I woke up from my very deep sleep as I was wheeled into my hospital room by four people. I wished I’d stayed unconscious because the four of them hoisted me up, each holding one corner of the sheet beneath me, and slid me over to the bed. I have never, ever known such pain and hope I never do again—and I say this as someone who gave birth to two babies without any medication whatsoever (which, to this day, makes me feel like a rock star). I let out a horrible guttural cry and then I was out again. The next thing of which I was aware was two nurses speaking in my room and one of them said to the other, “She had a colon resection.” As I knew my doctor wasn’t expecting to need to do a resection I was scared but I passed out again.
At some point W came into the room with a big smile on his face but I accosted him saying “It’s bad, isn’t it? It’s really bad!” He said that no, it was great news, that my surgery went really, really well, but I told him I’d heard the talk about the colon resection. He told me Dr. F. had gotten all the cancer she and her partner could see and that while my surgery was more extensive than she expected I was in very good shape. He even offered to show me the Facebook status he’d posted for me. Comforted, I fell asleep again for a long time.
W spent the night in the hospital with me. I didn’t want him to leave. The nurses were in and out all night checking my vitals and giving me additional pain meds. I also had a pain pump and I pushed that button as often as possible. It would beep twice whenever medication was dispensed and that made me have a little celebration! I had a catheter so no need to get up and go to the bathroom, thank God, because I didn’t think there was any way on God’s green earth I could sit up, much less stand up and move to the bathroom. It was a long night but the nurses and aides were so kind and helpful. I wasn’t allowed to have any fluids or foods, just ice chips. At one point W was spooning up some ice chips for me and I fell asleep before he could get the spoon in my mouth, which I actually thought was kind of funny when I woke up.
The next day I was feeling so much better as I wasn’t anesthetized and Dr. F. came in to see me. She checked my stomach and sat on the bed and held my hand and told me what a good surgical outcome I had. She is such a kind woman and I know that she genuinely cares about her patients. I wasn’t having much pain at all thanks to the pain pump and the medication I could get through my IV. W was working at the desk in my room and watching over me. I had my iPad and looked at messages from people.
I belong to a Facebook page for piano teachers. It has been a source of wonderful professional advice and support. When I told my teacher friends about my surgery they were wonderful to me. W had posted on the page that I’d come through surgery well and the teachers responded with so much kindness and offers of prayers. The same thing held true on my personal Facebook page. If you haven’t been in a situation like this you will never know how meaningful those messages were to me. They made me smile and cry happy tears.
Eventually I got to eat something but the hospital food was pretty dreary. Fortunately there was a Starbucks downstairs and W saw to it that I got a white chocolate mocha, which definitely improved my outlook. He brought a cup of mixed berries that I devoured. Eventually the catheter was removed and I had to take the Herculean step of sitting up on the side of the bed. The nurse showed me how to use the rail as a prop and I managed it just fine and even got to the bathroom—with some help. One of the CNAs, who was just as sweet and kind as she could be, helped me to get a shower. That made me feel a whole lot better. Everyone was looking out for me with great compassion and professionalism.
It was time for the nurse to change the dressing on my incision. I’d been expecting an incision beneath my belly button down to the pubic bone. That’s not what I saw. It was nine inches long and went around my belly button. My immediate response was “Holy shit!!” Then I remembered my manners and apologized to the nurse, who laughed and said, “Oh, I say that all the time!” My belly button is now kind of squished and there’s a bump in my stomach that I don’t think will go away unless I have some kind of corrective cosmetic surgery. The incision was held together with 44 staples. I know because W and the nurse counted when she removed them at the doctor’s office a couple of weeks later. Believe me, I am long, long past wearing a bikini even if I do get to the weight I want to be, but this definitely prohibits any baring of the tummy. It’s not pretty. But when you have exploratory surgery and nobody knows for certain what they’re going to find a less than pretty tummy isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a big deal. It does bother me, though!
By Thursday I was feeling all right except for spasms of severe pain that would hit me every so often. I started to know when they were about to come and breathed my way through them as much as possible. It actually helped a lot. Then one of the aides came in and said she had a surprise visitor and it was our daughter! I was so happy to see her beautiful, smiling face. She lights up every room. My good friend/former pastor/boss D came to visit too. A veteran of thousands of hospital and nursing home visits, he knew exactly what to do (lean forward so I could kiss him on the cheek, not pull me toward him for a hug) and how long to stay. It was so good to see him. That evening M and S and the grandsons came for a visit too. Three year old C was totally weirded out by his Ma (that’s me) sitting in a chair and not chasing him around and wouldn’t get close to me, but I saw his daddy do that very thing at the same age when his daddy had surgery, so I wasn’t upset about it. It was just so good to see them.
My doctor had originally said that because of the more extensive surgery I wouldn’t go home until Sunday or Monday. I wasn’t feeling that at all. The criteria for me to go home was to have gas sounds in my intestines and be able to pass gas. Now we all know I’m not all that gassy, which is one of the things that led to all this, but I was able to do the job just fine and I got to go home on Friday, which thrilled me no end. My own bed! My cats and my dog! Decent food!
I was absolutely thrilled to leave the hospital and go home. W had to work all weekend so my mother, who at 83 is still going strong, came from her home in Virginia to stay with me. She was completely on edge and wanted to jump and do everything for me and I had to keep saying “But Mom, I’m supposed to get up and walk around!” She was on high alert the entire time. That worked out pretty well when she decided to clean the kitchen. I was all for her keeping herself busy. I feel so sorry for my parents: they are worried sick about me and afraid for my future. It just seems wrong that people in their eighties should have to worry about their daughter’s health. I hate it so much. Neither of my children has had to face a life-threatening illness, thank God, but I know what it’s like to be afraid that there is something serious wrong with a child. My mom and I have had a contentious relationship for many years, in large part because of her desperate need to control everyone and everything around her and my unwillingness to knuckle under, but I have a newfound compassion for her. She was probably worn out by the time she left my house on Monday morning but she felt good about being helpful and I was glad I had something for her to do.
The next two weeks were spent very quietly. I read, slept, watched television, played games on my iPad and visited with people who came to see me. I wasn’t up to much of anything else. I was thrilled to go out to lunch a week after I came home from the hospital. It’s amazing how wonderful a short outing is when you’ve been in the house not feeling well.
My only assignment during that time was to get better and stronger and wait for the one month mark to pass so I could begin chemo. It was a long month!