The Ancient Greeks have a lot to answer for when it comes to hospital vocabulary.
The prefix hyst- in a word refers to the womb. It was ‘changes in the womb’ which the Ancient Greeks believed provoked hyst-eria – an uncontrollable outburst of laughter or other emotion attributed solely to women, and originating (allegedly) in their womb.
It also gives us the word hyster-ectomy – and yes, I realise most gentlemen will stop reading at this point, since I am now writing, shock horror, about matters Down There. Hysterectomy means the removal of a problematic womb through surgery. I find this squeamishness quite entertaining, since many gentlemen spend a lot of their younger lives trying to get Up There, and many of the issues women can face later in life relate directly to their earlier enthusiasm.
So somewhere in between the manic laughter and the possible removal of a womb we have a procedure called a hysteroscopy, which basically just means ‘having a look in the womb’, often accompanied by the removal of any polyps present and a biopsy. This is the minor surgical procedure I had performed two days ago at Raigmore.
This can be done under a local anaesthetic, but when I hit the ceiling the day he tried my kindly gynaecologist did not proceed and recommended a general anaesthetic instead.
The appointment came through surprisingly rapidly – in fact I was offered two dates over Christmas I could not accept as family were staying and I could not have isolated.
On the day, I was called in for 11am (having not eaten since the previous night) but this arrival time only meant that surgery would take place at some point after this. I came armed with plenty of reading matter. The cheery nurses on 5C settled me into a room looking out over the helipad towards Ben Wyvis. They took a long time checking I was me and what I was having done and this was repeated at every stage. About 1pm I’d be seen, maybe, they thought. I was second on the list.
1pm came and went. I had watched the big red and white chopper land and some poor soul come in on a stretcher. Theatre space is in demand and emergencies must of course take priority.
By 4pm I was pretty hungry, it was getting dark and the room much colder – single glazing dating from the original 1980s tower building at a guess, plus extra COVID ventilation. I ended up putting my jumper back on over my surgical gown and wondered if they were maybe going to have to send me home. The ward nurses had begun to make funny faces at me through the window – great entertainment.
Then my phone rang.
It was the son of a very dear friend ringing to tell me she had just died in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. An awful shock. I wept, at which point the nurses rushed in thinking I had completely lost it over either their attempts at cheering me up or the op. I explained – and they could not have been kinder – but then suddenly I was on my way downstairs to the theatre reception (forgot my slippers, so clomping along in a flimsy surgical gown and my winter boots).
Once down there I began to feel very shaky and shocked. The theatre reception nurse noticed I was not ok and came and sat and talked, then wrapped me up in a heavenly warm white blanket. She also told everyone else involved in the op from that point onwards. Grief can affect your heart rate, your breathing. I was glad they knew.
Once into the anaesthesia room I clambered on to the trolley and the lovely anaesthetist started gently patting my hand to try to find a vein into which he could insert a canular, a practical port which means you don’t need jab after jab during surgery. I was still a bit cold so the veins weren’t showing and I ended up giving my own hand a good slap which amused the team: ‘oh, we’re not allowed to do it that hard,’ said one, approvingly.
My gynaecologist then came to say hello. They had recognised my name from the Black Isle Noticeboard admin team, so as I drifted into oblivion on a delicious trickle of morphine or something similar through the canular, we were (I think anyway…) engaged in a lively conversation about Black Lives Matter and the lamentable descent into trolling on the noticeboard during Lockdown. Great distraction technique!
Waking up from an anaesthetic and op is never very pleasant and I am usually a bit sick, but the recovery team were kindness personified, as were the staff back up on Ward 5C. Two hours later I was heading for home, feeling a bit tired and sore and of course very sad – but so thankful for the skilled, kind people – from India, from Australia, from Jordan and from all over the Highlands – who have brought together their hard work and skills to use for the good of us all at Raigmore Hospital.
I was given a handful of leaflets about the hysteroscopy as I left. Reading through them the text was well-explained and in nice plain language, but it might have been good to have had them in advance. The cross-section illustration doesn’t name what it’s showing you – it left me with many more questions than answers – here is my tongue-in-cheek annotated version highlighting the problem.
Even after two children I know my own anatomy about as well as the surface of Mars which is really something I (and all women) need to put right.
I am still hopeful of hanging on to my womb – it gave me two fabulous daughters, so I am attached to it in more ways than one – but if I do ever have to proceed to the next ‘hyst‘ on the list, I know I will be in very good hands.