Hysterectomy is a Feminist Issue – Duh

March 2nd, 2017 by elaine

A friend of mine who is eighty and then-some claims to be a feminist since birth.  I thought, well, that’s a bit of a stretch; and then I thought – no – I, too, am a feminist since birth, and I claim both personal and professional knowledge in this field:  don’t all children (and certain infantile adults) understand, virtually from birth, the concept “It’s not fair!”?  My friend Franny had brothers and so did I.  THEY didn’t have to make their bed or do the dishes; THEY could get up from the table and go out to play; E T C E T E R A!

Granted hysterectomy is a surgical procedure exclusively offered to women – only women have a uterus or womb, and that is the original meaning of the word hystera (from the Greek).  But that is not what makes it a feminist issue; Franny has the real story,  and she got it in French, her second language. I think she is brilliant  – listen to this!

Franny recently had a hysterectomy, rarely, we both thought, necessary for women our age and suspect for women at any age.  Feminist women of the 1970′s, like me and Franny, were put on their guard – we were warned to beware of the words “you don’t need that anymore”;  removal of all or part of the female reproductive system was done for many different reasons back then, some of them trivial, sometimes exploitative (ahem, financial?)…. your ovaries, even after menopause, do continue to serve a function, however diminished,  and they are not to be disposed of lightly.

In Franny’s  case it was necessary.  So she prepared for the surgery with the support of a wonderful French hospital.  There was something called a “pre-op day” where all the necessary tests were done and there was a PowerPoint lecture-demonstration of the process.  Nothing was left to the imagination, and each participant went home with all the information they had just heard, plus whatever they may not have thought to ask and a lined sheet to write down questions they may think of later.  Franny read and re-read everything, but the piece  that really caught her attention was the one that dealt with What to Expect once she was back home after surgery, especially the heading Physical Activity. Here is what it said (or how Franny translated it):

As soon as you get home you may begin your activities little by little. You may, for example

- do a little light housekeeping (do the dishes, dust, passer la vadrouille,  etc)
- go for a walk outdoors
- go up and down stairs

At first glance Franny thought passer la vadrouille was another way of saying it was o.k.to vacuum (passer l’aspirateur).  She admits she was a bit hasty on that one, knocked for a loop by the outrageous idea that she would be comforted to know how soon she would be allowed to resume the role of the diligent little housewife. “I wonder what they tell men who have abdominal operations” she screamed at me on the phone, half laughing of course!

Once she did get home after surgery, her daughter, with whom she had shared this information (and who had received it with nothing more than a shrug) would call her up and ask, “How are you today, Mum?  Did you pass the vacuum cleaner yet?”  (That’s cool – we get that, Franny and I, it’s generational!)

Well it turns out la vadrouille is a dust mop, and who has seen a dust mop in the last 30 years?

By the way, Physical Activity (above) does not include Sexuality for which there is a separate section, very inclusive, very specific, including references to professionals in the health care field who may be able to help with difficulties, physical or mental.  Contemporary?

Franny is doing fine.  The more she shares her story the more stories she hears from other women.  It’s like the sexual assault thing – once someone has the courage to talk about it, other women are eager to share their stories, many of them with regret.

So what DO they tell men about their post-op first days at home?  Frannie said she will not ask that one, and neither will I.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Health Care


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