“In order to rise / From its own ashes / A phoenix / First / Must / Burn.”
— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents
I have struggled with writing this post, sitting down a few times at my computer, hands flying across the keyboard, words spilling across the screen… words that failed to articulate the swirling, sputtering, stuttering emotion that fills my chest and makes my head spin.
My modified radical hysterectomy is over. It’s been three weeks and one day since I lost my uterus, my Fallopian tubes, my uterus sacral ligaments, my parameters, my cervix. The fact that I made it through the procedure is starting to sink in. I honestly expected that it would be too much for my poor heart to take, and that it would simply stop beating, as I just drifted away mid-way through. A couple of days before the procedure, in the liminal space between wakefulness and slumber, I had this vision where I saw my body lying on the operating room table. A huge beam of golden light came through the ceiling and touched the center of my chest. I saw my essence/soul/spirit sit up, separating from my body. It ascended the column of light, passing through the ceiling and out of sight. Imagine my surprise upon hearing my name in the recovery room after the operation: “Madame Silver, Madame Silver..” The first thing I saw were hazy bodies hovering near my feet, and then I noticed the unit of blood attached to my IV line. The pain seared through me. My insides were screaming. I can’t say that I blame them. The surgeon came by and said that there were complications, but it went okay. He said that he would come by in the morning to tell me more about what had happened. I dozed back off, gathered up safely and whisked away in the strong, steady arms of Morpheus.
In the weeks since the surgery, pain has been my companion. I have gotten to know its different facets, even though I thought I knew it quite well before. There are some women who have very little pain with a hysterectomy. They are on their feet quickly. They experience the profound fatigue that touches us all, yet they feel a certain lightness and even a sense of quiet inside. That is not the case with me. My insides are still quite angry. They speak in voices that are loud and clear, saying things in tones so devastating that they stop me in my tracks. The only thing I can do is listen and honor what they are telling me. There is no other choice.
Acknowledging my pain and the complete powerlessness I have felt as a result of this procedure is not a weakness. This surgery has been the single most difficult thing I have had to do… in my entire life, pushing me to the limits of what I thought I could handle physically and emotionally. Modern medicine is wonderful in that there are alternative surgical techniques which do not leave horrendous external scars. These are misleadingly called “minimally invasive surgeries.” There is no such thing as minimally invasive when it comes to removing organs from someone’s body. External incisions, external scars do not tell the entire story. Depending on what was removed and how it was done, there can be more than 100 internal sutures which need to heal after a hysterectomy. They pull and tug as the soft tissues and ligaments and blood vessels of the inner belly start to heal. I have four incisions. Each one has hard bands of tissue beneath and around it. I can feel exactly where the trocars entered my body and which way they were maneuvered. And with a laparoscopic procedure, there is also the challenge of removing something sizable from the body, as it can’t come out through a keyhole in the abdomen. It’s like giving birth in a way, except that there are not 9 months of hormonal preparation to allow the bones and tissues to soften and expand in order to allow for the passage something large toward the exit, and of course, there is no powerful muscle to contract and push it out. In some cases (like mine), the uterus is too voluminous and its size has to be reduced while it is still in the pelvic cavity before it can be delivered from the body.
For someone who has known trauma in those regions of the body, this procedure brings it all to the forefront once again. Three days before the surgery, I was in a state of panic. The thing that got me through was trusting in my surgeon. He is the only doctor who has ever asked if it was okay to examine me and was prepared for me to say no. He is the only one who acknowledged how many years I have suffered from my horrendous monthly cycles. He’s the only one who validated my suspicion that I had endometriosis. He asked to meet with me in order to answer my questions and explain how the procedure would happen, building me into his already busy schedule. The more I read about the procedure, the more my trust in him grew. Everything he said would be a challenge, everything he knew that he had to be careful of, was all confirmed by articles I read while preparing for the procedure. I was driven by a need to know what to expect, all the gory details. It frightened me, but in a strange way, it reassured me as well.
This was technically an “elective surgery” because it was not done as an emergency procedure. However, if I had not had my lady parts removed, there is a chance I could have bled to death, having recently had a near hemorrhage that sent me to the emergency room. Things were just getting worse as time went by. Losing so much blood is traumatic in and of itself. I was constantly sick to my stomach. In the two months before the surgery, I had no quality of life, being forced to abandon doing all the things that I love. So, I screwed up my courage, faced my biggest fears, put all of my trust and faith in my doctor, confronted every trauma I have known in my life, and went through with the surgery. I still feel raw, vulnerable, exposed. The wounds have not yet scarred over. It’s going to take some time.
There are moments, however, when I can feel a sense of possibility for what is to come after. Hope is stirring, coming back to life after a long sleep. Its tiny, fragile wings are starting to flutter. I can feel the vibrations in the spaces around my heart. And so, the storm may not yet be over, the winds are still blowing, fiercely at times. Like a willow tree in the middle of that tempest, I am bending, but I have not broken. I am not broken.
Until next time…