Thousands of women’s lives have been ruined by vaginal mesh – I’m one of them
I can still remember what the gynaecologist said. That a procedure he’d recommended to fix my incontinence would ‘transform’ my life. He wasn’t wrong.
Ever since I had the operation, my sex life has become non-existent, I live in constant pain, and I’ve even tried to take my life twice.
I was first told about the vaginal mesh procedure – where a synthetic net-like implant to treat incontinence and prolapses is inserted into the body – in 2014, after having a partial hysterectomy that caused me to suffer from stress incontinence.
I was still relatively young and I worked as a long distance driver – it wasn’t practical to have to stop for a tinkle every half an hour. On top of that, wetting myself at 33 was just embarrassing.
First, my doctors suggested I tried pelvic floor exercises and changing my diet. Neither worked. That was when my gynaecologist suggested I had the mesh procedure – or, to give it its proper term: laparoscopic sacrocolpopexy – promising it would change my life for the better.
I was transvaginally fitted with the mesh in November 2014 and so excited to get home and heal from the operation so that I could begin my new, incontinence-free life.
Instead, virtually straight after the surgery, I started having problems.
Within a month I’d been admitted back into hospital in unbearable agony in my abdomen and pelvic region. The doctors told me that it was being caused by severe constipation due to my medication, but I just didn’t believe them. I was suffering pain that felt worse than labour. It was like stabbing, shooting pains up and down my legs and was unbearable.
Even so, I was discharged from hospital. The pain continued and my stress incontinence grew worse. Then, I started getting an angry red rash called erythema on my eyes, my back and my tummy. My eyes would often puff up, and my legs would go weak. My knees would give way out of nowhere.
My GP diagnosed me with something called chondromalacia patellae, where cartilage damage is found around the kneecap.
Although my health problems all seemed unrelated, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fit and healthy I had been before the mesh was fitted. Now, it felt like I had some sort of toxin inside me that my body was reacting to. I constantly wondered if it was all being caused by the implant.
Every time I tried raising the subject of my mesh with either my doctor, physiotherapist or chronic pain team, I was dismissed. I was told it couldn’t be related to that. It was so frustrating and felt like no one was listening to me.
Meanwhile, my life continued to go downhill.
My relationship with my partner suffered, as we were no longer intimate due to the pain I was in and how it’s affected my body confidence.
I was also getting disciplinary action in my lorry driving job due to the amount of time I was taking off for hospital appointments and pain-related issues.
Within a year of the operation I’d been made redundant, just after I had my first knee operation to file down the bone and flush out fragments – I’ve had three more since – so I ended up doing agency work. I took on jobs in retail and hospitality, but neither offered the stability of a full-time position.
It was only in 2018 that everything clicked together.
Something came on TV one morning: a segment about vaginal mesh on the Victoria Derbyshire show. There was a group of women who’d had implants like me to treat incontinence or prolapses, and they were all talking about chronic pain they’d suffered, including problems with their hips and other ailments.
In that moment, I knew I was right – that it was the mesh causing all my health problems.
I barely slept for three days after that, because I was online looking at support groups for people with mesh implants, and reading other people’s stories.
Then I contacted a second hospital to ask for the mesh to be taken out, and to see my medical notes.
However, the doctor I saw refused to remove it and that my health issues have nothing to do with mesh.
It was heartbreaking to hear that the hospital that had caused all this trouble wouldn’t help me but I refused to give up. After educating myself online, I decided to pay for a private translabial scan, which is the only way to ‘see’ mesh that has been implanted inside the body.
An ultrasound last year finally revealed that some of it had deteriorated, and couldn’t be seen. The rest of it seemed to have shrunk and its tight grip was causing inflammation in my surrounding organs, including my bowel.
From that moment on, I have been on a mission to get this mesh removed from my body.
Through the support group Mesh UK, I found out about a doctor in Bristol who could remove mesh implants. I had to argue with my GP for 45 minutes to get the referral, because he didn’t want to refer me out of the area, but he eventually agreed.
I went on the waiting list and finally in late 2019, had my first mini-operation in Bristol, to see where the mesh had attached itself to my bowel.
The doctors told me that it would need to be cut out, but warned that the operation could take up to eight hours.
There are a lot of risks with the removal of vaginal mesh, because it’s designed to be permanent. The potential damage is different for everyone – when I had my pre-op consultation, my doctor told me that I could end up with a colostomy bag, or that the operation could even leave me disabled and reliant on a wheelchair.
Hearing all this was so overwhelming. There were so many ‘what ifs’. Even so, I was willing to go ahead, to get this thing out of me.
I was six weeks away from having the mesh removed when the coronavirus pandemic struck. So now I’m still waiting and wish I’d never had the mesh implanted.
I’ve suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide twice, all because of vaginal mesh.
I’m desperate to have the operation to get rid of it, but I can’t help but feel nervous about doctors touching me again. I’m afraid I’ll be left in even more pain – or die.
Last week a review came out condemning the vaginal mesh procedure, saying that the UK healthcare system had failed the thousands of women who developed life-changing conditions after pelvic mesh surgery.
In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock apologised to all the women affected by it, but his words mean nothing to me. It’s too late for that.
No amount of money, compensation or saying sorry is going to make a difference to me, for having six years of my life destroyed.
What right did these doctors have to put this plastic inside us?
Before the procedure, I was going to the gym five times a week. I was earning good money. I had a fantastic sex life. I was going on holiday, walking, running, and enjoying the countryside.
Now, I’m in so much pain every day. I’m lucky if I can go a day without falling down due to my bad knees. I’m taking four different kinds of painkillers. I just want to be chopped in half, from the waist down, just so I can have an agony-free day.
That’s why I’m sharing my story. People need to know the truth about vaginal mesh. It doesn’t transform your life, it ruins it.
For information and support, go to Mesh UK.
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