Well, that was an ordeal I hope never to repeat.
After I wrote that last post about being home from surgery, things went sharply downhill, and I found myself in the hospital for eight days and another surgery. Seems a section of my intestine got blocked as a result of the first procedure, leading to me not being able to eat or drink for a grand total of 15 days.
It is normal to feel a bit nauseated after aesthesia. And pain meds can also do a number on the digestive system. But a week out, I still couldn’t hold anything down, and my doctor had suggested everything he could. That last night I was so out of my mind, I woke up at one point lying on my bathroom floor having no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there. What’s maybe more disturbing is that once I figured out where I was, I decided it was a fine place to be, and I’d just stay. The next morning I had a friend take me to the ER.
I was severely dehydrated, and all my chemicals were out of whack. They x-rayed and poked and prodded and tried to draw blood from veins thin as a hair and full of sludge. Once they determined it was an issue with my intestines, they stuck a tube up my nose and into my stomach. It was exactly as pleasant as it sounds. And no, they don’t give you any drugs for that.
That tube was my lifeline for seven days though. Seems your stomach continues producing juices, even if you don’t eat. That tube kept me from hurling all the time while they got my chemistry back into whack and decided ultimately that I needed surgery.
It’s amazing what you learn to accommodate. You get used to a tube being up your nose and down your throat. You learn to drink from a cup sideways without even tilting your head. (And you savor the sips, even though a tube is sucking them right back out of your stomach.) You explain to each new nurse who comes on duty how to connect and disconnect the tubing from the machine so you can get up and use the bathroom.
You get used to being awakened at 4:45 every morning for someone to draw blood to determine if your potassium is getting more normal or not. You stop caring if people see you with no makeup, hair unwashed for days, and no bra. You puke in front of your co-workers and assume they’ll still respect you. Maybe you just don’t care because you’re so out of your mind.
I distinctly remember the very moment I came back to myself. I’d been there about five days. I couldn’t watch television or get online or even read, because it all spun in front of me and made me nauseated. But I could listen to music. So I’d lie in bed sometimes with my ear buds in and my eyes closed for hours. One afternoon as I lie there listening, I swear I felt this electrical current run right up the center of my body. Zap! There it went, and suddenly I was back. I was in my right mind. I was me again. And the music made me dance a little in my hospital bed.
The best thing about this kind of experience is that when it’s all over with, when you start to feel human again, when music makes you dance again and jokes make you laugh again, you have this amazing joy for the tiniest things in life.
This is me eating an orange Popsicle, the first food I ate in 15 days. This is what pure, unadulterated joy looks like people. That Popsicle was later followed by chicken broth and Jell-o, then by cream of wheat and orange juice. Later came rice and mashed potatoes. Each item more delectable than the last.
Last night I ate a quarter of a cheeseburger. I savored every single moment, from sitting outside the restaurant before going in, to selecting toppings, to chewing those first couple of bites. Heaven.
A friend commented yesterday that it’s like I was given a free lap band surgery out of the deal. I can only eat tiny amounts at a time after my whole system being shut down for so long. I’m very tired and very weak. I get a wild hair to throw in a load of laundry or something, and then I have to go lie down to recover.
The crazy thing is, while in the hospital after not eating for two weeks, I somehow found the strength to walk up and down the hallways again and again and again. The doctors told me that the more I walked, the faster my intestines would come back to life. That was all I needed to know. I walked multiple times each day, and even in the middle of the night. At first I walked pushing my IV pole with one hand and holding my NG tube with the other. Eventually they let me disconnect the IV from the machine so I could walk more freely. Then the tube finally came out, and I walked more fervently, pointing out my lovely nose to anyone who would pay attention. Strangers made comments like, “You sure walk a lot!” as I passed.
I counted my steps and I counted my laps, and I walked 9.7 miles up and down those hospital hallways. Am I counting those miles on my PJF Trail? Damn straight I am! Those miles probably moved me further along my journey than any of the 140 that preceded them. I am certain that I couldn’t have walked those laps if I hadn’t been walking these miles in the months before. I’m certain I’d be in much worse condition now after not eating for 15 days if I hadn’t been overweight to begin with. Everything happens for a reason.
Lying in a hospital bed for eight days gives one plenty of time for reflection, and I feel I’ve had a lot of epiphanies along the way. But I’ll save some of them for future posts!