At the beginning of this year I spent two weeks at St Thomas’s Hospital.
So I guess this is where I should put a trigger warning. This blog post is going to be about my surgery and everything since.
I’m not pulling any punches here, surgery is tough. The weeks leading up to it are also tough. Nothing about it is easy. The doctors and surgeons will tell you it’s hard and they’ll tell you the risks and complications but there are lots of things that they also leave out.
The day of my RIght Hemicolectomy and ileostomy fitting my husband and I woke up at 6:00am. I drank my pre-surgery drinks and knew that I wouldn’t have anything to eat or drink until after the surgery. I had a little suitcase packed and we left, the sky was a navy blue and it almost felt like we were leaving for a holiday.
It was not a holiday.
After the hour trip up to London I was prepped and ready for surgery. My mum and husband waited with me and then after four hours of waiting I was told that I was ready to be taken through. I kissed Shane goodbye and made my way down the long corridor with the nurse and anaesthetist, past metal lockers and into a square room. It was the prep room – I never saw the surgery table . They inserted the cannula into the back of my hand and an epidural into my lower back. It was then that I couldn’t help but spill some tears. I was afraid, and then the last thing I remember is the oxygen mask being placed over my mouth.
When I woke up four hours later the first thought I had was THANK FUCK I’M AWAKE. Followed by an overwhelming desiring for water.
I laid in the bed after croaking at the nurse for water, and then I lifted up my hospital gown from underneath the covers to see the stitches that ran over the place where my bellybutton used to be, and to look at the brand new stoma that was now poking out from the left side of my stomach.
I felt a mixture of relief, curiosity and repulsion.
When I was more awake I was wheeled up to my ward where my Mum and husband were waiting. They sat with me for a while, and then eventually they had to go home.
The following eleven days where easily the most physically draining days of my life. It’s a strange sensation to describe and even now I struggle to put the weird new pangs and aches into words. The best way I can phrase it is that I lived through those days in hospital in a drug fuelled haze. I was in a constant, aching pain, I was almost always sweating and desperate for water, I vomited a few times and lost a fair bit of weight. One night I had a temperature spike that was caused by a collection of fluid that had built up where they had removed the right side of my colon. This meant that I needed a drain.
Let me tell you something about drains, they’re fine once they’re in but the whole process of having them fitted I found to be more traumatic than going in for the surgery. First they tried to lay me ON MY FRONT, which hurt so damn much that I actually let out a scream. Then I was placed on my side, drugged up (but nowhere near enough) and then a needle was pushed inside me through my lower back, and repeatedly tugged in the strangest most horrifying sensation I have ever experienced before the tube was placed in.
So I carried around a bag of my own fluid for five days which was…surreal, to say the least.
There were times when I wondered if it was all worth it. Whether I had mutilated my body for no good reason… it felt like it.
Then, at last, the drain was removed, the stitches were pulled out from my stoma and I was sent home.
I could barely walk or stand up straight but I was sent home.
Standing up straight was the strangest thing. Every time I tried it felt as though either my stitches were going to pop or my insides were going to collapse.
After coming back I was sent to A&E five times. Three times because my surgical wound kept leaking pus and wasn’t healing as quickly as it should, once because my stoma decided to RETRACT, as if it was like “girl, I don’t like this so byeee.” Bitch please. And the other time was shortness of breath and they were worried I had a lung clot. (I didn’t, thank fuck.)
The thing about recovery is that your mind catches up far faster than your body. You feel frustrated, angry, weak.
Life felt very much on pause and I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything about it. I could only rest and eat and wait until my body and brain felt well enough to start doing things again.
But then, around the four month mark, I suddenly felt healthy again. I could eat and drink easily. I was gaining weight, looking fuller in the face. For the first time in three years I felt energetic.
And it was amazing.
I almost, didn’t think it was possible anymore for me to eat and not feel ill immediately afterward. And yet…there I was.
Surgery was by far the most difficult experience of my life. It was grueling, painful and should not be undertaken lightly. I am a woman with half a colon I am a woman with an ileostomy bag. And I am all the better for it. Yes surgery was hard – the hardest thing I have ever had to endure. But I would do it again ten times over to ensure the quality of life i have finally attained.
So yeah, if you’re recovering from surgery and you feel as though you’re frozen. take a deep breath and remember that this – like all things – shall eventually pass.
Have a wonderful day sweet things,