A runner’s hysterectomy recovery – Jo’s story

At 47, for eighteen months I’d been suffering excruciating pain every time I went to the loo. Sometimes, the pain was so horrendous that I would find myself subconsciously stopping myself midflow. Other things began to happen too; my constipation that I had suffered for many years at the time of my period became a permanent problem and I had a constant pain in my left groin that seemed to worsen when I sat for any length of time.

An internal scan and an MRI scan drew a blank. Thankfully I had a fantastic doctor who was determined to get to the bottom of my pelvic pain. Eventually, a diagnostic laparoscopy revealed the problem; I was suffering from adenomyosis and my enlarged uterus was displacing my bladder and bowel. The only solution was a hysterectomy.

Needing a hysterectomy came as a complete shock; it was something that I had always associated with conditions such as fibroids and heavy periods. My periods were so light that they lasted for little more than a day.

The next part of my story comes with a sanity warning: only research about your hysterectomy if you are prepared to accept what you might see and read. I was never off my laptop once I knew my fete and made the huge mistake of watching the videos! As a result, by the time that I went for my consultation with my surgeon, I was adamant that the only type of hysterectomy that I was having was a TLH. Nothing, as far as I was concerned, was coming out ‘down below’. My surgeon however had other ideas. The fact that I had had no vaginal births would make no difference to my being able to have a LAVH. I was mortified by the very thought.

I now had ten weeks to worry and fret over this. I didn’t sleep and my only preparation for the operation consisted of buying a packet of sanitary towels (I only ever needed panty liners for my periods) and to RUN! Primarily I told myself that being as fit as I could be would stand me in good stead for a quick recovery. The other edge to this sword though was because I wanted to make sure that if I had to have so much of my body on show on that operating table, it was going to be in good shape.

Running was the only thing that kept me sane for those ten weeks and consequently I went into the operation fitter than I had ever been in my life. I ran a half marathon every weekend for the last four weeks before my surgery, plus running and doing MMT twice during the week. It was with great reluctance that I put my running shoes away for the last time the day before my surgery. I could easily have left the hospital even after signing the consent form on the day of my op. I was in no hurry to put on my gown, paper knickers or those sexy tights! I still couldn’t accept that soon it would be me on that operating table and not those other people I’d seen on the videos.

But I did it. I got onto the bed and made light with the anaesthetist while all the time I was dying inside. Like everyone else, the next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room, surprisingly comfortable and pain free. And that is the way I remained. I had a Voltarol suppository in the operating room whilst I was still under anaesthetic then needed no other pain killers. I was given a single paracetomol just to keep me pain free whilst in hospital which made me smile. I take two of those for just a headache. I had had major surgery. In fact I even began to think had I actually had a hysterectomy?

I arrived back from surgery at lunchtime on Thursday. I had a catheter and drain in and a vaginal pack. I was not allowed to get out of bed at all on the day of my operation, which surprised me. I expected to be made to get out of bed within a few hours of coming back from theatre but my consultant likes his patients to have complete rest to avoid putting any pressure on the internal wound. For this reason I also had my catheter in until the next morning which became the worst experience of the whole operation. By six o’clock on the Friday morning the pressure and general discomfort from the catheter and pack combined were becoming intolerable.

Pre-op I had been dreading getting my pack removed, now I couldn’t wait! As it happens, the experience wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. The nurse just pulled my gown up a little and I had to bend my knees then open my legs slightly. Nothing like the full 180 degree arc you have to perform for a smear. I didn’t feel her grasp the packing, removing it didn’t hurt either. It is a strange feeling and I couldn’t believe how much of it there was but I only felt a tiny little tug at the end. After resting for an hour, I was allowed to get up to have a wash which was so much easier than I expected. Getting out of bed and moving around were both easy and painless.

I was moving so well that I was allowed home later that day. Initially, I had been due to stay in hospital for two nights but was glad to escape after one. The next morning, I was up and about early, able to make myself a cup of tea and make my own breakfast and shower without any problems.

I had mentally set myself a few milestones before I had my op and I was able to stick to these. I sat (rather than lie down) during the day, every hour making myself get up and have a walk around. I always used the upstairs loo and believe me, the amount I was drinking that was a lot of stairs in one day! My consultant said that I could begin my walking as soon as I got home and I could walk three minutes the first day, six the next etc. 1 week post-op, I was comfortably walking half a mile, at two weeks a mile, three weeks two miles and four weeks three miles at one time. I began going out walking more than once a day at three and a half weeks and could walk for six miles in total a day. At five weeks I did my first four mile walk and by six weeks I really felt as if I was back to normal. I hovered for the first time since my operation and managed to do the whole house in one go and found myself suddenly carrying the laundry out and ironing, none of which I had done since my surgery.

I had also returned to work at exactly five weeks after my operation, straight back into my twelve hour day door-to-door.

It all sounds so easy. So what can I recommend?

Get yourself as fit as you can before your operation. Not everyone is a half marathon runner I know but any increase in your fitness will prove invaluable post-op.

Listen to advice about what to do with regard to exercise levels etc but don’t be a slave to it. I was lifting a kettle with more than one cup of water in it the day after I came home from hospital but that was because I felt like I could. I haven’t gone out and done a 5km run at three weeks like I read about one lady doing. You haven’t gone through this major operation to mess up your recovery and end up in a worse situation than you started.

My drain site herniated through no fault of my own and believe you me, having to have a second operation eight days after my hysterectomy wasn’t fun. This wound also became infected, I had two UTIs and my internal incision became infected also. Lots can go wrong when you are being sensible, let alone when you are not.

I also began taking my menopause vitamins two weeks before my operation as I was having everything removed and refused to take HRT. I have created my own concoction of: 1 magnesium and vitamin B6 capsule, two evening primrose, 2 vitamin E, 1 folic acid and 1 multi vitamin tablet daily. Apart from a few night sweats that began on day four post-op, so far I am menopause symptom free, which I am pleasantly surprised about.

Also, visit a physiotherapist if you can. I have only had one appointment but she was able to give me new exercises to do apart from those gentle abdominal and pelvic floor ones that they tell you to do immediately post-op. If you are a runner, it is imperative that you take the time to strengthen your abdominal muscles again before returning to running. She also made me solemnly promise not to do any running at all until I was twelve weeks post-op so you runners out there take note. As much as I am desperate to get back to it, I am sticking to this rule. I have the rest of my life to run hopefully pain-free from now on. I don’t want to be back in hospital in six months or six years time because I am suffering from a prolapse due to rushing my initial recovery.

Finally, I avoided becoming constipated after my operation as I continued to take the Laxidoo sachets that I had been prescribed previously. I actually took them everyday for two weeks after surgery, then began to reduce the dose. I have had no problems in that department which has been a blessing. You can buy these sachets over the counter at your local chemist. They take a couple of days to kick in though so don’t delay beginning to take them after your op. Prevention is better than cure where this one is concerned.

In short, it is all about you taking control of your hysterectomy and not allowing it to take control of you. Saying to yourself ‘I can’ and ‘I will’ is the way to a speedy and successful recovery.

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