Hysterectomy on the French medical system- Once I had my diagnosis, I won’t lie, it took me a long time to figure out how I felt about hysterectomy before 40. Sure, like most of us, I read everything I could find about my illness, tried to find alternative options and make an educated decision based on the information. Simple equation, applied to most decisions in life.
Once the date was booked for November 19th there was a long ‘To Do List’ before intervention; bloods tests to find out my blood type, my hemoglobin levels, my red and white cell count and all the stuff most people don’t know about themselves unless they are sick. I had a cardiologist test my heart, blood pressure and give me a signed note okaying me for surgery. I had an anesthesiologist sit down with me and give me a run through of what to expect, how long to go without food before being put under and gave me a prescription for a colon cleanse the day before surgery. I needed to purchase tights to decrease my chance of blood clots. And we had three weeks to round it all up and gather the information in a huge dossier or duotang to hand in when admitted to the private clinic in Bezier. It would normally be enough time if you knew the system and the language, but as luck had it, our French was broken and things took longer than imagined.
A whirlwind of activities, followed by admision was on the agenda on the day before the night before surgery. We were lucky to have Anne make a few phone calls to see what happened to my blood test results, which were necessary for the day of hospitalization.
After Anne met us at Pole Emploi to find out why they couldn’t get me on UI. Weeks ago we came in alone with my final contract from France Fluviale to apply for benefits and the lady behind the desk was annoyed we did not speak French, said it was impossible and to come back with the correct paperwork after applying online. So I did what she asked and came back and she sent us away again. We explained I was due for surgery next week and couldn’t wait a month for appointment. She gave us Monday afternoon, the day before surgery, but not before a confrontation and I ended up in tears.
So here we were Monday, and we encountered the same lady from last week, except this time Anne was with us. With Anne in the room, she processed everything and explained to us how everything works for coverage while not working due to medical leave, told us then to go on UI until business starts up again in the new season or they can find me a job. What a difference. She didn’t raise her voice once. She dinged me two weeks pay, because I didn’t get there on time! I could have put a fist to her, as she of course sent us away twice! I bit my tongue and smiled like you do instead of committing a crime with jail time. The lady had a completely different tune and attitude with my friend in the room. At least it is done. Weight off my shoulders!
Our blood work done at home by a local nurse had gone astray which means another stop this busy morning. We dropping the children at school and went to the blood clinic in Beziers to retieve a copy. It made little sense to me why blood type was the only information required for surgery and a separate test all together that cost 31€. It was code to me. The original was send out by courier Nov 10th yet nothing showed up at the house. They change me the courier fee as I requested it come courier and I was astonished nine days later, without the test they dared ask. I paid it. And left. Sometimes the fight leaves me. Bureaucracy wares a girl down. This one is for the team. I still had many stops to go and didn’t want to waste another 1/2 hour debating.
Then we tackled Pole Emploi to drop off the final pieces of paperwork that the lady somehow managed to leave off the list the day before, and lastly we drove by CPAM to drop off a doctors form informing a six week medical leave due to hysterectomy. Anne helped us fill out the form. It was one page long, with detailed direction on the back in small print on how to fill it out and instructions on how to apply. It was even hard for Anne to fill out.
Home by 10:30am, I still had time to pack, shower and watch Season Two Sons of Anarchy finaly. Gotta love the rednecks.
Packing Essentials For Overnight Hospitalization For Hysterectomy List
- varacose tights
- TP soft variety
- hemorrhoid cream after colon cleanse
- warm socks
- cozy clothes
- pens & paper
- French learning downloads
Then at 11:00am it was time to start my colon cleanse. I added one sachet to one litre of cold water and then repeated with the second sachet until all was gone by 15:00. I spent four hours on the toilette and wondered how I’d get to the hospital without a diaper for 16:00.
But when it was time to go, Alfonz loaded the car, and I went one last time and hoped for the best. I lost a few pounds that day through my colon. It was not fun. My friend told me when she took it for her surgery a few weeks before, she gave up getting on and off the toilette at all and drank the sickening sweet solution while sitting. * Note to self.
On route I Skyped my mom to distract myself. After a good chat we were already at Champeau Clinic in Beziers and I did not have an accident in the car.
We checked in as soon as we got there and made our way to room #109. ‘Looks like I’m alone in my room.’ It’s like a super sterile hotel room with no decorations. Quickly I settled in, unpacked and answered the nurses many questions.
- Did you shave your pubic hair? Yes
- Did you finish the cleanse? Yes
- Do you have all your medical reports and test results? Yes
- Did you eat today? A light breakfast
- Did you ever have sex before marriage? Never (I can’t actually understand what she’s asking, she could have asked this for all I know. She doesn’t look too worried that I can’t speak French)
- Are you sure you shaved? Yup pretty sure I didn’t mess that up! This one they took seriously.
Once she left I started to relax. I told Alfonz no use in waiting with me, just go get the kids from Anne’s place, settle them in for the night, and take it easy. He wished me luck and off he went.
A few more bathroom breaks, and I was glad to bring preperation H on a final impulse. I finished my last supper of pureed potato soup and apple compote before I fell asleep. I woke around 10:00, had a shower with antiseptic soap from head to toe and went right back to bed.
My instructions were to shower again in the am as I was first in for surgery at 8:00. I was up by 5:16, tired still from all that pooping and was ready in my gown, matching hat and slippers when the nurse came to get me at 6:00am. Did you shave? WTF yes look, it can’ t be that hard to shave. They are obsessed!
Then I waited and waited. My stomach was growling. I was already dreaming about my first meal after surgery. Fried chicken and mash, gravy and corn… without food I was tired, dreaming about food filled up my time. I wanted to get the surgery done to start my recovery.
It ran through my mind, what if this was my last year to live. Our time in France was a success and I have no complaints… better prepare for the worst… my final words…
I wrote on a piece of paper in hospital, ‘If something happens to me today I want you to know, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, we all have the same ability to be happy. It is all in perception. Head towards the life you desire and eventually you’ll get there. I whole heartedly have faith in this.’
Daniel and Angelina, my sweet angel babies, you make my life complete, and I feel incredibly proud to be your mother. Without you Alfonz I couldn’t do the things I need to be happy. I love being your bride. What a fabulous adventure my life has been and more so our time together. A lesson in dilagence, determination and the constant search for improvement. I am still the luckiest person I know.
Day Two. I remember a young attractive man coming to get me for surgery. He dropped me off just outside the operating room. A nurse wearing too much makeup reeled me in. The nurses chatted among themselves about what they were up to the night before. One was talking about internet dating. Once inside the operating room, a young girl with trainee written on her name tag was met by the anesthesiologist to show her her first IV. Great, and me with no veins insight! They squeezed my arm trying to find a vein. Tapped it a few times more in hopes one will magically appear. They seemed ticked off at me. It is not my fault I was born big with small veins. Probably the reason high blood pressure runs in my family. My apologies, in typical Canadian fashion. So sorry that I am genetically inferior to you, no I don’t smoke, it is not impossible come on, this ain’t my first rodeo! But all that came out of me was ‘desole’ and my week toothy smile. Once the IV was in, everyone stopped talking to me and seemed very busy getting ready. Finally someone stopped, through winced eyes noticed I wasn’t out yet. I wasn’t even sure if I was hooked up and then, why are the lights turning off, then darkness. Just a suggestion to the French, in Canada the doctor counts backwards from ten with you, and sometimes even holds your hand, you never make it to 7 and the nursers are attentive. Here I found efficiency but no empathy.
There were moments in and out of my medicated high. The first was realizing my bladder was full, and waking up saying I have to pee. Again typical Canadian girl, I am so sorry, I don’t want to pee the bed. Then someone said you are hooked up to a catheter, with this reassurance in mind I drifted back to my lovely doze. I woke up again to text Alfonz saying, ‘very tired but ok, going back to bed’. Little blurbs… the doctor came in and asked how we were feeling. We? Are there two of me now? At some point I got a roommate. She had a less invasive operation, incontanance. Twenty-four hours passed, we slept side by side in room 109.
Nurses woke us with hot coffee and dry toast. I knew a quick recovery counted on doing the things as soon as I could. I sat up, sipped coffee, ate dry toast. A nice lady took out my catheter, I could have kissed her it was so uncomforatable. My roomy was due to leave in an hour and got up to shower. She was bleeding all over the floor so I called the nurse to help her. Once she was done showering and dressed, I got up, walked a little, drank water and washed my hair. It felt good. The morphine was still doing its job and although they unhooked me, I still had the rough stuck IV in from the new girl. It was blue. I asked them to please remove it and they did.
I felt pain in my shoulders and the nape of my neck. It shot through me. Gas they said. During surgery they inflate your abdonminal with carbon dioxide to seperate the organs to get the camera and surgical tools inside. When they are done, they collapse the area and gas traps inbetween your organs and makes its way up. And lucky for me that meant back of my neck and under my ribs. It sent tremors though me.They instructed me to drink water, and walk around to alleviate the pain. I followed their instruction to the letter.
Alfonz was there by lunch and the pains were getting worse. I drank three litres of water, and walked all around the hospital with no relief. I wondered how the gas was to get out of me when it is wasn’t in my stomach from eating a chilli cheese dog at 2:30 in the morning after the bar. It was in my body cavity. By the time Anne and Celine visited I was rocking back and forth like a child in pain. They made a few jokes about farting I tried to smile. I have a very high pain tollerance. I kept doing what the nurses told me to and prayed they knew what they were talking about. I was reaching exhaustion, no rest all day, and the pain was getting unbearable. I finally begged for a pain killer. A nurse gave me a 1000mg Doliprane, Europe’s version of Tylenol. I felt it kick in, so I sent my friends away by 1:30 so I could nap.
No matter how much it hurt I was determined to lie down. I sat on the edge of the bed, and slowly lowered my head to reach the pillow when the pain hit me like a freight train. I burst into tears and ended up on the floor. I reached for the nurse call button, and yelled for help. The male nurse found me hunched over and I explained the pain. It is normal he said as he ran for more meds. The nurses outside thought it was funny and were laughing very loud outside my door. A little unprofessional or perhaps they didn’t even know I existed. I may have interrupted their chat.
With every move the pain increased. The man returned with a powerful tablette and told me to take it and then sit in the chair. He assured me 30 minutes maximum to kick in. Tremors of pain shot up and down. If I moved in any direction it was unbearable. I clamped down waiting for it to stop but it wasn’t a contraction with an ending, just a constant pressure under my skin sending shots of pain inside me. My silent tears released some pressure. Can gas release from your eyes? Some where during that time I was unaware of anything around me, just focussing on the pain to stop, sending endorphins and natural pain blockers to the site. The nurse left my side unnoticed.
My favourite jolly young nurse entered asking if I wanted gouter (afternoon snack) for an instant I thought maybe she came to check on me. She saw my state, started to laugh and said at least you have colour now! Instead of getting mad at her insensitivity to my pain, I felt like I rudely interrupted her handing out treats, and managed a smile. She says a tea is what you need and a butter biscuit. Maybe she knows something I don’t, of course I’ll have some. She promised to return in 30 minutes. She never did.
I phoned Alfonz during my hysterics (no pun intended because I can’t be in hysterics anymore without a uterus, just saying) and he looked up what to do about surgical gas after hysterectomy on the internet. No soda water, what? Nearly four litres was already in me. Of course that’s the culprit! The nurses saw me drinking it all day and said nothing. Alfonz instructed me to lay down after the painkillers kicked in, place a pillow under my bum and wait for the gas to find its way to my stomache. It will eventually absorb into your intestines, he assured me and eventually pass. I stayed in that position for hours. I called mom and my best friend Shannon on Skype, and entertained myself for nearly four hours online. I skipped dinner and then by midnight I passed a little, not a lot but I was hopeful and fell asleep.
I woke up at 2:00am with increased abdominal pain, so bad I was nauseous and dry heaving. The gas was now where the surgery had been and was pressing on my diaphragm. I called the nurse and to his surprise and annoyance, he discover my IV was out and all that remained was a giant swollen blue/black mound. It took him four tries to find a vein. By the fourth time I nearly said don’t worry about it, it is my fault I have small veins and lack the ability to have small tubes stuck in them. I couldn’t get small bones no, I had to get small veins. He found a vein in the awkward bend of my elbow. By the time he got it in I was knackered and freezing cold despite the twenty-two degrees I cranked my heater too, and the endless layers I wore. He quickly filled me with morphine and I fell asleep. At 7:30 nurses entered with breakfast and I went to the bathroom and finally relief! It was so nice to sip a cup of coffee with milk, eating dry toast and jam knowing today could only be better than yesterday, all from passing gas!
Day 3 Patience with Patients
The doctor came in to ask me to stay another night as I ran a fever and vomited during the night. I packed my stomache with ice and it made a huge difference as to how I was feeling. Why did I had to ask for icepacks, why didn’t they offer it? I tried to stay flat in bed. This day consisted of water no bubbles, meals, walking and naps. In that order. The kids called me today and it always blows me away at how little they sound on the phone. My little sticky bums, I miss them already.
I walked the halls and made a friend. Mirta from Columbia spoke perfect English, Spanish, Swedish and French! I like her. She’s younger than my mom and her kids are brought up French and are in their twenties. She looks as Spanish as one gets and her kids are blonde hair blue eyed like my Daniel. I passed her several times as she worked in the halls, heading from room to room cleaning. She lived all over the world even America and England. The most interesting people I meet are often travellers, explorers that live or drift among us.
The halls themselves seem spooky, deserted, and sterile yet sixty-three people rest behind these doors. It has a funny farm feel. Did my family admit me to the loony-bin and forget to tell me. I guess they wouldn’t tell a person but trick them. Oh well the drugs seems ok, I guess I could stay. Sixty-three meals to prepare, sixty-three bedpans to empty, sixty-three coffee cups… sixty-three, sixty-three…
The weather took a turn; dropped to three degrees followed by a light flurry. As I watched the snow fall, I had no witness to share this moment of five minute sun and snow mix.
I passed a window glad to not smoke as a group of patients huddled in a corner puffing. It reminded me of the scene from Will Smith’s movie I Am Legend where the dormant mutant human/ zombies huddled together waiting for night fall. -They were pale. I guess it might be my imagination mixed with morphine.
Imagine, everyone passes through a hospital at one time or another. Birth, death and accidents in between. We stumble upon illness, health, life struggles; the mechanics of life, our blood, sweat and tears of the messy times. We meet people like Mirta, that dedicate their lives to make us feel better, a calling in a sense and not everyone can or should do this job. The caregivers among us go unnoticed until that time arrises, when they nurse us back to heath or comfort our sorrows. It wasn’t the nurses or doctors that went out of their way to make me feel better so much as the cleaning ladies. They were very nice. And a couple of the nurses were pretty funny. One came in and kept saying in English, What do you want! Another time she said, Shut up! It was all she knew in English probably from some movie she saw and said it every time no matter why she came in. Usually on rounds she’d barge open the door and start yelling in English. She knew she was pretty funny and the nurses in her entourage encouraged her silliness.
The first day of meals were revolting; boiled ham, boxed mashed potatoes and compote. However, the next day the meals improved significantly ; curried white fish steamed to perfection over rice pilaff, shepherd’s pie, dill couscous with raisins, apple sauce and finally fresh salad and a kiwi. And optional for 1.75€- a glass of wine. Viva la France!
The first day I noticed five extra incisions in my abdomin. Of course my first reaction was mortification. Had they gone in, saw cancer and taken out my ovaries? The doctor explained they went in laparoscopic, I was too narrow and my uterus was tilted out of reach for vaginal entry. (Maybe it was his hair phobia) He said the ovaries are very healthy and remain. The benign tumours came out completely with the uterus and were sent off for testing. The recovery time for this surgery is three-four weeks. Vaginal is four-six weeks, and abdominal incision is six-eight weeks. I love it when things work out for the best in the end.
I left the busy nurses a stack of magazines despite their lack of attention to me. I figure I know absolutely nothing about the French health care system to truly judge it. And the food in the France hospital was quite good. I do know the Canadian health care system and feel although France is rated #1, they may be # 2. Maybe not the medical end of things, I would have no idea what’s what but for the attentive bed side manner of nursing staff, Canada wins hands down.
I hope to visit the cleaning lady in the future.
I am already home recovering being waited on hand and foot by my lovely husband whose already learned how to make spaghetti from scratch and tomorrow butternut squash/potato soup inspired by my first soup in hospital.
Anyone interested in the guts and gore of the surgery itself watch the video below!