A conversation with a friend who recently underwent an operation to remove fibroids brought back memories of my own surgery a few years ago. Prior to the operation, I had tried my best to encourage her to remain positive, remembering my own fears when I was first diagnosed. Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman’s uterus. The growths are typically benign (non-cancerous).
Although I only had the operation in 2008, the diagnosis was made in 2006 after I noticed a small growth protruding near my pelvic area. At the time, apart from the occasional pain, it did not give me problems. But that did not prevent me from going into research mode. I was shocked to learn that fibroids are a common condition among women all over the world. Not only do they come in different types, they are in different shapes and sizes too. What’s worse is that there is very little that women can do to prevent fibroids.
When I went for consultation, the doctors at Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH) located in the capital Lusaka, were assuring too, telling me it was a common condition among women of child bearing age, but more importantly that successful operations to remove fibroids were conducted regularly at the institution.
But even with such assurance, I was still fearful of many things. Not being able to wake up from the anaesthetic or my wound not healing properly, so, I made the decision not to have the operation.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for the symptoms to start showing. My once flat stomach started to bulge and with it came rumours that I was pregnant. In addition to that I started to experience shortness of breath, simple activities that required me to bend over like painting toe nails or sweeping the floor. But even with that discomfort, I was determined not to have the operation.
But in late 2006, tragedy struck. My father died suddenly. I was in so much emotional pain that for the first time in my life, the thought of death did not scare me. Four months later, my sister died, not too long after I decided to have the surgery. I wish I could say the decision was thought out but I made it out of pain, hoping I would not wake up from that operation.
The D-day was January 31, 2007. As I slept in my hospital bed the night before the operation, I allowed my wonder. The doctors had diagnosed me with Pedunculated fibroids.These are fibroids which are attached by a stalk to the uterus. The fibroids had also entered my uterus, the doctorssaid they would have to remove my uterus too. Unmarried and without a child, I asked myself how I would feel afterwards. But being the last born in a family of 11, I have many nieces and nephews, so my comfort was that I would be surrounded by many children regardless.
I had not slept much when the nurse came in to check my temperature and my blood pressure. Thinking I had researchedenough on the surgical procedure I was to have, i was shocked and felt violated when the nurse said she needed to insert a catheter (a tube tied to a bag which collects urine), as I would not be able to go to the bathroom on my own for several days. I tried to protest but according to the nurse, it was all mandatory for anyone undergoing such an operation. I gave in. Unfortunately, while I waited to be wheeled into the theatre one of the nurses noticed that the catheter was leaking, so it had to be removed and then inserted again, this time, by a male nurse.
I was so frustrated going into surgery. The last thing I remember before the anaesthetic took effect was protesting about the largenumber of people in the room. Being a teaching hospital, when such operations are conducted, student doctors are usually present to observe. And while it’s understandable, I found it rather intimidating and an invasion of my privacy but I was knocked out before I could continue complaining.
I woke up several hours later, mouth dry, drifting in and out of sleep but was not allowed to eat or drink anything that day. It was only until the next day that I began to feel the pain of the operation. In-fact my entirebody hurt, if not from the operation located just above my pubic hairline, it was the cannula on my right hand where I was receiving a dose of injections. My left hand hurt too, which had a drip to replace fluids in my body because I was vomiting, so did my buttocks where I was being given another set of injections.
Perhaps the worst day was when I collapsed in the bathroom after the nurse’s insistence that I get out of bed to exercise my wound. Unfortunately, I was still weak. I don’t remember how long I was out for but I experienced a profound moment. For the first time, since my father’s death, there he was standing before me clear as day light. I was on the floor reaching out to him to help me get up but he kept pushing my hand away.
I continued with my attempts to stand up until he aggressively pushed my hand away shouting ‘shala’ which in my local language Kaonde means stay. When I came to, the nurses were fussing over me. My sisters and cousin who were at my bed side were in tears. It is the only time I ever dreamed about my father.
I spent five days in hospital. The wound healed quickly, the most pain I experienced was the time I had to clean it. I had to be helped to bath too, at least during the first week after I was discharged from hospital.I was also unable to walk straight for two weeks, afraid that I would rapture the operation. Something the doctors assured me would not happen.A month later, I was completely back on my feet, with only occasional pain on the wound whenever I exposed myself to the cold.
Years down the line, the scar is almost non-existent (will thank my dark skin) but seriously I believe it was mostly the expertise of the doctors. I have heard stories of people that say they have never completely healed and complain of constant back aches, headaches and pain in their pelvic area. I thank God I do not experience any of that.
Would I recommend that a person with fibroids has them removed? My answer would be yes, but of course doctors will advice when and if that should happen. There are many health risk factors especially for women within child bearing age. Sometimes fibroids can cause infertility, miscarriages and as was in my case, increased blood flow during menstrual periods. Fortunately for women who are menopausal, it is possible to live with them as fibroids feed on oestrogen which is high in women of child bearing age but is low in those who nearing menopause.
Overall, when faced with the decision whether to have an operation or not, i hope you choose the right method of treatment that is appropriate for you. And by the way, incase you are wondering, i still have my uterus. PYM