My SECRET hysterectomy

OK, it’s not a total secret, my total hysterectomy, but there are some people who I didn’t tell for various reasons.

I told everybody at work because well, I was going to be off four weeks and I had no shame getting the baby house taken out.  My boss really wanted me to have a baby, but I’m older, my eggs are few and defective, and well, the only time I did get pregnant there were chromosomal problems.  Alas, the fate of advanced maternal age.

I’d actually been thinking about a hysterectomy for YEARS but didn’t get one because having a healthy baby seemed like a good and possible thing.  I suffered through years and years and years and years and years … did I mention years?! … of painful periods, lost time and utter fatigue.

At one point in my mid-twenties I was on a Fentanyl patch for the pain — three days every month.  It worked well, but I completely lost those days of my life … I mean I remembered virtually nothing.  I decided this wasn’t the best way to continue and stumbled onto Vioxx!  Oh how I missed Vioxx!  Vioxx made my periods completely manageable; I’m not sure how this drug did that but it did.  Why question what’s working?!

2004 — The year Vioxx died.

Wow!  That was TEN YEARS AGO!  I tried Celebrex, a related drug, but never had pain relief and instead got facial flushing, mild chest pressure and pedal edema.  So, I was back on the pain-med bandwagon … 😦

My recipe for my best attempt at pain control every month became a cocktail of Tylenol #3 (acetaminophen with 30 mG codeine), Tylenol and ibuprofen — all at the maximum safe doses.  This has been my regime for the last decade combined with the use of a hot water bottle, heating pad, patience, hot baths, emotional support (from my dear husband) and copious sleep.

I have often thought how I would keep this regimen up month after month, year after year, wondering about the health of my liver and kidneys due to all these chemicals?  When I turned 45 I thought this would be the year to say good-bye to my uterus.

Oh, back to the SECRET part … well, I had this surgery and have not told either my father or my parents-in-law.  I haven’t told my dad because he’s a typical high-functioning genius Aspergian and his response would be … well, weird.  I also feel there is no benefit for him to know of this surgery.

I’m pretty sure our conversation would go like this:

ME: Hi Dad.  I just wanted to let you know I’m having a hysterectomy on [insert date].

DAD: Oh?  Why are you doing that? [with a very puzzled tone]

ME: Well, I’ve had really, really painful periods for years and we’re not going to have children. [me, kind of embarrassed that I’m talking about periods with my seventy-something-year-old dad]

DAD: I planted a sweet potato vine out in the front.  It’s not ready to harvest yet.

ME:  ????!  [thinking WTF?!, he didn’t even address my surgery] 

So, suffice it to say, he’ll never know about my hysterectomy.  It’s not that he’s an uncaring man; he’s simply VERY factual.  In all honesty, I would like a bit more attention and a caring sympathetic response from my father but he is who he is.  C’est la vie and que sera sera!

In regard to my parents-in-law, it would be a WHOLE other story.  I would get loads of attention, lots of questions — not the kind I’d really want.  Just last year I was walking around the block with my father-in-law who is well-aware of our previous baby loss, but remains hopeful, and told me about his 56-year-old friend — FIFTY-SIX! who got pregnant.  Naturally.  No IVF (in-vitro fertilization).  Um, all I could reply was, “That’s interesting” and keep walking.  When I told my husband about this he cried bullshit on the whole thing his dad said.

My father-in-law is a GREAT man.  Seriously.  No joke.  And I love my mother-in-law dearly too.  But what they won’t be getting from us is grandchildren. Ever. They have a grandson and granddaughter from my husband’s sister … so they do have grandchildren, simply not from us.

I didn’t tell them about my hysterectomy because there would have been the “whys” and “you can still have children” and “you’re young” and “blah, blah, blah” … not the conversation I wanted to get into.  I may tell them one day when I’m in my 70s that we’re not having children … until then I’ll let them remain hopeful!

I certainly didn’t make this decision on the fly; it’s been brewing for many, many years — in fact, I’ve thought of a hysterectomy every month now for years!  Pain is a lovely reminder (sarcasm).

So, my secret’s out with some … just a few.  Sadly, the people I’d most like to share this life-changing event with are the ones I’m not.

shhh secret

I’ve tried EVERYTHING. Seriously.

Some people may think getting a hysterectomy is a bit extreme for painful periods.  These people have never had MY dysmenorrhea.  I’ve tried hormones — I still have pain and exhausting fatigue.  I tried fish oil and ended up bruised all over without any relief during my periods.  I tried Vitex, an herb from the Chasteberry tree; all I got was a severely dry mouth and no change in menstrual pain.  I tried acupuncture.  I tried meditation.  I tried yoga.  I tried belly dancing.  I tried vigorous regular exercise.  I tried lots and lots and lots of sex.  I tried prayer.  I tried changing my diet to gluten free, dairy free, being a vegetarian … nothing helped, nothing changed.

THERE ARE NO MIRACLE CURES.

I never got pregnant again since June 2012 so even another pregnancy wasn’t an answer to this pain relief.  The only reason I kept the baby house around (AKA the uterus) was in case I did get pregnant.  Now I am over 45 and can’t conceive of myself as a first-time mother at this age.  I’ve accepted my childlessness with some sadness.

When I was newly pregnant in 2012 I told my Ob/Gyn that no matter what happened with my pregnancy I would know before I died I was pregnant at least once — something I thought was impossible.  I could be happy just knowing that at least I was able to get pregnant once.

miracle cures

Here’s the thing about miracle cures … usually, they’re not really miracles … and usually, they’re not really cures, either.

Painful periods and laparoscopy

Finally, in 2009 (or 2010?) I got a new Ob/GYN and he suggested a laparoscopy.  Finally I thought I would get answers to the monthly pain within me.  The laparoscopy and anesthesia recovery were easy.  I did feel like a bloated giant blueberry for a couple days from the laparoscopy though. The procedure went well and I was told that I only had a few endometrial implants that were easily fulgurated. By the level of my dysmenorrhea pain I thought I would have been riddled with endometriosis, but no, I had the average amount of endometriosis for a woman of my age.

I learned that a woman can be filled with endometriosis and suffer no pain, and the opposite is true as well — little to no endometriosis with severe dysmenorrhea.  So, with that diagnostic test under my belt I was left wondering what the cause of my pain was … I only knew what it wasn’t.

periodCRAMPS4years

 

Dysmenorrhea … it’s ugly and it’s real.

For many years, as long as I can remember I have suffered from painful periods AKA dysmenorrhea.

I started my period at age thirteen and couldn’t have been more excited.  I was so excited to finally “get it.”  It was a big deal back in the 80s when I was growing up who would get their period first … like some sort of perverse race. My period in the beginning wasn’t painful and any pain I did have was managed easily by the over-the-counter medication Pamprin.  Does anyone use Pamprin anymore?

When I turned seventeen I started on the birth control pill and my period pain was still manageable at that time.  It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that the pain from my periods became horrible.  I was at the point where the cramping went down my legs both the back and front, the low back pain was unrelenting and I had bouts of intermittent diarrhea.  The pain was so bad I had to crawl around on my hands and knees at times (at home of course, not in public), and would miss a day or two of work almost monthly.

In my late twenties I decided to go off the pill and try to get pregnant.  Without contraception, I never became pregnant and had unexplained fertility.  I am still baffled why no gynecologist suggested a laparoscopy to investigate my dysmenorrhea.

My pain was eventually managed by my primary care physician who put me on a Fentanyl Patch of 50 mcG for three days out of every month with breakthrough pain managed with Tylenol #3 and 800 mG ibuprofen.  After enduring these medications for a about a year and losing days of my life every month due to the combination of pain and the sedating amnesic effects of Fentanyl, I decided to go stop using the Fentanyl.  I didn’t want to lose parts of my life even though the pain was completely controlled.  At that point I started taking Vioxx — a non-narcotic, non-steriodal anti-inflammatory medication that would eventually be pulled from the market … FOREVER. 😦

The diarrhea episodes eventually subsided after several years but the severe back and leg pain continued every month without fail.  And then for the last decade a debilitating fatigue would set in almost every month.  I would get dark, dark circles under my eyes, and yet never heavy bleeding.  I have never been anemic.  I would take Tylenol #3 and Ibuprofen, staying in bed sleeping the painful period days away.  This is the prelude to my hysterectomy.

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PS: For more on DYSMENORRHEA see my page section at the top of the blog!