(Getting a full colectomy, and the first days of recovery.)
Last Thursday we woke up bright and early… or dark and early I guess, since the sun wasn’t up at 3:45 am. I took my last shower with special anti-germ chlorhexidine soap, and we headed to the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center for my 5am check-in.
There’s a conveyer belt of pre-surgery rituals: I signed in at an admin area then reported to a curtained pre-op room, where a nurse handed us packets with six pre-soaked chlorhexidine wipes and instruction sheet for wiping my entire body down again, as well as special swabs to clean out each nostril (not a Covid thing, apparently, just standard). I changed into a hospital gown, reassured multiple folks that there was no chance I was pregnant, signed consent forms and got hooked up to an IV. Everyone was very kind and nice. The “team” all introduced themselves, etc. A second surgeon working with my surgeon reassured me that their surgery plan prioritized two things: 1) a successful operation that would remove any cancer, and 2) preserving as much as possible of my colon, per my request.
Then they wheeled me in to the operating room. I wanted to to see the “robotic” equipment, since my surgery was to be robotic if needed. It was a little disappointing because the arms were retracted, and there weren’t any Transformer-looking appendages—which makes sense as they probably keep those sanitized and wrapped until the very last moment. But here’s a couple of images stolen from the internet of what things might have looked like after I was knocked out:
Then the drugs hit my bloodstream and I was out. I woke up in recovery later in the afternoon, and was very happy to hear that the surgery had gone smoothly: They were able to do the surgery laparoscopically (as opposed to open) and had been able to keep about six inches of my sigmoid colon.
A few other interesting (to me) details: 1) Along with having (had) a longer-than-normal sigmoid colon, I also have a slightly longer-that-normal rectum. I’m hopeful that this extra length will be helpful as my body adjusts to its new normal functioning. 2) During my first surgery, in Australia, years ago, the surgeons opted to make the small-to-large-intestine connection (the anastomosis) behind my stomach, which is apparently quite unusual. This made the present-day surgery a little longer and more complicated for my doctors, as they had to reach around behind the stomach to do some of their work.
I stayed the night in the hospital and was able to have some visitors, like Paul, my mom and my brother. Everything was pretty painful, but I know how important it is to move in order to get my digestive system working again, so I ate some broth and and a bite of mashed potatoes, and got up to walk around the area, pushing my IV pole.
Currently, I’m at my mom’s apartment, enjoying the quiet, and the luxury of having food cooked and dishes taken away when I’m done. The first couple days was mostly pain management (Tylenol and Oxycodone), very slow walking and resting. But now I can (in limited fashion) read, write and watch TV in the evenings. For the next 4 weeks, I’m supposed to eat a low-fiber diet, which is pretty much the antithesis of everything I normally try to eat, i.e. meat, not veggies, white rice not brown, processed breads and crackers, not nuts or seeds or grains. I’m not supposed to lift more than five pounds or do abdominal exercises — even though I end up doing those inadvertently just getting in and out of bed. I asked my surgeon a litany of questions like, “can I sleep on my side? what if I twist around? can I lie on my stomach? can I do yoga?” and he pretty much said that it would take blunt force trauma to pull apart what has been sutured together. That doesn’t really jibe with the idea that lifting five pounds would be injurious… so as my energy returns I’ll have to figure out some of that out. For the moment, I’m happy to have other people do the lifting!
My least favorite part of the day is when I have to take an anti-coagulant medication called Lovenox —through a needle jammed into my belly! I’m lucky though, because instead of having to self-administer it, Paul does it for me—best husband ever! Apparently cancer patients are more prone to blood clots for longer than most people after surgery, so instead of two weeks, we’ll be doing the shots for 30 days.
For those who are waiting for the “poop report,” so far, there have been no toilet emergencies (though, TMI, my surgeons “oatmeal” example is proving apt)! At the moment, my entire digestive tract is recovering, and, somewhat counter-intuitively, I am taking a prescribed stool softener because the painkillers tend to slow everything down. I’ll have a better sense of my new normal as time goes by, but so far… so good!