Claire Griffiths may have expected some level of discomfort when she woke up from an operation to correct a prolapsed bowel. But as the anaesthetic wore off, the married mother-of-two describes the sensation as “the most immense pain I’ve ever been in”.
“The nurses kept telling me that it was caused by the way they had positioned me in surgery,”’ says Griffiths, 39, from Herefordshire.
“But I was in agony and they couldn’t control it, even with morphine and paracetamol. Childbirth was more manageable. This pain was like a burning sensation, all through my sacrum (the base of the spine) and despite the medication, it continued for around six weeks.”
Unfortunately for Griffiths, this intense pain was far from a one-off incident.
Since the rectopexy operation in April 2013, Griffiths now lives in almost constant, debilitating pain caused by the controversial ‘mesh’ technique used in the surgery.
She has been forced to quit her job as an associated nurse practitioner due to ill-health. Her mother is now her carer and she requires crutches to walk and a wheelchair to travel any further than 20 yards.
Griffiths’ case is far from unique. The Rectopexy Mesh Victims And Support Group on Facebook has nearly 700 – mostly female – members.
The Sling the Mesh campaign for other victims has nearly 9,000 members but those figures are thought to be the tip of the iceberg.
“Nobody really knows how many are suffering because the NHS and the regulatory body the MHRA has not kept a database of how many women have had the operation and how many are suffering,” says Sling the Mesh’s founder Kath Samson.
“A third of women in the support group have experienced mesh erosion – where it has sliced through the vagina walls and cut into bowels, bladders, wombs and urethras.
“Some women now have stomas and colostomy bags where they have had to have organs removed – and all this for what was supposed to be a 20-minute simple operation to fix an embarrassing health problem.”
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Griffiths’ story began in 2012 when, after years of suffering from constipation, she was told she had a bowel prolapse.
“My consultant said there was this new ‘quick fix’ where mesh is attached to the sacrum with pins and that’s attached to the vaginal wall to hold it into place,” she says.
“I’d never heard of it before but I trusted the consultant and wasn’t warned of any complications or adverse effects.
“After the initial six weeks of pain after waking up from surgery, I was well for about a year but then the pain returned.
“At first, it was manageable but eventually it became so uncomfortable that I went to see a gynaecological consultant who put it down to ‘female problems’ and told me to lose some weight.”
“But by 2017 – the year I got married – I was having to take time off from work because I was in so much pain.
“I would get severe bloating where I’d look nine months pregnant. When Jason and I went on a cruise to Madeira, I woke one day and I couldn’t walk for the pain. My back and legs were burning. I knew it couldn’t just be ‘female problems’ and I even went back to my original surgeon who examined me and said that everything seemed to be fine with the surgery. I was at my wits’ end.”
It wasn’t until Griffiths spotted a news report that everything changed.
“I was watching television and heard about other women suffering from mesh surgery and I broke down in tears because I realised it wasn’t just me suffering with this pain,” she says.
“I went back to my GP and told her I thought it was the mesh causing the problems and she prescribed low level pain medication.
“But I knew I needed further help. I was lucky as my parents paid for me to see private surgeons who examined me and said my insides are a mass of adhesions and mesh.
“My bowel is tucked to my uterus, the mesh in incredibly tight and that’s where the pain is coming from. I have burning in my legs, no feeling in the tops of my legs, nerve damage to my stomach and rectum. I couldn’t open my bowels for six weeks so last July I had to have a stoma fitted and I have to self-catheterise seven times a day.
“At some point in the future I will have to have an operation which will close up my anus, rectum and colon.
“It’s too risky to remove the mesh as my tissue has grown around it so now I’m with a pain consultant who is looking at infusing lidocaine to take some of the pain away.
The surgery has not only these horrific physical but also mental scars.
“The mum guilt about not being able to do things like shopping with my daughter or watching my son play football is huge,” says Griffiths.
“And seeing my mum care for me when she should be enjoying her retirement is very upsetting.
Griffiths is now suing the surgeon with the help of Thompsons Solicitors.
“Some women who have had mesh surgery have killed themselves because of the pain and although there have been times where I feel fed up of fighting to be heard, I am strong and I need to stay here for my husband and children,” she says.
“Hopefully, I’ve got a long life ahead of me and if the pain can be managed better, I can have a better quality of life.”
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