As a person who for the better part of her life has suffered from PCOS (1) and a hypo-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism(2)), I can tell you that life has certainly not been a bed of roses. Add to that the development of Endometrial hyperplasia(3) and my life all but has been a story of my body doing constant battle against these gynecological ailments.
These conditions/ailments have held me in a vice-like grip and have resulted in a plethora of seemingly unrelated problems which have made me live a life in which I yo-yo between bouts of mild to severe depression & am at constant war to control water retention & weight gain.
My Gynecologist, for the most part, has helped me immensely over the past decade to control the conditions via a rigorous schedule of exercise, diet, and medication.
However, the onset of pre-menopausal symptoms, after I hit 40 signaled rather unexpectedly that this was a war I was losing. After years of trying to control my condition, my Gynecologist diagnosed that I had developed a related condition called Dysfunctional uterine bleeding or DUB(4).
Pretty common in women who are 40+, but for me it signaled that it was time to take some drastic measures. Hence, my gynecologist recommended that I undergo a laparoscopic Hysterectomy when I turned 42.
Now for most women, a hysterectomy is a scary procedure as it involves the removal of the uterus & in some cases the ovaries too. Women who have the entire reproductive system removed need to be put on hormone replacement therapy thereafter but I was lucky in the sense that according to my doctor I just had to have my uterus taken out.
Honestly speaking, after years and years of pain, I was all but ready for this and actually pretty relieved too, to be getting rid of the menstrual cycle. My Gynecologist assured me that the procedure was a pretty simple, minimally invasive surgery performed under general anesthesia (about 1 ½ hour tops in the OT) and involved minimal pain. Well, that part was actually true as the operation does involve just 4-5 single stitch incisions made on the navel, tummy & pelvic area from wherein the laparoscope & camera are inserted. The procedure is safe and involves minimal pain.
My experience of the actual operation was a breeze. I virtually just remember being wheeled in and out of the OT. My Gynecologist had prepared me well for what to expect and what kind of postoperative care to take immediately after surgery. I had also read up about the procedure & precautions to be taken, so I did not go into it blind.
However, there are things that my Gynecologist did not warn me about and these wreaked havoc on my life, post-surgery. The symptoms still continue to impede my daily life, even months after surgery. Underneath is an account of my experience post this surgery and what I endured in order to recover. (Please bear in mind that every woman has a different physiology and hence hysterectomy can affect different women in different manners. My experience has been elucidated underneath but it could differ vastly from what other women have gone through and many of them may not have faced any adverse effects altogether).
Although I had been mentally prepared to withstand some normal amount of pain on account of gas build up in my stomach (a normal postoperative condition), I was not prepared for the severity of it. I was also not prepared for resultant constipation.
Hence, if you do opt for this surgery then it’s imperative that you take precautions to alleviate this condition immediately post operation. Trust me, it can be quite painful. Also, some amount of pink spotting a month or two after surgery is also quite normal. It gradually goes away. But, if there is actual bleeding then the doctor must be consulted immediately.
Since my surgery was laparoscopic so I did not require much rest and actually got back to house & office work within 48 hours, as recommended by the doctor. Ladies who had undergone this operation had advised me to take it easy for the coming 1-2 months but since it was not medically advised so I got back to my usual routine pretty fast.
The pain on account of gas buildup also gradually subsided over the days post the surgery (walking to release the gas helped a lot). So, although surgically speaking I had no adverse symptoms; physiologically speaking, it was just the beginning.
What I was totally unprepared for was the loss of energy that I felt in the few months post surgery. I actually felt a 50-60% dip in my energy levels. My normal workday consists of waking up in the morning at 5 am and going to bed at around 11 pm. In between, I usually am able to pack in quite a bit of house and office work and thus far I had been able to cope with it all adequately.
However, post surgery, for a few months at least, I ended up feeling extremely sleepy & drowsy. I found myself getting heavy-lidded and wound up taking more naps than I ever had in my life. I would take a one hour nap before I went to work, had to cut my work days short (thankfully, I was able to manage as I run my own business and have extremely supportive women colleagues who picked up the slack) so that I could come back early and rest and I even ended up sleeping much earlier than usual. When I discussed this with some of my friends, I was laughed at and told that I was feeling these things as I was getting older and probably had too much stress in my life. Although, getting older and the stress part was right and probably a contributing factor, but they were definitely not a defining factor of my condition. And I can candidly state this today because eight months down the line; I feel a lot like my old self now. Sure, I tire easily still but I no longer have the urge to take naps at odd hours of the day and neither do I feel heavy-lidded.
So, if you do opt for this surgery then be prepared to take some time off to just rest & relax. You might not need it, but your body may!
The first few months post surgery I also had severe migraines which I found rather difficult to control even with medication. I experienced hot flushes which often left me feeling feverish and dizzy. I experienced backaches right around the time when I should have had my menses. Although I no longer bled, but the lower back pains, the muscle cramps and general bloating were quite debilitating and so much so that on days when I would experience these symptoms, I actually had to take a day off from work in order to rest up and conserve my strength. In the initial months, it was quite difficult to get up from the bed during these days and even accomplish simple tasks but a few months down the line, things got better. I still encounter the symptoms but the severity has diminished to a great extent.
The PMS (5) though, still remains. I continue to feel extremely bloated, depressed, irritated and insipid on the days before I should have got menses in the regular scheme of things. I experience headaches at times, digestive difficulties and even my face bloats up. Some days, the facial bloating is so severe that the contour of the face changes. My blood pressure too does an up and down dance and at times leaves me feeling quite dizzy and heavy headed.
However, the symptoms do abate after a few days but I have had to gradually make changes in my diet in order to control the condition. I have had to increase my water intake substantially and have also restricted salt in my diet (that means even restricting intake of pickles & condiments, papad’s, processed snacks etc). I have also had to make changes in my sleep pattern to ensure that my slumber is more restful.
Another symptom that I have developed post-surgery is joint swelling. Two to three months post surgery I started experiencing stiffness in my fingers, knees and toes. Gradually, the stiffness got so worse that the joints became inflamed and I experienced a lot of pain. Mornings were the worst and it started to take me about half an hour each morning just to fold my fingers onto my palm in order to make a grip. I saw an orthopedic surgeon and he initially diagnosed my condition as rheumatoid arthritis and ordered basic & advanced level tests. Needless to say, the tests came back negative and that was when my condition was finally diagnosed as just another postoperative complication to the hysterectomy brought about by mainly hormonal changes. For the past few months, I have been on medical supplements and they have helped me to control my condition. Hopefully, in time these symptoms and the condition will be fully controlled.
So, If you are advised this surgery or know somebody who has been advised this surgery, then reading up on what to expect will be of great help. Check online on various medical forums for frequently asked questions and other advice. The doctor may or may not explain things to you in such great detail and that could also be true because every woman has a different physiology and thus her postoperative body adjustment may differ widely from another woman’s. Trust me, when it comes to this surgery, it pays to be mentally prepared for what to expect even six months after the operation.
For those of you who are not conversant with the terminology –
(1) PCOS – Poly-cystic ovarian syndrome is a condition in women which is characterized by the presence of multiple small cysts within both ovaries. It is the leading cause of hormonal problems and infertility in women. Women with PCOS are likely to experience pelvic pain, Lower back pain, irregular menstrual cycle, acne breakout, hair fall and in most cases weight gain.
(2) Hypothyroidism – A condition that occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. The most common symptoms of an under active thyroid gland are weight gain, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, hair loss, digestive disorders, heavy menstrual periods and muscular aches.
(3) Endometrial hyperplasia- A condition of excessive proliferation of the cells of the endometrial, or inner lining of the uterus. The inner lining of the uterus is thicker than usual and this can lead to pelvic pain, excessive bleeding, bleeding between periods etc
(4) DUB – Dysfunctional uterine bleeding is a condition that causes vaginal bleeding to occur outside of the regular menstrual cycle. It can be mere spotting to very heavy bleeding.
(5) PMS – Premenstrual stress is a condition that affects a majority of women. It can cause irritability, depression, fatigue, muscle cramps and bloating before the onset of actual monthly menses.
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