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Close Encounters With MedlinePlus of the Personal Kind – The Rest of the Story

by Gail Kouame

Several weeks ago I posted a story about my experiences with the surgery videos on, the National Library of Medicine’s consumer health portal site. One of my co-workers asked me at that point, “You’re going to write an ‘after’ story, aren’t you?” To which I said, “Sure!” So, here it is…

You may remember that I sang the praises of the videos saying how much better prepared I felt for my upcoming procedure. I can now say that is still true after-the-fact. When I went in for my pre-op appointment with my surgeon, he pulled out a little flip chart with color illustrations of female internal anatomy (somewhat higher end than the cartoony junior high pictures to which I referred in my previous article). But when he started describing the procedure itself, I definitely had a clear idea of exactly what he was talking about because of seeing the video. There were certainly no surprises at this point. As a matter of fact, I told my surgeon all about my experience with the video and he was genuinely interested to hear about it. I also mentioned it to the nurse who called me for my pre-admission intake and she was pleased to know such a thing was available.

Okay – so I felt prepared beforehand, but what about when the actual time came? Well, I checked into the hospital at 6am. I was asked what procedure I would be having and I was able to say with confidence: “A Laparoscopic Supracervical Hysterectomy” – pronunciation confirmed from the video. All systems were go, and soon I was rolling down the halls of the hospital to the operating room. The anesthesia kicked in pretty quickly (thankfully!), so the next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery area.

Here’s where the video didn’t fill in the blanks as much as I might have liked. I was waking up and I was understandably groggy. There was a machine that would beep on occasion and the nurses would tell me to take a deep breath. My right hip was particularly sore (for reasons I still don’t know) and they gave me an ice pack to apply. Once I was awake enough to satisfy the nurses in that recovery area, I was moved to the room where I would spend the rest of the afternoon.

I mostly remember feeling like all I wanted to do was sleep, which is what I did most of the day. Things were somewhat surreal because I knew I would be going home that evening, yet I only got up twice all day. But, between the video and my surgeon I knew that I was very likely going to be discharged the same day. One thing I didn’t know is that I would be receiving IV antibiotics – makes sense, but it simply wasn’t addressed in detail prior to the procedure (or in the video). Once the antibiotics had been administered and the surgeon and nurses were convinced that it was okay to discharge me, they started the process to send me home.

Here’s where I felt affirmed by things I tell people when I offer training about health information literacy: The amount of information they try to give you in this kind of situation is overwhelming! I was very grateful that my husband was with me to be a second set of ears. I do have to give my surgeon credit for boiling it down for me, though. He said, “When you go home you will experience many things. The only thing you need to worry about are signs of infection.” They also gave me print instructions for future reference.

Once I arrived home, I went about the business of recovering. The video, in my opinion, paints a rosier picture than what I experienced, which I think set up my expectations to be up and around more quickly than I was. I did feel quite well by the end of day two (pretty amazing actually!), but my energy level took a while to get back to baseline. Also my doctor told me I could drive after the first week, so I ambitiously thought I would be able to hop in the car and drive the 40 miles to my mom’s to take her out for birthday dinner one week after surgery – wrong! I think the doctor meant it would be okay to drive to the local grocery store. Because this procedure is considered “micro-invasive” it can be easy to think that you will bounce back more quickly. Of course, everyone is different in how their body responds, so there is no way to tell people exactly what to expect.

And, speaking of the “micro-invasive” aspect: My surgeon called me during week two of recovery and asked if it would be okay if a journalist called to interview me about my experiences for their health system magazine, since this procedure is relatively new. Being a medical librarian, I said, “Of course, I’d be happy to contribute to the literature.” That interview is complete as well as my “photo op” and the article will be published this Fall!

So, MedlinePlus and the surgery videos were extremely helpful in preparing me for my actual procedure. it was the recovery side of the equation that felt a little more uncertain. It just goes to show, even armed with great information, a person’s experience with health and the health system is going to be unique depending on individual health status and situations.

If I had to sum up how I felt after surgery: I mostly felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

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