Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Not quite the fastest hysterectomy known to man, but almost.

A month ago I didn't know this was going to happen, and now it's all over. I must say I was worried as my family doesn't have a good track record with hospitals.

I had to be at the hospital on Thursday the 15th at 8.30 am. I got there early, as all the trains were on time. I did wonder what country I was in. The nurse who prepared me for surgery was Christelina Kiewiets. The nurse who took my blood is the sister-in-law of one my university lecturers. the place was overrun with South Africans!

The hospital itself was called the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth. It's a Roman Catholic hospital founded in 1896, but it welcomes all faiths. I don't know who St John or St Elizabeth were, or why they became saints.

I had a private room with a TV and a telephone. From this you might gather this was not an NHS-sponsored visit, but private care. You are right.

Christelina gave me some weird clothes to wear. A beigey hospital nightgown, with brown and green diamond patterns, which fastened at the back of the next. Paper knickers. Special anti-clotting stockings. And some really ugly green foam rubber slippers. She also got me a book of instructions on how to have a hysterectomy, which included drawings of how to get on and off the

A physiotherapist came to see me, chatted, and made me practice getting on and off the bed.

Another doctor came in and listened to me breathe. The anaesthetist came in and chatted. The gynaecologist came in and chatted. At 11.30 I walked down to surgery. The anaesthetist stuck an a needle in my arm. Then I woke up and someone said the operation's over. The effect was exactly the same as when I drink coffee.

At this point I was fully wired. I had a drip giving me liquids. (Water, not wine). A personal morphine canister which responded to a pavlovian-style button. A drainage tube. A catheter. I even had an electric bed. I had a bitty night, waking about once an hour, giving myself a squirt of morphine,
chatting to the nurse, dozing off. The nurses came in every half hour to check my blood pressure, heartbeat, and blood oxygen. I was, apparently, breathing. They also measured the output in the catheter bag and emptied it when full.

Water was good. I had to drink water. I outdrank all the drips, so on Friday morning they disconnected the drip. The gynaecologist came in and checked the drainage pipe. I hadn't been bleeding. (Bloodless creature, I am, ask any of the doctors who tried to get blood.) So they removed the drainage pipe. Wow. You never want this to happen to you. The nurse warned me but it
was still as though someone was ripping my intestines out through that little hole. Nurse washed me in bed.

I hadn't been pressing the morphine button as often as expected. I managed to swallow lunch without complications. It was a chicken sandwich and some celery soup. So they disconnected the morphine and put me onto tablets: paracetamol and codeine.

The physiotherapist came to visit and took me through some exercises, and then took me for a walk. I walked right to the end of the ward/floor with her. Forgot to mention the ward was called St Joseph's. I'm going to have to research these saints, I can see.

She took my gym history and decided I'd be fine. All these years of healthy living coming home to roost, it seems. She explained that I'd have to look after my back, as I wouldn't have stomach muscles for a while. You need stomach muscles to hold your back in place. And don't try bending forward. Pretend you're a ballerina and do pliƩs when you want to pick anything up off the floor!

Supper was vegetable soup and a roll, plus two paracetamols and a codeine tablet. Towards midnight they took the catheter out. It was time to start getting serious about getting in and out of bed. I had to report my first real pee to the nurse and show it to her.

Spent Saturday getting in and out of bed to go to the loo, and walking up and down the ward by myself. Washed myself. Was accused of wearing out the carpet. Drank jugs and jugs of water.

What did I eat? Cornflakes, yogurt and a banana for breakfast. Spaghetti bolognaise for lunch, but the portion was large enough to feed a small army. Had four mouthfuls, some fruit salad and some yogurt. Dinner was poached salmon and a side salad. Hospital food, yes, but seasoned and flavoursome. Nurses gave me paracetamol and voltaren during the day, codeine at night.

Woke early Sunday. Nurse made me tea. Washed myself again. Walked up and down, then watched the London marathon. Bran flakes for breakfast, More tea. Vegetable risotto for lunch. Salmon salad for supper. Gynaecologist came to visit after supper. Checked everything and said I may as well go home early, unless I wanted to stay until Tuesday.

Gave me strict instructions:

1) Paul to bring me breakfast in bed before going to work
2) I must get up at 9.30
3) Washing and drying wound very important
4) Can do light stuff but can't carry anything heavier than a milk bottle.
Am allowed to make bed.
5) Must have lunch and then nap until 4.
6) Wake at 4 and then take twenty minutes in fresh air, walking.
7) At that point I will be exhausted and so must early to bed.

Elinor wrote to say it was different when she had her hysterectomy 37 years ago, and she was considered a fast healer! She was in hospital for nine days. She wasn't allowed to walk up stairs, which was compulsory for me after four days. She couldn't drive a car for eight weeks, and I've been told two. The morphine made her deathly ill.

Omigod, the morphine. Do you know that you will get constipation if you have morphine? In fact, the entire peristaltic system seems to come to an entire stop. No wonder the nurses were all so concerned about wind and when I would be "opening my bowel". I spent most of last night attempting to get past this last milestone, and finally made it through at around 5.30 am. Spent the rest of the day in bed, ignoring instructions.

That's more or less it. If you ever have to go to hospital to have your stomach muscles cut, here are some tips:

1) a nightie is better than pajamas
2) don't wear lace up shoes