Sistahs

I am rarely at a loss for words, but recently every time I think of writing about the incredible hysterectomy support group online that I participate in called “HisterSisters” I don’t know what to tell you, just that I’ve got to tell you something.

“Sisterhood” only tips the surface of what this support group of women from all over the world provides. I had actually come across  the site months before I decided to have a hysterectomy. As my surgery date approached I remembered the site, but thought I’m sure it is just filled with a bunch of women who are angry about having their uterus and other gyn parts removed. Oh no, just the opposite. Most of the women on the site were like me, thrilled to be finally fixing a problem that plagued their every day lives for so long.

Here is a sampling of what my HysterSisters are writing.  This thread is from one particularly lively pre-operation discussion called “Last Period” (note “Aunt Flo” is a reference to our period!):

“I remember my last period…it started New Years Eve. All I could think was that this was the last time my Favorite Aunt (Flo) was going to intrude on anything in my life.”


“I plan on having a funeral for “flo” and I can not say good things about her or be sad to see her go.”


“Pre-op nurse asked when my last period was and I, who used to be clockwork, couldn’t tell her- I have been bleeding for months!

Like all of you, I cannot WAIT to kick Aunt Flo to the curb FOR GOOD!!!!”

On the day I went off to The Castle (HysterSister speak for “hospital”) they sent me this “get well” greeting: http://www.hystersisters.com/greetings/wishes.htm

Normally I would find a greeting card like this ridiculous. But in this instance, about to have my body cut open, it was a refreshing breather that made me laugh.

When I returned from the Castle “Princess Bea Well” (get it? Be well?!) sent me a “Hope you are resting!” email inviting me to chat with the other women who had hysterectomies on my same week.

Here is something that absolutely shocked me. Just on my day of surgery (January 26) there were 31 other HysterSister “Princesses” going to have hysterectomies. I was floored.

I am not alone, that’s for sure.

What amuses me the most is how women can bond despite differences. For example, I am quite sure there are not many home birth moms of two in my week of HysterSisters! (and maybe on the entire discussion board).  There are secretaries, managers, housecleaners, writers (me!), and therapists all hanging out talking about our bodies. There are women who would describe themselves as overweight and others who exercise compulsively (like one woman who was walking her dog 2.5 miles in the Minnesota cold less than a week post-op!). I love it all!

Perhaps I enjoy the HysterSister Forum so much because I am a story person and that is exactly what it is – a safe place for women to tell their stories. There are sad stories (women who found out they have cancer) and triumphant ones (women who thought they did, but don’t). I have laughed and I have cried. I have hot flashed with several women who also had an ovary taken and are waiting for their other one to wake up, and I have felt every painful gas and bowel movement story as if I was right their with each woman.

There is nothing like a truthful story as good medicine.

Last thing: I just have to share some of my HysterSisters’ names because beyond reading their stories their names have made me smile these past couple of weeks. Here are just a few:

Anewadventure66

Headache967

Pluminggod

+spirit

Tobeinthelife

Livelaughlove1

Choosingjoy

Meshugna (the funniest!)

And my name? Goddess44.

To end I want to share with you my favorite line of all the HysterSister entries (by Meshugna, of course).  She was talking about how we must all be patient with ourselves as we all heal differently. Then she adds:

“Apparently even Superwoman needs time to heal.”

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Mommy Vacation Gone Bad

Well, week two of my recovery is proving to be completely different from week one. As I mentioned in my last post, at the start of week one I got a fever. It came on quite suddenly. My feet began to feel like they had just walked twenty miles in Antarctica. That’s strange, I thought. I asked Tim to get me the down blanket and wool throw from our bed and I sat on the recliner with both blankets on top of me sure I would feel warm any second. Wrong. Now Antarctica had entered my arms and legs. I started to shake.

“I think you should take your temperature,” Tim suggests.

I had 101 fever.

“I can’t believe this!” I shout out. “Not on my Mommy Vacation!”

Did I say mommy vacation? The day before I went to the hospital I was thinking about this a lot, how an operation is the best , and if you have insurance, the cheapest mommy vacation ever.  Imagine, you are chauffeured to your destination and then back home with no responsibility to do a thing? If the kids need someone they must go to daddy because you have been sequestered to your room with “doctor’s orders” to do nothing but rest. You don’t even need to fake a panic attack like mothers did in days gone by to get some rest. You finally had a real break.

“I need to call my surgeon’s office,” I tell Tim.

“Why? I’m sure you have my fever virus.”

“Because I just had a major operation and what if this is not from you? I don’t get fevers,” I tell him.

I call the doctor. His nurse tells me they are concerned but if the fever does not go up and goes away by tomorrow it is probably just something I caught from Tim.

The next day I have no fever in the morning.

Mommy vacation saved! I think to myself as I pull out another book to read.

By six in the evening, though, my fever is climbing to 101 again. In the morning I am weak, even without much fever.

At 2pm my fever started rising again and this time nothing was bringing it down. By 7pm I had 101.9.

“I’ve got to call the doctor,” I tell Tim. “It’s irresponsible after a major operation to not call the doctor with high fever.”

Tim and I both knew what the doctor was going to tell us: go to the emergency room.

“The best medical advice I can give you is to go to the emergency room,” Dr. Chermnosky told me over the phone. “How quickly can you get there?”

“Well, we have a ten and eleven year old so we’re not leaving immediately,” I tell her. “Maybe in an hour or so.”

After I hung up the phone I tell Tim the news. “How are we going to go to the emergency room with the kids?”

“I’ll call Gail.”

Gail has been our good neighbor many times, but tonight she is our bad neighbor because she is not answering her cell phone.

“What do we do?” I ask Tim.

“Maybe we just leave the kids at home on their own,” he suggests.

Home alone? I don’t even think it is legal to leave a ten and eleven-year-old home alone. Sure, this is the first year I have occasionally popped out for ten minutes to the pharmacy and left them alone, but Tim is suggesting leaving them alone at night  for hours with us twenty minutes away.

“Ten minutes,” Tim corrects me.

“Twenty if you count the amount of time it takes to walk from the emergency room to our car,” I snap back at him. “We’ve got to really think this through.”

Unfortunately my fever is so high now I am incapable of thinking through anything more complex than getting on my sneakers.

“Whatever you want to do,” I tell Tim.

Five minutes later Jacob, our eleven-year-old, runs upstairs and tells me excitedly, “I have figured out how I can order two Beybladers and the Beyblade Metal Fusion Rapid Deploy Case!  I think I have enough money!”

“Has dad told you I need to go to the emergency room?” I ask him.

“Yes!” Jacob responds, saluting me like I was his captain.

“Are you okay with us leaving you alone?”

“Sure! If you leave after I fall asleep I won’t even know you’re gone.”

That makes sense, I guess.

“Mom,” he says to me. “Can I be the doggie and you order me to go take a shower?

“Take a shower, doggie!” I tell him, amused that me going to the emergency room seems to have little impact on him.

“Are you okay with mommy and daddy going out after you go to sleep?” I ask Aden as he crawls into bed.

“Absolutely. I don’t see what the big deal is,” Aden responds.

Okay, I think, maybe mommy is the only one who thinks leaving two children under the age of twelve at home alone at night is not right. Maybe I am unstable, or uncool, or just feeling like I am a bad mom for not being in the home to listen to your every breath.

We arrive at the hospital and my temperature is high, but my blood pressure is even worse.

“123 over 70,” the nurse tells me. “Perfect.”

No, this is not perfect blood pressure for me. My normal is “92 over 57.” I know this is low blood pressure, but it is my normal. The blood pressure she just told me means I am under extreme stress. It must be the kids’ home alone, I think to myself.

“Calm down,” Tim tells me. “They will be fine.”

My emergency room experience is about the best I could have. I think I might have been their only patient. In two hours they had drawn blood,  checked my urine, checked out the area where I had the operation, hooked me up to an IV bag to rehydrate me, did a chest x-ray, and took a throat swap for the flu.

“It looks like you can probably thank your husband for this fever virus,” the ER doctor says with a smile.

Tim smiles back.

“Thanks Honey!” I say.

“Do you have kids?” The ER doctor asks us.

I pray Tim does not tell her the kids are home alone. Not only had I not stopped thinking about whether the kids were okay, I was very aware that twelve is the minimum age you can legally leave kids at home alone. She could report us to Child Protective Services. I have read those articles in line at the supermarket checkout about how children are taken away from their well-meaning parents who technically broke a child protection law, but really did not harm their children. All this ER doctor has to do is make one phone call and we will be a headline story.

“They’re home asleep,” Tim says.

“We have a great neighbor,” I jump in, which we do except this time she wasn’t watching them.

The ER doctor smiles. “Well, get home to your kids.”

And that is exactly what we did. The moment we got home I told Tim, “I’m going to go check on them.”

They were alive and fast asleep.

Thirty-minutes later I am in the shower getting ready for bed and suddenly I have the best thought of my parenting life: one day, in the not-so-distant-future Tim and I are going to be able to go out to a movie on our own at night with the kids at home. They are going to be okay. No, they are going to be thrilled that we are not at home with them and might play the Wii until the moment they hear our key in the door.  My blood pressure may rise on the first few outings, but eventually it will go back down to my normal, “92 over 57.” When the kids leave home in their late teens I will be sad.

But, then again, maybe that will be okay too.

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Medical Update: I’m Burning Up

The good news is the pain from my operation is getting much better; I hardly think about it. Bad news is that I hardly think about it because I’ve had high fever since Thursday.

After a discussion with my doctor’s office about whether I should be re-admitted to hospital on Friday we decided the fever is most likely not related to the operation. I probably got it from Tim who had 101 fever the day I returned from the hospital.

I knew I should not have let him kiss me goodbye when they wheeled me away on the stretcher towards the operating room. He was highly contagious at that moment!

All joking aside, it certainly did not help that Tim and my mom were both pretty sick with fever/cold respectively when I got back from the hospital.

Today has been challenging. The energy I felt post-surgery is gone and I’m groping for anything that will stop this feeling like my body is an ache-fest and that the thought of walking from the bed to the bathroom requires four-alarm fire assistance.

I don’t want a thing to eat. The only think I am craving is John Stewart. Heard the other night he said Anderson Cooper’s head-bashing was the last straw now with Egypt.

I also crave People Magazine so I can’t be that sick. Just Googled “People Magazine” and found out J-Lo is invited to the White House super bowl party tomorrow. That made my day.

Any good vibes you could send my way would be appreciated.

God Bless America. (I have no idea why I wanted to say that – I’ve either overdosed on too much Tylenol again or maybe Reagan’s 100th birthday celebration this weekend has got me thinking???).

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(In)disposable

Having a hysterectomy is humbling on many levels when you’ve been eating millet for the past 20 years, write about the uterus (childbirth!), and didn’t even take an Advil until five years ago. But life, really, is humbling too. I remember my first visit with our pediatrician before Jacob was born when I told her I was an all-natural mom and I planned to have my kids be all-natural too which meant only drugs as a last resort, no vaccines (at least early ones), and homemade organic baby food. By the time Jacob was six months old and his crib had multiple tooth markings from his sleep tantrums I changed my tune convincing myself he was in pain and drugged him with Tylenol for the next 6 months to induce sleep. So much for getting the World’s Most Earthy-Crunchy Mom award.

Recovering from my surgery has also been a humbling experience. Tim is now Mr. Mom and I’m finding, to my horror, that the boys don’t need me. Yesterday was the first afternoon I felt well enough to greet the kids when they got home from school. I was so excited, like a mom about to see her pre-schooler sing a solo, positive that my presence would make a difference to their after-school experience.

Aden walked in first.

“Hi mom,” he said without grand emotion.

“Hi!!!!” I responded, standing in the kitchen holding two oranges in the air like cheerleader pom pom ready to de-brief about the day.

“Dad, is there any salsa for chips?”

Dad? I was standing right in front of him. Dad was two rooms away playing the game “Tip Over” in the living room ignoring him.  Just because I hadn’t been to the supermarket in over a month felt like no excuse for not asking me that question.

Then Jacob’s bus arrived. I ran (read: waddle in pain) to the door to greet him.

Door swings open.

“Hi!” I say still in cheerleader stance.

“Why are you downstairs?” Jacob asks in middle-school-mild-annoyance-speak.

“I wanted to great you.”

“Cool.”

He gives me a gentle hug.

“Can you make me a rice cake with peanut butter on it?”

Sigh.

I’ve been thinking alot about my role as mother lately and its importance remembering how I grew up: opening the door to our apartment with my brother after school, mom at work, a stash of Doritos, Hostess Apple Pies and Seven Ups in hand, flipping on “General Hospital” to watch Luke and Laura. Those were the days. I mean it. Those were happy days of not missing mom, but feeling the freedom every middle school kid wants to feel. Mom was only a phone call away (if there was an award for “First Responder” Mom my mom would get it). I knew I was loved and I also felt, at times, that my mom was disposable and that was okay.

With Jacob already in middle school and Aden on the verge, today I’m wondering what it takes to bring that magic into my kids lives, give them that space, and still be present (and Present) for them.

Just wondering.

I’ve also been wondering when kids start to understand the seriousness of surgery. My favorite kid quote throughout this entire adventure was the day after I told Jacob in early January that I was going to have major surgery. The following day when he got home from school he casually asked me, “Hey mom, did you have the surgery today?”

Sure, I just popped into CVS, then dashed over to the hospital, had my uterus and left ovary removed and got back in time to greet you off the afternoon school bus. Aren’t moms great?!

“No, I didn’t,” I responded with a smile.

“Okay.”

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Medical Update: Corpse Pose

I know many of you want to know how I’m doing physically, so here’s an update. I had imagined my recovery to be like a flower in winter…recluse, cold and unsure…and then suddenly in Springtime I’d flower like a rock star. Instead recovery has been more warm and outgoing one day, glimpses of the rock star strut, and then suddenly cold and reclusive again.

I think I know what it’s like to be ninety years old. Here’s my morning routine: wake up; take my pills (iron, etc); put on my slippers hoping one of them doesn’t go underneath the bed because if so I’ll have to call Tim on the cell phone to come upstairs and bend over to get it; drink a glass of warm water with lemon to stimulate bowels; take a shower; get dressed; eat breakfast in my recliner; take a walk around the upstairs to stimulate bowels;  pull up all the window shades as I walk; sit in my recliner; eat prunes to stimulate bowels; nap.

I’m sure my grandmothers had that same routine.

Sleep has been challenging because (1) I am a tosser in bed and post surgery cannot lay on my front or sides; (2) I hate sleeping on my back (my only option). I’ve had at least ten different variations of pillow placement trying to get comfortable in bed and right now it seems three on my head and two under my legs works well, but if I could pay an angel off in a back alley to rid my belly of swelling and soreness so I could toss and turn again I’d do it.

This brings me to corpse pose.

This is how I’m waking up every morning. At first it bothered me that when I opened my eyes it felt as though I was about to be put in a casket and buried in the ground. Especially since when I came out of major surgery I had that “am I in Heaven?” moment and still wonder if I traveled over there for a few hours. Some mornings I wake up in a variation of corpse pose, both hands over my heart which feels less dead-like so that’s nice.

Interestingly despite the poor sleep, swelly belly, pain in my sides and other various places, tiredness, some bleeding (to be expected), and constipation (not nice), the mantra that I have been feeling ever since emerging from surgery is: I am healthy.

I am healthy.

If you’ve known me for a while you know this hasn’t been my mantra for much of my life. I thought it would only last a day, maybe two. But five days post-op this mantra is like a sticky note that won’t fall off.

I am healthy.

Fade out.

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Mid-life

I went to the bookstore just before my surgery thinking now’s the time I’m going to read. I’ve been waiting for time to read ever since Jacob was ten days old and started his I’m-gonna-make-you-insane-and-want-to-throw-me-in-a-garbage-dumpster screaming mantra. Lately my excuse to not read is my discovery that like Jacob I too am dyslexic and while I can read I have never been the kind of women who steals away an afternoon in the corner of a cafe reading an entire novel. If I went to a cafe to read – which I wouldn’t because I can’t read with any noise or movement – I would probably read one chapter in five hours.

I used to think I just wasn’t smart, reading and re-reading words until I got it, always underlining any important sentence and writing in the margins of every book and magazine so I would remember what I had just read. Then one day on my journey into dyslexia with Jacob I realized, hey wait a minute, alot of that is ME. Alot of the reason I ducked every time a good friend recommended a gorgeous new novel was that it was too much hard work to get through it.

When two kids appeared this seemed to solidify my non-reader status because  I had better things to do like wiping snotty noses, researching and executing extreme semi-humane methods on how to get your child to sleep, and breaking up sibling attacks that ended in bloody bodily parts; sitting in cafes in a comfy chair curled up with a book was off my menu.

Now I read, but my genre is children’s literature. Not bad when I’m feeling my inner Dr. Seuss, and getting better now that the tween years are upon us and Rick Riordan’s books have entered our lives and I’ve found outrageously creative books like The Adventures of Hugo Caberet. But I still dream of being a reader, the kind of mother who juggles five kids and has read The Help, Cleopatra, and a book of poetry tucked into her kitchen shelves between Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics.

A mom can dream, right?

Having a hysterectomy felt like the best shot I’ve got to read until Aden is packed off to college (at which point I will probably be too busy to read from all the therapy I’ll need adjusting to life without “Mom, I know you’re going to say no but…” and “Mom, I know you’ve just walked in from food shopping, present buying, and dog walking, but my school project is due tomorrow so can you sit down now for the next three hours and help me?”).

Walking into Politics and Prose is like waking up in literary heaven. The evening I was there an author on climate change was having a book signing and fascinating interview on the main floor. There’s a cafe for all those people who annoy me because I want to be like them, curling up with a cup of tea reading. I had a vague idea of what kind of book I wanted to buy but no titles. It’s not very smart to go to a bookstore without the title of a book. And especially to go to a literary bookstore and approach the person sitting under a sign that says “Information” because really they don’t want to provide a therapy session on what type of book I want. They don’t know me, don’t want to know me (unless I was a famous author), and just looking at me in my stained yoga pants and brown down coat with the broken zipper they can sense I’m a mother who hasn’t read in ages and will not know what I want to read, will dislike any of their suggestions, and most likely cannot retain the name of more than one book at a time so I will have to write down every book suggestion and that will take ages. Also, they’d rather listen to the author on climate change whose voice is coming out of every speaker in the store.

I decide not to bother the “Information” person. Probably I should have picked up The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy or maybe 101 Handy Hints for a Happy Hysterectomy. I knew I’d stay away from The Hysterectomy Hoax: The Truth About Why Many Hysterectomies Are Unnecessary and How to Avoid Them.  (I get the “hoax” line of thinking, I’m a feminist, but I want to know from that author is if she ever passed ten blood clots every minute?).

In the end  I don’t go near the very topic I was about to enter – the Big H – because I never like to over-prep for anything. That’s always when things don’t work out. I tell this to pregnant women alot who read every single book and hours before their labor begins are running to the bookstore for more books on pregnancy and birth. Stop already. Enough. There is a time for knowledge and a time to just let it flow. For me that meant getting into my body, doing my yoga nidra, deep relaxation and not even thinking about having surgery to remove my uterus and a 7cm cyst on my ovary.

I wanted something light and easy to read. A happy memoir, if that existed. That’s when I remembered an article I read several weeks go on how moms in their forties were reinventing how to stay happy in a marriage with kids…and writing about it. I got out my IPhone and Googled the article. The author mentioned four popular memoirs. I bought three: Devotion, The Slippery Year and The Happiness Project.

The good news is I have been reading them these past few days. And I’ve been reading faster than normal (which makes me wonder if someone should study the effects of 600 mg of Motrin every 6 hours on a dyslexics’s reading).

The bad news from reading these memoirs is this: I discovered I’m middle-aged.

Of course I know I’m forty-four, but at no time have I ever considered myself middle-aged. Could I really be in the middle of my life? How did that happen? I have noticed the sag here and there, but in general I don’t wake up thinking I’m mid-life. Yet when I read these books that’s about all they talk about – how annoying people now are at mid-life, how at mid-life that trip to Target that your child begs for is the last thing in the world you want to do so you sometimes lie and say Target closed early today, and how your brain cannot remember anything beyond the dog’s name at mid-life.

The book I’m enjoying the most is The Slippery Year by Melanie Gideon. She is a riot. I can’t stop laughing at her observations like her relationship with her husband who snores alot. Here’s an excerpt:

Snoring is just snoring. But there’s a medical diagnosis for the twitching. PLMD – Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. As a result of my husband’s PLMD I have developed IWTFKYD – I Want to Fucking Kill You Disorder. All my girlfriend’s have it. They may not admit it, but they do. It’s a silent epidemic.

I am laughing-out-loud while reading this book so much that I’m now thinking of myself as middle-aged and liking it. And I’m not thinking about my swelly post-hysterectomy belly and how uncomfortable it is to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Thank you, Melanie.

And thank you Hysterectomy for the gift of having time to read.

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Home

There is no place like home, that’s for sure. And home is where I’m at now. Actually, I got home yesterday just one day after surgery!

The surgery went well…although it took double the amount of time the surgeon planned because it was particularly challenging to do it laproscopically. (don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you are easily grossed-out!). Basically my uterus was extremely large and one of the fibroids was so big it was pushing on an artery. It was hard for the surgeon to see everything easily and he had to move quite slowly because of the artery. I also had a 7cm cyst on my left ovary and the cyst had adhered to a few organs! (yes, that’s the gross part!). He tried to save the ovary, but couldn’t so now I have just one, which is actually enough to make my normal hormones and have hot flashes and all those fun things through menopause!

I felt surprisingly calm before the surgery (thank you yoga nidra and a fabulous pre surgery relaxation tape by Peggy Huddleston). The moment they wheeled me towards the operating room I felt like I was on an episode of ER, really all I saw was the ceiling and surrounding walls passing by and then the air got very cold, people had blue masks and hats on and I was asked to get on the operating table. The anesthesiologist said he was going to give me something to relax and that was it…I was out until the recovery room.

That’s when I panicked. I felt locked in a dream. Loud voices, lots of people moving, again I’m looking mostly at the ceiling and it’s all blurry. I kept thinking I’m dreaming and can’t wake myself up. I also wondered for a moment if this was heaven and hoped not because I had imagined a much more serene environment! I heard the nurse say it was nearly 4pm and that seemed strange because the doctor said he thought I’d be in my room by 2pm.

When they wheeled me to my room Tim, Jacob, Aden and my mother were standing in the hallway. Tim and my mom looked happy and said “everything’s fine” which made me feel good. Jacob looked confused. And Aden looked scared shitless.

A snowstorm was enveloping the DC area so unfortunately after settling me into my room they all left (and thank goodness they did – a normally 20 minute trip took them 90 minutes!). I was so drugged up it didn’t really matter too much. Wish I could have slept, but hospitals are not the best sleeping environment…one woman in a nearby room was screaming “Nurse!” until 3am, my roommate had her light on all night, and the IV drip she had kept beeping loudly every hour. So I did some yoga nidra, listened to some fabulous chanting music and sipped water and juice while taking every pain med they offered me.

The next morning I got to go home and arrived to a house full of my beautiful boys, wonderful mother (Tim took me home!)….and lots of flowers. Very sweet.

I still had lots of pain yesterday, but today I’m in much less pain. Took a shower. Ate alot. And plan to watch a movie with the boys and have Indian takeout tonight.

So life is back to normal. Well, actually no… life has shifted. A great shift forward. I feel it, I’m going to ride it, and let it take me where it goes.

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