“This is a time for healing deep emotional trauma. Situations you thought you cleared are coming up again for more awareness. Healing is done in layers. You have to continue to spiral through the same emotional experiences until there is no electric charge left to trigger you.” (Anonymous)
The worst kind of traumatic event is the kind that doesn’t sound like it will be particularly traumatizing. Keyhole surgery sounded tidy and simple. Unfortunately, keyholes can be deceptive. A house can look good from the outside. A few nails here and there and a fresh coat of paint and it’s good as new.
But once the keyhole is unlocked, the front door groans as it creaks open, revealing the truth. Pipes drip, drip, drip, and the walls are full of holes. Spiderwebs stretch across doorjambs. And the electrical panel, keeping things warm in winter and cold in the summer, is completely offline.
My body felt good in January 2017. Sure, I had some pain and the plumbing leaked a little, but I didn’t take any of it seriously. I thought I just needed a simple repair.
At the time, I lived in Kenya and experienced sharp, cutting pain throughout every menstrual cycle. A visit with a local doctor revealed a fibroid tumor sitting on my left side, just above my bladder. Additionally, I was also warned I had “prolific and severe” endometriosis contributing to the pain. My doctor in Nairobi recommended I consult with a Dubai surgeon. Just a few weeks later, I met with The Cutter, a tall, glamorous, and determined woman whose offices overlooked one of the city’s premiere golf courses.
“The scans show that the fibroid tumor is about the size of an orange,” she explained. “It’s sitting on your bladder, which explains the urgency issues you mentioned.”
“What do you suggest?” I asked.
“When they start to hurt, it’s time to take them out,” she said confidently. I agreed. The fibroid was an uninvited guest, and we made plans for surgery.
A month later, I left my house in Nairobi and traveled back to Dubai and had one last consultation with The Cutter in her luxurious, chic office.
“We’re going to conduct a keyhole, laparoscopic procedure and remove the fibroid,” she explained. “We’ll also check your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. It’s a common procedure, and you shouldn’t have any problems.”
“I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis as well. What if you decide during the procedure that it is a more serious issue? What if you find early signs of cancer, for example? I don’t want to have two surgeries,” I said. I was always thinking proactively and negotiating for the best deal. A film and TV producer, it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t treat my body like another project.
“Well, okay, that’s a fair point. I recommend that we leave an option open for a partial hysterectomy where I would potentially remove your uterus but leave your ovaries and cervix. You need to sign a release authorizing me to remove your uterus if I find anything that I think is dangerous.”
I asked her about the post-surgery effects and complications in the same mind frame and tone of voice that I used when I spoke to my blessed mechanic about my 2012 Mercedes C-Class.
“If you yank that old part out, will it still run the same? I don’t have time for more repairs.”
The difference was that I was talking about my body and the removal of a major organ. The conversation with The Cutter was a symptom of classic detachment and I was going through the motions.
“It’s a simple procedure. The uterus doesn’t really serve a purpose once you get beyond childbearing. You may have increased hot flashes and other perimenopause symptoms,” she explained. “We can manage all of it with the HRT (hormone replacement therapy) that you’re currently using.”
“That makes sense. But you’ll only remove it if you feel like it’s really necessary, right?” I asked.
“Of course,” she replied.
It sounded simple. I reassured myself the operation would go well and left The Cutter’s office to enjoy a gorgeous, Dubai spring day. When I got to my friend Sandy's house to spend the night, I did my best to relax. I ignored some of the alarm bells going off in my head and dismissed my anxiety as normal pre-surgery nerves.
“So how are you feeling about tomorrow?” Sandy asked as she poured us a special blend of iced tea.
“I feel good. I mean, I’m a little afraid, but that’s normal,” I replied.
“Yeah, I mean from what you’ve told me, the surgeon makes it sound like a pretty straight forward operation. I’m sure it will all go well,” she said to reassure me.
Early the next morning, I sat in bed and had a conversation with the fragments.
“How are we feeling?” I asked, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically at 5 a.m. Almost immediately, there was a lot of “chatter” in my mind.
“What if something goes wrong? Who is this doctor? How long will it take to recover? Are you sure you want to do this? Do you really want a hysterectomy?” they asked in a chorus.
“Well, if there’s something wrong with my uterus, and it’s dangerous, then it needs to come out,” I explained.
“It’s scary,” Five whispered.
“What’s the rush? Why now?” Seven pressed.
“It’s not a rush. I’ve been in pain for years. It’s time to get rid of the tumor. It’s fine. I trust the surgeon. She might not even need to remove my uterus,” I replied hoping to calm their nerves.
The fragments pumped more fear and adrenaline into my body once I left Sandy's house at 6 a.m. and headed to one of Dubai's private women’s hospitals. After checking in, I lay in the hospital bed while they started the IV. I kept reassuring myself the surgery was necessary. In hindsight, I wasn’t present and paying attention.
My mind and body frantically waved a flag back and forth, but I ignored their warning. Normally I would read everything Dr. Internet had to say about a particular procedure, medication, or diagnosis before making any health decisions. And yet, for reasons unclear at the time, I skipped over my usual “protocols.” It’s too late to turn back, I told myself as the anesthesiologist delivered the first round of sedatives and I was wheeled into surgery.
I woke up a few hours later in a lovely, peach-toned, private hospital room on the maternity floor. The view out the window captured a beautiful grove of bright-green trees, healthy from the latest rainstorm. I slowly regained my senses and recognized the sound of the newborn babies crying down the hallway. Once more lucid, I started pressing my nurses for information.
“Do you know if she removed my uterus?” I asked the nurse who was checking my IV. She gave me a confused look. “She didn’t know if it needed to be removed before the surgery. I want to know if she removed it,” I said in a slightly panicked tone.
“I don’t know,” the nurse replied. “You need to wait for your surgeon to call.”
“Okay,” I said, “please tell her to call me now. I need to know what happened to me.”
“I’ll call her office and leave a message,” the nurse said on her way out of my room. I stared at the clock, walls, and out the window for what seemed like hours before The Cutter finally called me.
“Hello, Rebecca,” she said. “I hear that you’re asking questions about your surgery.”
“Yes, well, I thought that you would stop by today. The nurses don’t seem able to tell me what happened.”
I felt her rolling her eyes at me over the phone. After a pause, I detected a bit of agitation in her voice. “Okay, well, I don’t normally speak to my patients the day of their surgery. But you seem to be recovering very quickly.”
My eyes started rolling. Did she think she was doing me a favor?
“Well, thanks. So how did it go?” I asked in my “Don’t you dare screw with me right now” voice.
“The fibroid was removed without any issues. I didn’t see any abnormalities.”
I took some deep breaths. I didn’t care about the fibroid. It was harmless. I knew that. I wanted to hear about my womb. Sighing heavily into the phone, I felt as though I had to drag the most critical information out of her.
“That’s great. And what about my uterus?”
“Well, when I examined the uterus, it was severely damaged from endometriosis,” she said. “In fact, you had a lot of endometriosis outside of your uterus as well. It didn’t look healthy, and I made the decision to remove it.”
My throat tightened. I started to feel tears form. I didn’t understand what was happening. Why am I sad? I asked myself. It was just a simple operation.
“Are you happy with the result?” I asked The Cutter.
“Yes. I don’t expect you to have any issues. It was a straightforward procedure.”
Fibroid gone. Uterus was out. No signs of cancer. I kept telling myself it was a good outcome. I wasn’t in too much pain. The call ended but the ache in my throat and chatter in my mind wouldn’t stop.
“What have you done?” my body asked. “We can’t ever have a child now. You’ve ruined us.”
“What? How in the world did I ruin us?” I asked.
“I wasn’t finished. I wasn’t ready to stop trying for a baby. I wasn’t ready to close that door forever. I never gave up hope. It was my dream. I just wanted to be a mother. I was going to keep our child safe and love it forever.”
“I get that, but our chances of having a child ended long before this operation, and you know that,” I replied impatiently.
“You’ve ruined us,” my body responded through tears. “You took away the one thing that guaranteed we would not be lonely. Our womb. Who is going to love us now?”
There was a familiar anguish in the voice. Two years of failed attempts to get pregnant dragged me through two years of grieving until I was finally able to grow comfortable in the knowledge I would not have any children. Did the voice, now back with fresh torments, lay dormant the whole time? Why did my body still want to be a mother? How would I get it, me, to accept the fact that I allowed our womb to be removed?
The voice, like the surgeon’s blade, cut deep when it asked, “Who is going to love us now?” I sat alone in the darkened hospital room in the middle of the night, listening to the newborns crying. An overwhelming sense of loss filled the space where my womb once resided.
The next morning, I was discharged, and I settled back at Sandy's house where I went for walks along the beautiful track, passing by kids on the playground, birds enjoying water fountains, and gorgeous spring flowers. Walking a little further a few times each day, I congratulated myself for my resilience. “I’m feeling good. I’ll get through this.” I told myself proudly.
Just a few days later, though, my confidence quickly evaporated as extreme hot flashes engulfed my entire body. I felt like I was immersed in a boiling pot. I reassured myself it was all part of the side effects The Cutter mentioned until the hot flashes escalated and sleep became impossible.
A little more than a week after the surgery, my symptoms grew even more severe, and I finally consulted with Dr. Internet about “What to expect after a hysterectomy.”
The news wasn’t hopeful. I read the removal of my womb could potentially deliver me into metabolic syndrome. Other risks, like premature menopause and other post-menopause complications were also common. The Cutter never mentioned any of it to me. I became increasingly worried about the hot flashes and sleeplessness that continued to escalate as I made plans to return to Nairobi.
Within a few days of getting home, my mental health began to decline sharply. Darkness, like a fog silently creeping into a forest, pushed into my mind. I sat on my porch one morning and stared at the trees surrounding my small, stone cottage in Kenya as my thoughts unraveled.
The Cutter took my womb, and I’m going crazy, I said to myself. No. Stop. I had to admit that it wasn’t true. I willingly surrendered my womb. I gave it away voluntarily. I didn’t protect my body. I had to take responsibility and accept whatever came my way.
My mind was breaking while massive hormone shifts pulsed through my flesh. Absent sleep, I became obsessed with the pursuit of information. I conferred with Dr. Internet as my symptoms worsened and research revealed The Cutter lied when she told me the uterus didn’t play a significant role in the body beyond childbearing. The Cutter wanted to cut. The truth was somehow extraneous. The uterus, I learned, plays a significant role within the entire endocrine system. It’s where every hormone and biological process is regulated.
My symptoms escalated and bore no resemblance to the days of relatively gentle perimenopause. Where I used to experience an occasional hot flash before the surgery, they now set me ablaze and drenched me in sweat in seconds, multiple times an hour. At night, my sheets became soaked as I lay naked under the constant blast of a large fan. Sleep came in short bursts that only served to intensify the Darkness growing in my mind.
I became completely untethered as my mind and body replayed every painful step of my infertility. The failed attempts to get pregnant, the discovery of no ovarian reserve, and the sting of a formal rejection of my adoption application as a single parent jabbed at me. Every emotion I ever felt about not having a child circled back, bigger, darker, and more hurtful than ever before. Unlike other bouts of depression, this species of Darkness draped over me like a wet, weighted blanket.
The “routine keyhole procedure” devastated my entire endocrine system. My body quickly surrendered to Metabolic Syndrome. I felt destroyed and refused to leave the house.
Darkness tightened its grip and escalated its forced march across my mind by unearthing my childhood sexual trauma. I stopped obsessing about my infertility as vivid flashbacks of the assaults flooded into my mind. The creak of a doorway, or the sound of my gardener smacking his lips as he ate lunch, were part of a long list of cues, triggers, that dragged me away from the present and into my past.
In the midst of all of my troubles, I had to find a way to get back to work. I had recently shifted to consulting for one of the world’s biggest brands after twenty-five years of producing films, TV, and marketing campaigns. My work couldn’t be put off any longer.
But nearly a month after the surgery, I was clearly not ready when my manager and friend Monali called me about our television project, and I dissolved during the conversation. I was in bad shape. I didn’t know how to describe what was happening to me. I could have asked Monali for help, or just to listen, but instead I lost control.
“Hey,” she said, “How are you? I talked to procurement today and they said they’re still waiting for you to send in the report. When do you think it will be ready? We need to get the project moving.”
“You know what, Monali,” I shouted into the phone, “I do not care about the damn budget. I am losing my mind. My body is completely falling apart! I can’t sleep! I can’t function! I don’t care about any of it!” I shouted.
“Wow, okay, I’m going to let you go. You don’t sound good. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” she said, ending our call.
I felt so embarrassed. Monali was, and remains, a good friend. She was also one of my main client contacts, and I had just lost my shit on the phone and sounded hysterical. I was known for having a short fuse at times, but the exchange that day crossed over so many boundaries I was afraid for my job.
I should have known better. A few hours later, a messenger arrived at my house to deliver an enormous bouquet of flowers. The note read, “You need these. Mo.”
When my friend Sam called me at home, she kindly asked if I needed any help. I was ragged and immediately rattled off all my health issues.
“If I do not figure this out, I will not survive,” I told her.
“What does it feel like?” she asked.
I know she wanted to help me. I could hear it in her voice, so I tried to explain. I found it so difficult to articulate.
“I feel like I’m going crazy in real-time. I am sliding into some sort of void where I can’t think. The last time I felt like this was when I first revealed my abuse to a therapist. My mind literally broke when that happened.”
“Jesus. Does it help to work? To keep your mind busy?”
“Work is impossible. I can’t concentrate. I sat through a normal meeting earlier today where we talked about production schedules for the next TV series, and I forgot the details. I’m a producer. I live for details. If I can’t remember things, execute plans, and focus, I’m no use to my clients.”
“Maybe you need some extra sleep,” she encouraged.
“Yeah, if only I could sleep. I don’t even get the sensation of being sleepy anymore. I’ve tried melatonin, hypnotherapy, and medication. I think that my body is too angry to let me sleep. It’s like a part of me will only let me focus on my abuse.” I began to feel exasperated. I wasn’t in the mood to explain all the miserable details about my childhood.
“After all this time? I thought you said you went to therapy and sorted that out,” she asked.
“I did go to therapy,” answering a bit abruptly, “several times. But I don’t think that the trauma was entirely healed. I mean, I’m remembering details about the abuse that I haven’t thought about for decades. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Let’s hope your surgeon can sort you out when you get to Dubai,” she replied.
“Inshallah,” I replied. God willing.
I clung to the hope that a checkup with The Cutter would give me answers and put my body and mind back on track.