I have debated back and forth with myself about writing this. But what it comes down to is a need to write about my own experience, and the hope that my experience might help other women to feel comforted if they need to or have gone through something similar. This post has been delayed a few times by my own need to let go of the pain and negative emotions that I had (kind of still have) surrounding it. But writing is part of my process, so here we are.
PLEASE NOTE: In this post I will be talking about an operation and my recovery from said operation. This means I will be mentioning blood, wounds, and pain. If any of these things are triggers for you, please only read if you feel you absolutely need to. This is not required reading, it is merely me sharing my experience.
There is a somewhat jagged cut mark just below my belly button attempting to heal. There is a small, raised mark on my lower abdomen, almost healed. There is a bruise on my left shoulder, and a puncture mark on the inside of my left elbow. And there is a slight twinge of muscle pain in my stomach whenever I stretch too much.
These are the things that remain almost two weeks after my diagnostic laparoscopy.
If you want to read about laparoscopies, I suggest googling it. My basic explanation is that it is an operation where the patient is put under anaesthesia, a small incision is made under their belly button, and a camera is inserted to look around at the organs contained therein. I might add that often the stomach is blown like a balloon with CO2 - to get the wall of the stomach away from the organs inside, so that the doctor might have a clearer few. Additionally, if the doctor finds anything, more incisions are made to insert medical instruments so that they might remove or correct the problems found. So, effectively, a diagnostic operation can turn into a full-blown operation quite quickly, and the overall duration of the procedure can stretch from a couple of hours to 5 or 6. Mine was not huge, but it was longer than expected, and I ended up being at the hospital from 7am to around 5:30pm, when I was picked up by Xin.
I arrived on time and was asked to confirm some forms I had previously filled out. I then sat with Xin in the waiting room for some time before a nurse came out to fetch me. I was given a bed, a gown (always flattering) and some very attractive disposable underwear, and then told to get changed and wait in the bed. (I was also fitted for some anti-embolism stockings to decrease the likelihood of a blood clot, which I then got to keep afterwards.) I had, of course, brought a book with me, and I managed to get through about half of it before somebody came to fetch me at around 10am.
They wheeled my bed to a separate room where I was asked the same questions from before (name, date of birth, what procedure are you having done today?) and then left again to my own devices - this time without my book, which had been placed with my clothes in a locked until I returned. I twiddled my thumbs, meditated, and tried to get rid of the knot that had formed behind my left shoulder blade - probably from stress and nervous tension.
Eventually I was moved again, this time to the operating theatre. I don't like to think of myself as an easily stressed person, but even writing about this is making me squirm a little with discomfort. I remember feeling like I had been reduced to a number - I was no longer a human being with cares and passions - I was another job to complete. I was mostly okay with this, even though it was scary. I think that those in the medical profession must do what they need to so that they might get through the day/week/whatever, and I was okay with that. My anaesthetist must have seen some look of terror in my eyes, because he told me to 'calm down, I'm not going to kill you' or something to that effect, which unfortunately just made me angry at him for not allowing me to feel my fear. Also, I'm told that I normally look completely calm on the outside even when I'm freaking out, so I wondered if he was trying to calm himself more than me, or if it was some attempt at building a rapport that, by that point, I felt wasn't required. Either way, I gave some blase answer and turned back to my survey of the giant lights and the metal roof as he fiddled around and put a tube in my arm.
All of a sudden, we were starting. I felt like I'd been waiting all week for this to start, and yet now it had come too soon for me to be prepared. The anaesthetist put something into the tube in my arm, and the nurse above me asked me to take nice deep breaths of the oxygen gas she was giving me. I tried so hard to obey, but the last thing I remember before the black was choking on the gas and feeling like I was suffocating. Not a great memory, really, but there you go!
As is often the way when you've been anaesthetised, I didn't come back to reality all at once. It was itty-bitty steps at a time, with me trying to open my eyes but ultimately submitting to sleep quite a few times before I was able to wake with any effectiveness.
Either way, my first thought was this: I hurt. I had been warned that the CO2 gas might lead to pain in my shoulders and chest as it tried to get out, but this was blinding pain, coupled with the beginnings of an ache in my stomach. I didn't move, for fear of making it worse. Honestly, that's most of what I remember from my first half hour of wakefulness. I think maybe my doctor came in to talk to me, as I remember what she said - they had found a few dots of endometriosis and had removed them, and then they'd taken a photo of my bowel to show that it was distended and not functioning very well, and then they'd closed up. Everything seemed fine, and I was to see her in a couple of weeks for a check-up.
I think a nurse came in once or twice to check on me, as they asked what my pain level was on a ratio of one to ten, and I said eight. They gave me some painkillers - it took the edge off, but the pain was still pretty bad, and I had very little else to focus on aside from sleep, so I took refuge there once or twice more.
Eventually it was time to remove my catheter. I don't want to freak people out about this, but I guess if you've come this far... I remember when I woke up a felt what seemed to be a melted icepack down near my left foot. I wondered what that was about. It wasn't until the nurse came to remove my catheter (again, google it) that I realised - it was not a melted icepack, but a bag of urine. Lovely. The removal was painful and difficult for me, but the nurse was (thankfully) very efficient and didn't cause me more pain than was necessary.
We are already down this road so I might as well continue. This part is very difficult for me to talk about, but I will endeavour to articulate what I experienced so that others might know what is 'normal' in this situation.
The nurses kept getting me to drink water, which I was all too happy to do. My throat ached from the tube I'd had down there so I would breath, and I was parched and wanted to get through the post-op procedures asap so I could see Xin again. What they do is get you to drink a lot of water and then they measure how much you pee, so they know everything is working fine and you can be discharged from the hospital (hopefully to caring arms). Unfortunately the nurse I called when I was ready to try peeing didn't bother to measure it, so I had to go through this twice, but that was okay because I was a least more prepared for the pain the second time.
The pain I felt on walking (supported on one arm by the nurse, hobbling with a hunched back and my other arm outstretched in case I stumbled - though I have no idea how I would have stopped myself from falling) was crazy. When you move around, the CO2 that is trapped in your body rises suddenly and the pain in your shoulders intensifies like crazy. I managed to get to the bathroom, and the nurse waited outside while I saw to my ablutions, which were even more painful. It wasn't just the sore area from where the catheter had scraped me, but my bladder - due to its fullness - had been cushioning the worst of the pain from my incisions, and now they hurt. I cried out softly at this point because it was so bad - and I like to think I'm relatively used to the pains one can get from the abdomen. And there was a lot of blood (also 'normal', by the way, and can continue for up to a month, I believe - it varies from woman to woman. Mine lasted for about six days.), which was alarming.
I couldn't handle all this at once, so I pressed the call button next to the toilet. The nurse came and I told her everything I had experienced, and she gently reassured me that all of this was 'normal' and that 'it would pass', so she left again while I tried to regain some of my dignity (ha!). And that's the thing - it was all normal. I have since looked up discussion boards where other ladies have talked about their experiences, and what I was going through was very similar. But it was the first time it was happening to me and that's what made it different and crazy for my world. For the nurse, perhaps it was the fiftieth time she had comforted a woman on the toilet about the very same things.
Anyway, the nurse managed to get me back to bed and I resumed my water-drinking-ways which was good, as another nurse came along and said that I would have to measure my pee again later, so I was preparing already. (By the way, the second time was easier to bear, but still very painful and bloody.)
After all that was sorted, the nurse brought me some food, which I surprised myself by gobbling down, and then began to prepare me for discharge (as, aside from a slightly high temperature of 37.5 C, I seemed ready to head home. And, boy, was I ready to see a familiar face again.) I think my experience here may differ from other women, as my nurse had to keep rushing off to sort out code reds (fire) that were always false alarms (it happened three times while I was awake). I think I was fortunate, though, as it gave me time to get used to the pain and learn my way around it. I found that sitting up worked best for me, but many other women preferred to lie down. I even managed to get dressed, which was wonderful as I was so ready to head back towards being Bethwyn, rather than patient #somethingorother. (Although, yes, getting dressed is no less painful than peeing - perhaps more so, given that you're moving around in new ways.) I was told to keep the anti-embolism stockings on until the next day - just in case.
Eventually my nurse returned and talked me through the Panadeine Forte I was being given, plus some quick education about my discharge pack which contained things like additional bandages for my wound sites and some pamphlets on pain management and what numbers to call in case something went wrong in my recovery (anyone going for a laparoscopy will be told the same thing - eg. if the blood is coming in too heavy after the first two days, call someone, or if you develop a fever, again, call someone.) I did listen, but I noticed that a lot of my thoughts were now turning towards the glorious prospect of seeing Xin, and then my parents, and I was excited even while I felt so very sore.
The nurse then asked me if I could walk, and it took a lot of willpower to not look at her in complete surprise. (Walk? Like... to the door of the hospital? Really?) I said 'Uhm, I'm not sure I can right now' and she disappeared and blessedly returned with a wheelchair. I was wheeled out along many corridors, and along one of these corridors appeared Xin, and it was like seeing a glass of water when you were so ridiculously thirsty. I almost burst into tears right then and there.
It took a bit of effort, but we managed to get me into the passenger seat of Xin's car (the nurse waited with me while he brought it round to the front of the hospital, bless her), but then we were off home. I was still in pain, but so very happy to be heading to my own room, with my own bed, and with my lovely Xin. Recovery, after that point, was just about staying in bed most of the time, with short, assisted trips to the bathroom (more pain, more blood, for a few days), and lots and lots of back rubs from Xin to try and ease the pain from the CO2.
I don't know if I will write anymore about my recovery - I suspect not, unless I'm asked - but that is what my experience was. I hope that it helps someone in some way, at some time. As ever, operations are something that remain a huge violation of the body to me - but often with good intentions, and good outcomes. It's just that we need to get into our heads that recovery is not just physical, but mental and emotional, too. I'm still returning to normal now, and I suspect I will be for some time. If you managed to get all the way through this post, thank you so much for reading. I hope I haven't scarred you for life :P
Love to all who read.