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'Incontinence, groin pain, I find it hard to walk and physical relations with my husband are impossible'

Niamh had a vaginal mesh operation 10 years ago and says even though she is only 58, she now feels like she is 90.

Niamh

There is global scrutiny surrounding transvaginal mesh devices which are used in surgeries to treat conditions women can develop after a natural childbirth. Thousands of women have reported complications such as the mesh protruding through the vagina, chronic pain, and recurrent urinary tract infections.

TheJournal.ie has been covering  the issue  extensively  and shared women’s stories.

These procedures have been carried out on women in Ireland since the late 90s and are still performed today. Here, Niamh describes how her life changed forever when what was described as “a simple operation” left her in pain, exhausted and meant she could no longer be intimate with her husband.  

I WAS 48 when I first started to experience stress urinary incontinence. First, it was little leaks from coughing and sneezing, but it got so bad my bladder could empty spontaneously at any time – it was distressing.

My gynaecologist had me on medication for it at the start and physiotherapy, but none of that worked. I was offered an operation.

The surgeon would use a mesh sling to lift up my bladder. I have no recollection of being told of any complications.

I would never have agreed to the operation if I had known what was to come.

In March 2008 I had my operation. Within 48 hours of being released I was in the emergency department. Diagnosed with an infection, I was given antibiotics and sent home again. I felt mostly fine, but I did notice I had to stand and bend over to empty my bladder properly.

Four years later I started getting recurring urinary tract infections and I was constantly on antibiotics. I was worried about the amount I was taking and I had begun to notice a sore sensation in my vagina so I went to see a urologist. A cystoscopy revealed my bladder was covered in red blotches from the infections.

In an appointment with a different urologist, he told me he could feel where he thought the mesh was protruding into my vagina and causing the pain. He told me he could remove this portion of the mesh and I agreed to this.

The partial remove left its own problems.

My complications have been extremely difficult to deal with. As you can imagine any physical relationship with my husband is impossible. This is very stressful and embarrassing to have to discuss with anyone, even the urologist. While my family and close friends would know my situation, I am from a small town in Cork – I would feel embarrassed if people found out about me.

I now have urge incontinence, pain in my groin on the side of the partial removal, pain in my lower abdomen and find it hard to walk any great distance because of pain and weakness. I am constantly tired and can only do so much housework before I have to rest.

Everything I do is affected by mesh. I have to ask ‘Will I be able?’ before I go anywhere or do anything. I couldn’t, for instance, go shopping for four or five hours, I would feel like I was going to collapse with weakness in my legs and pain. I hope someday to have grandchildren, but I know I will be physically unable to enjoy them or even mind them as I had hoped to do.

I am only 58 years of age and I feel as if I am 90.

This afternoon I will be protesting at Leinster House with other women affected by vaginal mesh complications. I’ll be joined by my husband who is very supportive.

It is important to me to let the people in Ireland know how devastating this mesh is. I would hate anyone to go through what I am going through today.

I want politicians to know that we went for a so-called simple operation to repair an embarrassing issue. We have ended up having our lives devastated.

I think my life is changed forever and I will have to live with that until the day I die, all because of this “simple operation”.

Niamh is a 58-year-old mother-of-one from Co Cork. She is one of a number of women in Ireland who have reported painful complications after an operation using surgical mesh. She and other members of the Mesh Survivors Ireland group will protest at 12pm outside Leinster House today.

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