A Little Pre-Op PTSD

With this writing, this now makes the fifth time I have tried to write this post. Each time I have just been wrecked, emotionally, trying to write this. But I’m sticking to my guns and finishing it now, because I really need to, to work through some stuff emotionally.

I may have mentioned a few times in the last couple of months about my impending hysteroscopy tomorrow. As many of you noted, for the most part, this should be a mildly uncomfortable walk in the park.

And yet, when I say I am pants-shittingly terrified for tomorrow morning, I’m not embellishing for dramatic effect here. I am genuinely scared about having surgery tomorrow.

Don’t believe me? Ask my husband, who has been one helluva champ putting up with sporadic panic attacks and hysterical crying jags ever since I scheduled the procedure.

“But Keiko,” you ask, “Haven’t you already had two major surgeries?”

Yes, yes I have. And it would appear that both have given me a little bit of PTSD when it comes to facing surgery for a third time.

Here, indulge me in a couple of early-seasons LOST style flashbacks.

. . .

[Dateline: March 1994]

When I was eleven, I came down with a pretty bad stomach bug. I couldn’t keep food or liquids down and I had some pretty terrible cramping. My fever started spiking like crazy. My pediatrician sent me to a specialist in Camden. The specialist, with his goofy bow tie and suspenders, pretty much took one look at me and said, “This girl should have been in surgery hours ago.”

I remember being in a wheelchair, outside, in nothing but the nightgown I had been wearing for two or three days at the point because I had been so sick. I only found from my mom this week that no, I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but a gurney, and I was rushed across 4 lanes of traffic to the hospital across the street (read: 4-lane highway) from the specialist’s office.

My mom barely had enough time to call my dad, who was still at work across the bridge in Philly. Apparently he arrived just before I was wheeled into the OR.

These memories come back in snippets, just quick flashes of sound and imagery (not unlike Captain America’s intro scene in The Avengers). An oxygen mask lowering over my face. The bug-eyed multi-light lamp over the operating table.

“What’s your favorite subject in school?” a voice asks me.

“Math,” I reply. To this day, I don’t know why I said math. In fact, I remember in the moment I said it that it was a lie; I couldn’t stand my math teacher.

“Can you count backwards from ten for me?” the same voice asks.

“Sure,” I mumble.

I got as far as nine.

[Smash cut to: hospital room interior. Daylight.]

I remained in the hospital another ten days. What was supposed to be a routine appendectomy turned into day after day of bariatric tests, all because of some mysterious “shadows” on one of my first post-op x-rays. At one point, they were ready to diagnose me with Chrohn’s disease. But like so many other medical mysteries in my life, my complicated recovery and post-op symptoms vanished overnight and suddenly I was fine to go home.

Those ten days were… interesting, to say the least. When I wasn’t being wheeled around the hospital being made to drink the most disgusting diagnostic brews for imaging purposes, I spent most of the time watching MTV (we didn’t have cable TV at home) while doped up on Demerol; I was in constant pain after the surgery. I hallucinated a lot.

I had a roommate for a few days – Morgan – a six or seven year old girl with leukemia. I’m not at a point to really write more about this, but suffice to say, that experience had a profound impact on me. Morgan’s face haunts me to this day.

And then there’s my lasting fear of the Easter bunny, or rather, full-sized adult bunny costumes. My surgery happened over Easter weekend and since I was in the children’s ICU ward, the hospital sent around someone dressed as the Easter bunny to deliver baskets of candy.

Remember that Demerol I mentioned earlier? Hang on to that thought.

This silent, giant Easter bunny comes ambling into my room, the one time my parents just happened to be at the cafeteria. Another hospital staff member carries the Easter baskets. I don’t really say much – I’m sure I look as stoned out of my gourd as I feel. I do manage to mumble that I can’t have candy because I’m on a liquid diet. The staff member checks my chart and confirms this, picking up the Easter basket and taking it with her as that terrifying giant bunny shuffles back out of my room just as silently as he had come in.

I wish YouTube existed at that time and my parents had filmed me, trying to explain in my doped-up state that a giant bunny had just tried to leave me candy, because I imagine that conversation was priceless.

. . .

[Dateline: November 2000, Thanksgiving weekend.]

I’ve written about my oopherectomy before. I went to the hospital three times in one weekend for the pain I was experiencing. It was that third trip where they finally decided to do some surgery to figure out what was wrong with me and low and behold: an ovarian cyst that had become basically a tumor the size of an orange.

No wonder I was in so much pain.

If my appendectomy was a blur, my oopherectomy was even more so. I spent so much of that weekend blacked out from pain that I remember even shorter snippets. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the hospital nearly as long afterward. I do remember the barrier to my freedom was being able to pee. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much water in my life, but it took a good two days before I could finally go home.

And of course, there’s knowing that this surgery – while extremely necessary or I could’ve, yanno, died, could* have led to the problems I now face today.

*I am not a doctor, but sometimes a woman’s instincts are spot on.

. . .

So this leaves me with a relatively minor outpatient procedure to be performed tomorrow morning. And even though it should only take about 30 minutes, I’ll be at the hospital for close to five hours when you include prep and recovery. Because, like my previous two surgeries, I’ll be going under again.

Sometimes I don’t know what terrifies me more: the surgery itself or the anesthesia.

But the fact of the matter is that I’ve had two emergency surgeries where I’ve had little to no time to protest. I’ve had this procedure looming on my calendar for weeks now, so I’ve had all this free time to brood and panic.

I’m sure I’ll be fine. I have full faith and confidence in my doc.

And, as Larry reminds me, “Remember, you’re having this procedure done so we can make a baby.” He’s very right. They’re not going in to see what’s wrong or to remove an organ (perhaps a small fibroid, but that’s it). And as someone who’s had a gauntlet of ultrasounds over the last three years, barring my teeny tiny remaining ovary and this newly discovered tiny fibroid, everything looks good up in my lady parts. The plumbing is solid.

…and yet I still worry they’ll find something horrible. Or I will have some “in the most extreme cases” catastrophic scenario because let’s face it, my medical history is dotted with “textbook sidebar/footnote” extreme scenarios.

I couldn’t just have PCOS, oh no – I needed to have POF/POI and autoimmune thyroid disease. I don’t just get migraines, on no – I get migraines that put me in the hospital.

When it comes to medical-related things, I do nothing half-assed, apparently.

. . .

I head to the hospital bright and early tomorrow. Larry has graciously offered to blog for me with updates tomorrow while I’m in surgery.

Wish me luck.

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  1. says

    Well no wonder you’re freaking out! Sounds like you’ve had quite the history with surgeries, so while logically you know that of COURSE everything will be fine tomorrow, it makes total sense why it’s difficult to not be scared sh*tless!

    Good luck tomorrow. I’ll be thinking about you and sending you all the good vibes I can muster!

    • Keiko says

      Thanks so much Jen- I know it’s a simple procedure. In my heart of hearts, I know that. It’s just this track record of mine that hasn’t been so good ;) Thanks for the well wishes!

  2. Natalie says

    Post Traumatic Stress is no joke. So many, many people are behind you, Woman!
    I suspect there are lots of women out here who are holding pain, fear, and mistrust about our bodies and medicine and procedures. This is a case for healers as well as doctors. Maybe a heart-and-womb soothing ritual is in order. Maybe for all of us. I am hearing that for you this is not just about your womb but the whole physical and energetic area of Belly. Therefore I am wishing you healing Baubo belly laughter to release all those wonderful stress releasing and calming hormones your miraculous body can produce. Remember this – you ARE a miracle. <3

    • Keiko says

      Thank you, thank you, thank you Natalie. I’ll have my husband and my mom by my side, which will help immensely.

  3. Marie says

    Deep breaths, you will make it, don’t sweat the PTS. Remember it’s your crazy brain misfiring when it’s being saucy, and that you have no control over your silly brain sometimes, and that’s ok, and this will be too. Praying for you extra much today and tomorrow! Enjoy your miracle self!

    • Keiko says

      Thanks so much for the good thoughts and prayers – I love the “it’s your crazy brain misfiring when it’s being saucy” – I’ll be channeling that extra hard tomorrow morning :)

  4. says

    You can do this. By this time tomorrow it will all be a thing of the past. Anytime my infertility comes up in a new and surprising way I tend to freak the frak out. Doesn’t matter how mundane the procedure, how benign the reason, I work myself into a panic attack. It sucks not being in control of your body.

    I will say a prayer for you as soon as I’m done typing and will say another one for you in the morning.

    • Keiko says

      Thank you so much, Ashley – that really means a lot to me :) Now that my surgery’s been pushed back to early afternoon instead of the morning, it’s like I have even MORE time to worry unnecessarily ;)

  5. says

    No fricken wonder you’re freaked out! I would be too.

    Um, I WILL be having nightmares about that Easter Bunny now. Because, silent scary Easter Bunnies are NO JOKE. As Donnie Darko taught us.

    Sending many, many hugs. You are super brave, so I know you can do this thing.


  6. says

    I understand. Boy, do I understand. When I was a kid, I suffered from various bladder/kidney-related infections. When I was 6 or 7, I got hauled into the nearest big city hospital for a week of tests. My mother was not allowed to stay with me, only to visit during visiting hours. I can remember a dr asking me if I wanted to be on TV — & then sticking a catheter up inside me & pumping me full of liquid, so they could watch on a screen beside me how it drained out. Talk about traumatizing. I had to return for the same tests every year of so — eventually, they let me come on an outpatient basis — but I would cry for days before we went & it would take several drs & nurses to hold me down, even after giving me a tranquilizer. As I got older, I outgrew the problem & the tests stopped. But I still have hospital nightmares sometimes, and for years & years afterward, I couldn’t go near a hospital without turning green… my girlfriend’s mother had a hysterectomy when we were teenagers, & when we went to visit her, everyone said I looked sicker than she did.

    I will be thinking of you tomorrow. Deep breaths!!

  7. says

    I totally get the fear. It’s okay to be worried, even though you know it’s technically a simple procedure. I’ve had 3 kidney biopsies (also a “simple procedure”), and dread the day when I’m told that another is necessary. The first one, the doctor perforated my bowel–which led to an agonizing day in the ER full of tests and no pain meds. While the surgeons were able to fix it that night, I was terrified about waking up with an ostomy bag (which they said was a possibility). I later found out that the results from that biopsy was inconclusive, so another had to be done before I left the hospital a week later. I was scared out of my wits, to the point where they brought in a guy who usually performed biopsies of the lungs and other delicate organs that needed absolute precision. Not only was he top-notch, but he came into my room beforehand to talk to me. He asked if I was religious, and if it was okay if he prayed with me. Somehow that, more than anything, calmed me down. That biopsy went smoothly, as did the third (although being twilighted with Ambien was a very strange experience; I’d almost rather have been totally awake for it). Even though 2 of 3 have gone well, I’m always afraid that the next one will go wrong like the first.

    I hope that writing it out helped vanquish the demons a little. There are lots of us sending you good thoughts my friend; may they keep you calm and safe tomorrow.

  8. says

    I totally understand where you’re coming from!! I happened upon your website today via Facebook and your honor for BLogHer, (congrats, btw!!!). This will sound odd.. but almost the exact situation happened to me during my younger years. Pain, emergency appendectomy, oh shoot, nope, that’s a big fat ovary! ugh. anyways, I just started my first IVF only to have it cancelled on Friday because i “wasn’t responding to meds.” Needless to say, i’ve been wandering the internet since then looking for something.. anything.. to make me feel better, and here you are! It feels wonderful to find people in my same situation and know you’re not alone. I wish you the best in your journeys and keep up the good blogging work!