After the operation I spent six days on the HDU (High Dependency Unit).
I was in the worst pain I had ever felt and I could barely move. I had a cannula in my neck, five cannulas in my left arm, a catheter, a drain in the lower right side of my tummy, monitoring wires stuck all over me, an oxygen tube up my nose, a tube going up my nose and down into my stomach, three small cuts in the lower left of my tummy and a vertical cut about 10 inches long down the middle of my tummy. I remember thinking on several occasions that there was no way I was ever going to feel better.
I decided early on in my recovery that I was going to grit my teeth and do what I was told by everyone – professionals only though of course! I knew that they knew best and that what they were telling me to do was for my benefit and to keep me safe. However I immediately regretted this when I was told that I’d be getting up and out of bed the day after surgery. I dreaded the thought of it but I knew I had to do it.
I advise anyone going through any kind of surgery to do what you’re told, whether you want to or not it is so important for your recovery. However I also advise that if you’re not happy with something, tell someone. I had a bit of a struggle with not being able to get the pain relief I wanted when I felt like I needed it. Although some of my pain relief was released slowly in to my body over the course of each day, I had to ask for any extras and one day I had to ask my nurse several times before she was willing to give me anything. I felt upset and restless – it’s the last thing you need when you’re lying in agony. I decided to tell a senior member of staff and it was sorted straight away. Don’t be afraid to speak up – you’re the most important person during treatment and recovery and don’t forget it!
The time came for me to sit up and get out of bed for the first time. The physios came to help me up and I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awful and I felt like I was going to rip in half.
It was so painful moving around and I felt sick and dizzy but I was so proud of myself when I was finally sat in that chair. I had to sit out for an hour at the minimum, this was to enable my blood to pump around my body effectively and also to encourage deep breathing. After surgery you are more prone to chest infections and blood clots so I knew it was important for me to be doing it. As I sat in the chair for the first time the nurses changed my bed and gave me a wash – I always thought I’d find this mortifying but I didn’t care, I wanted to be clean and feel fresh and I wasn’t bothered how I got that way!
During the operation, as well as removing the tumour, I had about a third of my bowel plus my right ovary removed. The portion of my bowel they removed had been killed off by the tumour as it wasn’t allowing any blood to flow to it which was also the case for my ovary.
The removal of a portion of the bowel is called a bowel resection. Luckily for me the surgeons were able to sew mine back together so there was no need for me to have a colostomy bag, however it pretty much meant that I had brand new bowels. I was told by one of the surgeons that the bowel is the one organ that when touched it panics and just stops working. Because of this my bowels had to learn to work again and I had to build them up to help them along in their recovery. In order to do this I had to slowly increase my intake of liquids and food. I was only allowed water for a couple of days, then I progressed on to dilute juice on day three, on day four I was able to have a cup of tea, ice cream and yoghurt and on days five and six I was allowed low fibre solid foods. My first cup of tea was incredible, as was my first slice of buttery toast!
There were a few moments during recovery where I had to break down my own barriers of shyness and it’s fair to say I lost a bit of dignity!
Being on the HDU I was constantly monitored but as I began eating and drinking the doctors had to continually make sure nothing was coming back up through the tube that was going down into my stomach. They also had to listen regularly using a stethoscope to check if the rumbling of my bowels had started.
I was asked by the doctors several times a day if I had passed wind or opened my bowels. When I was asked for the first time I nearly died of embarrassment, giving them a shy and quiet ‘no not today’, but a few days in I was loudly declaring my latest bowel related news to anyone who would listen! I felt so relieved when my bowels started to work again and I felt so proud of my clever little body, not only for working so hard to keep me going for all of the months beforehand but for being so strong after the trauma it had just gone through.
Before the surgery I was quite naïve as to what was going to happen to me. I assumed that I’d go in to hospital, the surgeons would whip the tumour out and that’d be it. I didn’t realise how difficult it would be, how serious the surgery was and that I’d have to teach my bowels how to work again. I realise now how much I took my body for granted before. The things our bodies do every day that we probably don’t even realise are absolutely amazing!
There was another big side effect of the bowel resection which I wish I had known more about before my surgery (I think?!)
Now I’m not sure if this is exactly the same for everyone so don’t take it as fact but it was the way it was for me, basically because my bowels were learning to work again the usual signs of knowing when I needed to go to the toilet disappeared and I was warned in the early days after surgery that there was a high risk of a poo related accident because of this. It seemed to become a bit of a highly anticipated moment in the recovery process for me and most of the staff taking care of me.
Fortunately for me this long-awaited moment came whilst I was enjoying the luxury of a commode in my cubicle behind the curtains. I felt so pleased with myself there had been no unfortunate accident and I slept soundly that night knowing I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
That same night I woke up at about 3am and buzzed for a nurse to help me out of bed so I could go to the loo. As I got up I turned to my bed to see that I had actually been lying, for I don’t know how long, in a small pool of my own shit!!
I have to say at the time it felt like the most embarrassing moment of my life, though soon after I did learn to laugh about it! Plus the nurses have seen it all before and they do an excellent job of cleaning up the mess and reassuring you. There’s no giggling behind your back or making you feel like it’s only you it’s ever happened to – it’s soon forgotten about.
It’s not the most pleasant story to share but at the end of the day it’s the reality of having a bowel resection without the colostomy bag. The comfort for me was knowing that it was actually a good thing as it was a sign that my bowel recovery was well underway. Let’s face it, there aren’t many people who are comfortable discussing their bowel habits so if this story either gives you a good old laugh, prepares you or lets you know you are not alone then that’s good enough for me!
After six days on the HDU it was time for me to be moved to a standard ward. All of the staff on the HDU were beyond amazing, they blew me away with how kind and caring they were and I had become as familiar with them as they had become with me.
It was about half an hour after Ash had gone home after visiting had ended on the Sunday night. I was wheeled down to the ward and I was put in to a bay with two other ladies, they were both quite old and poorly which felt unnerving however one of them had 24-hour carers with her which was a comfort.
I didn’t take too well to my new surroundings though. I was on an uncomfortable bed, hardly able to move or able to do anything for myself and the one to one care of a nurse was gone, it was awful. I rang Ash and just burst in to tears. I wanted to go home. I felt like I had been cast out and left to fend for myself, which of course I hadn’t been but that’s what it felt like. I got the nurses to dose me up on as many painkillers as I was allowed and eventually managed to get off to sleep.
I told you I was dramatic!!
I spent a further two days in hospital before I was told the news that if I was able to tackle walking up and down a small flight of stairs I was allowed to go home. I built it up so much in my head that I made myself scared – actually scared to walk up and down the stairs, although I was so desperate to go home that there was no way I was letting anything stop me and I did it on my first attempt!
Ash came to pick me up and I flew (well, was pushed in a wheelchair!) out of the hospital doors knowing I never wanted to go back.
Being back at home was great, though I just didn’t feel comfortable. I was on edge and I felt quite stressed at not being in hospital with nurses monitoring me. I had back ache that started soon after I got home but I put it down to moving around quite a bit that day and sitting in the car so I tried as best I could to ignore it.
Unfortunately that night after less than two hours sleep I started being sick. Ash called the ward that I had just been discharged from and they told us to go straight to Stepping Hill A&E, I was seen almost immediately and before I knew it I was lay back in a hospital bed, gorgeous hospital gown on, a cannula in my arm and on IV paracetamol.
After lots of tests, an X-Ray and a CT scan I found out that my bowels had stopped working. This meant that everything I had consumed for the past day or so couldn’t go down so it had to come back up. According to the doctors it is something that normally happens five days post-surgery, not eight days which mine was. I was back in hospital but I was relieved to be. I’m pretty sure that has to be the shortest trip home before readmission to hospital on record!
I sincerely hope that I haven’t unnerved anyone with the tales I have told in this post – it was certainly not my intention if I did! I just want to prove that no matter how rocky your road is, time doesn’t stand still, you will get through set-backs and pain doesn’t last forever. I am aware that not everyone’s experience is like mine and that there are some people out there in much worse situations than me. I do think that every cloud has a silver lining, whether that silver lining is a funny story you can share, receiving crazy amounts of love, the beautiful care of a nurse or having new found time to yourself, it’s not all bad and we can all learn to find the good in any situation we face – even if it is just a little bit!