September 19th 2012.
”Are you listening?” My fellow sister in the other end of the room, whom I have not yet talked to, increases the sound to the television. On the news they talk about the uterus transplantation that took place this weekend. Two women in their 30s who got new wombs by their own mothers. An operation that Sahlgrenska University Hospital is first in the world with. One woman (me) has previously got her uterus removed after having undergone treatment for cervical cancer. The other woman (S) is born without uterus. “The operations were successful and all patients are doing well.”
My surgery was Saturday. Today is Wednesday. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have gone by in a one big blur. First in a recovering room where I disappear in and out of a haze. Each time I wake up, it beeps frenetically in the monitors above me and stressed nurses instruct me to take long breaths in an oxygen mask. They try to put a bigger mask on me, a CPAP, which will remove the fluid in my lungs. But the mask works badly and gives me panic disorder. Ultimately, I refuse.
Somewhere in the same room is my mom. I´m too groggy to register it though. A day after me, S also rolls in. Same frenetic beeping. Our general condition is worse than expected and the original plan to relocate us to the transplant ward is thrown-away. Early Monday morning we roll with blinking monitors and oxygen masks to an intensive care unit. To protect us from potential press and computer hacking, the instructions from the team are to keep records by hand. We go under the radar. When my loved one calls to say good night, they do not know who to give the phone to. I’m not in the system.
In a broader perspective, it´s however soon clear who we are. We are those “complicated” patients who are part of a new research project, which many consider to be “unnecessary”. One of those operations that falls under quality of life and not life saving. Which will take time and money from those who really need care. And we are treated accordingly. When the nurse from the transplant ward comes down to provide us with medications she is faced with skepticism and resistance from the other nurses.
The intensive care unit is neat and modern and the equipment is better than the one in the recovering room. I can´t get away from the CPAP. Even here they come running as soon as I wake up and force the mask on me. I pretend I´m sleeping. S has left the unit before me. The anaesthesiologist from the team prescribes me tranquillizing to endure the sessions in the mask. I close myself mentally and disappear somewhere where I’m not newly operated and fragile. Locked in the mask, I count to 30 as I’m told. I dream that I’m drowning and fight the air fervently so that they do not forget to release me.
On the fourth day
The press conference was yesterday. I wonder what kind of questions the doctors got and how the spirit between them was. Now everything is on the news. I only half listen to it though. I´m having trouble imagining the world outside the hospital window, even less that it’s me they talk about on television. It´s just after eight o´clock and the nurse is messing about in the room. Sets the medicine cup and the canopy with water on the bedside table. Replaces the drip and clears the catheter. Checks the dressing on the stomach. The scar from the navel and down to the pubic hair senses weakly underneath. It crosses the bikini incision from my cancer surgery. I have IV drip for nutrion, catheter, oxygen halter and is connected to a telemetry for increased heart rhythm. I feel queasy and is alternately freezing and sweating. I´m dizzy and breathless. As if I had gone a wrestling match and can´t get the body to rest. The fact that the entire abdomen is numbed and it´s difficult to move, I´m in some way used to. The body and I have been prepared for the pain that would come, the one we remember from before. Same operation, but reversed. I crawl up to a half-seated position to swallow the tablets and lay down again on the side. S calls out from the other side of the room, asking me how I do it. Her body is unable to turn in any direction, and she has slept on her back all night.
Into the room sweeps another nurse. Talking loud and blatant. She seems to have made efforts to ensure that she will be taking care of us today, usually she is not at this ward. Don´t know if I´m delighted or uncomfortable. She flatters and chatters about how big this is, how courageous we are and that she knows a thing or two about involuntary childlessness. I wonder whether the behavior is so professional of her but hummar polite now and then. The effect of the tablets is reminiscent and the increasing nausea makes it difficult to be nice. But this nurse does not seem to notice anything. S walks past the bed, faltering and bent forward, with the IV drip rolling in front of her. The nurse continues to talk. I lean over the bed and vomit in a sick bag. In my head I hear the words from the news broadcast “The women are doing well but are tired after the surgery”. S and I smile of recognition towards each other. It’s all a very strange situation we are in.