Life and Death: The Choice Between Two Risky Options

Life or Death
I would rather die trying to get better than to just wait around until I actually do bleed to death.
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On November 9, 2012, I had an emergency hysterectomy with Dr. McQueary at Bristol Regional Medical Center because my uterus had stopped working correctly and each time I had my menstrual cycle, I was slowly bleeding to death. My doctor did not come to this realization lightly. In fact, the decision to have this surgery came only six months after another surgery with the same doctor. He said if he had known, he could have done both surgeries at the same time, but like I told him, so many doctors through the years had insisted the pain and weakness were normal that I didn’t think anyone could help. This is why I had not been seen by a gynecologist in ten years before seeking help and getting the surgery in May. I had a new primary care doctor and he had suggested that I see a specialist and that it not be anyone I had seen before.

So, during the 15 minute drive to the hospital on the morning of November 9, 2012, I reflected heavily on what had brought me to this point. As my husband drove down the back roads of Tennessee, I remembered that when I first saw Dr. McQueary he told me that I needed to fire every doctor that I had. He was glad when I told him I had just changed primary care physicians and that the new doctor had suggested I see a specialist as soon as possible. He had told me that during my last delivery of a child – who was at that point 15-years-old – I had torn so badly without proper repair that my anal canal and vaginal canal had grown together. He had explained that my inability to control bowel and urinary function was due to this damage and I needed to have reconstructive surgery. I did, and after that surgery on May 25, 2012, I was much more active and lively.  However, I was still mostly bedridden. I could be up for a couple of hours a day, which was two hours more a day than before the surgery so I was happy, but it still was not where I needed to be. Thankfully, though, I had regained control of my bodily functions and my damaged colon had relearned how to work correctly.

Doctors ran tests and encouraged me to try different things, but I just simply didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. Then, in early November, my monthly weakness won again. During menstruation, I would become so weak that I could not feed myself – much less walk.  My husband and youngest son carried me to the doctor during this episode. He said he had no idea it was that bad and discussed surgery that day. Ultimately, my surgery was scheduled for November 9, 2012, and I went home to prepare.

I had gone to the hospital for pre-admission a few days before, so when my husband, Ronnie, and I arrived at the hospital that morning, I just had to sign in and wait to be called. My mom was bringing my sons, Joey and Jimmy, to the hospital closer to time for the surgery. Jimmy was 15 and Joey was 17.  The nurses called for me and I went back to the room to have blood work done. At this point I could still have visitors, but only two people at a time. When Mom arrived with my boys, the nurses let them all be with me for about 15 minutes and then I was taken to the pre-surgery waiting room so I could be prepared for the surgery.

After the nurse checked me in, the anesthesiologist came in and did his pre-surgery check. Then he said that we needed to talk. He said that he was not sure he was going to approve this surgery. Because I had been put to sleep in January for a bone marrow biopsy and in May for the reconstructive surgery, the anesthesiologist said that being put to sleep so soon again was very dangerous. In fact, he said that the odds of me waking back up were very slim. He went on to tell me that the only reason he was considering approving the surgery to go forward was that my doctor had told him that the surgery was a life or death situation for me. He said that being put to sleep again was just as risky as not having the surgery and that, even if I didn’t die in surgery, I could go into a coma. So, he wanted me to tell him what I wanted to do.

I thought about it for just a few seconds and then said, “I want to have the surgery.”

I could tell by the look on his face that he was still hesitant so I added, “I know I can’t go on living the way I am now. I would rather die trying to get better than to just wait around until I actually do bleed to death.” 

The anesthesiologist said that he could understand that and he would approve the surgery.

Next, the anesthesiologist wanted to discuss my claim of having a latex allergy as the hospital had to prepare a latex free operating room for me. He asked me what seemed like a thousand questions and then a nurse asked if she could butt in to ask me a question. Her question was simple and the doctor thought it was odd. The question was: What kind of underwear do you wear. That answer was easy: I wear latex-free bras, latex-free socks, and no panties because they do not make any that are latex-free.  She looked at the doctor and said, “She’s got the true allergy because only those who have suffered from a severe allergy attack would know that.”

Then, Dr. McQueary came into my little area and asked if the anesthesiologist had explained the life or death risks of having the surgery and I said that he had. He asked what my decision was. I told him I wanted to have the surgery. He said ok. He said that he knew it was scary but my best chance was to have the surgery. He then told the nurse to get me ready and that I would be going back to the operating room soon.  However, the anesthesiologist didn’t leave like they normally do. It seemed like he was double-checking everything. He gave me medicine through the IV to help me relax. When transport took me to the OR, the anesthesiologist walked back with me. He and Dr. McQueary talked to me while I went to sleep and even made me laugh. For the life of me, I can’t remember what they were saying, but I do remember that they were doing a great job of keeping my mind off of the fact that I might never again wake up.

A few hours later, I woke in recovery. The anesthesiologist was there and immediately started asking me questions. He seemed to give a sigh of relief. His final question was, “How do you feel?”  I felt fine and I told him so. He patted the back of my hand and left my side. Dr. McQueary was sitting there beside me and he said, “He (the anesthesiologist) didn’t leave your side for a minute.  Normally, they are running in and out of the OR when I have someone in there but he didn’t leave you at all.” Dr. McQueary asked his questions and then told me that he wasn’t going to let any visitors back for a while because he wanted to watch me close for a few more minutes.

Finally, I was sent to a room where Ronnie, Mom, Joey, and Jimmy could visit and not long after that I was released to go home. My son, Jimmy, went to my six-week check-up with me. Dr. McQueary talked to him about that I was going to get better.  Jimmy didn’t seem convinced so the good doctor told him, “I’m not going to lie to you, she was dying. But she really is going to be okay now. Anything can happen anytime, but she is getting better.” By this time, I was not bed ridden any longer. I couldn’t do much, but I could go to the living room and sit with the family.  My doctor released me that day and I have continued to do better ever since.

I feel like I have a new lease on life now. I cherish every minute and I work hard to spend all the time I can with my family and friends. I appreciate life more now than I did, say, five years ago and I try my best to spend my time and energy helping my family and friends be happy in their lives as well.  

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