Vulval surgery – yup.

If you’re reading this, I’ll go ahead and assume either that you have this particular surgery looming over you, you have an unnatural interest in vulvas (because this isn’t about vulvas per se, gentlemen, but rather it’s about the surgery thereof), or you just can’t believe someone would title an essay like that.

Normally, I’m a pretty uptight person. Fact. But, you know what, one of the greatest things that’s happened in medicine in my lifetime is that we are able to talk about illness in a way that our parents never would have imagined. And because of this, we are not alone, we know what to look for, and we get diagnosed earlier, thereby improving our chances of recovery and survival.

So, recently, I had a small lesion removed from my vulva. My diagnosis, thanks to my very observant and diligent gynecologist and a biopsy, was Vulval Intraepithelial Neoplasia (VIN 3). Precancerous, definitely needing to be removed. My gynecologist recommended the gynecological oncologist she would send her sister to if she needed this particular surgery. Very nice man and a wonderful surgeon, but a man nonetheless. More on that in a bit.

Waiting in the hospital for surgery, a long-time volunteer popped in just to let me know I had hit the jackpot with this surgeon, best of the best, and sweet as can be. This I had already figured out both during my pre-op visit and during his quick check-in on me that morning just to see how I was doing.

In his office, the surgeon told me to expect a couple day recovery, then I’d be fine. And, in response to my question regarding recovery time the morning of surgery, the response was the same. A few days and I would feel fine. No matter how good your surgeon is, never trust a man with a question regarding the recovery from vulval surgery. He has no idea. Seriously, through no fault of his own, no friggin’ idea.

I’m now two weeks into recovery. Granted the first day was fine. No pain. Everything was dandy. My sister said, “you might be feeling it a bit more tomorrow.” She’s had major surgery. She knows stuff. She was right. Without going into the gritty detail, the pain of recovery went from fine to ok over a few days, which made me think I could walk and hike. Which of course was a bad idea. There is the fact that walking will make bowel movements easier, though by no means any less painful. And because of where the surgical wound is, every bowel movement puts pressure on the wound and the pain is excruciating, and two weeks in, the pain is now accompanied by a horrible itch (the itch of healing it seems, another thing I wasn’t expecting) and stinging pain. And scratching the area is out of the question. Luckily, today the nurse suggested using Vaseline as a possible barrier to at least help with the stinging. My post surgery appointment is next week. I assume I’ll feel much better by then. I assume that’s why the post surgery appointment is made three weeks out. Not one. Not two. Definitely not a few days.

Words of advice if you’ve got to have this surgery:

– This surgery is not unlike recovering after giving birth, except there’s no beautiful baby to distract you. Granted you aren’t caring for a baby, but you’re probably 20 or 30 years older now, so there’s that. For me, this is like recovering from the third degree episiotomy I had with my first birth child (my oldest is adopted, by far the easiest to bring into the family).
– Every bowel movement is like giving birth. Expect to have to rest and recover. Colace is your friend. Don’t miss a dose. And drink water. Lots of it. And eat fiber.
– Don’t wear jeans. I cannot say this loudly enough. Day 9 I went out with a friend and for some reason, I wore jeans. Bad, bad idea. I think the pain of days 10 through 14 had something to do with the poor decision of day 9.
– On the day of your surgery, ask the female in the room about the recovery, and if the answer you get is in days, multiple those by weeks and that will be your actual recovery time.
-Tell your friends about VIN. It sucks, but not as bad as not knowing you have it. It’s treatable, but you’ve got to find it early, before it turns into something like the big C.

Thanks for reading. Now make your annual doctor’s appointment. My regular doctor, also wonderful, has never seen VIN. As you get older, make sure you’re seeing a gynecologist yearly.


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