Newcastle business owner says 2005 mesh surgery left her with many unknowns

Unknown: Robyn Ramster had pelvic mesh surgery in 2005, and surgery last week to "scrape the mesh" off her bladder. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.
Unknown: Robyn Ramster had pelvic mesh surgery in 2005, and surgery last week to "scrape the mesh" off her bladder. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

ROBYN Ramster is 63, a Wickham business owner and a woman who has lived with the consequences of pelvic mesh surgery in 2005 – including an operation last week which a doctor described as “scraping the mesh off your bladder”.

For a decade she has lived with chronic urinary tract infections linked to how the mesh has constricted and contorted her bladder. She has repeatedly asked doctors if the infections might be linked to the 2005 surgery with a Johnson & Johnson mesh tape for incontinence.

The responses have been the same. Because the mesh was known to have worked so well for so many women, that couldn’t be the reason, she was told.

“I was going to doctors to get antibiotics. I went to any doctor I could walk straight into after work, for years. But no one mentioned the mesh. No one tried to find out why I had these infections all the time, for all these years,” Mrs Ramster said.

“I kept telling myself, I’m all right. There was always discomfort, but you sort of get used to it.”

Then she reached a point where chronic infections, low-level pain, years of antibiotics and trying to run a business and maintain the appearance of living a normal life took its toll.

The surgeon last week removed the mesh that he could, but an unknown amount remains in her body, and recovering from the operation has been much harder than she had hoped.

“I just feel like I could sleep for the next three weeks and hopefully, I’ll wake up and feel better,” she said.

Mrs Ramster trusted the Hunter specialist who implanted the mesh in 2005.

“I remember being told the tape was just this beaut new thing. ‘Just wait for a phone call and we’ll slot you in’. It sounded really good, and I’m no doctor. You trust the doctor who’s telling you they can fix your problems.”

A Senate inquiry established in February after a campaign by women implanted with mesh is expected to hear of difficulties faced by patients when they try to investigate a doctor’s history, including settlements after patient injury claims.

The inquiry is also expected to hear of the limitations of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in providing patients with information about the doctors treating them.

Mrs Ramster, like many other Australian women, was horrified to read about the experiences of women who had had mesh surgery, but also relieved.

“It was like a light went on because what they were saying was what I’ve experienced all these years.”

She tries not to worry about the future but “I don’t know what other complications I’ll have. None of us know.”