WARNING: Graphic content. This post is not for the faint of heart, nor those offended by use of anatomically correct terminology.
The hospital sends you home four days after surgery. In addition to your hysterectomy, the surgeon repairs a multiple prolapse resulting from extensive damage in childbirth. Though you are in serious pain, you cannot wait to go home. The available pain relief that won’t kill you is limited and ineffective for this level of hurt. You resolve just to get through it, since you really have no other choice. The boys are old enough to take care of their own basic needs and your fiancé can take care of everything else after work. It’s early summer. You’re unable to get around well, so you lie on the couch in the living room, where the humming window air conditioner puts you to sleep and keeps things reasonably cool. The telephone has a long cord that extends to the living room, making it easy to answer when you are home alone. The only fly in this ointment is that the bathroom is upstairs on the second floor and you have a bladder the size of a peanut.
You spend most of the first week at home sleeping, occasionally dragging yourself upstairs to shower or use the bathroom. By your follow-up appointment at the end of the second week, your vaginal stitches are healing well enough, but your abdomen still feels very tender. The surgeon is not concerned; it’s just taking you a long time to heal. Three weeks post surgery, the pain seems to be getting worse. Doing as little as possible, you are sleeping a lot. In just three short weeks it will be time to go back to work. During that third week, you begin throwing up and having severe cramping. You ache all over, and for some reason, your fingernail beds are discolored; you think maybe you have a fever. In the morning, your fiancé insists on taking you to the doctor. The surgeon is unavailable, but your internist tells you to come in immediately.
Once you on the exam table with your feet in the stirrups, your internist makes a startling discovery. She is visibly upset by what she sees. Your surgeon has sewn your vagina up so tightly that she is unable to examine you. She suspects that you have developed an infection, peritonitis. You have a high fever and the nail bed discoloration is a sign of infection. Inserting an extra long cotton swab inside the narrow vaginal opening, she pokes and probes until she finds a pocket of infection. The pain is excruciating; tears flow down your face and soak your hair. She irrigates your innards with antibiotics to clean out as much as she can and sends you home with a prescription for heavy-duty antibiotics and strict instructions to go to the ER if you don’t improve by tomorrow.
Thankfully, the antibiotics work their magic. By the time you have to return to work, you have recovered, although you are still weak and very tired. Intense vaginal pain continues to plague you: it hurts to pee, it hurts to sit, it even hurts to wear clothing. You sit on a pillow at work, but you are miserably uncomfortable. By millimeters, the pain begins to recede. You are engaged to be married in a few months, but the idea of sex terrifies you. As it turns out, sex will be impossible anyway, because your surgeon has botched things rather badly. When you go back to see him complaining of intense pain and a feeling of tightness, he dismisses you and tells you that you are “just tight, like a young girl.” You explode. “WHAT? If your wife were in this kind of pain, would you tell her that?”
In fact, you are so tight that when you eventually go for a second opinion, the gynecologist calls your surgeon on the telephone and tells him that he must fix his mess. You have no choice but to let this butcher cut you open again and sew you up properly. Because your body forms keloids, the scar tissue from the first surgery is already causing problems. More surgery will create more scar tissue and more problems.
In an exquisitely bad confluence of circumstances, your beloved brother dies and you come down with the flu in the same week. You are much too ill to even consider traveling to California for his memorial service. In the wee hours of the night, you pass out in the bathroom, hitting your head on the ancient, cast iron radiator, breaking your glasses and embedding glass fragments in your right eyebrow. Awakened by the sound of your fall, your fiancé finds you out cold on the floor. He cleans you up as best he can and manages to get you back into bed. In the morning, he takes you to the ER, where they remove as much of the glass as possible, and then he goes out to get your glasses replaced. Without them, you are so blind that by the time you can see yourself in the mirror, your nose is mashed against it. You are off work with the flu for two weeks.
Your “revision” surgery is three weeks away; you are filled with extreme anxiety. This time, however, you have outpatient surgery. This is the place that nearly killed you the last time and you can’t wait to get out of there. Over the next couple of weeks, although your stitches seem to be healing, your vagina is on fire. Your surgeon retires right after the second surgery. The second-opinion gynecologist agrees to see you for follow-up. At least now he can examine you properly, but he sees nothing to cause the kind of fiery pain you describe. He prescribes some sort of vaginal cream and advises you to give everything time to heal.
Your wedding is in a month. You are still numb from your brother’s death at just 40 years old. A gifted concert pianist, the two of you were always close. Painfully, you remember the last time you spoke with him. He was in the midst of something and promised to call you back. He forgot, you got busy, and you never heard his voice again. Between your grief and your physical pain, you are too depressed to have any interest in planning your second wedding. You keep it simple. A justice of the peace officiates in your home with two friends as witnesses. Your two boys are present with their father, who is still making an effort to play Dad. It’s his weekend with them; immediately after the ceremony, everyone has cake and then they leave so that you and your new husband can take off for your overnight honeymoon at a resort an hour away.
Life goes on. Not long after your wedding, you consult a plastic surgeon about your eyebrow. He schedules you for surgery to remove the rest of the glass fragments. You’re off work again, this time for a week, mostly because you resemble a mutant raccoon with your black and blue mask and you don’t want anyone to see you like this. Your kids are sick and tired of you being sick and tired and your new husband is just not used to playing nurse. The fiery pain in your lady parts persists, but there is little point in going back to the doctor; he can find nothing wrong. For the time being, you will just have to learn to live with it.
You dream every day about firebombing the butcher’s home.
(to be continued)