Friday, December 29, 2017

Secret surgery

I've been struggling for the past week with whether to write about my recent surgery or continue to keep it hush-hush. I mostly kept the surgery a secret beforehand – telling only family and a few close friends.

But, I've decided that...

1. Writing is how I process the events of our lives.

2. I'm bored out of my freaking mind and writing gives me something to do.

3. If I try to explain everything here, fewer people will speculate about why I'm shuffling around with a belly pooch that looks suspiciously like I just had another baby.

4. If I continue to succumb to my fears of sharing, surgeries like mine will continue to be discussed only in hushed voices. [i.e. It seems perfectly normal and acceptable to talk about having heart surgery or an appendectomy; why does it seem awkward to discuss female-only surgeries?]

5. Perhaps my story will help another woman decide to seek solutions to her own health issues.

One week ago, I underwent a series of surgical procedures – the most familiar of which was a partial hysterectomy – to correct a series of anatomical problems.

To put it another way, my uterus and several other pelvic and digestive organs weren't where they were supposed to be and my team of surgeons put them back in their proper places – and in some cases, removed them.

If you're a dairy farmer reading this, you know that when organs don't stay where they're supposed to, cows have serious, life-threatening problems.

I wasn't having any serious, life-threatening problems.

However, at one point after diagnosis, while trying to help our kids understand what was wrong with me, I did compare my condition to a DA. (For you non-farmers, DA stands for displaced abomasum – a condition in which one of a cow's stomachs slips out of place. A DA requires emergency surgery for correction.) Our kids have seen our vets do surgery on cows in the past.

My situation included a half-dozen conditions that were painful at times, caused digestive problems, and interrupted my ability to do my farm work.

For several years, I dealt with the issues by trying to improve them myself: I tried a physical therapy program and special exercises; I changed the way I ate and exercised; I lost 40 pounds. All of those changes were supposed to help, but they didn't – my problems just kept getting worse.

Finally, this summer, I decided enough was enough and asked for a referral to see a specialist. The specialist said no amount of exercise or therapy was going to improve my conditions. He recommended surgery and sent me to see a second specialist for additional confirmation.

The second specialist agreed with the plan for surgical correction. He added extra surgical reinforcement to the plan since I have a physically-demanding job.

In the end, a half-dozen organs were involved in my conditions. The list of procedures included in the surgery is so long and hard to say (medically speaking) that we've just been referring to the surgery as a pelvic overhaul.

And just like there were multiple conditions, there were likely multiple causes: carrying and delivering three 9-pound babies; 20+ years of hard, physical labor, including a lot of heavy lifting and squatting down to milk cows; and my own genetics. The result was weakened ligaments and other supportive tissues that allowed organs to slip out of place, much the same way hernias happen.

Today, I can say that I think the worst is behind me.

The procedures went well. Part of the surgery was done laparoscopically with a robot and part of the surgery was done the old fashioned way – by hand. My surgeons were great and the nurses who took care of me during my hospital stay were exceptional.

My post-surgical pain has subsided considerably. So has the abdominal swelling. I'm not nearly as exhausted as I was the first couple days.

The timing wasn't the best – surgery right before Christmas was no fun. And we really didn't need another surgery in the family right after Daphne's appendectomy and abscess surgery. But we had met our health insurance deductible and I knew we couldn't afford not to have the surgery this year, so I pushed to get it scheduled.

The most challenging part now is the activity restrictions during recovery: bed rest for the first two weeks and then another four to six weeks of next to nothing with a 10-pound lifting restriction. Which means no farm work at all. Dan and Monika have been helping a lot outside in my absence – and in the house, too.

But I'm trying not to complain about the recovery process, because I chose this solution and can already tell that my previous symptoms are gone.

I'm looking forward to feeling a whole lot better in the new year.

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