life after this might feel like. That most sacred part of my womanhood, my womb, had proved to be the dodgiest of fruit trees, never blessing me with the gift of my own child. Instead, it had tormented me for the past 13 years, behaving unpredictably and subjecting me to agonising pain every month. It was like carrying around a bruised mango inside me. The breaks between periods became shorter and shorter. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis and now felt justified in getting rid of one of my most useless parts.
I may sound heartless.
Don’t get me wrong, there was grief attached. It’s a very final procedure from the child-bearing point of view, and seeing friends celebrate their pregnancy journeys in marvellous colour on social media, their growing love exploding in the ultimate joy of childbirth was at times hard to watch. But I am blessed to have experienced the best of motherhood, helping to raise two amazing boys, and that was more than enough to keep my heart from breaking.
I looked at the clock in the pre-op room. It was just after 1pm. I was told the keyhole surgery should take around two and a half hours. I was wheeled in, perched my naked bum on the edge of the operating table and a handsome anaesthetist leant over and told me he was giving me a couple of gin and tonics, followed by a glass of champagne. How did he know they were my favourite? In seconds I was gone.
When I regained consciousness, I looked at the clock with a little panic. It was 5pm. I could hear nurses mumbling to each other everything had gone well, but as I lay in recovery trying to take stock of my body, I was told they had to convert to an open procedure mid-op. Slightly devastated, I arrived on the surgical ward at the Cairns Hospital and was sure they had mistaken me for another patient because I had my own room, with a view down towards Walsh’s Pyramid and it was quiet. It provided a little bit of joy in an otherwise traumatic day. I thought about hiking up the pyramid. The next time I took on this mountain I wouldn’t have to deal with the added burden of abdominal cramps or pack tampons just in case.
I called my husband, who had become increasingly worried as the hours ticked by. He arrived in time to watch me consume my first meal in almost 24 hours – a white, crustless ham sandwich. It tasted so good, despite sticking in my throat which was dry from the oxygen and having a tube stuck down it for four hours. The next few hours were an endless parade of half hourly observations of blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels. I was kept on oxygen and given a button to administer my own morphine but by the morning, I had used so little they decided to cut me off. (‘Damn, you should have used more’, I hear some of you say). My catheter was removed, and I was told it would be replaced if I couldn’t consistently deposit a substantial amount of pee in a ‘witches’ hat’ suspended over the toilet in the coming hours. I am not one to back down from a challenge. I proudly informed the nurses every time I had a successful mission. They scanned what remained in my bladder each time and I was able to reach the required milestone just before the nurse’s shift change. I also diligently drew breaths deep enough to keep a blue marker suspended in a device designed to make sure I didn’t let my abdominal pain stop me from fully inflating my lungs. I felt grateful for the ‘breathwork’ I’d been doing for the previous six months. I didn’t want any more complications.
One of the surgeons came to explain why I now had a 15-centimetre cut below my panty line that gave my stomach a bemused expression, paired with the keyhole incisions either side of my belly button. It turns out the endometriosis wasn’t just inside my uterus but had also fused the outside of it to my bowel and bladder. My disappointment at having been opened, quickly switched to relief that these important organs weren’t damaged.
So, six weeks of no driving, swimming, intense exercise, intimacy, or heavy lifting. I would have to get used to being dependent and amusing myself at home for the first time in decades. My main goals were not to go crazy or drive my husband insane and to resist the urge to jump straight back into work. Needing a nap after the parade of doctors, nurses, and physios, I closed my eyes only to be woken by the room phone ringing and the simultaneous entrance of my effusive Russian friend, bearing two giant mangoes and a box of flowers. She cheerily answered the call from my father-in-law, posing as my receptionist. Unlike any of my later visitors, she couldn’t wait to see my scars.
My next challenge was getting another of my bodily functions back on track. I could see a lot of prunes, pear juice and Sultana Bran in my immediate future. My darling husband joined the cause. In an act of pure love, he made a night-time dash to Kmart to purchase a stool to help me with my stools. What a wonderful invention! We really do have a lot to learn from developing countries when it comes to toilet habits. We should all stop riding the porcelain bus and squat.
Relief finally came two days after the operation. I wanted to do a happy dance, but that wasn’t in the list of permissible post-surgery activities. Back home, I was consigned to bed with my very becoming white and blue pressure socks, an array of drugs and prune juice. I received visitors, read magazines, watched old movies, weened myself off medication and became addicted to Sultana Bran. I prodded with interest at my swollen, bruised tummy and couldn't feel my fingertips, wondering if it would remain numb forever.
Ten months on and the evidence of major surgery is now just a fading, smiling scar and the absence of pain. I feel healthier than I have in years, and I wonder why I put up with such agony and accepted being held hostage by my body for so long. This procedure has been life changing. I may be generalising, but I think as women we tend to just put up with stuff. Since my hysterectomy, I have spoken to many women who suffer similar pain and like the old me, have sanitary items stashed everywhere just in case. I detached from my femininity for so long. It’s hard to feel sexy when you are constantly bloated, moody, in pain or worrying when you might be caught out by your unpredictable period. With that part of my body removed, I strangely feel whole again.