UPDATE: Read about my entire fibroids story. In Part 1 of My Uterine Fibroids Journey, I share my personal struggle with fibroids and explain options for treatment, written in February 2014. In Part 3 of My Uterine Fibroids Journey, I share the exciting news about my first pregnancy and plans for a natural cesarean birth, written in July 0f 2015.
As Jim drove me home from the hospital, gratitude was my highest emotion. Exhausted and drugged out of my mind, but thankful.
After waiting over two years since my diagnosis, my fibroids are gone, now something of the past. For the longest time, I felt like part of my life was on hold. Plans for improved health and a family were set aside until we had the right insurance to cover such an expensive surgery. Finally, it is done and I can move forward.
On April 1 (no fool’s joke here), I had hysteroscopic and laparoscopic myomectomy surgery to eliminate two problematic fibroids from my uterus, one small and the other softball-ball size large. In fact, the laparoscopic procedure turned into a mini laparotomy with an additional three-inch incision to remove the large one. Big Fibroid was 202 grams, over twice the weight of a normal-sized uterus. It’s no wonder I felt so crummy, especially at certain times of the month. My entire surgery took about four hours with two surgeons and a host of support nurses and staff.
This was my first major surgery. (Wisdom teeth don’t count.) Was I scared? No, I knew God’s presence was with me and I had the abundant prayers of caring family and friends. We were also unexpectedly blessed with a thoughtful prayer from an OR nurse that overheard we might appreciate intercession. That we did! I was so touched that I was crying happy tears when she said, “Amen”.
I was certainly more fascinated than fearful. This highly orchestrated production of checks and balances, routines and tests, and questions and answers, was being played out to ensure a successful surgery, all for me. When I was wheeled into the operating room, I was interested in learning more about all the colorful machines and technological gadgets. (Wait, how does this work and why do you use that tool?) But alas, my curious mind drifted to sleep quickly with the IV anesthetic. I was out in less than two minutes.
In part one of My Uterine Fibroids Journey – A Common Story, I detailed options for treatment. In this segment, I want to share about what I learned from my surgery and now five weeks of recovery. There is more healing to do. Even though the outer scars are beginning to fade and my energy is returning, internal recovery will take several months. I hope my story will inspire women struggling with fibroids to seek out and prepare for appropriate treatment and to be encouraged that you are not alone!
Things I Learned About Surgery
Ask many questions – It’s normal to be concerned about what you don’t understand. The best way to calm your fears about surgery is to ask every question that comes to your mind. I discovered that my surgeon and nurses didn’t mind responding to my myriad of inquires. It’s their job to make every patient feel comfortable and prepared.
- Watch out for drugs and chemicals – I was told to do a bowel cleanse with Miralax the day before my surgery. I didn’t do it. It’s main ingredient, polyethylene glycol, is used in antifreeze and brake fluid. My mother, who has had three abdominal surgeries, had an extreme migraine and psychological reaction to Miralax. Her story was enough for me to refuse it! Instead, I used a more natural laxative to prepare my bowels. Antibiotics are also on my black list, but I couldn’t get out of the short round in my IV. So, I made sure that probiotics were the first thing I began when returning home. In addition, ask what kind anesthesia and pain medication you will be given. Always inform your doctor about past allergic reactions and see if you can find a drug that works well with your biology. Seek out medications containing more natural compounds, instead of synthetic drugs. I was fortunate to have a skilled anesthesiologist and no adverse reactions after my operation. I still had to remind myself that the drugs were necessary, but only temporary. I could detox later!
- Take your own food – I was SO glad I did this! I believe my initial recovery went well, because I prepared meals to eat in the hospital. With multiple sensitivities, I could eat my own food without fear of having a reaction. Plus, I’m sure the flavor and nutritional content was superior! The nurses commented on how delicious my food smelled. We organized a cooler of homemade chicken broth, mashed butternut squash, no-added-sugar applesauce, and dried figs – all easy to digest. The broth and squash tasted heavenly after surgery.
- Be prepared for sleepless nights – A hospital atmosphere is not always restful. When I was the most tired and wanted to sleep, I was interrupted every two hours by a nurse drawing my blood, taking my blood pressure, or giving me pain medication, even at night. The one thing that did help was my sleep mask. Highly recommended, so you can take naps during the day.
- First walk is difficult – I was surprised how weak I was after surgery. At 9pm, after being in the operating room all morning and sleeping most of the day, I could only walk ten feet! I was dizzy and my pain increased with each step. The following day, I was able to amble up and down the hallway two times with the aid of a walker. I felt like that was quite an accomplishment!
Things I Learned About Recovery
First week is hardest – You will need help getting out of bed, putting on your sweat pants, tying your shoes, and basically any activity where you bend at the waist. Forget shaving your legs honey! Let someone help you with everyday activities. I was blessed to have my mother and sister help me during the day and my dear husband was gracious to help me through the night hours. Initially, I slept better with extra pillows propping me up in bed. After three weeks, I was finally able to sleep on my side; that enhanced my sleep even more.
- Take the laxative! – Training my digestive system to function normally after surgery was the most agonizing aspect of recovery. Unfortunately, I only took a stool softener the first five days. Huge mistake! Anesthesia and narcotic pain meds cause major constipation, so a laxative is truly indispensable. The good part – the laxative relieved my distress fairly quickly, in about two days. I think I could have avoided the pain, if I had taken the laxative to begin with. After I was off the narcotics, they were no longer necessary.
- Support panties are life savers – After wearing support underwear (control briefs) at my mom’s suggestion, I now recommend them wholeheartedly! Inflammation caused a lot of bloating in my middle, especially during the first three weeks. It felt like my muscles were continually falling forward, since I had no control over them. Both Bali and Maidenform have excellent options. A good friend, who has endured four cesarean sections, also shared that a Dale abdominal binder made her recoveries easier.
- Short walks are healing – We all know walking is a great form of exercise, but walking especially after surgery compliments the body’s healing processes. It increases oxygen and blood circulation and keeps blood from pooling to the affected surgical area, which can intensify pain. We were blessed to have a week of lovely sunny weather after my operation. I took short “recovery” walks, from four to eight blocks in length, and snapped photos of spring flowers in bloom. I dedicate all the pictures you see in this post to the talented gardeners in my neighborhood!
- Sneezing hurts – My surgery happened just in time for spring allergies to commence. Good timing! Sneezing or even clearing your throat just plain hurts. Two things seemed to lessen the pain. Stop the sneeze before it happens: grab a tissue and blow out the irritating particles first. If you must sneeze, wrap your hands and arms around your abdomen to minimize the force on your muscles and incisions. This last recommendation also applies to belly laughter! Or, you may choose instead to laugh like a proper Victorian schoolgirl.
- Listen carefully to your body’s need for rest – Pain medication has its drawbacks. It’s easy to overdo it, since symptoms are masked. I’ve been guilty several times in the last month! I worked in the garden too long on a couple of occasions and paid for it with days and days of major soreness. I also taught my first music lesson in a month and could only play clarinet for five minutes! My abs are not ready for prime time yet. Abdominal rest is truly required for healing. No heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling. It will be a while till I start introducing strength training into my gym routine again. In addition, naps and a good night’s sleep are also post-operative healing agents. I’m still sleeping ten to eleven hours per night! The bottom line – rest when your body needs it. This is difficult for me, since I like to be active, but I’m learning.
- Don’t stop the ibuprofen – I did and it was a mistake. In my attempt to get off of the drugs at one point, I stopped my ibuprofen regimen cold turkey. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of drug therapy?) I was feeling good. I didn’t need it. Wrong. Within 24 hours, I hurt badly and was severely uncomfortable. Once again, I’m reminding myself that this is all temporary. And the good news is I’ve been able to taper the dose gradually. I was taking only two tablets in the morning and two at night for a couple weeks. This morning, I only took one! We’ll see how I do. For those of you experienced in homeopathy or natural pain treatments, I would love to hear your recommendations for pain management after surgery.
- You will feel better – This is the best part! After years of dealing with unpleasant and life-altering fibroid symptoms, I already feel better in some ways. My first period was light and short compared to previous ones. This is such a relief. I feel like the woman in Mark chapter 5 of the Bible who was healed of her bleeding disorder. Women who have endured long periods can relate. I think my digestion is improving overall as well. It’s only been a few weeks and I’m looking forward to what other improvements come to light during my recovery.
In part three of my fibroids journey, I hope to announce news of our long-awaited baby. For now, additional internal healing is necessary for my uterus. We’ve been told to wait at least four to six months before trying for pregnancy. In the meantime, we wait again for God’s perfect timing. I appreciate your prayers for my complete recovery and the opportunity to conceive and bear a child without complications.
Whether or not that desire is fulfilled, Jim and I know that life will work out for our good.
God has promised it and we believe it.