It’s been five weeks since my hysterectomy, and I can still say that my recovery has been much better than expected. I have had no complications up to this point, and physically, I don’t really feel like I just had surgery. I was surprised at how minimally invasive the laparoscopic surgery really was, and my incisions are barely visible, even now. I had almost no bleeding, minimal swelling and pain, and minimal bruising, even though I bruise very easily. Although my procedure was considered an outpatient procedure, I stayed at the hospital overnight. I know that if I had come home the day of the surgery, it would have been very stressful for me, as I would have wanted to see Felix (and he would have wanted to see me as well). The overnight stay was tremendously helpful for me, both because I was able to be in a place where I had no real choice but to rest, and I also had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what was normal recovery post-operatively.
Around post day 2, I started taking colace and Gas-X to help some of the side effects. Some of the narcotic pain medications can cause constipation, and this can also be a side effect of anesthesia. The Gas-X was also helpful to alleviate some of the trapped gas from the procedure. This combination helped significantly with a number of unpleasant side effects after surgery. My stomach area around my incisions were insanely itchy for about a week, likely due to the antiseptic dressings I had on them. I used a lot of lotion and hydrocortisone cream on my stomach, but the itching was unexpected and very unpleasant.
I am still feeling a bit of post-op fatigue, but I don’t know whether that is part of recovery, due to my hormones re-regulating, or life with a two (almost three!) year old. I tried to sleep as much as I felt I’ve needed in the first two weeks, but this past week I have been less diligent about sleep, and subsequently crashed into bed at 9 pm last night. However, I have made a point to get up and move every 1-2 hours during the day, starting from the day of my surgery. The regular movement has been very helpful in working out all of the residual gas from the procedure. I began going to the gym at 9 days post-op and taking regular walks as a way to avoid adhesions, and I think these things helped a lot.
Additionally, I stayed on top of my pain, and made sure to take my pain medication regularly for the first few days. A friend of mine had advised me not to judge my actual pain based on my pain levels at the hospital, which I found to be tremendously helpful advice. I felt fairly good at the hospital, which, in hindsight, I attribute to the relaxation and ease of life knowing that you’re being monitored and cared for. My pain at home was definitely more noticeable, and I found that, even in full patient mode with a number of additional people around to help, being home was more stressful and strenuous than being at the hospital. That said, around day 4, I was taking nothing during the day, and only Tylenol PM at night.
One of the things that I struggled with, in particular for the first two weeks, was being fully accepting of all of the help offered, as I absolutely needed it. While I felt pretty good, I had still undergone major surgery, and needed to remember that I was not cleared to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for four weeks following my surgery. In addition, there was no way I could have stayed on top of the cooking, housework, cleaning, chores, and all of the other aspects of life I ordinarily manage. I had to continually remind myself to shut down my instinct to try to “push through it” and let others take care of the essentials, and not stress about the rest.
My surgeon, Dr. Z, told me that I should expect my recovery to be fairly linear, in that each day I would feel slightly better than the day before. I found this to be true, and am making a note of it, because I have not always found that to be the case for other recoveries (I’m looking at you, child birth). I found that the gas pain had almost completely resolved by day 4 post-op, and that each day, I felt a little bit stronger than the day before.
I did not pack a particularly sizable hospital bag, as I was likely only staying overnight. Additionally, the hospital provided a small case of toiletries. The only things that I brought from home that were not additionally provided to me, other than things like my phone charger, were Carmex lip balm and honey throat lozenges. My mouth was incredibly dry for the first few hours post surgery, and I alternated eating ice chips and sucking on lozenges to try to assuage my parched throat. I also could not get enough applesauce, and wish I had thought to pack a couple of the applesauce and fruit pouches that my toddler loves so much. As I mentioned previously, a wonderful friend of ours brought me matzo ball soup for dinner that evening, which was a godsend. At one point, I actually put a straw into the broth and drank it straight, as it was so incredibly fortifying and satisfying. Liquids seemed to feel the best for the first few days, and I drank as much water as possible during that time.
The absolute hardest part of my recovery has been the emotional recovery. Although I was resigned to this surgery, and had mourned the loss of my fertility long before the procedure, I still struggled tremendously in the weeks post-op. Starting about 48 hours after the procedure, I felt overcome by the most intense, inexplicable wave of sadness and anger. I could not really pinpoint where it came from, or in what manner it was directed, but it continued for nearly a week, and was by far the most difficult aspect of my recovery. Despite my relief that the procedure was over, and my general acceptance of the procedure itself, I was moody, irritable, and short-tempered, and I attribute this to the significant and sudden drop in hormone levels that my body experienced – no matter how low my levels were through chemical menopause, my levels were still lowered through the complete ovary removal. At times, I could nearly feel the physical effects of my hormones shifting and crashing, and I was frequently overcome with tears and sadness over the smallest things. The only experience I can liken it to is the intensity of the baby blues, which, for me, was also met with a tremendous hormonal shift. After about a week, I noticed that each day I felt a small bit better, and slowly, incrementally, I began to return to feeling mostly like myself. Although it makes sense, I was not prepared for the emotional swing that I experienced.
At this point, I am, essentially, back to my normal self, without any lifestyle restrictions other than not swimming for 3-4 more weeks. I am tremendously relieved the procedure is over and very glad that I elected to do it when I did. If anyone reading this is contemplating an Oophorectomy, Salpingo-Oophorectomy, or laparoscopic hysterectomy, please feel free to reach out. I am happy to be a resource.