I’m starting this post on Sunday, one week post my liberation from the hospital. It was, and continues to be, an interesting experience as I recover – in many ways the same as last time and in others quite different.
I arrived at the hospital on Monday August 11 and went, as directed, straight to the surgical ward. After a short wait, I was ushered to my room – a rather sumptuous private room, with private bathroom and a safe to store valuables. You know those hospital rooms you see on television and as yourself, “Who the hell gets a room like that?” Well, that was the room.
At about 3pm I started my prep, which was basically the same as a colonoscopy prep. Yeah…fun. That was it for the day and I was left in peace.
The next morning I was brought down to the OR. Unfortunately, given nothing to calm my nerves, I was shaking like a leaf, which was only exacerbated by the cold OR. A couple of lines were started and before I knew it the anesthesiologist was telling me to breathe deeply as she placed a mask on me.
And then it was Friday.
So here’s what happened in the interim. (Of course, this is all second-hand reporting, having experienced it all but not knowing a thing.) Professor Avi Nisan (“Professor” is a title given to department heads.) spent about 10 hours searching my midsection millimeter by millimeter and administering HIPEC and chemo. He found a lot more than expected and had to remove my spleen and gallbladder. At the same time, my liver was cleaned up, as were my pancreas and bladder, as well as some other areas that he later explained to me but I just don’t remember the words he used. He also resected more of my intestine resulting in the return of…Ileostomy Man!
Some of you may remember that after my first hospital stay in 2011 I was given an ileostomy, which means the entire colon is bypassed and the small intestine is given an exit door directly through one’s skin. Special equipment is used to cover the opening, keeping it completely safe from the outside world, while collecting whatever waste comes out. Mine was reversed during my 2012 surgery. Yes, it’s somewhat upsetting to have it, but I am confident I will once again master it. I objectively I know it’s a good thing, as it allows me tremendous mobility and will hopefully contribute to my being able to return to a normal work schedule soon.
Monday night I came out of surgery and, afterward, developed internal bleeding that wouldn’t stop. So, after many units of blood, platelets and other fluids, it was back into the OR where the good surgeon spent about two hours searching for – and plugging – leaks. After an additional thorough check, he was confident all systems were “go” and I was sent back to the ICU.
Tammy tells me I didn’t really wake up until Friday, although I seem to have snippets of memories from Wednesday and Thursday. I seem to recall a more or less endless cycle of pokings, proddings and bathings, interspersed with the wildest dreams and hallucinations. Wow, were they off the wall. I remember thinking to myself, “I know this can’t be real.” Nonetheless, I remember struggling to discern between reality and fantasy.
What was wonderful and I know was real, was having Tammy stand over me, letting me know the day and time (I was clueless.), my aunt talking to me, Tammy accidentally lowering the bed by pressing the button every time she leaned in. I also remember the nurses coming in and out, caring for me in a way that only ICU nurses can. I remember they used a special sling to lift me out of bed and into a sitting position and I remember their words of encouragement to shift slightly in my bed to at least move around a bit.
Sunday, things became more clear, and I remember quite vividly that my hero, Dr. Ronit Grinbaum, came to visit for a few minutes. I was speechless as she stood in the doorway. Good thing, as I had no voice at that point, and I was grateful that Tammy was there to help us communicate. She – who saved me twice in one week in 2011 – took the time from her schedule to come see how I was. She told me that was in regular contact with Avi Nisan (in close second place behind Ronit for the amazing second operation he performed) and was continuing to follow my case closely.
Sidebar: How am I so lucky to have these medical professionals all work with me? Just about everyone, from Ronit and Avi and my oncologist on down to the local nurses who have been making house calls, is sweet, wonderful, caring, smart and patient.
Later Sunday, I was moved from the ICU to the surgical floor where my private room awaited. I was still quite loopy and I don’t recall too much. I do know that my dreams became increasingly violent and disturbing and I was quite sure I was going insane. After telling Tammy that I think I need a psych consult, she suggested we ask the doctors if this could be a side effect of anything. It turns out that morphine – which I was enjoying – certainly can lead to hallucinations and violent dreams. So, out with the morphine.
Later that week, my kids came home after spending the summer in NY. My mother in law flew with them so she should be helpful with the juggling of household chores. And was she ever. Laundry service every day, grocery shopping, cleaning. The following week, my sister flew in to visit with me, and having her around meant that Tammy was able to spend more time with the kids getting them ready for school.
My last two weeks in the hospital were spent getting out of bed, trying to sit up, walk and bathe. Slowly, things got better. My lungs cleared up, and various tubes and attachments were taken out one by one. I did develop an infection that ended up being caused (at least in part) by the central line delivering nutrition directly to my veins. That came out, too, and I started to eat again.
Finally, on Sunday last, I was given the OK to go home, with a bunch of prescriptions and instructions. Escorted home by my sister and my mother-in-law, we made our way up the stairs and into our home. It was wonderful to finally be in my own space.
The road to recovery will be longer this time, and a bit slower. But that’s OK. I have the best support network pushing me to do my best and I know that it will come, hopefully in time for the High Holidays, which start in under three weeks.