Monday, March 13, 2017
Memories of my 2016 Surgery for Anterior Resection of Bowel
It was a bleak Wednesday in mid-January. I had waited all day to be called to theatre. It was one of the longest days I’d known. Washing and gowning for surgery seemed a long and distant memory at 8am. I lay, firstly patiently, and tried to focus on reading magazines or talking to friends and family on the phone, before eventually starting to lose the plot as to whether or not my surgery would be cancelled. I was rapidly losing hope, then at just after 5.30pm, theatres called for me and I went down to surgery and I was delivered to the anteroom. I remember thinking how old fashioned this theatre looked compared to the previous hospital. I just hoped that all the equipment would be working well and that my anaesthetist was competent enough to keep me under and pain-free. I wasn’t worried about my surgeon who I liked and trusted very much. I asked to count backwards from 15 and probably got as far as 8 and my next memories are of being intensive care in the early hours of the next day.
I remember feeling as if I was in a moving boat which was tipping forward and backward and side to side, yet I never arrived at shore. I couldn’t stop it. Around me were huge tables slanting at an angle, a bit like the type that architects use. There was one nurse attached to each table and presumably patient. I couldn’t see the other patients. I could see windows and a clock, but not make out the time. I believed it was the early hours of the morning. My nurse gave me some orange tasting medicine and shortly after I vomited. I remember flashes of incredible pain and then passed back out into a halfway of nothingness or altered consciousness, back on my moving boat of a bed. Eventually dawn broke and I was a little more aware of things. A physiotherapist came over to me and asked me to cough. It felt a barbaric request when my abdomen was so sore from the surgery of the evening before. I apparently had to do this to try and clear my lungs from the anaesthetic. That torture being over, there were a few other things that the physiotherapist wanted me to do, but I just thought that the requests were in my wildest imagination. Not long after that I think that the team changed shifts and then I heard that a patient who had a cardiac arrest needed an ITU bed and they needed to find the least ill patient to move to a ward . Just before noon on Thursday I was moved to another ward to the one I’d been admitted to and they tried to make me as comfortable as possible with my Patient Controlled Analgesia pump (PCA). Not long after I arrived I was violently sick of what can only be described as bright green liquid, the colour of mouthwash. I lay back in bed and tried to doze feeling incredibly sorry for myself and moving just a centimetre caused agony – let along trying to cough.
A few hours it happened again and I vomited up more bright green bile – something from a Science Fiction film. When it happened a few hours later for a third time and anti-sickness medication was not helping, I was told the only way forward would be to have a nasogastric tube fitted. I think this just about finished me off. A spray was put up my nose or some gel whilst the nurses tried to force a straw up one of my nostrils, and failed one side, the other nostril, accommodated this vile tube that went down the back of my nose and into the back of my throat making me want to gag. I felt strangulated and that there was a hard straw at the back of my throat, and I felt as if I was choking. I think the tube lasted no more than twenty minutes before I begged the nursing staff to remove it. I remember them reminding me that I would be likely to continue vomiting, but I decided that was almost the lesser of two evils. I asked for my regular anti-sickness medication which I took orally and was careful to avoid swallowing too much water or saliva and finally sleep overcame me and I wasn’t sick again. At the same time I disconnected my PCA because I thought it was the Fentanyl making me sick and I went cold-turkey with no pain medication.
The next morning more tortures lay ahead. A physiotherapist came over to me and said they were going to try and get me standing up. I was given a metal frame to hold, like the ones that older people are seen with. I felt this was the final indictment to my street cred. I very slowly managed to walk to the bathroom and was able to clean my teeth and wash my face – I didn’t need the toilet because I still had a catheter insitu. I had a wash and changed my hospital gown for one of my nighties and then had a massive shock as I saw the size of my swollen belly. Even though I had been slim three days ago, I had rolls of fat around my belly and a sunken belly button covered in white tape/padding and one horizontal to my pubic bone which was about three inches long. I was shocked as I hadn’t noticed this new assault before. I looked and felt like a whale, and remember feeling terribly depressed and that I would never feel the same again.
Later on in that same afternoon, two days post-surgery, I was feeling wretched as I had my cannula changed – it took the poor junior doctor an hour to insert a new one. The doctors wanted me reconnected to my pain medications because they said I would feel a lot more comfortable. I remember talking to the doctor and saying how awful I looked and felt and he said that I would be surprised how much better I would look when he saw me again on Monday after the weekend. ‘You wait’, he said. ‘You will look much better again comparatively when I see you again on Monday.” I hung on to his words and he was right. I was hooked up to my pain medication and over the weekend I was allowed to start eating – firstly liquid foods/soup and by the Monday I was not only looking much brighter but was weaned onto solid foods. I had lost a few kilos during that hospital admission - as I was nil by mouth for about 5 days. It was a quick, albeit undesirable way for rapid weight loss. I certainly needed a bit of feeding up when I returned home.
By the Monday I started to be interested in life again and was able to read books and magazines. I had a visitor that afternoon, although had one on Saturday, but don’t remember much about it. I was mobilizing well and my catheter had been removed. I ate what I dared of the hospital food which was fairly inedible and waited to be able to do my first bowel movement which would be a sign that my system was fully rebooted and back up and running. It was one of the most amazing things ever – I did my first ‘normal’ and solid looking bowel movement in ever – really. The surgery had worked, and whilst I was still obviously very swollen and sore – this was a turning point in my recovery. The next days I was more comfortable and slept a lot and I remember waking on the Thursday morning and thinking, this is it, I’m ready to go home. None of the doctors were in anyway hurrying me and I was told I could stay as long as I needed, but when I make up my mind about something, I usually stick to it, and as grateful as I was not to be pushed into leaving, I still felt ready to go and continue my recovery at home. I packed up all my belongings and ordered a taxi home, sincerely thanking all the staff for all their help and care. It felt like a new chapter of my life beginning with a re-functioning bowel.