Total Abdominal Hysterectomy – my experience first 6 weeks, Karen’s story

I am 43 yrs old, have suffered abnormal smear test results, endometriosis and blocked fallopian tubes since my early 20’s, resulting in four unsuccessful rounds of IVF treatment, and more recently, increased heavy bleeding during my menstrual cycle.

Prior to Christmas (2014) I underwent my third laparoscopy, in which large cysts were found on one ovary. Due to my history, I was offered a hysterectomy and given the choice of partial or total removal. From research, I believed myself to be at higher risk of ovarian and cervical cancer, so decided with my consultant that I would opt for a Total Abdominal Hysterectomy and have everything removed. However, my consultant persuaded my to leave one ovary in place, due to it being cyst free. This meant that the remaining ovary would continue producing hormones and delay me entering the menopause by around 4-5 yrs.
Whilst waiting for an operation date, I took the opportunity to prepare myself by researching countless websites, to increase my knowledge of what to expect before, during and after the surgery. Various sites and forums predicted an average of 6 weeks recovery time.

Already having good fitness levels and wanting to aid my recovery, I increased my exercise activity to get myself into optimum condition, which included cycling, cross training and core strength exercises.

With a rough idea of an admission date, my home preparation included buying freezable containers (plastic and foil), and cooking various meals which I popped in the freezer to be used after the Op, not only making it easy for my husband but also saving on washing up chores!. The house was spring cleaned and cupboards stocked piled with food and household items, all you could need to survive for at least 4 weeks or more. I also chose my post op clothing for a few days and laid this out so as I wouldn’t have to strain searching through drawers on my return home.

My pre op personal purchases included several pairs of sport support shorts/underwear, jogging bottoms and two nightshirts (for hospital stay) large enough to cover a swollen belly, loose t-shirts, panty liners, non adhesive wound dressing pads sized 20 cm x 10 cm, some micropore tape, and wound dressing antiseptic wipes.

Upon receiving an admission date, a few days before I visited my GP and arranged for provision of a sick note for 6 weeks post op.

The day of the op arrived and I was admitted early in the morning, armed with the essentials for my stay (dressing gown, nightshirts (pj’s not recommended), large pants, baby wipes, regular toiletry items, peppermint tea bags (to aid wind problems post surgery), some fruit and water, magazines, mobile phone and charger.

Day 1 : was taken to surgery wearing gown and compression socks, and had 3 venflons inserted into my hand for the purpose of anaesthetic during the op, and pain control post op. The operation took around 1 and half hours, and due to being heavily sedated, I have no memory of being in the recovery room, only of waking in my hospital room some 4 hours after. I was hitched up to a saline bag, a machine to self administer morphine, had oxygen tubes around my nostrils, a drainage tube from just below my belly and attached to a bag (to extract any blood from within), had a catheter fitted and a large sanitary pad at my vagina. I was not in any pain at this time but unable to move much due to discomfort. I did however make an extra effort to move my ankles and feet to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. I was told I could not eat or drink until the following day and that I would probably be kept in hospital for 2-3 nights.

Night 1 : didn’t get much sleep but was fairly comfortable due to the morphine and not having to go to the toilet as I had the catheter fitted. I was still hitched up to saline and morphine and the nurses conducted 1-2 hourly blood pressure checks throughout the night and administered liquid paracetamol (via venflon) to further assist pain relief.

Day 2 : my belly was pretty swollen, I had bloody discharge from below, and in slight pain. The saline drip and morphine was removed and I was allowed a small breakfast (toast/weetabix) and liquid. Late morning I had the stomach drainage tube removed. This was extremely painful as the nurse had squeezed the bag before removal (not sure if air was pumped into or out of my belly at this stage which caused the pain). I also had the catheter removed (no pain, just a slight pulling sensation) and was allowed to get up to use the toilet. Getting out of bed for the first time was extremely difficult as you have no muscle control below to help you. The trick is whilst laying on the bed, to bring your knees up, roll them to the side at the same time as moving your upper body in same direction, then pushing yourself up with one arm whilst dangling your legs over the bed at the same time (easily said then done when every movement hurts… videos of correct movement can be found on YouTube). Upon standing, I suffered extreme lower abdominal pain caused by trapped wind. Due to the nature of the op you are unable to force out wind. I was given a bed bath and felt better being able to change into my own nightwear and put on a pair of my own underwear with a less bulky sanitary pad! On this day I passed rather large blood clots from my vagina, but was assured this and any slight blood loss was normal.

Night 2 : an uncomfortable night due to being unable to lay flat as this caused a pulling sensation across the wound site. I used a second pillow underneath my knees which slightly eased the pressure. Again, wind was an issue and it helped by raising my knees up and lifting my bottom up slightly. Regular checks throughout the night by nurses so not much sleep was had.

Day 3 : in excruciating pain, mainly from trapped wind but I drank regular cups of peppermint tea which helped slightly (looking back I probably would have purchased some peppermint oil capsules from the chemist as I think they would have helped more). I was administered a solution of Lactulose to encourage softer stools and bowel movement and given regular Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. I was able to walk a short distance and also allowed to have a shower but needed a seat to do so as standing for longer than a few moments was not possible.

Night 3 : again, not very comfortable due to the trapped wind and not being able to lay flat due to the wound pulling. I did however have a bowel movement in the early hours (fairly painful and uncomfortable) which meant the doctor was more likely to discharge me the next day.

Day 4 : a check over by the doctor, a handful of info documents to go through and armed with a pack of Ibuprofen, Paracetamol and a bottle of lactulose and I was good to go home. I had a shower and changed into some comfortable clothing. I was told to take ibuprofen and paracetamol at regular intervals and take the lactulose solution twice daily so as to avoid me having to strain with bowel movement.

I was unable to dress myself for the first week or so with not being able to bend so had to call upon the services of my husband.
Most of my time in the first week was spent on the sofa and not being able to do very much other than walk around the house and take regular naps in the afternoon. I would regularly go from shivering to hot and put this down to all the drugs that were floating around in my body. At night I found it difficult to sleep and the only comfortable position was on the back with a pillow under the knees. I also had a couple of night sweats but these soon disappeared. I ensured I didn’t lift anything heavy as per guidelines.

On Day 7 I returned to the hospital to have the stitches removed with no problems at all. At this stage I also ventured outdoors and took short walks and felt that being active helped ease things. Some days the body would let me know if I’d done too much by way of increased tension and swelling around the belly, and increased tiredness.

The first 10-12 days were the worst for me, and included painful stomach cramping from trapped wind, the inability to stand easily from a seated / laying position, not being able to cough, sneeze or blow your nose as you have have no muscles below to assist and light headedness. I did regain my appetite back fairly quickly and ensured I ate a selection of fruits and vegetables to increase my vitamin consumption to aid recovery. On day 10 I had to visit my GP to obtain some extra strength painkillers as I was unable to stand due to the stomach pain.

After week 2-4, I continued to have a slight bloody discharge but things started to improve. I ensured I increased my activity by walking around and I had more freedom of movement from my body, although still unable to do very little without it letting me know. I was still unable to sleep in any position other than on the back. My belly was also still swollen and tender, although the wound itself was healing very well. I needed no painkillers after the end of week 2

Week 5, my belly was still swollen, some days more than others depending on how much activity I had done. I increased light chores around the house but was still unable to lift or stretch without having niggles in the abdomen. The bloody discharge ceased, but was replaced with a slight green/yellow discharge. I visited my GP and was given a course of antibiotics as he believed I may have a slight infection.

Week 6 : my bloated belly is going down slowly, but still slightly tender to touch and a slight numbness in places as the nerve endings within are still knitting together. I have been able to do some light exercising but still get a little tired in the afternoon, along with slight pain. I have visited my GP and obtained a sick-note for a further 3 weeks as I don’t feel I am fit enough to return to work but am feeling good within myself.

I’m feeling positive about the whole experience and although it has been (and still is) a painful and uncomfortable journey, it is not as bad as I had expected. It is a long repair process and I’m far from the finish line but I feel that my decision to undergo the operation was the right choice for me, as it means no more heavy periods, no more smear tests and reduces my chances of cervical/womb cancer by 100%, and ovarian cancer by 50%. The downside is having to expect to enter the menopause in 4-5 years time, but I am already prepared for this and have started taking herbal supplements and changing my diet in readiness.

My tip for anyone about to go through a hysterectomy is PREPARATION… get fit, organise for your life for during and after the operation, and this will help you sail a lot easier!


in my own words book coverNow available on our online store and all other online book store’s. In My Own Words: Women’s Experience of Hysterectomy is full of many other real-life stories from women the world over.

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