So someone you know is having a hysterectomy. It’s a fairly common major operation, and as such, not a ginormous huge deal. But what a lot of people seem to forget is that it IS a major operation.
Here’s a helpful list of questions, situations, and statements that will guaranteed make you seem like a giant ass, and thus should be avoided.
DO: feel free to ask questions or have a conversation if you’re a guy. Your interest in female health is actually good. But stick to the facts (as you can have the internet prove them) or respectful questions.
DON’T: have a super-strong opinion about my situation or hysterectomies in general if you’re a guy. The topic is not off limit to you just cause you have dangly bits, but your ability to empathize with anything uterine sure is.
DO: ask or conversate in an informed manner about the normal recovery period. Assuming you know it.
DON’T: say “You’ll be up and about in two days.” Really. Who says something like this? Remember that I said it’s a major surgery? Does anybody expect someone who’s donated a piece of their liver to be “up and about” in two days? From appendectomies? What gives you the idea that just because it’s a uterus, it’s not the removal of a substantial piece of the contents of your abdomen? Even people who get knee transplants, who are forced to get up and walk around after their operation, aren’t really “up and about” in two days. Besides, in two days, “up and about might” involve just being ready to leave the hospital, considering most hospitals will keep you at least 24 hours.
ESPECIALLY DON’T: say “You’ll be back to work in a week.” See above re: major surgery. Listen, Brenda, there’s actually more than one type of hysterectomy, each with their own set of recovery times, and you don’t know what other procedures might be part of the operation that people don’t care to share. Prolapse, cancer, endometriosis damage, and vaginal repair can all add their own set of fun things to recover from. And that’s just the non-elective things. But you should know, even while some people may actually be super human and ready to go back to work in a week, not nearly everybody is. Some people may need the full six weeks. Some may need more.
And on this note –
DO: Feel free to ask me if there’s any way you can help. Even if I am one of those miracle humans who is up and fairly normal in no time, did you know I may not be able to drive for 6 weeks after surgery? Do you know how big an inconvenience that is? It’s like a c-section. I also can’t lift anything for at least 2 weeks either, and there’s a weight limit after. That’s a huge pain in the butt.
DON’T: Shit on me for having my partner arrange to stay home to help me. Especially if you’re not offering to help if I need it instead.
DO: Inquire or converse respectfully about my life planning (if appropriate to). Surgery is serious business and planning is involved. You have a right to be curious, although I might not care to answer everything.
DON’T: shit on someone for making or updating her will before the surgery. The risk of death is small, but it’s not 0. Remember: major surgery. There’s always a risk when anesthesia and cutting things is involved, and that’s just during the surgery. Death from infections afterwards isn’t an unknown phenomenon, either.
DO: Reassure me… if I have concerns or seem overly worried.
DON’T: Patronize me about risks or treat me like a juvenile. Particularly if I have not shared any such concerns to you.
ESPECIALLY DON’T: say “It’s no big deal.” Even if I do seem worried or upset. Intellectually, I get that you’re probably trying to make me feel better, but really you’re being thoughtless. Really, I don’t think you’re the person to judge what is a big deal to me. I might be grieving the idea of never being able to have another child (even if I know this is the right choice). I might be scared of hospitals and surgeries. I might only have some concept of how hard it is to rearrange my entire life schedule for this.
DO: Ask respectfully about why I’m having one. If you’re curious, and our relationship is familiar enough. Beware: some reasons might be intensely personal and I may not want to share.
DON’T: pretend you’re my doctor or try to dissuade me by telling me that there are other options. Doctors don’t just hand out hysterectomies. Ask anybody who’s spent 10 years trying to get one. A lot of us have had to fight to get here, often delayed because doctors think our pain and suffering is less of a concern than the idea we’re cutting our reproductive potential short (which is bullshit, btw.) And if you’re just trying to scare me out of the procedure that both my doctor and I decided was necessary with your anecdotal horror stories? Fuck you, for real.
DO: Share your experiences with your own hysterectomy. Hell, this one’s as much as a mystery as childbirth and just as poorly discussed. I didn’t even know what questions to ask my doctor about my hysterectomy. Everything I know about it was garnered from internet research and friends who shared their experiences and important info. I certainly didn’t get a little helpful brochure to help me prepare.
DON’T: Compare your hysterectomy to my hysterectomy. Sharing your experiences, pros and cons, and what to expect, is helpful. But this is only IF you bear in mind that there’s a huge range of experiences, you’re one of thousands, and there’s an entire range of experiences from great to awful that you are only one voice in. I am not you. I won’t necessarily have the same operation, experience, or recovery as you. I honestly will think you’re full of shit if you told me you had a total hysterectomy, went home the same day, and were all alone parenting your kids all day the second day after without anybody’s assistance, and on top of that, I’ll be offended if you imply that will be my experience. So, if you do choose to share, don’t gloss over or exaggerate.
See? Not so hard after all.