It’s been 3 weeks and 4 days since I had my ileostomy reversed so I thought I’d give you an update on all things fecal.
I met my surgeon and anaesthetist just prior to going into theatre. My surgeon advised that the wound would be closed using a ‘purse-string’ suture and would heal via secondary intention, as opposed to being completely closed. He explained that it would take a tad longer to heal, but that it would result in less scarring, and there would be less chance of infection. Given I’d already been given a healthy dose of Midazolam, I wasn’t really in any state to argue with him.
Surgery took a little longer than expected because being the awesome healing machine it is (remember how my body closed around the wound drain in my first surgery?), the stoma had well and truly attached itself to my stomach muscles and abdominal wall. Other than that, it apparently went according to plan and I woke up a few hours later a little foggy and with a lot less baggage.
The following morning I was up and about and my stomach was already exhibiting signs of life. I graduated to a fluid diet from lunchtime onwards and but for an impromptu spew (I think from taking on too much of the ass flavoured broth), things were fine. Later that evening my bowels fully awakened and in the words of my surgeon, things were a tad ‘chaotic’. I didn’t get much sleep that night and every trip to the bathroom felt like I was shitting molten razor blades.
I graduated to solid food on Sunday, and was given something for lunch that I was told was chicken. Truth be told I have no idea what it was. That evening the surgeon told me I could go home that night if I wanted, but I requested to stay another night, if nothing else so that I could have another meal of solid food before I went home and was fending for myself.
After ‘pork’ for dinner, and wheat-bix for brekky, I was discharged and sent on my way with the cheery wishes from my nurses that they hoped to never see me again.
It would be remiss of me to not mention my roomies during my stay in the hospital. I didn’t have the luxury of a single room this time, although the first afternoon/evening I had the room to myself until just after dinner.
The first two patients were brought in just after dinner on Friday who had had prostate surgery. Their surgeon was pretty much the worst example of a ‘professional’ I think I’ve ever encountered. He was Asian, and could have been mistaken for Leslie Chow from ‘The Hangover’. To the first patient, he exclaimed “you have infection bladder” before making this weird noise that was between a laugh and a sob. To the second patient, he says “How you feeling? Good? Excellent. I’ll see you in a few weeks…oh and cancer came back” with an awkward laugh. The patient asked for clarification and the surgeon replied “the bladder cancer came back. I had to do some more cleaning up. I’ll see you in a few weeks” and then walked out. My heart dropped for the pair of them, but particularly the second fellow.
Fortunately, the second fellow was discharged the following morning, and hopefully his first stop was the Healthcare Complaints Commission. Patient number one was with me for the long haul however.
Patient number three replaced number two and he seemed to be on first name basis with all of the nurses and orderlies. Turns out he was a frequent visitor. A lung cancer survivor, he now had emphysema and had about 60% lung capacity. It took him a solid 20 minutes to walk across the room to use the amenities and then at least half an hour of deep breaths to recover. Didn’t seem to stop him ducking out to buy chocolates or have a quick smoke however… Fuck. Me. The worst thing about that bloke though was that he just. did. not. sleep. I mean, EVER. Overtime I woke up to thread a turd through a needle, the bastard was wide awake watching TV. Maybe it was all the steroids he was on to help his lungs function but was an enigma. He was still there when I was discharged.
Patient number four was a fellow who I worked out was a couple of years younger than me (having overheard him recite his DOB to get his pain meds) who was in hospital for pancreatitis. He seemed to be in a fuckton of pain and the meds were barely making a dint. I felt sorry for him until the morning of my discharge when I overheard the surgical team talking to him and I discovered this was his 6th admission to hospital in as many months, and was all down to his drug and alcohol use.
Back to patient number one, because this bloke really took the cake. He had a urinary catheter but one which came out of his abdomen, as opposed to his old fella. I noticed him struggling to get out of bed so I asked him if he wanted me to get the nurse. He said yes and I dutifully pressed the buzzer. When the nurse arrived and I explained it was for him not me, all hell broke loose. It turns out that the old bloke’s catheter had exploded and bloody piss had soaked his bed, his clothes, and had spurted over the walls and floor. I hadn’t been able to see because I was lying down in bed. All of this happened and the bloke didn’t say a single word. Incredible.
Needless to say, Im sure you can understand why I was glad to be home.
Home is where the shart is
I was home on the Monday morning, only 3 days after surgery.
The Monday and Tuesday were, quite simply, hell on earth. There were times that I longed to have my ileostomy back, if for no other reason than to give my napalmed asshole a rest.
Have you ever noticed when you have diarrhoea that it stings? It’s because of (a) there’s an increase of bile in it, and (b) water is actually pretty abrasive. Both of those combine to make for a pretty miserable existence, even more so when you’re on the can every 5 minutes.
Fortunately, 3 Imodiums later and things had settled down. I found that eating bland foods like bread rolls and chicken helped to slow things down and it was at that time that things started to improve.
Gradually I started introducing different foods into my diet, cautious not to put too much stress on my recently reconnected join. That was until about two weeks after surgery when I decided to throw caution to the wind and put my pipes through their paces.
I started with chicken nuggets. Nada. Then we had dumplings for dinner. Not even a peep. A chicken schnitzel with pepper sauce and a pint of beer had no effect whatsoever, and neither did the following 6 beers, or the Thai curry we had for dinner that Friday night. Pushing my luck, I had some paella with spicy chorizo which had been fried. Again, nothing. After a successful consult with my surgeon, and his reassurance that things were going well and I could expect to return to almost normal in the future, I celebrated with two Indian curries. Again, not even a peep.
Since those three Imodiums, I haven’t had to have any more. Fortunately, all of my turds have been soft and perfectly formed, albeit on the small side. They’re like dwarf poo. Except for one, and it was glorious. I still feel urgency, but have never felt like I’m going to soil myself. My surgeon said that if I’ve survived this far without shitting myself, the odds are pretty good I won’t fill my pants from here on in.
Unfortunately, one of the hardest things for my new plumbing to get used to is only having to go to the can once or twice a day. On a good day I might go 4 or 5 times, and each time is a small cluster of craps, while on a bad day, I might go 12 or more times. Last night for example, I couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without having to visit the latrine, resulting in me getting about 1/2 an hours sleep in total. The surgeon says that it will improve in time, and that I should be grateful that I’m doing so well so soon.
How am I feeling after it all
Physically, I never thought I’d feel so happy to do a shit. Each day/week is better than the one before it and it removed any anxiety I had about having the ileostomy reversed. The pain was much more manageable for this operation, and by the time I went home, I was only having Panadol. The wound is healing nicely, and instead of resembling a bullet wound on my stomach, or perhaps an impromptu pen holder, it now looks like a small dent, as though someone attacked me with one of those melon-ball scoopy things. By only half closing the wound, it heals from the inside out, essentially filling itself in as it heals. Crazy, eh?
Mentally, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand I’m ecstatic. Looking down and not seeing a bag is the most liberating feeling. Not having to tuck my bag in when getting dressed, or worrying about it filling up when I’m at dinner or the pub is a huge relief. I rolled over onto my stomach for the first time in 12 months today and it felt incredible. I like to think that I adapted to having a stoma pretty well, and yet no longer having it shows just how hard I found it.
It’s also pretty emotional. I look in the mirror and now see a vertical scar on my abdomen and a hole. It is a constant reminder of what I’ve been through and the toll that it’s taken on me. Cancer has taken so much from me and my family over the last 18 months, and not just my rectum. This last time in hospital was much harder for Annabelle, no doubt because she was older and understood that I was sick. She also understands that I can’t lift her at the moment and the look on her face shows that she doesn’t like it. Of course, that’s short lived, and as I’ve said many times over, I can’t complain when so many people don’t get the luxury of having these problems.
So what next?
Healing, and getting back to normal, whatever that turns out to be. I’m back at work, although I had to take today off due to not sleeping last night.
We’ve also booked our trip to Hawaii, which will be a well deserved break for us all, but particularly Lyndell. Hopefully some cocktails by the pool, perhaps some massages and some serious retail therapy will go some way to paying her back for the stalwart effort she has put in over the last 18 months. We told Annabelle and she is so excited, she keeps asking if we can go now. It will be her first proper holiday and we know that she will just love it.
I’m the first to acknowledge how fucking incredibly lucky I’ve been so far in terms of both tolerating and responding to treatment, recovering from surgery, and adapting to the various challenges I’ve been thrown. Without a doubt I couldn’t have done it without Lyndell. In every aspect of my life I’m surrounded by strong women, and that is no more evident than at home when I look at my wife and daughter. There’s more than a few Lavaflows with your name on them sweety when we get to the Aloha isles xx.
So that’s it for now guys, and all things going well, I suspect it will be the last post for a while. Other than quarterly blood tests and 6 monthly CT scans, there’s not much more to tell you. I’ll do brief updates on my colonoscopy and scan results, and when I have my portacath taken out and of course I can’t not write about our trip to Hawaii, but to be honest, I hope that I never have anything newsworthy to report, because, as the saying goes, ‘no news is good news’.
Thanks for coming along for the ride folks. I hope you’ve had some laughs, maybe learned a bit, and if nothing else, appreciate how fortunate you are to pinch off a loaf each and every day like clockwork.
As always, be kind to your colons, and each other.