The monster has sharp teeth this Friday morning. She tears at me from inside my vagina, gnaws away at the nerves. She sticks her talons in my right side. She pulls on my tender muscles and the pain radiates up my back. It’s the most painful day since I came home from the hospital two weeks ago.
I get up out of bed anyway. I take one of my prescription ibuprofen and think, that will make the Monster calm down a little. I pull on some clothes, wash my face, and go out to the living room. My husband is already frying some eggs for breakfast. I sit down in the recliner, which I’ve spent so much time in over the past two weeks, I feel I may be wearing it out. God, I’m exhausted, and I just got up. I close my eyes and breathe, slowly, deeply, until my husband brings me my eggs. Over easy, just the way I like them.
I eat the eggs and a piece of toast and check my email. But I can’t really keep my eyes open. I listen to the news on the radio, but I’m not really paying attention. It’s hard to think about much of anything except that whatever this Monster is doing, the pain moves in waves from the middle of my pelvis out to my hips.
I wait an hour for the ibuprofen to kick in, but it isn’t helping at all. I add half an oxycodone. Why I’m so paranoid of using that more, I don’t really know. Maybe it has to do with my father’s alcohol addiction. I am afraid of addiction and probably over monitor my own use of anything that could be addictive.
An hour later, I can’t do anything. I am reduced to the nerve endings in my vagina; that’s all that seems to be functioning. Why is it so bad this morning? What got the Monster so excited? She seems to have sucked all my energy as well. I give up and crawl back in bed.
At 1 pm, I get up again. I am so sleepy that I stumble a little, but I make myself take a shower. I have a 2 pm appointment with my gynecological surgeon. It’s my two week check-up.
Dear husband drives me to the appointment (I’m not allowed to drive yet). He never complains about this either. I put the seat back so I can half lie down in the car. My husband drives slowly because he knows that potholes + our old car = additional pain. He is a fucking angel, really.
He sits in the waiting room while I’m led back to the examining room by a different nurse. The one I know and have come to (mostly) trust isn’t there. This one, Jenna, is NAPIWET (Not A Person I Would Ever Trust). She is fake smiley but doesn’t even look me in the face. (Why do NAPIWETs work in gynecology offices? Why isn’t sensitivity a job requirement?)
So Jenna clearly missed the memo about the extra sensitive patient with the history of sexual abuse, who wants her medical providers to take a little time and make sure she knows what is happening (that would be me). In a quick breath she tells me, “Okay, so go in the bathroom, and pee in the plastic hat, don’t pour it out and get undressed from the waist down and get up on the table and leave your pee there and then I’ll be testing to see if you are fully emptying your bladder and don’t forget to lock the bathroom door and I’ll be right back.” At the time I didn’t really get what she was saying but I pieced it together it later.
I pee, that part is successful at least. I return to the examining room. I can’t remember if she said get undressed, but there is a drape on the table, so I wonder. She passes by the still open door and says sternly, “You need to get undressed and get on the table.” Okay, fine. Not only is she a NAPIWET, but I actively do not like her. Maybe I’m being crabby. Vaginal Monsters may provoke crabbiness, I suppose.
I get undressed and start to climb up on the table. Jenna knocks on the door. “Just a minute,” I say. She opens the door and comes in anyway. If the repairman that I saw on my last visit were there today, he would have had a nice view of my bare butt, thank you very much Jenna. Fortunately he’s not there.
Still not looking me in the face, she tells me to lie back on the table. She says, “I have to take three readings and then use the average.” She has a small device in her hand and a squirt bottle of what looks like ultrasound gel. I am trying to guess what is about to happen.
“You are going to do an ultrasound?” I ask her. “Just from the outside, right?”
“Yes,” she says, already pulling up my shirt so she has easier access to my stomach. Could this woman be any less sensitive? She’s almost a caricature of what a nurse in a gynecology office should NOT by like. She squirts cold gel on my abdomen and takes her three readings to see if by peeing I was able to fully empty my bladder. Presumably I passed the test, but she didn’t tell me anything about the readings. She just said, “The doctor will be her in a minute” and left.
The doctor comes in soon. She has a much better manner than Jenna anyway, and she remembers what I need. We talk about the pain. I tell her it is up and down, and today it is very, very down. She says that is normal.
“But I remember you said some women don’t use the oxycodone prescription, or very little, but I’ve already asked for a refill. I’ve been worried that maybe I am doing something wrong, ” I tell her. “Or maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing; perhaps I am fussing too much.”
As I say these things, I think, these are the exact same things I say about my emotional pain and my abuse memories. It doesn’t matter. I should just suck it up. Get over it already.
But she tells me it is not surprising. She says that she sees a lot more pain in younger women (I am on the young side to have this surgery, which is maybe more often performed on women who are well past menopause). She says for older women, the nerves are less sensitive, and they are the ones who use fewer pain meds. She gives me some suggestions for staggering medications in a way that might make me feel a little better. She tells me to be patient; it will get better. I feel validated that it’s normal to be in pain and reassured that it’s just part of the healing process. At the same time, I also feel a little annoyed, easy for you to say, be patient. And why didn’t anyone tell me about this way to use the medications earlier?!
The doctor examines my external incisions, which are healing well. Then she wants to do an internal exam. She explains it ahead of time, and tells me exactly what she’s doing as she goes along. It’s mostly okay but even the smaller-than-usual speculum feels like it’s ripping something, and I cry out. She stops immediately and waits. Then she gently finishes the exam while I take slow, deep breaths.
Anyway, everything is healing as it should be. She helps me sit up. I ask her, out of curiosity, how many stitches I have inside my vagina. She told me that’s a little complicated to answer because there were multiple things going on. So the hysterectomy was first, and that was done with a robot arm through one of the abdominal incisions (which is sore too). Then she inserted a y-shaped mesh through my cervix, to help support the vaginal walls, and she attached that to some muscles running up my back. Then on the inside, that mesh is sewn down with about six stitches to the front wall and six to the back. Another set of maybe six stitches at the top of my vagina to attach a mesh sling that supports the bladder. Then because the back wall of my vagina was herniated, she essentially cut that open, removed some tissue, and then pulled it together and attached to the wall between the vagina and rectum. She said that is all muscle, so it’s of course very sore. Another series of stitches there. Then as part of the prolapse (my insides trying to fall out), the vaginal opening stretches, so she also put in a couple of stitches to make the opening back to normal.
So whatever that adds up to, maybe 25+ stitches, all over that one tender piece of my anatomy. I guess it makes sense that it hurts.
A little more discussion of what I need to do at home, and she’s done. “Jenna will bring you the print out of the instructions and a sample of the estrogen gel.”
Naturally, I am not finished dressing by the time Jenna comes in to give me everything. If I were a mean-spirited person, I would wish that Jenna gets a nasty prolapse of her own and is cared for by a NAPIWET. But I am not mean-spirited. I am compassionate and breathe away that unkind thought.
I get my stuff, make a follow-up appointment, go out to the car with patient husband. It’s after 3 pm and we haven’t had lunch. He suggests we stop for a burger, and I say yes, because I am hungry, though meat doesn’t sound very appealing. Nothing really does. But we eat, and then I go home and take both the ibuprofen and a full oxycodone.
I am invited to a farewell party this evening for a good friend who is moving to Boston. But there’s no way I can stand around and chat, so I text my regrets. I spend the evening in my recliner and tell myself today sucks, but odds are good tomorrow will be better. The Monster’s been well fed, so I’m hoping she’ll make like a snake and just lie in the corner and digest for a while.
Image by Abidell