The Road To Recovery

In the 9 months since my surgery, I’ve had ups and downs, made a ton of progress on the healing front, lost one oncologist and gained a new one, had another minor surgery to remove scar tissue, had another mini cancer scare, and finally generally come to a truce with the snarky voice in the back of my head. Sure, I’ve got another CT scan scheduled in a few weeks to make sure that some new/increasing pains aren’t a cancer recurrence, but overall I’m good. I’m looking forward and have an appointment in August with one of the best tattoo artists in LA for my celebratory one-year cancer free tattoo. Fingers crossed I didn’t jinx myself by making that appointment.

Now let’s see…where did I leave off? Ah yes – finally getting home from the hospital. I have to say, recovery was a bitch. I would have given anything to be able to sleep on my side. Or my stomach. Or flat on my back. Or to be able to stretch. Or eat real food. Or to not ever sneeze. Or laugh. (Good thing I’m married to a comic, eh?) Even with large amounts of painkillers, I was still uncomfortable and generally unable to sleep for longer than an hour or two at a time. And even then, I slept on my back, propped up with pillows and with pillows under my knees. I kept a small firm pillow by my side in case of a sneeze or a laugh – holding that pillow against my stomach kept me from screaming in pain if either of those things happened. I still needed a good 10 minutes to recover after I sneezed the first time post-surgery. Yay abdominal surgery and oodles of stitches! But overall, things were mainly irritating, uncomfortable and frustrating. The pain was largely managed by my popping a lovely dilaudid every few hours. (Seriously – best pain medicine EVER!) Other than having my mom here, the dilaudid was my favorite part of recovery. My husband would say in public that his favorite part was hearing that they successfully removed all the cancer. I think my husband would be lying. I’m convinced his favorite part was getting to stab me with a needle every day for 2 weeks. (I got sent home with a 2 week supply of syringes filled with blood thinner to prevent blood clots while I was mostly immobile.)

Eventually I was able to start getting around a bit better and was able to sit up and watch tv in the living room like a normal human being. Granted, even sitting up for an hour or two was exhausting and required a nap to recover, but soon I was back to vegging in front of the television like a good little American with no trouble at all. But I still slept – a lot. The simplest things exhausted me. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds per doctor’s orders. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than the tv remote per my husband’s and mother’s orders. I was repeatedly told, ‘you only get one chance to heal properly.’ After a few weeks, that got more and more irritating as I got more and more stir crazy. But that is a true statement – even if you get tired of hearing it.

Finally, after a few quick return trips (where I realized exactly how many potholes and bumps there are in the roads here – OWWW!) to UCLA for post-surgery checks and let’s-see-if-Samantha-can-pee-yet checks, I got the catheter removed about 2 and a half weeks after surgery. Which sounds great, but wasn’t so great in reality when I had to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night. *sigh* Slowly I started getting my strength back and was able to remain upright for 3 or 4 hours at a time. And 4 weeks after I was released from the hospital, my convalescent leave (6 weeks recommended by my surgeon) expired. The military docs only approve 4 weeks at a time no matter what the surgeon recommends. (Unless you give birth – then they’ll sign anything. Jerks.) So a month later, I dragged myself to the base hospital to meet with my brand new doctor. Oh, sorry. My brand new physician’s assistant. (Apparently I don’t rate a real doctor on base, even though I know they exist.) I told him I needed 2 more weeks – there was no way I could work 8 hours a day – and eventually had to beg him to give me 5 more days at least. His rationale for not extending my leave? I drove myself to the appointment. Never mind that when I got home, I went immediately to bed for 4 hours because I was so exhausted I could hardly move, or that I was in extraordinary amounts of pain. Never mind that my surgery had multiple complications and that I required a hospital stay 4 times longer than normal. Nope, I should have been good to go to head back to work. Awesome. Luckily, I have a great boss and a great commander – they told me to take my time and work up to full time. My first day back to work after 5 weeks at home lasted about 2 or 3 hours – after which I went home and went straight to bed. Good times.

After a few weeks of half-days, I eventually got back to working full time. I still am disappointed in the base hospital – the standard time off for my operation is 6-8 weeks. I got 5. Nicely done, Lt Physician’s Assistant. I honestly feel that this impacted my recovery in a negative way. But hey, at least he got me a referral to a physical therapist for my numb hand and numb leg. No wait – he actually made me pick one to get treated. Hand or leg. He told me he couldn’t get me a referral for both. I picked my numb right hand – figured I might need that to write or shoot or basically function. Too bad the physical therapist he referred me to doesn’t deal with nerve damage – which I learned when they called me to chat about what they could or couldn’t do for me. Rather than deal with Lt P.A. again, I spoke with my surgeon about it and decided to just see if my nerve damage would improve given time. And it did. Mostly.

Overall, I learned that when people say it takes a year to fully recover from a hysterectomy (radical or otherwise), they are 100% correct. It’s a ridiculously common surgery in this country (don’t even get me started on how quick doctors are to recommend them), so I think people think they’re no big deal. (A friend of mine who had the same surgery had a ‘friend’ tell her, ‘I know how you feel – I had my wisdom teeth pulled once!’) They really are a big deal. A normal hysterectomy is considered major surgery. A radical hysterectomy even more so. Add in the moving around of organs, tendons, nerves, veins and arteries to get to the lymph nodes that also needed to be removed, and it’s an even bigger deal. But 9 months later, I’m getting there. I’d say I’m about 95% right now. Sure, I have weird pains still and I still have a large chuck of my thigh that is half numb, but at least I can move my leg. And I’m still *knock on wood* cancer-free. Things could have turned out a lot worse.

  1. Lori (Todd) Riley says:

    I hope people going through this surgery read your story, because it is an accurate description of a hysterectomy. It is major surgery! And it takes a while to be back to normal. The stitches make it hurt to go to the bathroom, the pain medicine makes it hard to go, then a laxative makes you go, but it hurts so bad, you don’t want to go. I had to start walking to the bathroom a couple minutes before I knew I had to pee just to make it there in time(my catheter was taken out in the hospital). After healing from the surgery, I had a course of radiation treatments. Radiation messes up your bladder, so that’s another 6 weeks of bathroom problems. I still wish you the best and appreciate your honesty, sense of humor, and realistic description of this surgery. Thanks for sharing your story. Oh, yeah, another thing…aren’t Moms Great!!!

    • samiam0403 says:

      Moms ARE great! 🙂 Thanks for the comment and well wishes. I don’t know how you did that AND radiation treatment afterwards. We skipped it so I could have it in the future if need be, but after doing my research just in case, I could really do without having to deal with that. You’re one tough woman! And I also really hope people who are going through this read it – maybe I can help balance out the generally unrealistic ‘I went back to work in 5 days’ stories. Heck, one girl in a cervical cancer group I’m in was worried that something was wrong because she was in pain a week after surgery. I don’t know what doctors are telling women, but come on! Wishing you all the best and hope you’re doing well!

  2. Jody W says:

    Damn. You are incredible. I hope for the best for you! I can’t help but get angry at the doctors you have to see who act so cavalier about the whole thing. You are amazing.

    • samiam0403 says:

      Thanks, Jody. I really do appreciate that. And my on-base guy is getting better – I think it’s just that he was new and a little too set on ‘the rules.’ He’s not so bad any more. 🙂

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