My weekend with the NHS

I’ve hesitated in writing this because it felt indulgent.

But then I wondered if a positive NHS post was worth me and maybe others considering me being indulgent. So here are a few moments from my story of a weekend being looked after by the NHS.

I went to Worthing Hospital on Friday 21st April 2017 at Midday for a routine but pretty major surgery – a subtotal abdominal hysterectomy for one large multiple fibroids that couldn’t be treated any other way.

When my anxiety kicked in waiting for to be collected for surgery, I was able to stay in a small consulting room rather than the main waiting area, my friend was brought to me, and this made it easier for me to both allow and control my feelings.

When lying on the hospital bed clad only in surgical gown and a blanket I felt incredibly exposed as the reality of the surgery came closer with every tick of the clock. The tears came and the anaesthetic room receptionist was immediately there with tissues, she held my hand and chatted to me for as long as she was able to. Throughout my little wait in that room on that bed, she kept checking on me, including me in conversations with the medical staff who came and went. My details were checked a further few times. Each time they apologised about having to go through things so many times, but better certain than not! One of the ladies told me she was assisting on the surgery and I asked a favour. I had no idea of the reality, the size and shape, of what was being taken from me. I asked if it was possible to get any details. She said she’d try. After surgery that lady came to find me on the ward to let me know she’d weighed the thing in question and gave me it’s mass. She didn’t have to do that.

The ladies administering my anaethetic were delightfully batshit, without being unprofessional. They made me laugh. Not an easy thing considering how much I hate needles. She told me how I would feel when the anaethetic was administered and the cold tingling feeling in my right arm is the last thing I remember until I woke up two and a half hours later.

When I woke some surgery, someone sat by my bed for an hour and a half as I drifted in and out of coherence. They answered the questions I was able to form, gave me water and didn’t leave my side. She told me what the time was, and that my friends were waiting for me in the ward that I would be taken to.

During that night I was constantly checked on, medication taken, stats recorded and comfort given when the lack of sleep and the sounds of distress from a very elderly lady who wasn’t in distress (they checked many many times) got too much for me.

I was encouraged and helped by a very cheerful and friendly healthare assistance to get up, wash and dress and sit in a chair.

A nurse held bags of bodily fluids in order to take me for a walk around the ward.

I was quietly allowed to have one more visitor than was usually permitted.

They moved me to a quieter ward the second night as they knew I’d struggled the night before.

They ensured I had everything I needed and knew everything I needed to know in order to go home on the Sunday afternoon as I was desperate to start recovering in my own home. When I say “I” in this paragraph, I mean my friend…. I was incapable of organising my own two feet at this point, but they knew I was in good hands and utterly eager to go home. However, the choice to stay a further night was there and was mine.

All of this care. All of the medication – pain meds, anti clotting injections, wound dressings – that went home with me. Everything used during my stay. This was all free. I only had to focus on my healing and my recovery. There was nothing else demanding my attention, nothing else to organise, no future bills, payments or insurance to organise. I was able to have this operation despite it not being life threatening (although it was life affecting). Yes, there was a wait, but a few months for free surgery and excellent care. I think I had a lucky experience.

When I was called a couple of weeks later in a follow up call, after all the questions had been dealt with I told the nurse how happy I was with my care, how everyone I’d come into contact with had contributed to my feeling supported and looked after.

The only negative thing about my encounter was the surprise and gratitude in her voice when she thanked me for this and I wondered how often she and her colleagues heard it.

NHS, you are amazing. We need you. I hope you are given the attention and value you need to survive then thrive.

 

It begins

2016 sucked, 2017 will be much better – was the general hopeful statement over the festive season and each time I swallowed back my reaction with a variable amount of success and thought, no, not for me, not for a while, roll on 2018, can I have a Tardis please, can I just fast forward to the bit where everything is okay again and everything is healed both physically and emotionally. Can I just skip over this bit?

But of course it doesn’t work that way. We walk the slow path, step by step, making what choices we can with each one and hoping each step is moving us in the right direction.

2017 sees me undergoing both marriage separation, something that’s only recently entered the public domain, and major surgery – subtotal abdominal hysterectomy to remove numerous small and one large fibroid.

Both these things clouded my head before I was able to be open and honest about them and that incongruence hurt me almost more than the events themselves. At least I’ve been able to be honest in recent months.

I then had three months of limbo. It gets tiring fixing the smile on your face and answering, no date yet, in answer to well meaning acquaintances. Knowing they can’t see the frustration because they don’t deserve it.

As I need a secure place to rest and recuperate from the surgery, I couldn’t even begin to start sorting out a new life or deal with separation. And so, apart from some vague decluttering and a deed poll to return to my maiden name, not much changed. And the emotions were easy to pop on a mental back shelf for later. There is a frustration about having to plan for everything and nothing, being held in limbo but there’s also a safety because nothing can change.

Then the letter arrives. The date is known. And the reality crashes in.

My first reaction is a bigger declutter. I spend the next day divesting myself of as much stuff as I can. Anything I think can raise pennies is offered for sale. A new life costs money. Money in the savings account is security, options. Anything else is donated to a nearby charity shop or chucked in the bins. I feel clearer. Lighter.

I let people know my date, discuss plans with close friends offering help, work out options and schedules with them – it’s important to me that anyone offering help doesn’t feel used or sidelined. I read as much of the hospital information as I can deal with, I put dates in my diary and I start lists.

What to take with me. Who can be around when.

A post surgery groceries list.

The obligatory crafting list.

How to keep my strength and immune system top notch.

Perhaps not surprisingly I wake today feeling ill. Sore throat, snuffly nose. So it’s a day of rest. And a day to let the emotions speak up.

I’m scared. While I need and want this surgery, while I’ve been waiting for this for months, I’m terrified of it. My anxiety disorder relies on experience to calm it down. I have no experience with which to quiet the whispers in my head. Only practical tasks. And there’s only so many of those I can do.

I’m scared of waking up attached to things. My anxiety can be triggered by a feeling of being trapped, the thought of being connected to medical equipment and not being able to get out of bed (not that I’ll be wanting to anyway, but anxiety isn’t rational) is terrifying.

I don’t like not knowing when I’ll be home. I want to plan for it. I want to plan for everything. It makes me feel safer.

I’m scared of what will happen to my.body after. I can’t carry on the way I am, I am usurped by invaders and they cannot stay. But will things return to normal and my control after? Will my body be mine again or will it be changed? Will it kickstart menopause? That’s the big one. I’ve been told it shouldn’t but bodies are complex things. Will I stop looking like a pregnant egg?

21st April feels both very close and ages away as I face this next step in getting rid of Freddie and whatever comes after.

Freddie

Hi, I’m Tania, I’m 42 at the time of writing this and on some as yet unknown date in 2017 I will be having a partial hysterectomy.

I had never heard of fibroids before September 2016. It’s safe to say I’m uncomfortably familiar with them now. I know the different types, the different placements, the different treatments. I know which ones I have and why the number and size of them render any option but a hysterectomy pointless.

I also know why all my attempts to eat healthily and exercise were having little effect on my belly. I am the about the size I would be if I were 5 months pregnant. That’s how many and how large these little blighters are.

Although I’d been feeling a little uncomfortable I could rationalise it that I could still get out of bed, go to work, so therefore I fully expected to be told to just get on with it and they’d eventually go away in ten or fifteen years. These things thrive on hormones that eventually fade from our system. I didn’t like the thought of having them but I didn’t have the extreme symptoms Google kept finding for me so I told myself not to expect anything. The referral was to stop me bothering my gp surgery, that was all.

So it was a shock to leave Worthing hospital having put myself on the waiting list.

When “hysterectomy or nothing” was bluntly stated by my gp surgery I imagined that such a procedure would immediately dump me into post-menopausal womanhood. A place I am not ready to go. I saw it as the end of my life as I knew it and the start of a phase that I wasn’t ready to start. We all know that phase is coming as women, but there’s a rough timestamp on it, and I haven’t yet met anyone who is eager to bring it forward.

Something else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t mean that. Once I’ve recovered, I can go about my life as normal. Just minus the home of a couple dozen fibroids (the largest and most troublesome of which I’ve named Freddie. Naming things helps.).

Having never seriously wanting kids – and not seeing that changing in the next few years – it’s not a problem to consider a hysterectomy in those terms. Although it’s one thing to make that decision myself and another to realise that choice won’t exist in another 12 months. I still don’t want kids (I love them, I also love giving them back), but I want that to be my choice. And soon it won’t be. There’s a weird ass unexpected grief in that. I’m not mourning the loss of being able to have children as the loss of that being my choice.

I want the surgery. I’m uncomfortable and it’s not easing. It’s slowly increasing and I still have months to wait. I’m also very scared. This is major surgery. Abdominal Surgery. Weeks of recovery time. And that’s keeping away from the lists of possible complications that I’m not going to read. Apart from having my stupid toenails removed because genetics insisted they kept fucking up the simplest job, I’ve never had surgery. Never stayed in hospital. I’ve not even broken a bone. And here I am facing having an entire bit of me removed.

So this is me. This is me writing about it because that makes me own it. Makes it somehow easier to deal with. If it can be written down, it can be dealt with.