“It’s just a simple operation. What could go wrong?” These were the words my specialist said to me nearly eight years ago.
In August 2011, I went in for a two to four day stay in my local hospital for a ‘simple operation’ to remove a circular mass inside my uterus. My doctor, Dr J, had been performing the procedure for more than 20 years. I didn’t feel the need to be concerned; I’d have the operation on a Thursday afternoon, recovery from Friday and over the weekend, then discharge and home on the Monday.
We arrived at the hospital at noon, as required. I’d had nothing to eat and only water to drink as per my instruction sheet from Dr J’s room.
Booking in went smoothly and within 15 minutes I was in a hospital gown in bed waiting on the anaesthetist to come by and say hi and just check. It seemed like hours waiting, however, finally at 3pm I was wheeled down for this ‘simple operation’ to begin.
Dr J came to reassure me everything would be okay and he was sure the mass would be benign. I started counting backwards from 10 … Nine, eight, seven, six …
Waking up in recovery, my lovely sister told me all was okay and Dr J would be by to see us to discuss the surgery. “Not to worry, it’s just a simple operation,” I heard again.
Dr J said that the operation had gone well and there there were no problems. He said I needed to get moving and walking tomorrow and that come Monday I should be right to go home. He was away for the weekend so he would see me then.
The physiotherapist came by. Up and out of bed I got. I was in a fair amount of pain and hunched over, but I was told this was normal and I should ‘push through’, continuing to walk and take deep breaths.
Walking or breathing on Friday, Saturday or Sunday didn’t feel right. I experienced a great deal of pain when I coughed too. The physio said this would be from the surgery and that I shouldn’t worry.
On the Sunday around 10pm Dr J called in to see me. He said he ‘had a feeling and wanted to check on me’. He had a listen to my chest and called for an X-ray with an instruction that the results were to be called through to him immediately. The results show bilateral pneumonia and multiple (embolisms) blood clots in my lungs!
I was moved to a room just outside of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit and given blood thinner injection to disperse the clots, an oxygen mask and was sitting upright in bed. I asked that my husband David not be called as he needed his sleep and I’d tell him in morning that I wouldn’t be going home on Monday.
At one point in the night I woke thinking I’d wet myself and moved to the toilets to clean up. In that short walk to the bathroom I noticed liquid running down my legs and when I turned the lights on I discovered it was blood. I made it to the toilet and push the emergency button and as the nurses come in I pass out.
I come to with a lovely female doctor looking over me asking “Wendy, Wendy can you hear me?” I’m back in my bed (which has been cleaned) and I noticed additional drips had been placed in my arms. The staff had contacted my husband and he was on his way. It was 4am.
Dr J comes to see me and said that it was the first time in 20 years he had encountered anyone with blood clots or pneumonia. He confined me to bed.
I sent my husband home around 2pm, telling him I was going to sleep. I asked him to come back in the evening.
At about 4:30pm I experienced trouble swallowing and I called for a nurse. No one came. My sister-in-law stopped by to see me and noticed I hadn’t eaten any of my dinner. When I tried to explain it became clear that I wasn’t making any sense and something was wrong. She went to find a nurse.
The only thing I remember before blacking out was that someone was taking my pulse. Apparently I was out for 20 minutes and in that time I was in resuscitation; they did CPR on me and was on my way to being intubated when I returned to consciousness. I was moved to the CCU and I recall the doctor telling my sister-in-law that immediate family should be contacted as it wasn’t certain I would make it through the night.
I was bleeding and required a blood transfusion. I was too weak to have another operation, so I am on a bed that see saws so that blood is pushed away from my uterus. Dr J placed a gauze backing to help with the bleeding. My blood pressure bottomed out at 35 over 22. I required eight units of blood and haemoglobin to get me back to consciousness. A nurse was by my side 24 hours a day.
It was three days before the gauze was removed and the bleeding stopped, yet I still had clots requiring removal. I was transferred to another hospital and had an IV filter inserted in my groin to remove the clots and prevent them from going to my brain. At this point they were uncertain as to whether I’d suffered a mini-stroke.
The insertion of the filter was done manually as the doctor operating deemed me too critical to have any anaesthetic. I screamed in pain and passed out. Two hours later I woke and was heading back to the hospital. The administrator sister was with me the entire time, but was not able to provide me with any clarity as to what happened.
I spent 27 days in the hospital, 19 of which were in Critical Care. I pulled through, but I’m left asking myself ‘at what cost?’ This ‘simple operation’ cost me my career and my life has been cut short. I am in constant pain from the IV filter (which cannot be removed) and I’ve been told by a top vascular surgeon that its location in my artery will one day cause it to burst.
My husband and I have travelled as much as we can afford, preferring to see things now, as there is no guarantee there will be a ‘later’. I was given three years to live five years ago, so I understand I’m on borrowed time. I try to live each day as it comes. I want to be here for my husband and our children for as long as I can.