Dear Dr. God
by Debbie Braaten
You performed a hysterectomy on me November 11, 1996. Little did I know that would be the saddest day of my life. That surgery would create emotional grief and pain like I had never known could exist. My father’s death didn’t even come close to the grief and pain my hysterectomy caused me. Today I live my life with less than half of the me I used to be. I feel like I have died a thousand deaths.
I came to see you earlier that year because of pelvic pain. You prescribed Tylenol #3’s and later #4’s along with a little speech about how the doctor who had the practice before had prescribed too much pain medicine for his patients. A little while later you also told me about your son who was on drugs and who, it sounded like, didn’t have much of a life because of the drugs. You also told me about a woman who was getting pain medication from the doctor who had the practice before you. You told her she should get a hysterectomy. Then you scheduled her for surgery, and she didn’t show up. After you told me this I felt like I should be obedient and not disappoint you. I was also feeling guilty about taking the pain medicine. Now I wish I would have done the same as that woman. She was the smart one. I am so sad I went through with it; the saddest I have ever felt. Looking back, it seemed like you didn’t know where one person ended and another person began, like all the people in your personal life and in your practice were merged together.
You were a doctor who I found especially handsome and attractive, and I believe you knew it. I felt, and feel, ashamed of my attraction to you. When you first began seeing me, you sounded unsure of whether or not to give me pain medicine. But, unwillingly, you prescribed it for me. I was anxious to do something about my pain especially when it sounded like the pain medicine would be in short supply.
I feel like you played me. You spoke of how your timing in resolving this matter was different from my timing. What timing had to do with ANYTHING, I’ll never know. All I know is I was tired of being in pain and wanted to do something about it. We talked about the fact that I had a history of endometriosis. You were also informed I had a history of depression. At first you told me of a treatment using Lupron (I think), because you were sure my pain had to do with endometriosis. I heard something vague about Lupron and was worried about gaining weight and said so. Then you brought up hysterectomy. You made it sound as though it was a sure fire way to end the pain. Then you told me about the high cost of your insurance. However, I agreed to the hysterectomy because you made it sound like it was the only way to treat my pain. You never mentioned anything about how the surgery would affect my life. You just gave me a pamphlet (like that was supposed to be enough of an explanation). I remember the pamphlet mentioning something about sexuality. But it said most women end up feeling more sexual. Today I say how could that ever be. Maybe it could happen with one ovary intact but not with everything removed. When I read the pamphlet, I was alerted about sexuality post-hysterectomy. But I never said anything to you because you were the doctor. You knew what you were doing. You would help me, never hurt me. I believed you had in mind what would be best for me, that this would cure the pain.
I talked to other women who had had hysterectomies, and they said it was the best thing they could have done. Little did I know that these women had only one ovary removed. I didn’t know there were different types of hysterectomies. I didn’t even understand I would be going through menopause until after the surgery when I was given estrogen. From what I was told the estrogen I was given would replace the estrogen my ovaries produced. I now know there is no substitute for the hormones your ovaries produce. I remember just before going under for surgery, I said I wanted testosterone. You said “no, it would make me too horny.” Whenever I think about putting on those white stockings before the surgery, my heart sinks right through me. Little did I know this would be the worst decision I ever made in my life. And I made that decision because I believed you.
As a direct result of my hysterectomy I feel the deadest I have ever felt. I didn’t even know a live person could feel this dead. I used to be a sexual, lively, and vibrant human being. I had no idea this hysterectomy could kill all of that. I feel like I have only half of the heart and ambition I used to. And after all of this I still had pain. I still have pain today, but now I know the pain is and was from adhesions. And the adhesions were made worse by my hysterectomy. Over and over, not only from you, but other physicians as well, I have been discounted, discredited, and made to feel like I have been making up this pain, like it was “all in my head.” I want to know why? How could you? How could any of you? Before the surgery I was also a sensual person, and by that I mean I was sensitive in my sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. I am an artist, or at least I used to be. I was a sensual painter and that was my truth. I used to communicate this in my art. My art used to speak to people. It said look at this, feel this, hear this, smell this, touch this maybe in a way they would not have before. I no longer feel capable of doing this. There is no basis for it as there was before. The feeling I have left is flat except for the squeezing pain.
I no longer feel sexual since my hysterectomy, and it happened to me practically overnight. I feel a love of some sort but not like the embracing love I used to feel. I was a very passionate person, but that has gone too. I can still have orgasms, but I have to concentrate so hard to have them. I used to feel an energy and power build up in me that needed release. Since the hysterectomy it no longer exists. It used to drive me crazy to have my nipples caressed. Now I can barely stand to have them touched. I used to be ready with wetness for sex. Now I’m dried up. I even get jealous of my husband’s sexuality because I used to feel what he feels, and now it is gone.
A month or so after my hysterectomy I wrote a letter and read it to you in your office. I got confused and mixed up. I couldn’t say what I wanted to. I didn’t have the information or the words I have today. It was very frustrating to know there was something radically different about me from the surgery but not be able to say what it was.
About five or six months after the surgery, I came to see you again. I told you how I no longer felt sexual. You proceeded to tell me about a woman who worked for you on whom you performed a hysterectomy. She had been angry with you because she no longer felt sexual. Then you said she found a man and everything was o.k. I wish I could perform castration on you, and when you would tell me how you no longer felt sexual, I would tell you to find a woman and everything would be fine. Over and over I have wished I could do to you what you have done to me! Then and only then would you be able to completely understand how less of a woman I feel; how less of a human being. At that time, you prescribed an estrogen with methyl-testosterone. All it did was make me break out and made me mean. You said it was too much for me to take. I still take methyl-testosterone in gel form. I’m afraid to stop taking it because I am afraid the very little bit of sexuality that still exists in me in a mutated form will be gone. Not only that but the information I have sought explains testosterone is good for your heart. I don’t want to stop taking any of the hormones I take even though they can never replace the hormones my body used to make.
Also, as a result of my hysterectomy, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in seven years and I have problems having regular bowel movements. In October of 2002, I had yet another surgery to remove adhesions. These adhesions were attached to my colon. But these problems are back again. You doctors don’t know what you are removing from our bodies when you remove our reproductive organs. I believed the worst that could happen because of the hysterectomy would be I would never be able to have my own children. Being single and 40 years old, I was not even concerned with having children. How wrong I was. Because of you I have felt misled, unbelieved, unimportant, used, betrayed, and lied to. Ultimately, I felt like I was kicked to the curb and forgotten. After all, my hysterectomy had helped pay for the high cost of your insurance. Then you didn’t need me anymore. For this I have paid a price with my very life. Even though I’m still alive I feel I walk the earth as a dead person. No one deserves to go through what I went through. No one.
A contributor for the Disability column in YourHEALTH Magazine, Scott B. Elkind, Esq., writes, “… the greater the disability a person suffers, the greater effect on his or her life.” There is a certain stigma around being disabled, especially when the disability is not visible to others. Condescending attitudes prevail toward those who are believed to be “getting over on the system”. He goes on to say, “… nearly one-fifth of disabled persons live below the poverty line.”
After surgery was performed on me, I wondered why I had never heard of the consequences. I couldn’t believe such a disabling surgery was performed in the name of health care in a nation like ours by trusted physicians. Time and again I have seen evidence of patients harmed by doctors’ treatments. Robert S. Mendelsohn, MD claims he sees a lot of intervention but very little “care”. After all of the years hysterectomy has been performed, it seems physicians continue to be provided little information about the effects created while they are in medical school. Differences between menopausal and castrated women haven’t even been established, nor is there a separate medical code for doctor-induced “menopause”. We’ve barely acknowledged health differences between men and women. Healthy patients are bad for business.
Whenever I see something in the media about women and hormones, I look at who is doing the advertising. If there is extensive advertising about hormones from pharmaceutical companies, I know the information in an article will be slanted; usually not in favor of patients. Being treated with bio-identical hormones makes patients healthier, yet the FDA has continued fighting compounded hormones at every turn. Meanwhile, manufactured drugs are pumped out by the millions, and many are prescribed to women. They are left on the market even after they should have been taken off. E.g.s: Dalkon Shield, IUD; DES, Gardasil. The drug Vioxx killed thousands, but the news barely made the headlines.
False narratives are created throughout the US health system. Sometimes these narratives span a number of years, creating stops ahead of time to spin the tale that is spun and disregards information established in peer-reviewed medical journals and the voices of millions of women.
The effects of these surgeries are not because of emotional defects but are a direct result of the organs removed. Afterward, many women become unable to function as they did before, and the cost of the extra care required – including, hormone therapy, dental visits, physical therapy, etc. – are crippling. On page 20 of his book, Male Practice, Dr. Mendelsohn says, “… the greatest danger to American women’s health was often their own doctors, and contended that chauvinistic physicians subjected female patients to degrading and unnecessary and often dangerous medical procedures.” Hysterectomy is one of them.
Hormonal changes that affect women’s health are often attributed to psychological problems. The traumatic changes women encounter when uterus and ovaries are removed are also attributed to psychological problems. There isn’t even a medical code for castrated women. Even though our symptoms are much more severe, we are grouped with intact, menopausal women, and provided the same hormone regimens which fall short of what our bodies need. Elizabeth Lee Vliet, MD said, “… a huge number of women with no ovaries are going without the replacement of the very hormones needed for a myriad of body and brain systems.” The pellets have been used for over 85 years, and their efficacy points to the standard of care I would like to see more of.
Hormone replacement is rarely covered by insurance. Why should women be expected to pay out-of-pocket for replacement of the hormones their surgically removed organs produced all by themselves? I was speaking with one of the pellet providers I used to have and his nurse practitioner. He told me, “For you, they should be free.” This information should be provided prior to surgery.
When both ovaries have been removed, it is often necessary to replace not only estrogen but testosterone as well. Presently, the only way to get the lower doses of testosterone women need is from a compounding pharmacy. Just because women make less of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t needed. Testosterone in women is not just for sex. It is necessary for building muscle and the maintenance of bone and so much more. Without testosterone replacement, my strength diminished greatly. Prior to surgery, I lifted weights, and on the fourth set, I could bench press 135 lbs. for four repetitions and squat 225 lbs. for eight repetitions. After surgery, I couldn’t even keep my balance. Neither the FDA nor the majority of medical doctors recognize the need for female testosterone replacement.
Along with all of the symptoms I had post-surgery, there are others that are still difficult to put into words. I used to have tremendous energy that permeated my whole being. I had taken a reiki workshop many years prior, and when hands were placed over my third eye, there was so much heat, you could have fried an egg. I used to have great passion which enabled me to create art. Afterward, the passion disappeared. One other thing I noticed is that I stopped dreaming. I used to remember some of them when I woke up the next day, but, they too, have disappeared. I even lost connection with my dog, and there was nothing I could do to bring it back.
I was trying to think of the reason I wrote this closing statement, and it is because women who have benefited from hysterectomy are quick to disseminate anyone whose outcome was not beneficial. Not all hysterectomies are the same. There isn’t even any agreement on what different hysterectomy terms mean, and this has brought up hard feelings between us all. It is all part of a narrative which entices us to continue undergoing these surgeries.
It is my belief that there are unseen energies that connect us with each other, with the world and every living thing. It may be difficult for some to believe, but sex-hormone producing organs make all of those connections and all of our emotions possible. Therefore, based on the outcome that resulted from my surgery, I believe that our sex hormones are the foundation of everything human.
(This is the fifth and final part of a series by Debbie Braaten sharing her experience with the challenges navigating the emotional and medical labyrinth which followed her 1996 hysterectomy and the revelations that followed. Parts One, Two, Three, and Four can be visited through these links.)