Surgery #2 in China

August 7, 2017
Unbelievably, I found out in mid-April that I needed to have a second surgery in China. Instead of for back related issues, this surgery was for a tumor in my uterus. I was told this news at a private clinic, and the doctor told me that they did not perform surgeries there so I would have to look elsewhere to get it done. Next, I went to a private hospital in Shanghai and met with a gynecologist who confirmed what the first doctor told me: surgery was inevitable. It's true that sometimes tumors can be left alone, but the position of my tumor along with its size and growth rate made two separate doctors think it was in my best interest to get it removed. At the private clinic, the doctor and translator told me that I should try to get it taken out with a hysteroscope. This type of procedure is minimally invasive and wouldn't require any big incisions. The recovery time is short compared to other options, so this is what I told the doctor I wanted. Unfortunately, I was ineligible for this procedure because of the where the tumor was located. The gyno at the hospital told me he could perform an open myomectomy to remove the tumor. When I looked into that type of surgery, it seemed that the recovery time was the most painful choice with the longest recovery time. I joined a support group on Facebook for women with fibroids and found out that I should try to get a laporoscopic myomectomy if I could. It's less invasive than a regular myomectomy and it's supposed to be less painful. I messaged my doctor and asked if a laporoscopic myomectomy could be an option for me, and he informed me that this type of operation was not performed at his hospital. That is understandable since I went to a general hospital, and not one that specializes in women's health. I am VERY, VERY glad that I decided to do research on my own and found out about the laporoscopic option that the doctor at the second hospital did not mention. At that point, I was a little nervous because I was worried about which hospitals in Shanghai had the right equipment to perform the surgery. Not only that, but the hospitals absolutely HAD to be covered by my insurance because I could not afford to pay out of pocket.

Luckily, my boss recommended a very reputable hospital for women and children that was covered by my insurance. I went in for a consultation and found out right away that my doctor could perform the surgery, but that he would need to check me himself beforehand just to make sure. I was relieved because I heard only good things about this hospital and actually a lot of my co-workers went there for their annual check ups. Some of my students had gone to that hospital as well, so that made me feel better, too.

The doctor told me that my tumor was about the size of a tennis ball and that I should appear about three months pregnant. For the first time in my life, I was glad to be curvy so that the "bump" didn't show too much. I would have been mortified if I had been asked if I was pregnant only to have to say, "Nope, it's just a tumor!" 

I had to have many appointments and check ups at the hospital ahead of time. It seemed like I was going in about every other weekend up until my surgery date. My surgery date was scheduled for June 24, and my friend Chris graciously offered to sign for me on that day. Let me explain "sign for me" since some people I've told this to are unaware. Since I had to be put under, I was required to have someone there to make decisions for me since I would not be conscious. Without someone to sign for me, I would be unable to have the surgery. 

I picked June 24 as the date for my surgery because although I would miss some office hours and the final parent-teacher conference, I would not be missing any days with my students. This was very important to me since the previous year I had to miss 2 full months of teaching. 

About two weeks before my surgery, my doctor messaged me and told me that maybe it wasn't the best idea to have the surgery on June 24. That fell on a Saturday, and all of the fees would be higher on a weekend. That stressed me out because I had already arranged the 24th with my school. To change the date, I had to message so many people and contact the person signing for me to see if he was still available then. It also gave me one less day to get everything done. Since it was the end of the semester, I had to write more than two hundred comments about the students and have all of my grades in ahead of time. I worked ahead on the comments, but couldn't work ahead on the grading since the students hadn't taken the exams yet. I also had to pack up my classroom AND since I was moving to another apartment, I had to move all of my stuff over there. That ended up being super time consuming and took much longer than expected. Needless to say, I was getting very anxious about the surgery. I was also upset because I was told it was a moderate surgery and I would still need about 2 months to fully recover. At that point, I thought that meant I couldn't fly home and would be stuck in Shanghai in pain all alone for the second summer in a row. More on that later. 

My doctor did mention that the operation could only be performed at certain stages of my cycle, so he gave me pills to take so that I wouldn't get my period. They worked...right up until the very night before my surgery! I messaged him right away, and he told me that there was no way he would perform the surgery until later. Again, I had to change the surgery dates around. SO STRESSFUL. He had to check to see which days the operation room would be free and to see when the anesthesiologist could come. I had to again tell everyone at my work what had happened and why. So humiliating. I was also very concerned because the day that my doctor scheduled my surgery for was the day of parent-teacher conferences. I knew that the administrators at my school wouldn't mind if I had the day off, but that left the lingering question of who was going to sign for me because they wouldn't let the other teachers miss their conferences, too! Almost all of my friends and contacts in China work at my school! Another problem was that my school covers my health insurance through the end of June and does not cover us at all for the month of July since we don't work there at all in July. With my surgery being pushed back until June 29, I was going to have to be in the hospital at the beginning of July even if I had a very successful surgery with no complications.

Luckily, all of these problems got resolved. A friend who works at another school told me that her parent-teacher conferences were not on the 29th, so she volunteered to come in and sign for me. One of my bosses called the health insurance company and asked for special permission to get my health insurance extended for a few days, and so we were able to do that.

On the 29th, I went in for the surgery. This next part is such a "Lisa" moment. When I got to the 10th floor, there was no one there, so I took a closer look at the note the doctor gave me. The 0 looked like a 4, so I thought that maybe he meant the 14th floor. I took the elevator to try to get to the 14th floor, but there was no button for it. In China, some elevators only go to certain floors, so I took the elevator back down to the first floor and then asked the woman at the reception which elevator went to the 14th floor. She pointed at the first one, but when I went in that one there was no 14th floor again! Then I went in two other elevators until a Chinese woman told me there was no 14th floor. (Guess the receptionist did not understand me!) Sometimes in China they don't have 4th or 14th floors in their buildings because the number 4 is considered very unlucky, kind of like the number 13 for us. I went back up to the 10th floor and there was still no one at reception, but there was a hallway behind a locked door and a bell to ring, so I decided to try my luck. Sure enough, the nurses let me in and brought me to another reception area where there were actually people working. They were expecting me and took me to my room. On my way down the hallway, I couldn't help but laugh. The rooms didn't have actual numbers, and most rooms were named after a Disney princess! I passed a "Little Prince" room before arriving at "The Cupid Room," which turned out to be mine. Let me just say that the room was luxurious compared to my room at the public hospital I had my spinal fusion at, but since it was a private hospital, I kind of expected that. My room was very clean and there were supplies there for me like a big jug of water, toilet paper (at the other hospital I had to supply my own), tissues, toothpaste and toothbrushes, etc. It was nice not to have to worry about that stuff. On the wall of the room, there was a picture of a mother and a baby. There was also a crib in the room with some Huggies underneath since the rooms are usually used for new mothers. I didn't really want to see a crib or that photograph since if my surgery went wrong, it could ruin my chances at ever having children, but I tried not to think about that.

I only had about 5 minutes to myself before the nurses came in and asked me to change into a gown and started taking my blood/putting in an IV. My friend arrived, and we chatted and told stories while the nurses were doing more tests. That helped get my mind off of things a bit. My surgeon came in and explained the whole procedure in way too much detail. My friend started to get mad and told him not to tell me that kind of stuff. At one point, he told me that I could need a blood transfusion, but that the blood might contain a disease. He said, "If you're lucky you'll just get something like Hepatitis. If you're unlucky, you could get HIV." Yeah, he did not need to remind me of that. He was a good doctor, but sometimes just a little TOO thorough. Spoiler alert: I did not need a blood transfusion, so I do not need to worry about contracting anything.

The anesthesiologist came and asked me tons of questions. I told him about a very minor valve problem in my heart, and he told me he wanted medical records with my diagnosis on it. When I told him that I got diagnosed as a young child and did not have any records of it, he told me that he wanted to cancel my surgery. At that point, I was freaking out because I basically had to have my surgery then for all of the reasons I mentioned before. I brought up how I had a spinal fusion at another Chinese hospital which was a much longer surgery and that the anesthesiologist and other doctors there didn't seem to think it was a big issue. My doctor went and talked to the anesthesiologist and had to convince him to do it. Thankfully, he agreed to do it.

I got wheeled into the operating room and once I got up on the operating table, my IV stopped working. Figures. The nurses were fiddling with that, and I was told that my surgery was going to start. Then, all of a sudden, I was informed that the anesthesiologist wanted to run more tests on me. I had to roll off of the operating table and back onto a gurney. I was wheeled to another room where they did a sonogram of my liver and kidneys. They were okay, so I was allowed to have the surgery. I get that they have to run tests, but I was getting very irritated with all of the drama at that point. They should have done tests like that one of the many times I came in beforehand! I was wheeled back into the operating room, and the last thing my surgeon said to me was, "We usually give epidurals for this type of surgery, but we can't give you one because of your back surgery. When you wake up, you will probably be in severe pain."

When I woke up, lo and behold, I was in the worst pain of my life. It was even worse than when I had my back surgery, and that was awful. I got wheeled back to my room and tried to sleep, but I couldn't. The nurse kept coming in and I kept crying and telling her I couldn't sleep and was in pain. Finally, after what seemed like hours and her 17th time in my room, she offered me a shot for the pain. I gladly accepted, and it put me right to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up again, the pain was back. I probably only woke up because the painkiller wore off. I asked for more painkillers and was only given Tylenol. The next day I was allowed to have another shot, but mostly I was just given Tylenol or Ibuprofen to deal with the pain of an open surgery. To put it in perspective, many people compare a myomectomy to a c-section. So imagine just getting Tylenol for the c-section most of the time. Chinese hospitals in general are very stingy with painkillers, especially compared to American hospitals, so I knew I was just going to have to try to deal with it. My surgeon came in and I complained to him about it, but he told me that I was doing very well. It probably wasn't true, but it did boost my morale to hear him say that. In addition to the pain from the operation, my whole right side felt weird. With every breath, I felt sharp pain on my right hand side near my ribs. The surgeon assured me that was normal because they filled me with gas during the operation and that with time, it would go away. He told me that my surgery went well but that he had to make a bigger incision than expected and apologized. I told him that he had to do what he had to do to remove the tumor and that I didn't mind. He kept stopping by to see how I was doing, and at one point he held my hand and told me how strong I was for going through this alone. That was kind of awkward, but I appreciated the gesture. All in all, my surgeon was very attentive and later on, he answered all of my questions about post-op care promptly through We Chat. I do have to say that if I (god forbid) have any future problems I will go to him again.

The nurses at the hospital I was at were all lovely to deal with, too. All of them spoke English besides the last one I had. That definitely helped matters. They were really sweet, and one of them even added me on We Chat in case I had any questions or needed any help. They kept telling me to get up and to try to walk around, but I just felt so dizzy so I told them I thought I'd better wait. After they removed the catheter, I had no choice but to get up to go to the bathroom. Of course it was during a raging thunderstorm, so that added to the bad vibe I was currenty feeling. I felt so badly on my way back from the bathroom, that I just fainted. I knew I was fainting, so I told the nurse and she helped me get down to the ground slowly, which was important because of my back injury. When I came to, two nurses were surrounding me and trying to get me to drink hot chocolate and eat a cookie. I gladly welcomed the cookie since I was on a liquid diet and not technically allowed to have solid foods. I guess fainting was the exception to that since they were worried about my blood sugar. After fainting, I was very worried about having to leave the hospital and being on my own in my apartment, so I wanted to extend my stay there. I found out it would be $700 per night and that I maxed out my insurance coverage already. The nurses were kind enough to ask if I could do a very late check out the next day, which helped a lot.

While in the hospital, my friend Lauren visited for a bit and brought me some treats. Later on, another friend visited me, and it was perfect timing because they wanted me to check out. The hospital provided a driver (and nice car) so that I didn't have to worry about finding a taxi on the street. I was in so much pain, walked at a snail's pace, and could barely move, so I was very pleased that they offered me this service. My friend helped me carry my suitcase and just made sure I didn't fall or injure myself. Thank goodness for that!

I spent the next few days just reading and watching tv. I tried to keep on getting up and walking around as recommended by the doctor. Even though it was beyond painful, I kept trying to push myself. I also had some restrictions. Some were obvious (I'm sure you can imagine what those are), but I woudn't have been able to guess some of them. I had to continue to only have soft foods for awhile. My co-teacher's dad found out about my surgery and brought over homemade mashed potatoes. How sweet! I also had to avoid carbonated beverages because other ladies in the support group said consuming them messed with the gas they put in during the operation and they experienced painful side effects. I was also unable to shower for a week because of the stitches, but they gave me waterproof stickers to put over the stitches for when I wanted to shower the next week. My doctor also told me to avoid chicken, honey, and flower tea for the rest of my life/as long as I have a uterus. I never actually realized how much I ate chicken before. I don't even consume much meat, but when I do, chicken is usually what I go for. Since forever is a long time to not have chicken, I might have this once in a great while. I assume organic chicken would be okay, too. The flower and honey tea thing struck me as a bit strange. My Chinese friend informed me that her doctor at a completely different hospital told her the exact same thing. She said it was because flowers have female parts and that can affect our hormones. Her doctor mentioned to her that honey is made from flowers so it would also negatively affect us. This might be an Eastern medicine thing, but just in case I'm going to avoid those things. Another limitation that kind of stunk was that I can't go swimming yet. Yeah, it makes sense as to why, but I had to turn down some invitations to the beach. Oh well, better to be safe than to be sorry.

The next seven days were all pretty bad pain-wise for me. I couldn't really do much and was getting frustrated at the lack of improvement. I was lonely because my friends all left Shanghai, although my Chinese friend did visit me twice and Tara kept me company, too. I didn't know how I would be able to spend a second summer all alone recovering because it takes a huge mental toll. Amazingly, I did not have to! I had a follow up apointment about a week later. Getting there was awful. It was 100 degrees and there were NO taxis. I waited for an hour, Chinese people that came after me "stole" the taxis, and I was late to my appointment. I got so frustrated that I was crying in the street like a crazy person. I was just still kind of weak and was in pain and was sweating all over my stitches which the doctor told me to try not to do. At that point, I just knew I HAD to go home. Once I finally met with my doctor, he removed my stitches so that I didn't have to worry about those anymore and then cleared me to fly which was the best news ever. Initially, I thought that there was going to be no way I could go home. I waited a few more days before booking the flights, but finally I started to feel better and in less pain. I ended up flying home on July 10 and arrived on July 12! It was so incredible to be home for the first time in two years after going through two different surgeries.

Right now, I'm about 5 weeks post surgery. I am almost completely back to normal. Sometimes I will have some slight pain, but it's really nothing compared to what it was before. The four incisions are looking a lot better and are starting to turn into scars instead of open wounds. I just got the biopsy results back and my tumor was not malignant. It's kind of strange because it turned out to be a rare type of tumor and not a fibroid or a myoma like I was originally told. (Does that mean I even technically had a myomectomy if they removed a different kind of tumor?) My doctor just told me that the cells were different than a myoma, but the symptoms were more or less the same. If left alone, the type of tumor that I had could have possibly turned into cancer, so I'm just glad it's out! What's even better news is that there's less of chance more tumors will grow, unlike with myomas which my doctor said have a high recurrence rate.

Surgeries can be daunting and stressful, so I'm thankful that everything turned out okay. I'm pretty ecstatic that this is all behind me now, too. If I could go a year without needing another surgery, that would be fantastic!

Have you ever had to have a surgery? How did it go? 
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