The Days After Surgery (Part 9 of Reflections on a Cancer Journey)
One of the worst experiences of my life was the five days I spent in the hospital following my surgery.
My first memory is sliding myself from the gurney to the hospital bed and feeling like I’d just spent time in a freezer and all my limbs were still numb and doppy.
My next memory is Jen asking me how I felt and me saying “I feel like [expletive]”. I’m sorry, I don’t use foul language, but if there was ever a time in my life when I did feel like you-know-what it was then.
When I finally came to and my mind cleared of the fog I realized what kind of shape I was in. I had a ten-inch incision down my abdomen, right through the belly button, a catheter with a bag on the end, a bag hanging off the right side of my abdomen (the ileostomy), and a bag hanging off the left side of my abdomen (the drain). All these bags needed to be emptied and I couldn’t do it myself.
The first time I saw my ileostomy I was repulsed. Part of my small intestine protruded through my abdominal wall. They called it a rosebud. I called it gross. It was swollen and red and looked a lot like the tumor I’d seen on that full-color picture the doctor showed me after the colonoscopy. Watching the nurse change the bag and clean around the stoma I wondered how I would ever do it myself let alone get used to this thing, this malformation . . . it was so unnatural.
Jen brought the girls by to see me at least twice a day. I saw the fear in their little eyes every time they looked at me, the uncertainty. They eyed up all the tubes and lines and bags and initially kept their distance. It killed me not to be able to pick them up and hug them. When they would leave I’d let the tears flow.
I was very tired, very uncomfortable, very scared, and very emotional. Jen saw me cry, my parents saw me cry, the nurses and doctors saw me cry, but my brother-in-law got the worst of it. I was feeling particularly homesick and depressed when he walked into the room one evening. The sight of a familiar face was all it took. I let go and let the sobs come. They came in waves, so hard and thunderous I couldn’t even speak. Poor Darrell had no idea he’d be walking into the middle of the perfect storm when he came to visit me.
But eventually things did settle down and I was ready to go home. It felt kind of like driving on my own for the first time. There would be no 24-hour nursing to watch over me and answer my questions and change my bags. No safety net “just in case.” I’d have a visiting nurse two times a week and of course Jen would be there, but as much as I hated the hospital stay there was a certain level of security that went along with being there.
Leaving the hospital I thought I was leaving the toughest part of all this cancer stuff, that the rest would be downhill from there.
Boy was I wrong. I had no idea how much I would need the Lord in the upcoming months, how much I would cling to Him, pray to Him, and rely on Him. The hospital was tough but the bigger challenge was yet to come.
From April 22, 2008:
The surgery went well and, after a foot and a half of my colon was removed, I did wind up with a temporary ileostomy. The good news is that the surgeon said he was able to get a good clean margin all around the tumor. The bad news is that cancer cells were present in one lymph node which automatically takes it to stage III.
Because of the hangover effects of the anesthesia and the extent of the surgery itself, my attention span is next to nothing, my personality is flat (except when under the influence of Percocet, then I’m my old self again), I have the emotional stability of a three-year-old, my energy levels hit bottom in no time at all, and I’m just plain uncomfortable most of the time. I have no appetite and when I do eat I feel bloated and heartburny–this makes eating more of a chore than a pleasure but should resolve itself when the swelling from the ileostomy settles down. I also have to give myself a shot of Lovenox (blood thinner) in the stomach every day for the next month.
On the up side, Jen is taking great care of me; she’s proven she has the patience of a Fransiscan monk. Under her care I should continue to gain strength and confidence and get back to my old self.
And on another up side, the tumor has been sent on a very long vacation in some test tube in some lab. Bye, bye.