Earlier this year I was diagnosed with a hernia just above my belly button. I knew something was wrong when I felt the little bump that was causing me pain. One night, I pushed on it, leaving me with the most unsettling feeling, like I just popped something and I was going to go septic. My mind whirled with so many anxious thoughts from that moment on. I was diagnosed by my family doctor, sent for an ultrasound, and my hernia was confirmed. I was in the middle of moving from California to Washington and was told surgery was an option but many people live with their hernias without ever correcting them. Being that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, I chose to postpone doing anything for it, strapped on a hernia belt I bought off Amazon, and continued to move out of one house and into another one. I also had a two and a half year old that was 40 pounds and still loved being in his mama's arms at times. I did not take it as easy as I should have, and when things settled down and we settled into our new house, I knew I needed to handle my situation. My pain was getting worse, my hernia grew in size and was popping out more than it was staying in. I was loosing weight because eating was uncomfortable, my lady time of the month became excruciating, and I found myself only finding comfort when laying down flat. This was not a way to live. Towards the end, I was forced to use the electric carts at Target and Costco, which I had no shame doing. I was struggling to play with my young son, cook dinner, or do the most simplest of tasks. My mood changed from the chronic pain and I became more anxious and on edge, constantly worrying about my condition. It was time to do something.
So, I met with the general surgeon who I was referred to by my family doc, and from the moment my consultation started with him, it was off to a bad start.
A bit of few details about me before I dive in. I live a pretty clean life. I am gluten free and eat mostly Paleo style because I have eczema and asthma, both of which have vastly improved my 'auto immune' ailments. My body transformed when I switched my diet, and I will always subscribe to this new clean lifestyle. I found more relief and reduction in inflammation from eating clean, and I felt more in tune with my body than I ever have before. Part of my lifestyle change also included ridding our house of all toxic cleaners, filtering our water, swapping out for natural skincare products and just being more aware of what things are made of.
Two other things to note. First, my friend was also diagnosed with a hernia at the same time, and chose to do surgery immediately. She had an awful experience, as it turned out she had multiple hernias, and her surgeon did the typical mesh surgery, and sent her home the same day. She was in horrid pain, and even had to go back into emergency surgery a day later because of complications. Secondly, her experience left such an impression on me, that's when I started researching about surgery options and discovered more information about mesh. More horror stories starting haunting me, as I read about people whose bodies rejected their mesh, and went on to live a life in chronic pain, setting off a litany of other ailments. I did not want this to happen to me! That's when I read about Shouldice Hospital in Toronto Canada, a hospital that has specialized in non-mesh hernia repair for over 70 years, with incredible stats and nothing but rave reviews.
So, back to my US general surgeon consultation. The doctor looked at me like I had three heads when I told him I was concerned about the mesh and my body rejecting it, as I explained I had auto immune ailments. Mind you majority of the visit was him explaining to me what a hernia was and where they all can occur, like I didn't know why I was there meeting him or where my hernia was. As I asked him questions about non mesh options, he began to get very agitated like I was insulting his intelligence, because clearly he knew more about my body than me!? That was the thing, I was just a body to him, not a person with a health history and valid concerns. I mentioned the Shouldice hospital, where he proceeded to tell me all these stats about them, which were inaccurate, as I did previous research on the hospital. At that moment, my mind was made up, I was going to do whatever it took to go to Toronto for my surgery. I cordially left, after the surgeon said "...he already had spent enough time with me", mind you it was less than 30 minutes. I got into my car and balled my eyes out. I was so exhausted from pain, and was completely dismissed by this surgeon who made me feel like I was making a huge deal about nothing. This was the moment where I picked myself up, held my head high, and vowed that I was never going to let anyone dictate or bully me into a choice that came to MY body.
I made the call to Shouldice, and an angelic voice spoke from the other end. She was comforting, compassionate, understanding and responsive. She sent me the forms, which I immediately sent back, and I was booked for my surgery within 2 weeks of the first call. I cried again, but this time, tears of relief. The answer to the million dollar question, it did not cost a million dollars, but rather less than $5,000 not including my travel. But wait, it gets better, I stayed in the hospital for 5 days, all food included and healed under a team of nurses and doctors supervision! Not only was the food incredible, but they accommodated my gluten free diet too. But wait it gets even better again, they taught us Thai Chi and I got a phenomenal message, both of which were meant to improve recovery time. I'm getting ahead of myself.
I arrived in Toronto with my mom accompanying me. I needed wheelchair assistance at the airport because walking was becoming a struggle, as my hernia was constantly out. I was weak, tired, and had a broken spirit. My anxiety was in full bloom, as I was just praying to make it to the hospital without having any emergencies or accidents. Being that I lived in Washington State, I arrived a day before my check in because it took a full day to travel to get there. The next morning, I arrived by taxi, and pulled up to the most beautiful property, that absolutely did not look like a hospital. The acres of grounds were green, landscaped, well manicured with trees, geese, fountains, and tranquility. The hospital looked like a huge estate that was beautifully adorned and immaculately kept. I walked in, where I was quickly attended to, sent to meet with a nurse to record my stats, given lunch, then met with the doctor, and then brought to my room for the stay. My roommate was the loveliest lady who reminded me of Strega Nonna, an Italian Grandma with an incredible heart. She was there to have two hernias fixed, and we lived together, ate together and recovered together the entire time of both of our stays. The room had two beds, separated by a curtain with our own private bathroom. Every room looked to be set up the same way, with the difference being men were matched with men, and women roomed with women. This allowed for immediate friendships, and everyone who checked in on the same day, all 'graduated' the same day, 5 days later. There were men and women of all ages from ALL OVER THE WORLD. I met the most incredible people, as we bonded daily, shared in our recovery together, broke bread at every meal, and participated in light exercise classes.
The surgery. The philosophy of the hospital, was to not put patients under completely, but rather do locals and partial sedation. Their reason being that the body heals faster, as under a general our bodies tend to tense up, making it harder and longer to recover. Their surgery technique is world renowned, and one that is not certified by any other doctor except by Shouldice. (Please look up these details on their site http://www.shouldice.com and ask questions, as I don't want to misinterpret their surgery style, but it is absolutely no mesh, and the occurrence rates were phenomenally low.) I wasn't allowed food all morning, as they slated the older patients first thing in the morning, and the healthier younger ones later in the day. When it was my turn, they brought me down, gave me some pills, where I quickly fell asleep. They woke me up and I walked into the surgery room, got onto the table, where they started to prep me, and gave me some anesthesia, which I've heard is called truth serum. I don't remember everything, and I felt nothing, but I know I was gabbing to the doctors the entire time. It's kinda hazy how I got to my bed in my room, but waking up for me was probably the roughest part of my experience. I'm not use to drugs, and not feeling sensation all of my body freaked me out, but over the course of an hour sensation slowly came back and the nausea went away. Then I was hungry! Boy did I eat, like it was my first time in a LONG time. As for my pain, nothing! Just some uncomfortable pressure from the swelling and some bloating, all of which they warned us of. I did not take a pain reliever more powerful than a Tylenol, the entire span of my recovery. Even when I got home, I didn't need anything. And the surgery, it was like night and day, like one minute I thought my insides were falling out, then the next minute I felt like I had a suit of armor on my belly, like nothing had ever happened.
The recovery. This was also magic, nothing like I had ever experienced. My well being was their top priority. They made sure all patients were comfortable and well fed. They also would not let us stay in bed, and forced us to continue to eat in the dinning hall together for every meal and snack, they even limited wifi to certain lounge areas, handicapping the smart part of phones. They scheduled Thai chi group classes, and encouraged us to walk the grounds to keep moving and keep blood flowing and stimulated. They also gave us the option to book a massage, in which the therapist met with us prior to surgery to explain the benefits of massaging the meds out of your body and improve recovery time. They spoke my wellness language! In the US, it would have been an in and out surgery, recover at home, and prescription for pain meds just after going fully under. I understand one reason the US would send you home the same day, being its more sanitary from less sick people, but for me, I wanted to be under medical supervision as I healed those first days, and the hospital was beyond sanitary. It was so comforting and really stress relieving knowing I didn't have to second guess what my incision looked like, or if I had a weird feeling, or what to do, if. What an empowering feeling and place to recover. My last day was kinda sad, as my new friends and I said our goodbyes, as we all felt we went through something incredible together that we'll never forget.
My mom picked me up in a rental car the morning of my check out, and we went shopping at the local mall, ate sushi and enjoyed each other's company without my hernia getting in the way. The next day we had a later flight, so we drove all around beautiful Toronto and walked the streets that are coined the "Rodeo Drive" of Toronto, and without my hernia stopping me along the way. We ate at an amazing Italian restaurant where I truly enjoyed eating again. My week in Toronto felt more like a stay at a wellness spa, where I unplugged, read books, had incredible conversations with new worldly people, and I healed my body, mind and soul.
To say that my experience at Shouldice was incredible, is an understatement. I urge anyone who is seeking a hernia repair, to look no further than here. You are in amazing hands, as the staff, nurses and doctors treat you like a person, look you in your eyes, listen to you and your body, and make it clear that your health and well being is their top priority. Thank you to the brave bloggers that shared their stories, which ultimately led me to find this amazing hospital. I will never be the same, from the impression Shouldice left on me, to the appreciation I have for Shouldice for taking me into their arms and making me whole again!