‘I aged ten years overnight’: New bride tells how marriage was almost destroyed by hysterectomy
The pictures of Debbie Harvey’s wedding show her sparkling with youth and vitality.
Just months later, a routine hysterectomy made her age ten years overnight – leaving her with hollow cheeks and rotten teeth.
Even worse, the dramatic effects of her surgery almost destroyed her new marriage.
The 49-year-old, from Upton, Norwich, says she became depressed about her ravaged body.
She now says she wishes she had never gone ahead with the operation.
The procedure, intended to ease period pain, triggered premature menopause – and her body went into shock.
The next morning, the sales manager’s highlighted blonde hair began snapping off in clumps.
Four of her teeth fell out in just days, her cheeks hollowed-out and her gums receded.
‘I’m not a vain person, but I was in no way prepared to age so dramatically and unexpectedly, especially after I had just been married,’ she said.
‘I was devastated and felt such a burden on my husband I even told him to leave me. I bitterly regretted going ahead with the operation.
‘I’m a different person to the woman I was before the operation. I will never be as confident but I have had to accept the person I see in the mirror.’
Mrs Harvey, then 47, had been married to electrician Charlie, then 45, for just six months when her GP referred her to hospital after suffering years of crippling period pain.
She’d suffered since she was a teenager and doctors had told her it would ease after she had children.
But after having three children during her first marriage, daughters Sarah, 30, and Jamie, 26 and son Rob, 23, nothing had changed.
‘I tried exercise, changes to my diet, but nothing worked,’ she said. ‘In 2003, I had a laser procedure called an endometrial ablation, which was fantastic, but the effects wore off after about three years.’
It was then her consultant suggested she consider a hysterectomy.
‘My family was complete so it made sense. When they asked if I wanted my ovaries removed too, to reduce the chance of ovarian cancer, I agreed.
Mrs Harvey was told that the changes would put her body into early menopause but says she failed to understand the physical effect this would have.
‘I knew I’d likely have hot flushes but I had no idea at all that I would age so horrifically so quickly.
‘If I had known that there was any chance of that happening I would have continued managing the pain with painkillers.
‘My husband is two years younger than me and I’d always taken great pride in my appearance.
‘I was a size eight to ten and had my hair done regularly and took great care of my skin.
‘People often assumed he was the older one, which was quite a compliment. Life was wonderful.’
But all that was to change after the surgery in July 2009.
Mrs Harvey was discharged four days after the operation, feeling ‘horrific, like an old woman.’
She could barely move and had to be helped into the car.
The next morning she got the shock of her life when she noticed that most of her teeth felt wobbly.
‘I staggered to the mirror and gasped in shock. I didn’t recognise the woman looking back. She looked about ten years older than me.’
She made an emergency appointment with her dentist, who diagnosed periodontitis, a weakening of the bones supporting the teeth.
Despite antibiotics, she lost four teeth over the coming days.
‘Losing the teeth changed the shape of my face,’ she said. ‘It sank in like an old lady’s and my gums started receding. Every time I looked in the mirror I looked older. My dentist explained the shock of going through the menopause so quickly had most likely caused a huge hormone imbalance.’
Next her highlighted blonde hair snapped off like straw and her skin wrinkled and dried out.
‘I also gained weight no mater what diet I followed… in the end, just before our first wedding anniversary six months after the operation, I told Charlie he was better off without me and to go.
‘I was so depressed by what had happened to me. I had gone from a blushing bride to an old hag. I couldn’t see why he would want to stay with me. I was not the woman he married.’
Mrs Harvey sought help from her GP, who arranged for a new course of HRT, which eventually helped to settle the side effects a year after the operation.
But it was another two years before she started to regain her confidence.
‘The damage was already done but I knew if I didn’t start to accept the changes I would lose everything.
‘Gradually I began to try and accept the new me and come to terms with it. But it has been a long road and it’s only the last few months that I can honestly say I’m getting there.
‘Charlie has been wonderful throughout and he has given me the strength to accept what happened.
‘It stopped the pain, but it was a huge price to pay and I still regret it every day.
‘A hysterectomy can be the answer for a lot of women, and I’m not warning against them, I just want women to be aware of the effects it can have on your looks and be prepared.
‘I was not.’