The operation

Well, folks, here I am back in the world again, after surgery in October to remove a couple of carcinoid tumours from my duodenum.

Somehow, in spite of having received detailed information from both my surgeon and the anesthesiologist, I managed to persist in the delusion that I’d be up and about in no time flat, in spite of the fact that I’m some twenty years older than I was the last time I had any kind of operation – and not to mention the fact that surgery inside the digestive system isn’t quite the same thing as having a leg operation.

For one thing, your stomach doesn’t pour digestive acids into your leg on a regular basis! 

The event took five hours from start to finish, and then I cooled my heels in the operating room for three hours because there wasn’t a bed available for me.  (The joys of our health care system.) Since the room had been booked for the entire day anyway in case I needed more complex surgery, I suppose it seemed a good idea to just let me cool my heels right there.

It didn’t matter to me one way or the other – thanks to the epidural morphine anaesthetic, I was in my happy place anyway.

However, post-op was another story. When I finally came to, I discovered that I was hooked up with the following assortment of tubes:

  • a nasogastric tube down my nose into my stomach (there is simply no describing the pain a nasogastric tube can inflict after a couple of days!), as well as an oxygen tube in my nostrils, which caused a certain amount of crowding inside the ol’ honker;
  • a central line in my jugular vein – for emergencies, I guess, since it was never touched until it was finally removed;
  • the aforementioned epidural tube in my upper back attached to a morphine pump (which we eventually discovered was injecting most of the morphine into my bed instead of me every time I pushed the button…it had become unseated);
  • another i.v. for saline solution because I wasn’t allowed to eat anything for almost the entire time I was in there – a deprivation I felt deeply, being a dedicated and joyful eater.  However, I consoled myself with the consideration that it was, after all, hospital food, so I probably wasn’t missing much;
  • catheter into my bladder;
  • a tube into my abdominal cavity to suck up gastric fluid from the tissues inside so that they could begin to heal;
  • and last but not least, another line in my wrist that didn’t go anywhere – for for some other kind of emergency, I guess.

Bottom line:  I felt much like a pincushion and looked like The Creature from the Deep Lagoon.

Pain soon became a huge issue following the surgery, and it took two or three days before I realized that my bed was soaked under my back – surely I couldn’t be sweating that much! – and the nurse I called discovered that the epidural i.v. that carried my pain relief had come out was steadily pouring morphine into my sheets instead of me every time I pushed the pump button.  (This after the pain consultant had visited to see why I wasn’t responding to the large quantities of narcotic being delivered by my morphine pump.)

Before I finally sank into a pain-free, exhausted slumber, I thanked everyone who came anywhere near my bed for the blessing of narcotics – including the lady came to wash the floor.  Let no one say I’m not thankful for small miracles!

I’m fairly certain that the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary was launched with much less fuss than my first walk down the hospital hall after the operation.  It took at least ten minutes to get all my tubes disentangled from their various sources so that I could move around; and shortly after stepping out into the hall, I began beeping like a parade as my heart/blood pressure monitor complained about the movement and the crimping of my various tubes.

As I slowly shuffled my way down the halls, at least three medical folks stopped me, one after the other, and tried to adjust the monitor to stop the noise.  Each time, it obediently went silent until I got under way again and had progressed about five paces further along, when it would stubbornly resume its warning beep.  This little scenario was repeated each time I went for my daily health shuffle.  Given that I was making so much noise, it seemed only right to wave to folks as I passed by their rooms.

I can’t begin to tell you what a picture I was after five days of sweating into my hair!  It simply clumped into sodden blobs all over my head.  That, and my normally sallow complexion (which took on a greyish hue in the hospital), gave me just that special post-mortem look I so love….

Once I had performed all the necessary bodily functions to the doctors’ satisfaction, I was allowed to return home, where I rested a good deal of the time and did what I could to get back to “normal.”  All 26 staples came out a few days after my homecoming, and the drainage tube in my abdomen came out then too.

What a relief to be freed from that blasted drainage tube, which was at least a mile long and even when rolled up, flapped against my side whenever I moved around.  I looked like a creature from Night of the Vampire with all that red liquid sloshing around whenever I took a step.

Now, not to say that I’m… ahem… you know, fat… but it appears that there wasn’t quite enough room for my actual tummy inside the space allotted to it by the surgeon when he stapled me up, because within a day or two of the staple removal event, several bits of the incision began to, well…gap…and ooze, and it took weeks of changing gauze bandages daily before it finally got itself scabbed over and began to heal. So now my incision looks like thick and thin yarn (which other knitters will be able to visualize instantly)  dangling down my front.

Actually, my torso is beginning to look like something from “The Illustrated Man” anyway, as the recent incision bisects me vertically down the middle from breastbone to belly button and nearly comes face-to-face with the other incision I have on my lower torso, the heavy-duty one that I received about forty years ago when I had to have an emergency appendectomy.

To be fair to the surgeon who did that job so long ago, I happened to be three months pregnant with my first child at the time, so he did have to allow for a considerable amount of future swelling.  As my obstetrician remarked when he saw the scar, “Well, he’s certainly no artist, but he does a good solid job.”

But that’s a story for another day….