With pain that I couldn’t pinpoint, a swollen belly (which was still held closed by 31 staples), feeling feverish, disoriented and pretty much desperate to get out of my own body, I’d never been so out of control, helpless and at the mercy of those around me. Trauma staff asked what I wanted / needed and I had no idea. They eventually decided what jab to give me and I was calmer by the time I reached the ward, readmitted the same evening as I’d come home after the op.
After a day of observation I was eating normally but vomiting a lot. After a stomach x-ray, I was told they’d be opening me up again as soon as a gap in the theatre schedule came up and true enough, I was back in theatre that afternoon then in ICU for 2 days. I remember during lucid moments being so grateful for the excellent care from the sister and how reassuring it was to wake to familiar faces of friends and family holding my hands. The op had removed an abscess on my colon. In order to rest the colon, they also performed an ileostomy which saw an end of my stomach protruding from my belly; a shocking, weak-at-the-knees sight for me. It was sealed with a bag which collected my stomach contents and had to be emptied by the nursing staff. This was when my appreciation for the work they do skyrocketed.
It was a slow Sunday that I returned to the general ward before being transferred to a private ward.
The dark days
Hoping this was it, there was pain still to endure. My diet had to change. I couldn’t eat seeds in case they caused a blockage so no broccoli, tomato, fruit with seeds etc. Not too much fibre either in case it moved through my system too quickly for nutrients to be absorbed, so lots of potato, a few veggies, and lots of fortified protein. My body lapped up everything for energy to heal from the trauma it’d sustained. My system took some time to get used to its new state lead by vomiting and anti-nausea injections (to prevent the convulsions which could tear some internal stitching).
6 days after the op, a successful day meant getting out of bed unassisted and walking to the en suite toilet. My appetite was pathetic and I picked at my food while trying to force it down. I was weak; a walk to the loo was followed by an hour’s nap. Removal of catheters, drains, and the irritation of constant needles for drips wore down my pain threshold.
3 days on and I received news that shook my mental state to the ground. The oncologist wanted to start chemo asap so as not to give whatever cancer cells might be left, the chance to proliferate. My issue was that I’d have to keep the ileostomy bag for about 3 months. I couldn’t come to terms with it. While I worried myself, the next few days saw increased difficulty finding a position that didn’t leave me feel like I was drowning or that my belly might pop. Between the drugs, pain and naps, the nurses handed me appointment cards for scan and tests. I couldn’t keep track and I couldn’t prepare anyway, so I just went along with whoever arrived for whatever test. I had a kidney function test, bone density test, more CT scans, x-rays and stitches removed. They stopped the antibiotics because they made me sick. I felt like a punching bag. At this point they didn’t know what was wrong and it was all I could do to go from one hour to the next.
The pain became unbearable as I was wheeled downstairs, exaggerating every uneven bump in the floor. I just wanted it to go and nothing I did could alleviate it. I couldn’t even lie straight as I moaned while they slid me onto the CT slab. After about 30 minutes of draining green ooze out of my belly, I finally began to relax. 500ml of infected fluid extracted and they sent me back up to the ward. No one could quite believe the level of infection. The abscess had come back and I had septicaemia. I thought fleetingly about a colleague’s brother who’d recently died of septicaemia and pushed it out of my mind. I was dehydrated and put on another drip of fluids and antibiotics and was drinking as much as I could in between resting. The only thing I had strength for was to give the surgeon a dirty look for not having a plan for fixing me. After a hard-to-take pep talk from my GP, I had a new mission – to eat more and to get busy occupying my mind.
12 days after the op and the oncologist cancelled my appointment because she couldn’t do anything while I had any sign of infection so chemo was put on hold. Doctors not listening to my symptoms and rather waiting for “more reliable” tests, frustrated me. Hospital hours are hard – somehow they’ve taken 2 hours out of the afternoon and crammed them in at 4am to justify a rude awakening.
A new mission
Eating to build up strength for chemo was challenging without a huge appetite and a limited hospital menu. Thanks for friends who jumped in here! At one point, I think I had more protein than I knew what to do with but I pledged to get up regularly to build up some sort of hunger and get out of the mental wormhole I’d unwittingly crawled into.