Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This post is just to give people preparing for this type of big life change a space to get some no-nonsense information for preparing for this kind of surgery. I love information, it helps me feel solid ground beneath my feet when in a situation that is largely out of my control. This is just meant to be helpful. It isn’t medical advice, and it isn’t meant to treat anything that ails you. It is just a way for me to offer some of the advice I was given, and my experience. That is all.
***Special thank you to The Hilarious Hysterectomy Sisters Group on Facebook. This would not have been born without them. ***
Preparing for a Hysterectomy
If you are reading this you are probably preparing to have a hysterectomy. Sarah Anderson’s comic speaks volumes to what many of us have faced prior to surgery.
*Still not a doctor
This is a huge decision and I know that it came with its own rough (usually painful) journey and heartbreak. Each of us with this journey starts in a place of pain and we long for the time when we move from the decision stage to recovery. This guide is meant to help you gain some semblance of control over this part of your life that up until now, has probably felt like an endless roller coaster you didn’t sign up to ride. These are all just suggestions from many women who have been where you are now. This is NOT meant to replace any advice you get from your physician. Always listen to them first. I am not a doctor, just a woman who has spent the last decade fighting through pain and I have reached resolution. But when I was preparing for my hysterectomy there was no single place I could find that had any information that I felt actually spoke to what I was going through. So i joined some facebook support groups and through their help and my own experience, I have poured out love, grace and as much knowledge as I could here to help you have a little less mystery behind some of the fear and anxiety we all naturally face during any kind of surgery.
The variations of “hysterectomy” are vast. Some of us just have the uterus taken out(traditional definition of hysterectomy). Some of us had tubes and maybe one or both ovaries (ovary removal is called an oophorectomy) and some even went full Monty and had all our reproductive organs removed including our cervix.
Whatever the journey that is yours to take, you don’t have to do it alone. You will have a thousand questions, I know because I did. This is just to give you a secure place filled with advice and love that has been gathered up from research and stories that have been shared with me to create a little sense of control for you as you start your own unique journey.
If you found me, I created this because of too many websites with their “8 things you need to have before surgery” or “10 things that are must haves for recovery from surgery”. Those websites drag you through the same things all the others do. Very few lending additional information different than the last one you visited and all of them overflowing with click bait. Surgery already comes with its own kind of fear and apprehension. You don’t need to be worried about getting a computer virus while looking at the same stuff you just read about hot water bottles and pillows. Another wonderful way to have your questions answered is join a support group. Most things are virtual now, and it helped me so much finding a group of ladies who had been through this and they helped me feel so much better and more prepared. It is what inspired me to write this for you.
So, maybe you are waiting on the date, or they have you all set and you are in preparation, what are some of the things that you need for before and after surgery?
You are nervous and with good reason. Preparation not only helps you feel more in control, but it will help you truly be ready when its go time!
Being ready for the before and after is a huge piece. This list is a compilation of tried and true items that the amazing women who have been through this have shared. Each of us is different. Your surgery, your pain and your experience in recovery is unique to you, just as unique as the reasons behind why you are having this surgery. You may not need all of these things, but it never hurts to be a little over prepared.
So, what do you need?
Recovery for each kind of surgery ranges from going home the same day with a couple weeks recovery, to more extensive surgeries that may find you spending a few days in the hospital and many more weeks working your way back to feeling more normal.
If you are an in and out-patient, then less is more. Amidst daily changes to hospital rules, be sure to check if you can have someone with you. Sometimes they are allowed to wait in the waiting room, and some places will only allow for drop off and pick up. Check with your hospital to find out what their policy is before you bump heads with it.
Wear something comfy that is loose fitting. Your favorite snug undies won’t be your favorite when they put pressure on your incisions. Something that has a nice loose fit won’t put pressure on your incisions causing you more discomfort on your way home. Take a firm but comfy pillow to guard your belly from the dreaded seatbelt for your drive home. If your procedure is laparoscopic, they will have filled your belly with gas, and that means that for the next weekish, your body will be working that gas out of your system. Most people report that it causes shoulder and neck pain. That shoulder pain tends to be worse than the incision pain, and once that is gone you will feel so much better. Heating pads, arnica cream, and anti inflammatories like Aleve and ibuprofen can help lend a measure of relief. The biggest thing that will help get that gas out is walking!
If your surgery is a little more complex and requires a night or two stay, then there are some other things that you will want to have with you.
Remember checking on those visiting rules? Some hospitals don’t allow your significant other or even a friend to stay. It is better to know this before so that you have an expectation of what to expect. Some allow them to wait for you in the surgery waiting room. Others we have seen have you dropped off and they can visit after surgery is done and you are in your room. Usually those times are within the normal visiting hours the hospital is honoring at that time.
That stylish gown they give you is not the most comfortable thing, especially when they want to get you on your feet and walking and peeing by yourself as quickly as possible after you wake up. Here are some unforgettable items that you don’t want to leave at home!
Your own comfy slippers/Flip flops to make bathroom trips easier
Non restricting or surgery underwear
Phone Charger – Extra long if you have it!
Entertainment – Books, magazine, laptop for movies, ect.
Hairbrush & ponytails
Snacks – For real though, hospital food is rough, pack that overnight bag with things to get you home!
Your own firm pillow – Coughing is the worst, sneezing rates the same. A good firm pillow helps support your incisions and while it isn’t going to eliminate the pain of it, it will help you brace yourself and feel just a skosh less like your insides are going to fall out. Remember, this pillow is also great for the ride home for between you and the seat belt! This is also great for putting between your knees while you recover. You may want a full fir, body pillow, or maybe just a square throw pillow. This is your journey!
Any vitamins you take on a regular basis – Check with your doctor about what vitamins and what medications you need to stop prior to surgery. Also make sure to ask about some you may take on a regular basis. Depending on your medications, the hospital may give you certain prescriptions you were on prior to your surgery day during your stay. But if you have vitamins that you take, or any complicated compounded medications, they won’t have those. Once you get the all clear from your physician about daily meds give yourself a day or two to take with you. Just in case.
I’m all scheduled, what now?
So, you have your scheduled date. You have your bag packed and you are all prepped and you know your game plan. What do you need once you get home? Prep for before surgery and even prep for while you are staying overnight was a piece of cake. Your recovery is where the biggest amount of time will be spent. I scoured hundreds of posts in groups where women have shared the NEED TO HAVE items to create this list of things that have helped create more comfort during your healing. Every woman, every diagnosis, and every surgery is unique. Some of us had easy surgery but a hard recovery, some of us had it easy for both. Some of us had rough surgeries and rough recoveries. My prayer is this list helps you feel just a little more prepared and a little more in control of your recovery. Each step you take gives you a chance to build confidence in your journey.
Home From Surgery Must Haves:
The Squatty Potty – It may sound crazy, but after abdominal surgery, bending over is likely not on your list of wants. This makes those first couple weeks just a little bit easier. You can get 3.5” risers or 5”, just depends on your needs.
Smooth Move Tea, Miralax, Smooth Move Capsules – There is one for certain thing for all surgeries. You get knocked out with anesthesia, they start shifting your organs around, and your bowels take a vacation. This means that when you wake up it may take longer for your digestive track to catch up. There is something to be said about gas pains pressing on your poor newly remodeled abdomen. Things like the tea, Miralax (you just mix the powder in a liquid) are a great way to make sure you avoid constipation. You don’t want to be bearing down for #2 when your incisions are telling you NO!
Heating pad – Now this isn’t necessarily for your belly. The shoulder and back cramps from recovery will need some help too. This can help when your muscles start to rebel against you. Just keep in mind that if you have a larger vertical or even large horizontal incision (not a laparoscopic procedure) that the heating pad can actually dilate your blood vessels and cause more bleeding. So, you may want to keep the heating pad use to your back until your doctor clears you, or when you get your staples/stitches out.
Ice Packs – These can also help with the gas pain and aching incisions. This is also different per person, just ask your nurse in recovery what they advise. They won’t be shy sharing the best practices of heating pads and ice!
Gum – Chewing gum may seem like an odd add to this list, but it helps you process and pass gas. The saliva you produce while chewing gum helps your stomach acid to kick start your intestines giving them the boost they need to help move that gas out. And for those of you staying overnight, this could be what helps you get home!
Throat drops – The dreaded cough. This one, there is just no getting around. It is different for everyone, as is most of this journey, but it is unanimous that coughing sucks. Honey, throat drops, cough drops, and Cepecol (this has a generic too) types of drops work great. If you want to stay on a more natural course, a teaspoon of honey goes a long way to cull the tickle. If you try it and don’t get the results you want, something with a numbing quality can help kick the tickle and calm down a coughing fit before it overwhelms and exhausts you.
Gas Medicine – Gum helps, but sometimes you need something with more kick. Extra strength gas x can really help reduce those gas cramps while you are working your way back to being more regular.
More of those surgery undies – Either bigger comfy panties or you can get a 4 pack of those sexy surgery ones for less than $15 on Amazon and then toss them after recovery. Your belly will thank you when you aren’t rubbing your incisions with elastic!
Coconut oil, Benadryl cream, Benadryl pills, Vitamin E, Lidocaine Cream – Okay, so what do all of these have in common? They help with itching! Whether you have stitches, glue, or staples, your incisions will begin to itch as they start to heal. Some ladies have found that these are their go tos to help stop the itch (or at least reduce it). One of the ladies shared with me that she would dab hers with witch hazel to clean it and then use a mixture of coconut oil and lidocaine cream. There is no perfect way, just the way that works for you and is safe for you and your incisions. If all else fails and you are concerned, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. That is what they are there for!
Thermometer – This is usually a staple in most homes, but just in case, you want to be able to know sooner rather than later if you do begin to develop a fever.
Belly Binder – This item is one some say can help you retrain your belly and organs to find their way back after being mauled. This is another one that is unique to the individual. Comfort is different for everyone. For people who have had pressure work to help their pain prior to surgery this may be something helpful. Whether you have a laparoscopic or an open surgery, you will just have to feel your way through what helps your recovery the best.
Arnica Dissolvables – For our homeopathic sisters, I know that trying to find ways to manage pain and bruising from surgery that isn’t a handful of narcotics can be tricky. One thing that has helped some in Arnica dissolvables. You can get these on Amazon, and they typically go under your tongue. There are mixed reviews about this as some say it helps and others say it doesn’t. This is your journey and many things on this list will be up to you to decide if they will help you on your way to healing.
Water bottle – You will need to drink lots and lots of water. This helps you to flush out the anesthesia and the gas much faster. It also helps keep you hydrated so you can heal faster. You do not want to get dehydrated while in your healing. It will slow down the process and can put you at risk for a number of infections. If you like your water cold, get an insulated one and sleep with it. Then you have it close, you don’t need to wake anyone up if you need it and you don’t have to get up to reach it.
Food – Meal prep can be a huge help. Especially if you have a family that normally depends on you to feed it. High fiber soups and crackers can be easy things to reheat for yourself and the fiber is great to help keep things moving. Either buying easy food for those in your house to manage themselves, or prepping some meals that are easy to reheat (lasagna is a great one that you can freeze) can give you some peace of mind that everyone in the house won’t starve or die of scurvy while you are on the mend.
What to expect before:
*Not a doctor now either
Pre-Op Visit – This visit tends to be blood work requested by your physician. Most of this is pretty basic but depending on your health history and the severity of your surgery they may have additional tests. One such test is blood type. With different times of the year come different problems. One of those is a blood shortage. If you are having an open incision procedure, your physician may request the creation of a blood bank and may give you a special bracelet that is linked to your special blood bank. This doesn’t mean they will definitely give you a transfusion, it just means they know you’re at a higher risk for blood loss and they want to have special blood on hand just for you. With Covid being a new obstacle to work around, you may have that as part of the mandatory testing you need before surgery. If it is, keep in mind that experiences may vary. Some people say it is the worst, and some say that it isn’t that bad. If you have ever had nasal surgery, too many sinus infections, or any other nasal issues, make sure you say something to your nurse who tests you. That can make a huge difference in the ease or difficulty in completing the test. They also may request you self-isolate until your procedure. This is for your safety and the safety of others.
Other things that you can expect:
Catheter – This is something no one likes. Most of the time, they will put this in after they have already put you under anesthesia. Depending on the type of surgery and of course any mishaps that can occur during, you may never even know you had one and you could even go home with one. Many outpatient procedures have the catheter out before you fully come out of anesthesia. It is just meant to keep your bladder empty and prevent any mishaps from occurring (like you wetting the bed during surgery. Did I hear clean up in aisle 8?) If you are awake when they take it out, it can be unpleasant, but it takes just a second and then it will be time to test out that ability to pee on your own.
Bladder injuries – It is rare, but if something does happen and you experience an injury to your bladder, you may find yourself staying a few nights and then taking it home with you. This happened to me. So I share this from my place of experience. If you do find yourself facing an injury like this, allow yourself to feel the feelings that come with it. Depending on the severity of your bladder injury, you could be looking at 10 days in the catheter, or you could be looking at 3-4 weeks. (I got the 4 week sentence on this one)Your bladder is a very important part of your body, and for it to heal, it needs to just chill and stay empty. This allows your bladder stitches a relaxed state to fully heal. Ask your doctor how severe it is. If they have one in your office, consult a Uro Gynocolgyst. They will have a better ability to determine how long something like that needs to heal. They also may send you for a dye test on that 3.5 week mark in order to be sure you have no leaks. Trust the team that is taking care of you. If you have any doubts, get a second opinion. You want the best quality from your healing journey as possible, even if it isn’t the way you pictured it.
Swelling – As can be expected, you are going to have some swelling. If you had a laparoscopic procedure, they filled your belly with gas so they could better see everything. If you had an open surgery, then you will have a larger incision. Swelling is a natural reaction to trauma and you just had a major surgery. Ice packs can help, anti-inflammatories like Aleve and ibuprofen can help too(with doctor permission, of course.) Just give yourself some patience as many of us who have rode this bus before you had to realize that we may have a round protruding belly for a couple months while your body works its way back. If you have incisions that feel hot, look oozy, or if you are developing a fever, or even if you are just concerned about how something feels or looks, call your doctor. This is their time to serve you and make sure that your questions are answered, and your fears given voice.
Walking – A little bit goes a long way. This does so many good things for you despite the amount of effort and pain it takes in those first few days. Walking helps move the gas around so that you can pass it faster. If you end up staying overnight, this can be something they expect you to do before you can leave. It also helps you work out the gas if you had laparoscopic surgery. Many of the women I spoke with as I approached this journey suggested a short walk and then lying back down so that the gas can work its way out. Add a little more walking each day and you will begin to see how much it benefits you.
Rest – I know you have heard this over and over. Probably from your loved ones, your physician, close friends, it is for good reason. Even with a laparoscopic procedure, which tends to be easier and faster to recover from, your body still went through major surgery and it can take 6 months to a year for the internal healing to finish. This is your healing journey. Give yourself grace to heal. Let yourself experience the feelings that come with that healing.
Listen to your doctor – This is really important. The dates for you to resume things are critical to the healing and full recovery of you and your body. If you had your cervix removed, they sewed the top of your vagina into a nice little cuff. Keeping your insides in but making sure you still have the fun parts. You may see that date when you can resume sex stretched out further then you had expected. The time limit on this comes from your physician. Each journey is different and you need to take those dates your physician gave you seriously. Some ladies have said 6 weeks, and others have said 12 weeks. Your doctor will tell you what is best for your surgery. If they tell you not to lift heavy things for several weeks, listen. These guidelines are there for your safety. And as one of the ladies who shared with me a horror story about having sex early and rupturing her cuff and needing additional surgery to repair it. If they say wait, then wait. Safety first means you don’t have to delay that fun gratification even later because of an avoidable injury.
Sometimes we are given limits on lifting and certain time frames on recovery. While this is just a guideline, remember that your physician knows best!
I am not a doctor. The advice here comes from hundreds of women, tons of posts, and research done in love to give you a place where there is some confidence you can gain in taking control of what is yours to handle to have the best prep and recovery. The leading voice in your recovery is still your physician and medical team, and of course, your own intuition.
There are lots of risks that you take when you decide on this course of action for your life. Many of the women I spoke to, (myself included) have been in pain for years, sometimes decades, and each of us is eager for the healing to begin so we can see that jump on positive quality of life. Some of us were injured in surgery. From nicked bowels, to punctured bladders, your recovery can come with things you didn’t expect. It may not look like you planned it. That is ok! If you need a support group, reach out to me, I am happy to with you for the hard parts of this journey too. Lord knows there are too many potential complications to list. If you are reading this, I have already prayed for you. For your healing, for your restoration, and for the grace needed to tackle what can feel insurmountable at times.
If you read this all the way through, thank you. The journey as a human is not for the faint of heart. I know as each of us grows through these journeys, there will be questions, life is always so much more than we expect. Know that even though I may never meet you, I am here to help and you have been covered in prayer before you even stumbled upon this page.
Always Here, Tiarra
P.S. If you have something you would like to add, advice, or suggestions please comment below. When we stand shoulder to shoulder, we can help others by lending a love and graceful hand up as they begin their own journey.