Today I came home from the hospital, and what a week it was. The surgery last Monday was successful and went as planned, and we’re expecting the pathology results (which will finally determine my cancer’s stage, and what additional treatment I have) within the next week. I’m the proud owner of a very cool, very long scar down the middle of my belly and a stoma-plus-ileostomy-bag setup just to the right of that.
Full disclosure: The recovery was really tough — the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, in fact.
It went something like this:
- Monday 9/14 (day of surgery) — Initially it took a few hours post-op to get my pain under control, so while I don’t remember much about this stretch, I do recall moaning and groaning and cursing a lot. Once we got the meds squared away, though, the rest of the day wasn’t too bad. The novelty of everything sort of keeps you riding high for a bit.
- Tuesday 9/15 — First day of clear liquids and soft diet. Had some juice and a few bites of mashed potatoes, etc. Still felt mostly fine. Learned how to operate my bag.
- Wednesday 9/16 — Still on soft diet, but progressed to slightly larger quantities. In the afternoon, though, The Attack of the Nausea. This was like nothing I have ever experienced. I was also off the heavy meds at this point, so the pain and nausea started to blur together and become indistinguishable. Eventually it turned into violent vomiting, which, with a fresh 10-inch incision in your lower abdomen, is something like what I have to imagine getting stabbed feels like. They took an X-ray just to make sure nothing had ruptured, and saw some large gas bubbles. My choices were (1) tough it out, until the gas worked its way out, or (2) expedite things with a tube inserted into my stomach through my nose (the much dreaded “nose tube” as it’s often called). If you choose (1), they give you a day or so, and then move you to the nose tube anyway if you don’t improve — some interesting risk-reward analysis there. I chose (1). Needless to say, they also moved my diet back to “no food or drink.” (Apparently, this sort of severe nausea is a common setback for this surgery. Sometimes, when they’ve been cut apart and reconnected, the bowels take awhile to wake back up, and so the initial food and drink ramp-up period can make them quite angry.)
- Thursday 9/17 — The agony continued, but the vomiting finally stopped. I should note: I was very lucky to be in the care of some absolutely incredible superhero nurses. My gratitude to them is hard to articulate. Carlton, Chrissy, Katarina — from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
- Friday 9/18 — I started to turn a corner on the nausea. They allowed me to have sips of Gatorade, which made an enormous difference.
- Saturday 9/19 — I ventured back into soft foods, but this time much more cautiously; just a few bites at each meal.
- Sunday 9/20 — Still on the soft diet, I had three somewhat normal (but still small) meals and got the go-ahead to head home Monday (today).
So that’s what I’ve been up to! I’m really excited to be home. I missed Alexis and Addie terribly, though we caught a huge break on Saturday when my floor lifted its visitor ban and Alexis was able to make the drive up for a few hours, which was an emotional lift I can’t even describe. I’ve said this before, but she is the true hero of this ordeal, of our family, and of basically the world. Also, my dad is in town from Minnesota to help out, and it’s wonderful to see him.
Ultimately I don’t think I was mentally prepared for this week. I like to think I have a lot of inner strength, but I’ve never considered myself (nor, I think, would most people consider me) a very “tough” guy in most traditional senses of the word. I’m a well documented crier, for example, and just put me near a snake or spider for more convincing proof.
This week, though, I had to dig deep in a new way, fight through some legit tears, and find some mental reserves I didn’t know I had — so while I certainly would have preferred a smooth, linear, up-and-to-the-right recovery, I’m grateful to have uncovered those parts of myself. I have no doubt I will draw on them again in life. And some good news: I’m told the reversal surgery in three months is a much quicker recovery.