American Culture

Hysterectomy – who needs one anyway?

Warning, ladies – you probably don’t!

Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.

 

I have something called a uterine prolapse, stage three, the worst kind. This means that the ligaments that should hold my uterus up have weakened and my uterus hangs very low, into the vagina, and sometimes, when I’ve strained or I’m just tired, my cervix even sticks out of my vaginal opening. It’s uncomfortable – I can feel heaviness in there and pressure on my bladder – but it is in no way life-threatening. In Europe, this condition is conservatively treated by just lifting the ligaments in a surgery called uterine suspension. Here, however, it is routinely radically treated by doing a hysterectomy (I am talking about their removing a perfectly healthy organ just because it needs better muscle support! This clearly shows how American doctors mistakenly believe that a uterus has no use beyond breeding babies, which I am about to demonstrate is bullshit. It is only with women’s bodies that our sexual organs are so disrespected and dismissed). For 20 years now, every time I’ve moved and/or changed doctors, the new doctor has immediately told me I “need “ a hysterectomy. Luckily, I  have done my homework and I will not allow one of my sex organs to be removed for a benign condition.

I have read six books against hysterectomy over the years. The latest one, “The H Word,” was not written by a physician but others that I’ve read such as “No More Hysterectomies” and “The Hysterectomy Hoax” were written by physicians. Either way, the points are the same.

FACT – In medical school, American doctors are taught that “the uterus is only good for breeding babies and cancer.” In their practices, they assume the uterus has no purpose once a woman is done having children. In fact, the uterus is an important sex organ. It becomes engorged with blood during sexual excitement, just like the penis. The famous sex researchers Masters and Johnson found that about 25% of women report experiencing uterine orgasms and I am definitely in that 25%. For us, the orgasm is felt as intense contractions of the uterus. Doctors tell women that their sex lives will be great, maybe even better, after hysterectomy. For those of us who had uterine orgasms, however, the removal of the uterus means we will never have the same type of orgasm again – and doctors never warn women about this, never ask if they have uterine orgasms prior to removing the uterus. Furthermore, hysterectomy involves severing pelvic nerves that formerly connected to the uterus. The loss of these pelvic nerves commonly leads to reduced sensation in the vagina, clitoris, vulva, and nipples.

FACT – The uterus is a hormone responsive organ. All too often, doctors also remove the ovaries when they do a hysterectomy (75% of the time) – and even when they leave the ovaries in, 40% of the time the ovaries immediately die anyway because hysterectomy involves severing and tying off arteries that previously supplied blood to the pelvic region (doctors routinely reassure women that since they are leaving the ovaries in, their hormones will be protected, but they never tell women about the 40% chance their ovaries will just immediately die off anyway without the blood supply that formerly went through the uterus!). Whether the ovaries are removed or they die due to hysterectomy, it causes women to enter immediate, premature menopause with symptoms that end up being far more harsh than those from a naturally occurring menopause.

FACT – Our hormone-producing ovaries and hormone-responsive uteri function for us even beyond menopause. My doctor just last week gave me a handout that states that the ovaries do not produce hormones after menopause and this is what most doctors believe and it is absolutely false! In fact, after menopause our ovaries produce hormones that, among other things, help protect us from heart attacks. A woman with her uterus removed enters a 3 times greater chance of heart attack, while one with her ovaries removed enters a 7 times greater risk.

FACT – The correct medical term for the removal of the ovaries is castration, which is the removal of the gonads. Doctors certainly never tell women that they are about to be castrated – that word would raise the appropriate alarm bells! As the author points out in the book “The H Word,” the state of Louisiana has a law allowing for the castration of repeat male sex offenders. With men, there is an understanding that castration will decrease sex drive. While it is routinely being done to women – there are 22 million castrated American women alive today – doctors tell them beforehand that their sex lives will be great (after castration – um, seriously?) and then when those same women return post-surgery complaining that their sex drive is gone, the doctors tell them a) they’ve never heard that complaint from a patient before, b) perhaps the woman needs counseling, or maybe, my favorite, c) they should just go buy new sexy lingerie (which a doctor told me once when I was, I later found out, suffering deep postpartum depression; I had, in fact, just reported to him not only lack of sex drive and depression but a nearly overwhelming urge to scratch my husband’s eyeballs out and then enjoy seeing him bleed!). So why are the gonads assumed to have sexual function for men but not for women??? In fact, there is 100 years of medical journal articles on the many side-effects of hysterectomy out there for any doctor to find, but doctors don’t bother.

FACT – Hysterectomy is a $17 billion a year industry. Some doctors have admitted in the books I’ve read that hysterectomy is the “goldmine of gynecology.” Realize that these doctors are OB/GYNs. The obstetrics part of the job, however, will never buy a doctor a Mercedes because malpractice insurance rates for delivering babies are astronomical. It is through hysterectomies that OB/GYNs actually make their livings. Women in the South are 50% more likely to be hysterectomized than women in the Northeast and black Southern women are 20% more likely to than Southern white women. On an average day in the U.S., three women will die on the operating table during hysterectomy, which in 98% of cases is not required to save a woman’s life (meaning it is not truly necessary). American women have the equivalent of their own personal 9/11 at the hands of the medical establishment every three years.

FACT – Although cancers of the female sex organs are no more common than cancers of the male sex organs, only healthy women are instructed to get their privates poked by a doctor every single year beginning at puberty and over 650,00 hysterectomies are done each year*. If men get cancer at the same rates as women, then why are we not seeing similar removal of penises, prostates, and gonads in them? There would be outcry if this were being done to over half a million men each year. And over half a million men a year would not be told that the side effects of the removal of the penis, prostate, and/or gonads are all in their heads!

*This 650,000 figure is now an underestimate.Only hysterectomies requiring an overnight hospital stay are actually tracked and it is becoming more and more common to do them on an outpatient basis. We have no tracking of this latter group.

FACT – Pathology analysis of removed uteri and ovaries in this country show that just 2%  of the time was the tissue any threat to a woman’s life, like cancer.

FACT – In the U.S., benign fibroids are one of the most common reasons hysterectomies are done. In Europe, it is never done for fibroids. A skilled surgeon can remove the fibroids while leaving the woman’s sexual organs intact, but it is time-consuming (it takes hours) and real, challenging work for the surgeon. Fibroids tend to grow hairlike bits that spread out from the fibroids into surrounding tissue. A skilled surgeon in Europe must painstakingly remove the fibroids and pick out every tiny bit of fine hairlike tissue growing from them. The truth is that American doctors are simply unwilling to do this hard work. They prefer to just remove a woman’s organs in 30 minutes or less and earn $25,000 for doing so.

In this last decade, there has been a serious marketing push here to treat fibroids another way. Now they are putting tiny plastic beads into the arteries leading to the fibroids, trying to kill it off by starving it of blood supply. But sometimes the plastic beads enter the rest of the woman’s body. And sometimes the deliberate artery blockage kills the uterus and ovaries. Now the woman has dead tissue in her and doesn’t know it, which can lead to infection and death. “The H Word” tells more about the sickening marketing of the plastic beads, including the fact that they say their target market is a black woman aged 35-45 (which is the age at which fibroids mostly occur – they go away naturally with menopause). Doctors here are just unwilling to do the difficult, tedious fibroid surgery that doctors in the rest of the world do.There are some American doctors who do the fibroid removal surgery, but few of them. Women in big American cities routinely report having seen over twenty gynecologists before finding one who does it. And if you’re in a small town, forget it, unless you can search by phone or internet and then afford travel plus the likely added expense of going to a doctor and hospital that are probably outside your health insurance network. (Inability to find an American surgeon who will do a conservative uterine suspension on me instead of a radical hysterectomy is also why I’ve spent the last 20 years walking around with some of my uterus uncomfortably hanging out of my vagina!)

FACT – While doing hysterectomies, doctors accidentally nick the bladder or bowel an astonishing, appalling amount of the time. Now, hospitals and medical robotics manufacturers are aggressively marketing to women the wonder of the robotic hysterectomy. Studies in fact show that robotic hysterectomies nick the bladder or bowel even more often than do human-performed hysterectomies.

FACT – Last week, I was diagnosed with exceptional thickening of the lining of my uterus, which may be a precancerous condition for a very tiny percentage of those who have this common condition. My doctor wants me to now see a gynecologist in the city sixty miles away for an immediate biopsy, after which a possible treatment may be uterine ablation. So I did my homework. The idiot doctor and idiot lab tech did the ultrasound that found this condition near the end of my menstrual cycle, right before my period, which is when the uterine lining is naturally at its thickest – and then they found that it was thick (duh!). In fact, the ultrasound should have been done within a day or two of the end of my menstrual period, as this is when the uterus has just shed and the lining is at its thinnest – that is when an ultrasound measurement of the uterine lining is considered accurate. Also, a second, comparative ultrasound should be done the following month before any biopsy, which is extremely painful. No second, comparative ultrasound prior to biopsy was offered to me. Also, the condition is extremely common in perimenopausal women like me, just natural and then it goes away at menopause. Finally, as for possible treatment of something natural, ablation means that they go in and either freeze or burn all of the uterine lining, permanently damaging it. You never bleed again afterwards. The problem is that while the uterine lining is now too damaged to bleed, the uterus still becomes engorged each month (but now with nowhere for the blood to go!) and there is a feeling of fullness from the trapped blood the first month with ever more painful fullness every month afterwards. Within a year of having ablation, a woman ends up having to have a hysterectomy.

FACT – I know from my reading and personal experience that doctors actually use cessation of monthly bleeding as a selling point for hysterectomy. I have had at least ten different doctors – mostly women – all point out to me that a great thing about hysterectomy is that I won’t have to “worry about that bleeding anymore” (funny, but I don’t actually worry about it now!).  I guess it just doesn’t occur to their pea-brains that monthly bleeding is just natural. As my male partner so brilliantly put it, “Hey, doc, would you remove the glands in my armpits so I don’t sweat anymore?” Exactly!

FACT – The uterus supports the organs around it, the bladder and the bowel. Removing the uterus (which is often done in this country for a dropped uterus like mine) then often leads to a dropped bladder (causes incontinence) and/or a dropped bowel (causes leakage there or permanent constipation) and/or a vaginal vault prolapse (the entire vagina ends up hanging from the body inside out). The entire pelvic area tends to realign in an unnatural way after hysterectomy, causing among other things joint pain and difficulty walking. Then there is the fact that all of those arteries that once carried so much blood through a woman’s pelvic region (up to a quarter of her blood supply) are all sewn shut during hysterectomy. This also causes lower back pain, leg and foot pain, and difficulty standing or walking.

FACT – Doctors never tell women this, but a hysterectomy actually involves shortening the vagina! Normally, the vagina leads to the cervix like the head leads to the neck. When the uterus is cut out, there is a gaping hole at the top of the vagina, so the doctor sews the top of the vagina shut, thus shortening the vagina. This alone may cause painful intercourse. Furthermore, the stitches at the top of the vagina leave scar tissue, which may also lead to painful intercourse forevermore.

FACT – If a woman agrees to any kind of pelvic surgery, even just exploratory, the fine print on the consent form gives the doctor permission to remove the uterus and/or ovaries if he or she decides he or she should. This happens to many, many, many hysterectomized women – they go in for exploratory surgery and, even some who are young and have not yet had children, wake up missing body parts and forever ill as a result. There are even outrageous but true stories of women who have been in car accidents waking up to find they’ve been hysterectomized! And don’t bother with thinking you can sue the doctor for it. Currently the law for malpractice uses a “reasonable physician” standard. This means that, with so many hysterectomies done in this country, you won’t be able to find a medical expert witness to say anything other than that that doctor did just what any “reasonable physician” would have done (because they’re doing hysterectomies all the time and for any damn thing – that is our current medical standard, so juries can’t find otherwise, can’t find that the doctor did anything unusual or unreasonable). And don’t think you can alter the consent form to make it clear that you do not expect to wake up from pelvic exploratory surgery hysterectomized. The book “The H Word” tells of a California lawyer who tried that. She crossed out things on the consent form and initialed each place that she did so. Then, in her best lawyer talk, she added her own three pages to the consent form in which she said she did not agree to a hysterectomy and that any condition found during the exploratory surgery was to be discussed with her only after she was well awake. Well, guess what? The doctor took out her uterus and ovaries during the exploratory surgery anyway. She tried suing for malpractice, but he won because of the “reasonable (American) physician” legal standard.

FACT – Don’t think you’ll do better by choosing a female doctor. Statistics show that women doctors are performing hysterectomies at rates at least equal to or even greater than male doctors.

With the doctor before this current one who told me I needed a hysterectomy, I sat across his desk from him and asked him, “Isn’t it true that… “ about item after item that I’ve discussed above. I fully expected him to deny it, to claim I was mistaken. Much to my surprise, he actually admitted to every item (note that he never, ever intended to inform me of these things before cutting into my body, he just admitted it when I showed up already knowing what questions to ask!!). His answer to each item I brought up was, “Yes, that sometimes does happen but we have no way of predicting if it will happen with you…”

Here is a great website for further information, the HERS Foundation. The HERS Foundation is pushing to legally change the definition of informed consent in these situations. They want doctors to have to tell women about likely side-effects such as those I’ve outline here. Also, they encourage women to mail their doctors a copy of “The H Word” and then report that doctor’s name to the HERS website. Of course, I’m uncertain what this strategy accomplishes other than sales of the book, as nothing in the approach obliges the doctors in question to actually avail themselves of the knowledge.

Here is their astonishing and infuriating page on adverse effects of hysterectomy.

And here is their excellent 12 minute video on female anatomy, the stuff our doctors aren’t telling us. It’s very useful. Ladies, please watch. And gentlemen, please share with the women in your life. Everyone, please get this video to as many women as you possibly can! Our lives, our bodies, our health!

3 replies »

  1. OK. I read that entire thing. Every word. I even watched the video. Well, I watched part of the video. It’s almost physically painful for me to watch something that execrably produced. I’m afraid all I really got out of it was an urge to kill whoever thought making a video you could freakin’ READ while the terrible voice actors read along was a good idea. I had the urge to scratch their eyes out and watch them bleed ;-).

    Seriously, that was a helluva public service you just did, and I hope many, many women will read it. And men, though there’s a certain gorge-rising reaction that can make that difficult for many of us.

    Hey, here’s a suggestion that may or may not work for you, but could be worth a try. Get an estimate of the cost of a full hysterectomy for your insurance company. Then get the cost of a uterine lift from, say, Denmark. It will take awhile, but if you work at it, you might be able to find the person in your insurance company who can make the call to take the lower-cost European option (it’s likely to be less, anyway) over the full hysterectomy. I’ve certainly heard of stranger things happening, so it’s worth a shot.

    Good luck, ceejay. And let me throw a compliment your way. I cannot think of another author writing for the media in any of its forms who puts herself on the line the way you do. I am in awe.

    • Hello and thanks for the reply and compliment!

      The author of “The H Word,” Nora Coffey, mentions in the book that she has heard from a number of blind and deaf women who have found the HERS video and cancelled their scheduled hysterectomies as a result of the info in the video, so I know the video isn’t the greatest for us able-bodied folks, but realize that it is working just like it is for blind and deaf women.

      I love your idea for possibly getting my surgery overseas, but my health coverage is the federal program Medicaid. I doubt Medicaid would pay outside the country. Fine idea though! I appreciate it.

      Yeah, I wish I could get this information into EVERY woman’s hands before she agrees to life-altering surgery. I’ve been daydreaming about how I could get “The H Word” sent to every woman I know, but, unfortunately, my funds just don’t allow for that. What I have done is send a long e-mail and a copy of the book to my old favorite professor and mentor, the head of my former university’s Women’s Studies department. I am hoping Women’s Studies will find a way to work this information – at least the video – into their coursework. Their younger crowd may not think this applies much to them, but young women REALLY need to be careful and know the facts before agreeing to any kind of pelvic exploratory surgery (since the doctor can then remove organs without asking first).

      Hope you are well,
      ceejay

  2. Interesting. My wife thinks her hysterectomy was one of the top five things she’s ever done. No more PMS, dealing with pads and tampons, and overall, she’s felt better, not worse. She still has her ovaries and they did tell her they would probably die. Her sex drive and response is the same as before. Bladder control has improved. We didn’t go into it lightly and I think her doctor covered the pluses and minuses pretty thoroughly, and we educated ourselves as well. I fully respect a person’s right to not have surgery and vehemently disagree with uninformed hysterectomies. That seems to be a serious violation of human rights. But for my wife and a few ladies she knows, the surgery has been a positive in their lives.

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