Dear Virginia,

Six weeks ago I had to have a hysterectomy. It all went really well (it was nothing to do with cancer) and for a week after the operation, I felt fine – and fine when I got home, too. But recently, just when I should be starting to feel better, I've felt utterly exhausted and tearful, worse than when I came round from the operation. I'm off all drugs and my doctor says there's nothing wrong – so why do I feel so wretched?

Yours sincerely, Fiona

It's a lovely idea that you can sail in to have an operation and sail out again with nothing but a bit of "discomfort", as the doctors call it, and tiredness to cope with for a week or so, and then go leaping back into action.

But it rarely works like that, unless you've only had minor surgery – and you haven't. You've had a whole bit of you removed, and so it's small wonder you're feeling hammered – or, as my father used to say "filleted" – now you're back home, on several levels, mental, emotional and physical.

First, you have to remember that although you were, thankfully, asleep throughout the whole procedure, your body must be aware, on waking, that it's gone through the wringer. It's been sliced open, muscles have been held back by clamps, a whole organ has been removed with knives, and then you've been crudely sewn or stapled back up again. It's like having been through a major car crash. And your body's got to get used to having been manhandled in the strangest possible way. Your rational mind may understand how it all works, but your body is outraged.

Then there are the whacking doses of drugs administered to keep you under for probably a couple of hours. They're a shock to the system and although the anaesthetic doesn't stay for that long in your body, the effect of having been knocked for six can leave it reeling for quite a while longer. Then did you take any prescription painkillers? They can have the weirdest side-effects – and coming off them can, as well.

This is where the internet is a boon. Because although we've often found ourselves, having consulted the net, suffering from all kinds of ghastly illness in the middle of the night, it can be a very healing tool when you look up something like the after-effects of operations and see so many other people in the same situation. You could, for instance, be suffering from post-operative depression, which can be similar to the depression felt after any big event is over, and possibly connected to adrenalin withdrawal.

As you don't mention your age or whether you've had kids, I'm assuming you're over the menopause and that you're not suffering from the inevitable unhappiness of finding yourself infertile, but some women feel less feminine when they've had their wombs removed, particularly if they had their ovaries removed as well. Presumably your doctor's checked the hormonal side of things. But any operation that involves taking a bit of you out can result in your feeling less like a human being.

My advice would be, if you've rested till you can rest no more, to act, for a day or two as if you're well. However ill you feel, get up, put on your clothes and your make-up, go out in the wide world, do something professional, and go out to dinner. There are times when your body needs to be reminded that there is a non-convalescent world out there. And once you've reminded it, it may well shake down into the old you.

Readers say...

Get a second opinion

Well, excuse me for sounding rather outspoken, but your GP sounds like a total prat. You don't give any indication of your age or whether you have children, but in any case, all that aside, if these very real symptoms that you describe occur after a hysterectomy or for that matter after any serious operation at all, then steps should immediately be taken by your GP to address this problem. If I were you I would ignore the GP and contact the hospital where you had your operation and ask to speak with the specialist nurse – there should be one attached to the consultant who oversaw your operation. Good luck!

Name and address supplied

***

You will recover

I had an unexpected hysterectomy seven years ago, in my mid-forties. It was certainly not in my life plan and I was most reluctant. I lazed around at home for the obligatory six weeks off work, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then, when I most wanted to get back to real life and just carry on regardless, it all seemed too much. I began to feel wretched about my loss of the centre of my "femaleness", I felt suddenly very old, and everyone warned me I would definitely get fat!

It took a full year before I felt myself again, but since then I firmly believe the operation was a success – no more mess and expense every month! Be good to yourself – get fit, have fun, relax, eat heathily, enjoy a good love life. You will get there.

Phyllida Scrivens

Norwich

***

Be kind to yourself

You have undergone a major operation, your hormones are flying around and your wound is still healing. Listen carefully to what your body is telling you and act on it. Pace yourself during the day, if possible allowing time to practise deep relaxation for ten minutes or so intermittently throughout the day. Accept that your healing process is unique to you and things will return to normal in their own time. We are all different and there is no "one size fits all" healing capsule.

Be alert to the signals your body sends when it has had enough. Eat well, lots of fruit and veg, keep your mind as calm as possible, avoid stressful situations and most importantly, remember be kind to yourself.

Susanna Bloss

By email

***

It takes time

I had a hysterectomy and oophorectomy (ovaries too) in 1995: it was a great success and made a new woman of me – but I didn't feel completely back to my old self for a good six months. Did you get rid of your ovaries as well as your uterus? If so, are you taking HRT? If not, you will be suffering from an instant menopause.

Were you anaemic before the operation, as I was? I had blood transfusions before and after the operation and was warned by the surgeon that transfused blood doesn't last as long as your own, and that I might well suffer a transient low blood count around six to eight weeks after the operation. I remember feeling really terrible, exhausted and breathless at this time. Just few weeks later I was feeling great again, as I hope you will.

I do hope that this will be the beginning of a new, healthy and fit phase in your life and that you feel as smug as I do when you walk pass the "feminine products" shelves in the supermarket!

Sue Jensen

By email

Comments