Back from the Brink – Part One

I’m emerging from a bad dream. Seriously, this past week has been a trip to hell and back. I’ve never been so uncomfortable in all my life.

This is also the first time I’ve felt like sitting down and writing about my experiences. I’ve been in physical pain and mentally drained of all emotion and thought. I’m not 100% yet – in fact, as I sit here, my heart is hammering double time, I feel a little woozy and my staples are so tight that it’s hard to catch a breath, but at least I can sit upright without wanting to pass out, so we’re making progress.

In case you’re just tuning in, this time last week I admitted myself to the hospital. My insides swelled to about three times their size and I was unable to pass gas or have a bowel movement for close to a week. I was a walking time bomb – literally. In fact, if this had had happened back in the old days, before all of our technologies and talented doctors, I’m quite certain I would have died. My insides would have burst, toxins would have flooded my body and I would simply cease to exist.

But let’s not get melodramatic.

Surgery Day – December 23

I was scheduled to go into surgery around 3:00 or 4:00 that day. I still had a rectal tube (sorry for the TMI but sometimes life is messy) and as if I wasn’t uncomfortable enough and didn’t have enough on my plate to deal with, I started my period. (I was late, by the way. In fact, I had quite convinced myself that I was going to skip the month of December entirely, but no such luck). I freaked out thinking that would somehow postpone my surgery, but the nurses assured me it wasn’t that big of a deal. In fact, they said, it happened quite often. They said that the stress of having surgery often triggered women into a menstrual cycle so I didn’t feel too bad after that.

But still ….. NOW?!?!

The day ticked by slowly. I wasn’t physically uncomfortable, they were giving me something for the pain, but I was dying of thirst. I had been NPO (nothing by mouth) for 24-hours and my mouth was like the Sahara Desert. I was also worried that I would get bumped and my surgery would be put off for another day. (That happened to Kevin a few times when he had had his motorcycle accident back in April. I think he got bumped three times before I threw a fit and they got to him).

Two o’clock rolled around and still no word. I started to sweat but hadn’t given up hope at that point. The nurses didn’t know anything. Finally, at 2:30, they told me they were coming for me.

Kevin and the boys were there and they rode down to the operating area with me. I tried my best to maintain a positive attitude around them, I didn’t want them to worry, but inside I was scared out of my mind. I’ve never had surgery before and I wasn’t sure what to expect or how it would go.

We said our goodbyes (I remember waving cheerfully and feeling so stupid – like I was about to go on vacation or something – I also remember the boys’ worried faces) and they wheeled me into the holding room. Due to some procedure protocol, they had to make sure I wasn’t pregnant. They had me go to a restroom to produce a urine sample. I couldn’t produce a urine sample, I had just peed and honestly didn’t have any more to give. This was a problem, because they couldn’t proceed with the surgery until they made sure I wasn’t pregnant. (This must have been an issue for them in the past because they were QUITE insistent). Luckily, they had drawn some blood from me and the blood sample is good for 72 hours. So, I had to wait about 30 minutes for them to get a sample of that blood and then run a pregnancy test on it.

It was negative, of course. (As if my being on my period wasn’t enough of a sign I wasn’t pregnant, but they had to do their job).

While I was waiting to find out the result of my non-issue pregnancy test, I laid on my bed and listened to other people either being prepped for surgery or coming out of surgery. The groans of pain was enough to cause the hairs on my arms to stand on end. There was one very old woman who was unresponsive to their questions and they spent several tense moments trying to revive her. In addition, every time the doors would open, I would get a glimpse of several nurses waiting to go into their surgeries and some of them had on full face masks and protective eye wear, like they were preparing to drill into bone or something.

I was quickly freaking myself out. My blood pressure rose and my heart rate sky rocketed. I could hear other doctors coming in and reassuring their patients, even making them laugh, and that helped me somewhat. I forced myself to relax but I’ll be honest, it was hard. I was seriously scared.

And alone.

My nurses were great. They really were. But they were busy and didn’t really have the time to spend with me comforting me, so I just sort of made myself relax because I was afraid if I got myself worked up too much more, they would have to postpone my surgery.

It wasn’t as if I WANTED my surgery, I just wanted to have it over with so I could concentrate on getting better.

Finally, my doctor came in.

A word about my doctor – I don’t like him. He’s not the most personable doctor I’ve ever had and his bed-side manner sucks, but to be fair, I was an emergency case and he was fitting me in, so I should be grateful for that. It’s just, every time I needed something, or the nurses needed to ask him a question, he could never be reached and he never returned calls. The few times he had come to see me in the hospital, he was brusque and borderline rude. I just hoped his medical skills were better than his people skills.

My doctor came in. He came to my bed never once looking at me. He went through my paperwork, signed where he was supposed to sign never making eye contact with me or saying anything to me. Even the nurses sort of shuffled nervously around him. Finally, he looked at me. “Any questions?”

By now, I’m so irritated with him for not giving me the time of day even though he was getting ready to cut into me I just returned his dead-pan look and said, “nope.”

And that was that. He turned on his heel and I watched him walk off.

That was the last thing I remembered before the surgery.

Kevin told me that the surgery took 2 1/2 hours – longer than they were expecting. Apparently, in addition to cutting out the twist in my large intestine, they discovered that I had A TON of extra intestine that needed to be removed. How they didn’t see this on the x-rays or the CT scan is beyond me, but they cut out all of that extra intestine (the doctor later illustrated just how much that was and it was A LOT) and sewed the ends back together again.

Because they had to remove all of this extra intestine, my incision ended up being MUCH longer than they thought it would initially be. They cut around my belly button and made a vertical incision down (six inches) toward my privates. This incision is currently held together by staples.

My doctor said that when they removed the intestine, my grotesquely bloated stomach promptly deflated. My stomach is now a floppy mess. The skin has been pulled out of shape and is puckered – it’ll take me quite a long time to work the muscles back into shape. But I’m not complaining, the problem has been fixed. (I hope).

I remember being buried by blankets when I got back to my room after my surgery. In fact, they had even wrapped a blanket around my head like a hood I was shivering so fiercely. I also remember frantically pushing my pain button, though nothing happened. They had me on a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) which meant I could control how and when I received any pain killer, but it was only programmed to allow me dosages every ten minutes, so I could push away but nothing would happen unless it was time for another dosage.

I also remember opening my eyes and seeing Kevin, but I couldn’t focus on him and that worried me. I saw him, but I couldn’t pinpoint him, my eyes would flicker upward and refused to remain constant. I tried not to freak out about that, thinking it was probably just the anesthesia but it was weird. I was in and out of consciousness for quite some time, but finally, after about 30 minutes of being back in my room, I started to come around.

The pain took my breath away. It was a biting pain, like an animal was ripping chunks of flesh off my body. It didn’t seem like it took that long to get a handle on the pain, but until then, I couldn’t even think straight. I don’t remember much about the rest of that night … and it’s probably a good thing.

Recovering – Christmas Eve

I felt better. And by better I mean, I was conscious and aware of my surroundings. They had had to put a catheter in me, which was very inconvenient considering my period was flowing heavily by this time and the only way I could control it was to insert a tampon (again, TMI, sorry, but I want to remember this because … wow). So, I had a tampon AND a catheter tube in my lady parts to deal with. Talk about uncomfortable. The nurses didn’t exactly want me to do that, they would have preferred I stick to pads, but I was flowing so heavily that I was making messes and it was seriously stressing me out and I didn’t need anymore stress at that time, so I just dealt with it.

The menstrual cramps, coupled with the cramps of having abdominal surgery, were nearly unbearable. I was hooked up to my pain meds, but I hesitated to use them. Pain meds cause constipation and I was terrified that after going through all of that, I STILL wouldn’t be able to go to the restroom, I didn’t push my button unless I was dying.

The nurses called my doctor – who was off for the holidays, so they called the doctor on call, who didn’t know me and who took forever to respond and the stuff they gave me? Didn’t even work that great; I still ended up pushing my pain button, but at least it finally gave me some relief.

I spent the entire day after surgery trying to find my comfort level. It was a balance act between tolerable and dying. One of the worst parts was getting up and moving around. UGH. It was hard. My body was stiff and my staples felt tight and sharp, but I made the effort. In fact, I spent a good deal of my energy on fooling the nurses into thinking I was doing better than I really was.

I was on a mission to get home as quickly as possible and I knew the only way to make that happen was to push myself – and I did indeed push myself and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I laid in my bed Christmas Eve day and tried not to think of my guys at a family get together having fun. Kevin’s family is literally spread all over the world and everyone had made it back for Christmas – everyone was there, except for me. I called Kevin and I could hear them having fun in the background, they were just finishing up the gift exchange game, and I tried not to cry.

By the time evening rolled around, the hospital floored had cleared out. I slowly walked around the floor and several of the rooms were completely empty. There was nary an alarm going off. The phones were silent. Everything was quiet. It was both peaceful and depressing.

The hospital is no place to be during the holidays.

I was in bed Christmas Eve when I heard singing. It was “O Holy Night” and it was being sung by a group of volunteers that were walking the hallways singing Christmas Carols. It was absolutely beautiful and the thought of those kind people, sacrificing their time to volunteer and cheer people up at the hospital with their songs still makes me cry. It was wonderful.

My guys came up to see me that night and we all sat around and watched old Christmas movies on TV. My room mate had left by that time so we had the room to ourselves. It was cozy, if not a little sad. I felt really bad for the boys – we had all decided to wait to do Christmas when I got home and I knew Christmas day would be just as depressing for them as it would be for me, too.

(… to be continued)