It’s something you think may never happen to you. Some form of prolapse? No, surely not. A ‘small’ surgery that results in complications you would never have imagined? Nah. It’s something that can seem to embarrassing, so shameful, so humiliating, that women don’t talk about it. But these ops are affecting a host of people and it’s important that we are all more well-informed just in case.
The surgical use of mesh was first highlighted a few years ago and was eventually banned, in terms of TVT (transvaginal tape) in Scotland. Johnson & Johnson are being sued, and some states in America are suspending the use of the mesh. More recently in the UK, the media has lit up with nightmarish stories of women who have undergone a mesh procedure, and it’s only now starting to come to light just how deep the problems really lie and how widely they have spread.
With these mesh procedures, some people have been offered biological mesh, but the majority have polypropylene. Plastic, basically. This mesh is designed to put things back in to their right places. It’s not just vaginal mesh and for those who have had babies or who have urinary continence issues, as is often assumed. It can be for any pelvic organ prolapse (though predominantly in women), for the likes of bladder, rectum, vaginal, internal rectal prolapse, rectocele, etc. Basically, where bits aren’t where they should be anymore and the symptoms can be anything from minimal, to wide-reaching and life-limiting as a result.
There are reports of patients suffering extreme complications, life-changing complications. They have felt let down and shunned by surgeons, not properly cared for, lied to, not advised fully or honestly about the risks involved. The dangers were suspected years ago by one surgeon skilled in removing mesh in this article. Whether these problems are due to the mesh, the procedure itself, or the surgeon undertaking the op, I’m not sure and it will vary in each case, though it’s probably a mixture of all three.
What’s also appalling are the poor audit controls when it comes to rectopexy mesh. There seems to be no reporting database for outcomes and complications, so how can surgeons even give adequate guidance on risks when patient outcomes aren’t all reported?
The problems run from the information provided to patients prior to agreeing to the procedure, to the aftercare received and the potential danger of the implants themselves. For instance :
- Many patients have claimed they haven’t been fully, adequately or honestly spoken to about the potential problems or complications with the surgery and mesh. They are then going in to a surgery, out of desperation having struggled with their symptoms, believing the surgeon has their best interests at heart, when they are actually unaware of the potentially life-changing effects the operation could have.
- Mesh erosion – Basically cutting through and eroding another part of the anatomy that the mesh is close to. Got vaginal mesh? It may ‘erode’ through the bowel or the bladder, for instance.
- New problems or worsened symptoms – Symptoms that ladies had prior to the operation, which were supposed to be improved, actually get worse; others develop de novo problems, such as constipation. Some, as a result, end up with a stoma.
- Poor patient aftercare – Patients reporting to receive little to no support from their surgeon when they tell them of their problems and distress after their surgery. In the case of private patients, it feels as though once the surgeon has taken the money they don’t really want to know any more.
- Affecting sex – Rectopexy (for rectal prolapse) mesh affecting the vagina, resulting in some unable to use tampons or have sex. In addition, sex could not only be very painful but even cause the mesh to cut through (or erode) the wall between the rectum and vagina.
- Pain – Some have excruciating pain, others have infrequent pain. Some report needing a wheelchair, not being able to walk or stand or sit for long periods of time.
- Some even find a detrimental effect to their overall health from a foreign piece of plastic being in their bodies.
The potentially devastating and life-changing effects of mesh surgeries raises some serious concerns. And yet these operations continue, both on the NHS and privately. With hospital trusts cutting back and putting many conditions on the back-burner when it comes to treatment, a lot of women are seeking private help in desperation.
Imagine spending your savings on a private consultation and private surgery, only to find you weren’t made fully aware of the potential dangers, or experiencing complications that get overlooked, and end up facing more surgeries, more costs, life-limiting changes, losing your job even, and feeling as though no-one really cares. It certainly feels as though the medical profession and the surgeons raking in the money aren’t too concerned with overhauling their approaches to patient welfare.
You also have to wonder whether, if these surgeries were being done all to men and leaving their lives, including sex lives, impaired, whether this would have carried on for so long without uproar.
I read a few comments on some of the news articles where others have almost attacked these women for their naivety. That is so, so wrong. A few years ago, when most of these women were having these procedures that they’ve since been struggling with, there weren’t reports of negative experiences and articles on the depth of the problems regarding mesh. I don’t think that their Google searches would have uncovered anything so untoward before they had their procedures, whereas now, with this new attention and light being shed on the ‘scandal’, there would be lots of hits. It’s also worth noting that they, as we all would like to hope to do, put some faith and trust in these so called specialists, especially when desperate for help. They are in a position of authority and can come across as being personable, incredibly confident in their abilities and the procedures they conduct.
If you’ve been affected by mesh, whether TVT or rectopexy, and need support, please get in touch as I can suggest some great online support groups that may be helpful. Or, if you’d like to share your story on InvisiblyMe, I’d be happy to post it – firstname.lastname@example.org You’re not alone.
The question is, how many injured patients and lives changed, damaged or ruined, does it take for changes to be made?