I have been absent from my blog the past week because, primarily, I haven’t been able to muster the energy or moments without pain to write, which brings me to this disclaimer.
There has been a great deal of good in this experience, whether they have been realizations I have come to personally or just the people who have taken care of me on a continuous basis, but for the sake of brutal honesty (and some entertaining reading) I have yet another less than pleasant set of experiences to share as I continue to hope the pain I’m dealing with leads to others being able to handle theirs should they find themselves in my position. I promise, however, positive posts will soon follow.
The doctors came to my room a few days after leaving the ICU to continue checking on my progress, continuing to praise my physical advancements, attributing my quickened recovery to my health and running prior to entering the hospital, and generally checking on my state of well-being. They were quite pleased, except for one thing.
“Have you passed gas yet? Had a bowel movement?”
I bluntly answered, “No”, every time.
“Ok, well, no problem, it will come. We’ll just wait. This is common and as soon as it happens we’ll see about getting you out of here. Everything else looks great. You look good, you sound good….we just need to get your bowels moving.
What I was to learn is that after a major surgery such as mine, the body unsurprisingly shuts down some of it’s functions for one reason or other. To conserve energy, out of shock, to redirect resources, etc. The bowels shutting down are fairly common, but add to that the constipation inducing nature of pain medication and you have a serious waiting game on your hands before things get moving again. So there I sat, feeling so good that I felt awkward being in the hospital environment, except for that pesky “lazy bowel” as it is called.
So we waited. And waited. And waited…..nothing. No passing gas. No nothing.
The docs then decided to switch me from a nutritional drip to clear liquids and then quickly to solid foods, hoping to stimulate the gut and kickstart the bowels into functioning again. I called up one of my scheduled visitors who brought me a requested meal of soy yogurt, medjool dates and peanut butter, as I wanted to keep it light instead of jamming a vegan cheesesteak down my throat. Plus, I, surprisingly, wasn’t that hungry. Actually, when I started eating the food, I found that I wasn’t that hungry AT ALL and could only get down small bits, slowly, before pushing everything aside due to a growing discomfort in my stomach.
I was afraid of this.
Before going into the hospital I had a lot of difficulty eating due to the compressed nature of my abdomen and was hoping that after a great deal of the cancerous mucin was removed that the compression would lighten and I could take down foods with ease and without pain, but I instantly started feeling the same discomfort when I started eating, as if there was some sort of “blockage” in my intestines that was keeping everything from flowing easily. I was essentially backed up.
And I didn’t have a bowel movement.
I tried to eat more throughout the day, but found the pain increasing and only hoped a bowel movement would relieve the pressure, but to no success. The doctors, increasingly worried, gave me a double dose of Milk of Magnesia (doesn’t actually contain milk) and a stool softener, hoping to make the body do what I couldn’t. I threw back the toothpaste tasting liquid and promptly fell asleep for the night, waiting for the relief to come and the pressure to leave my abdomen, but instead I woke up at 2:30 AM with an incredibly painful gassy feeling consuming my body, heightening with every attempt to roll over and completely ruining a night of sleep as I struggled to block out the pain.
I woke the next morning to the doctor who pushed down on my distended belly, made a face that expressed both frustration and confusion and then immediately ordered a CT scan, wondering if there was an intestinal blockage that could be seen through the images in order to give them another plan of action. 30 minutes later a transport cart took me from my room and wheeled me down the CT room for scans, as I suffered through the horribly uncomfortable pain and tried my best to stay still as the machine took photos. Very slowly, and very gingerly I managed to slide back onto the cart to be wheeled back up to my room where my parents were now waiting for my arrival.
I lay in bed, exhausted, in pain, and staring into the wall as if I could see through it. My parents tried to ask me questions, but I could only muster broken responses. The nurse, running through the procedure of taking my vitals suggested upping some of my pain medicine doses to help alleviate a pain that now seemed to only be increasing with each passing hour as we waited for a response from the CT lab. She added a second shot of Dilaudid pain medication to the drip that was already filling my system, but to little avail. I was becoming increasingly inconsolable and began twisting and turning in bed, squeezing into the fetal position and back out almost rhythmically. This continued on and with the nurse still at a loss, she added a couple of Narco pills to the mix in hope they might act on a different area of pain, and they might have, but the overall discomfort that now had me writing back and forth in near agony was not going to be medicated away.
Then to add insult to injury, the amount of pain medicine my body was now processing was compounded by an intense feeling of nausea from the combined meds, so not only was I still in incredible pain, but now I felt miserable and on the verge of vomiting the entire time. My parents sat next to me, helpless, and frustrated, when we got the word from the doctor that the CT scan showed no blockage and our next step was to get a gastric enema, which would help us look for more blockages further up the colon and, more importantly, offer some relief from the pressure in my abdomen as they drained away some of the built up stool.
There was one problem with this. In order to get images of my potentially blocked intestines, I would need to drink another normal amount of “contrast” fluid, diluted in a disgustingly sweet concoction of fruit juice that always seemed to be the worst part of the experience on the whole. The nurse casually placed a large styrofoam cup of liquid in front of me and I started at it for a few seconds, turned to my mom and said, “This isn’t going into me. There is no room! That’s impossible.”
But without much other choice, I began taking gulps of the liquid, stifling back gags and trying to get as much down as soon as possible to minimize my disgust. And just as I suspected, as I forced it all down, the almost intolerable pain in my abdomen began to multiply as the liquid added an even greater pressure to an already overstuffed cavity. I had enough…and told the nurse so.
“I’m sorry..that’s it. There is literally no way I can drink anymore. I’m going to throw up.”
But it wasn’t even the throwing up that concerned me so much as it was the increased pain I had just brought upon myself. I was now out of my head in agony.
Another hour of writhing pain passed, I estimated anyways, as by now I had completely lost track of time in the distraction of the experience. I didn’t know if an hour or 5 hours had passed since the morning began. Then just as I thought I was going to pass out from the added pain and frustration the transportation cart came to the room and, now unable to walk on my own, they pushed it to the side of the bed for me to transfer positions. The nurse mercifully gave me one more dose of Dilaudid to help me stay as calm as possible during the procedure (which was going to be crucial), then I was pushed out of the room and towards the imaging area.
Now the fun began.
In order to do this properly, I needed to be awake as the technicians were going to ask me to move around, change positions and basically needed me to communicate with them through the discomfort. And this is how it went.
I was transferred to an in incredibly uncomfortable glass table and laid on my side, my top leg pushed passed by bottom leg and was instructed to breath deeply and slowly, relaxing as much as possible. With only the most casual of warnings the tech then slowly, almost too slowly for my comfort, slid a long rod into my rectum, repositioning it periodically as he pushed through impacted stool and let it rest deep inside my colon. When it was in far enough a balloon at the end of the rod was then inflated, which served to both hold the rod in place and create a barrier for the liquid contrast that was to be injected into me and held throughout my intestines. The contrast would allow them to take the images and determine if anything was backed up.
For the next 20 to 30 minutes I was directed this way and that, to roll on my left side, then to my back, then to my right, then back again. The table was dropped as a large camera swung over my abdomen, it’s huge lead bags hanging from the side swinging into my stapled incision and causing further and unnecessary pain on top of the rest. The table was tilted forward, almost upright, as I struggled to take deep breaths, my fingers clutching the side of the table as the pressure in my abdomen shifted and the pain followed. The inflated balloon inside me pressed against my bladder and other organs, triggering a constant need to go to the bathroom. The rod pressed against my rectum, causing sharp pains and an incredible discomfort. The contrast slid around my body as they rolled me this way and that, tipping the table up and down, essentially shaking it through my body to look for blockages and help soften the stool stubbornly residing in my upper intestines.
It. Was. Miserable.
But soon, it was over. They relieved a bit of pressure by extracting a small amount of stool through the enema tube, then rolled me on my back, by now my pelvic and hip bones sore as hell from the pressure of the glass table, and drained the rest of the now softened stool from the tube. Finally, the balloon was deflated and both it and the rod were pulled from my rectum as I lay on my back in state of complete defeat. The tech asked me, “Are you feeling better? Does the pressure feel lessened now?”, but honestly, I couldn’t tell. I think I was so tense from the experience that I couldn’t relax enough to gauge my pain, and of course, I will still laying on the hardened glass table.
They switched me over to the transport cart, wheeled me out into the waiting area to be brought to my room and….THEN I could feel it. The pressure…it was gone. Mostly. Enough anyways. The incredibly painful gas feeling was gone. The accumulation in my lower abdomen was gone. Generally, aside from the trauma of all that had happened in the past 15 hours, I felt pretty good….relieved. I was wheeled up to my room where my parents were still waiting, laid on the bed, and took a few moments of calm before I relayed the gastric enema procedure to them.
And then I went to the bathroom, on my own. I had that elusive bowel movement I needed to have. Then shockingly, I looked at the clock to realize almost the entire day had gone by and it wasn’t too far off from bedtime, which was fine by me as I felt emptied in so many ways. I had a couple more bowel movements that night and then……well…..nothing.
My doctor informed me that after looking at the images he didn’t see any blockage or scar tissue obstruction from surgery, but rather just “a boatload…and I mean a BOATLOAD” of impacted stool. He could offer no explanation for it, but simply said that I should have more bowel movements coming now as everything fell back into place…except…again…..nothing.
A day went by, then two, and no more bowel movements. It was almost like we were back to square one, except with a lot less stool than previously. The body was STILL not cooperating and I was still experiencing “lazy bowel” post-surgery. But this time I was determined to avoid any increasing pain or stool accumulation, so we decided to try another stool softener and Milk of Magnesia to get things moving.
I took the prescribed dosage and….nothing. Absolutely nothing. No tummy rumblings, no gas, no nothing. It was time to bring out the big guns. Before going to bed the nurse brought me a 12 oz bottle of Magnesium Citrate laxative, another absurdly sweet “lemon flavored” carbonated beverage that would essentially work to clear me out. And clean me out it did.
I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, nor the next day as my time on the toilet seemed to grow longer and longer. I won’t say it was fun, of course, and the experience was so intense that it was hard to even say it was a “relief”. I mean, it was great that I was finally getting emptied out once and for all, so there was going to be NO residual leftover from the past 2 weeks and my gut could get back to doing what it is supposed to be doing, but the pain, horrible flushing feeling, and everything else that comes along with a chemical concoction like this really sours the experience. Needless to say though….IT WORKED.
And finally, after countless days, pushing through another bout of extended abdominal pain, shots, procedures, helplessness and frustration, I finally heard my doctor say those precious words,
“You can go back to a regular diet.”
And that’s exactly what I did yesterday, starting slowly anyways. I’m taking it easy with soy yogurt and smoothies, but did indulge in a cookie. Today the doctor wants me to actually try solid foods, to again try and get the gut working again. For whatever reason I’m feeling much better about it this time and have a sense that everything is going to start working properly again, which would be great because we are now talking about, if everything goes well, getting out of here in the next day or so. I’m ready to feel the sun instead of just look at it. Sit outside passing the time instead of in a hospital bed. Walk around the house freely instead of wheeling some contraption next to me. And so much more.
Again, it seems this cancer I’m dealing with has been the least of concerns throughout the ordeal. It’s everything on the periphery that wears you down, sucks the life out of your body and leaves you empty and desperate. Right now, I just wanna get home so I can forget about everything on the periphery and start steeling myself against the larger battle that is still to come.
Sorry for the rambling friends, but thanks for being here with me.