Recovery from hysterectomy followed by post-op sepsis – Helen’s story

I have suffered from heavy periods all my life. A couple of years ago, as I reached 50, my periods became almost endless, flooding and very painful. After trying the pill, tranexamic acid, iron tablets and a host of other things, and having anaemia for months I opted for an ablation. The ablation failed and I was left with heavier bleeding and more pain.

Eight weeks after the failed ablation I had a laparoscopically assisted vaginal hysterectomy. The surgery went well and I left hospital the next day (histology showed I had adenomyosis and endometriosis).

On day 6 after surgery I felt very unwell and had a high temperature. My GP referred me urgently back to the gynae ward where they confirmed I had post-op sepsis. Three different IV antibiotics and 5 days later they found one that tackled my infection. By this point damage was done and my recovery was severely hampered.

My recovery has been very slow and very frustrating.

Physically I am about 4 weeks behind the usual rate of recovery. I returned to driving, working and other basic activities 4 weeks later than I expected. I am exhausted and suffering endless pain. My frustration with the slow recovery has made me depressed and feeling like I will never be ‘me’ again.

A recent visit to hospital was really helpful because the surgeon said that because of the sepsis I have internal scarring (adhesions) which will mean I won’t be ‘me’ again, not the old me anyway. I have not been depressed by this but rather a feeling of challenge to become a new ‘me’. She also said that I should expect a 12 month recovery from the sepsis.

I have always been a very active person. Running is my favourite activity and the way I deal with the stresses of life. I love to swim, walk and go to the gym. I am now on week 20 and I have managed to swim a few lengths and today I ran a few hundred yards for the first time. I am elated.

The internal adhesions caused by the post hysterectomy sepsis have impacted my life far more than I ever expected. Having spoken to everyone I could I have found that wearing a kidney belt and holding everything in very tightly I can minimise the abdominal internal movement when being active and so reduce the pain caused by the adhesions pulling inside me when I exercise. This has been a revelation and allowed me to find a way to be active, to get the exercise endorphins without the subsequent pain.

Surgery can have its complications but you will find a way to get back to being yourself, even if that is a slightly different version of you, you will still be you.

I think the biggest thing this has taught me is that when the hospital said ‘you will get back to normal activity by week 10’ that means normal basic activity. It does not necessarily mean your normal activity. As a friend of mine said ‘running and going to the gym is not normal activity for a 50+ woman so that is not what the hospital meant’. You will get back to some activity but it may not be the normal that you had before. And you need to give yourself time, maybe far more than you were expecting.

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