Sunday, July 17, 2011

Putting the "Hysterical" Back in Hysterectomy

Last week, my mother had a necessary hysterectomy. Several weeks prior, I was made aware that the procedure would take place and it made me a little nervous, because no one likes seeing one's loved one being hospitalized for even the most minor of reasons.

I began thinking about the surgery, not obsessing, but it was firmly planted in the back of my mind as being somewhat troubling. So, I did what I generally do with all of life's affairs, no matter how mundane or upsetting, and tried to find humor.

Hysterectomy sounds awfully like "hysterical". I wanted to look up the etymological origin, as the thought of tying the two together was a bit puzzling. The word comes from the Latin hystericus "of the womb" and " from ek "out" + temnein "to cut". Oh, okay. Well, that makes sense- still, I wasn't understanding the relationship to the word hysterical, Greek -ikos "in the manner of; pertaining to the womb." Well, I should have guessed:

Hysterical comes from the 17th C. when craziness or neuroticism was thought to be an affliction of the womb.

Evil women- yeah, we get blamed for everything: drought, famine, war...? women.

The days leading up to surgery moved quickly and on the morning of surgery, I went as a support person to my mom, who I had only seen in the hospital once when my brother was born. After about an hour of seeing two pre-op nurses, two O.R. nurses, an intern, and a resident, the surgeon visited to discuss the procedure (we later met the anesthesiologist). The surgeon said, "We're going to attempt to go in vaginally and hopefully with the two c-sections you had previously, there will be few adhesions to the uterus. I will remove the uterus and the cervix."

"Oh, you have to remove the cervix?" she said.

"Well, they're attached, so...," he paused, "Then, I will have to re-attach the vagina."

"Oh?!" My mother's eyes grew wide. My stepdad was with us and he's a relatively modest man with puritanical values, so I imagine he would rather have his intestines eaten by vultures while alive than to have to sit in that room with me. He looked away and I looked at my mother, then the surgeon and simultaneously, my mouth and eyes opened wide.

The surgeon continued, making a gesture with his right hand where his palm was facing up and his fingers were spread open, but were curled up like a basket, as if he were holding something and then said, "Yes, the vagina has to be re-attached, otherwise, it'll just..." he motioned, moving his arm downward, but retaining the shape of his hand, "...fall out."


At that moment, I joined my stepdad and together, we shared a moment of instant, torturous embarrassment. I mean, holy shit! Not only wasn't I nor anyone else aware that this information would be shared with everyone, I had no idea one's vagina could just fall out. I gotta say that this has caused me an entirely new form of worry. I've become quite attached to my vagina and can't fathom such a horror.

For several hours, I worried about my mom in surgery and my stepdad and I did what any normal person would do after having to hear such information, we went to the bar. It was quickly realized the alcohol had no effect- nothing could penetrate the vagina, the thought that is.

At around 5:30, we were allowed to see my mom and the surgeon spoke to us and said that the surgery went as well as he had hoped and everything was great. I was a bit emotional, internally, but just sat silently and remained peaceful, waiting for my mother to open her eyes. Finally, about thirty minutes later, my lovely mom's eyes opened and I softly said, "Hi mom, the doctor said everything went great! How do you feel?"

"Where is my vagina?"

I looked at my stepdad, his eyes caught mine and then he looked down at the floor, shaking his head with his eyes wide, "What?" I said.

"Where did he put my vagina?" my mother asked, in a halfway coherent state.

"Um, I don't know, Mom. He didn't say."

Staying with Mom until visiting hours ended, while she mostly slept, I drove home to my kids who were very excited to hear the news as to how "Gram" fared. I told them everything went well and then, bursting with inner laughter, I just had to tell them what the surgeon said about the vagina needing to be attached.

My nine year old daughter stood up and said, dramatically, "Oh my God, my vagina just fell out in the shower... and it went down the drain!"

I almost peed my pants.

Life is wonderful, it's just so damned funny and I thought that I immediately had to blog the experience. So, I began thinking of possible article titles:

"Waiter, There's a Vagina in My Soup"

"Pardon Me, Have You Seen My Vagina?" and my personal favorite-

"Nothing Could be Fina'h Than to Locate My Vagina"

Ladies, take care of your vaginas and Mom, get better soon!


  1. Of all the unusual stories with a twist that I've read this year, this has to be number one. You're such a good storyteller and writer. Just don't argue politics or history. :-)

    Yes, our mother's welfare is always a concern. My mother died yesterday; it was the right time for her to go, but it still hurts. But that is a different story.

    love XXX

  2. Yeah, that's a big surprise that a vagina could fall out, or be detachable.

    A more minor surprise for me was that biceps could just snap off like rubber bands.

    I remember in college psychology classes the dark history of loony bins around the turn of the century full of women diagnosed as "hysterics." Now it would be called schizophrenia, and some of them might have just been emotional. But back then it was thought to be some psychological disease that only women can get.

    Reno, I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I'm glad to hear she lived a full life, but I'm sorry for your loss.

  3. Kelly, a bicep sounds painful! I also learned that about internal parts that stretch- my flexor tendon at my pinky was, according to my surgeon, connected by one, tiny leaf that if it had snapped, would have recoiled into my wrist, requiring a completely different procedure complete with artificial tendons and stuff like that- Yum!

    Reno, I promise to steer clear of politics, for now. Maybe when I'm older and dumber, I'll have a go! Though, I'm not mean enough- just don't have that "hate" one might need when attempting to crush others. However, I do have a serious dislike for stupidity- maybe that's my hate? But then, I'd just be a glutton for punishment, like running naked against stampeding bulls- it's rather futile.

  4. Very funny story, Gaby. Told as only you can tell it.

    However, not all Victorian notions were wrong.

    Shall we throw the hysteria baby out with the bathwater?

    Perhaps "persons with wombs" really do have a different psychological makeup than those without and perhaps they also possess a totally natural and organic predisposition towards certain types
    of extreme and irrational "hyterical" behavior. I say let the facts speak for themselves.

    I wish your mom a speedy recovery, Gaby. And from what you have told me about your mother, Reno, a quick and painless death for her was a desireable outcome. Still, losing a parent must have its effect. I am curious how her loss affects you.

  5. What the heck does that mean, Nick? Where are these so-called "facts of which you speak?"

    Horrormones, meh.

    I, too, am curious about Reno's loss... my dad died, so I can understand losing a father, but the loss of my mother will be much different.

  6. Oh to have been a "Doctor" treating hysteria in those times. More interesting to me is the cure for hysteria which usually involved a male Doctor traveling from place to place dishing out his healing with various tools designed to suit the purpose. Having a job giving women hand-jobs doesn't sound bad on the outset, until you consider cleanliness and grooming standards of the time...

  7. Hahahahaha! I just got this image of Groucho Marx as the Dr. What a great job! Is that really true, J5? I gotta read about it!

  8. I saw some sort of documentary (could have been a late night HBO thing like Real Sex or something) about a woman who collected antique vibrators where they talked a bit about it. I wish I could remember the specifics.


  10. Oh, that's great! Apparently, according to the info, the practice was quite profitable for doctors, though they really hated giving the pelvic massage, as many were unable to figure out how to do it well enough to cure hysteria, or it took them hours to get it right!!! God forbid they may be forced to seek the help of a midwife and lose that money! Hahahaha!

  11. "Doctor, you're just not doing it right!"

  12. And having gone through something like this myself, sometimes you end up hearing or saying things that would be downright embarrassing or absurd in regular conversation.
    The term "wandering ovary" always struck me as odd.
    I picture an ovary(an oval) dressed as a hobo with bindle stick in tow, thumbing for a ride or ridin' the rails.
    "Ah, but..two hours of pushin' broom
    Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
    I'm a man of means by no means
    King of the road."
    (Should that be Queen of the Road?)

  13. That's great Anon! When I first read "wandering ovary", I thought of an ovary that has dementia and doesn't remember who it is or where it belongs, oh, and it walks with a cane.

  14. And you thought we men were just being dirty disgusting pigs!

    We've selflessly and most nobly been making sure your vaginas were pushed back in and not falling out.

    Evil women?

    Isn't that redundant?