Well, it's now eight days since the operation and I am starting to feel a little like my old self, just a self which has been punched in the stomach. Really, I have almost no pain and what there is is because of the metal stitches which will be removed tomorrow. I have started walking a bit and can feel the strength of my leg muscles compared to the weakness of my diaphragm, I suppose this will get better gradually.
So, how was the operation, you ask? Actually I was asleep at the time, thankfully, but it did have its moments of mini-drama. After I went off to sleep and was intubated, as well as having a urinary catheter and a stomach tube inserted, as is standard practice a dose of IV antibiotics was started. I don't expect I will ever know quite how allergic a reaction I had to it, hospital notes are dry and often incomplete, but at some point I had steroids and fluids, generally a sign of quite a reaction, and someone in Recovery said something about my tongue swelling up. I'm just glad I was asleep, no worries! Because of this and maybe for other reasons, the operation took longer than planned, and when I got to Recovery I was hypothermic, 34 degrees. Again, I only know because I was told so, I just remember a wonderful heating blanket and lots of morphine, grabbing as many vials of water as I could every time I surfaced and actually feeling pretty ok.
I stayed in Recovery overnight, and the next morning my stomach tube was removed and I went up to the ward. When I was a nurse I worked in Recovery some of the time, and knew all the nurses so it was strange after so long to see them again. To me it seems as though nothing has changed for them, they are just older, while I have changed a lot, sailed a third of the way round the world and seen so many amazing things. It made me happy that I chose to leave when I did. They were really good to me, I got so much morphine I could practically have walked up to the ward, and it was a nice way to start recovering.
On the ward I spent the morning in bed and managed to get up and sit in on a chair for a few minutes in the afternoon. The next morning I had my first shower, sitting down because I was so dizzy, and sat in a chair a bit again. Then gradually I got less stiff and sore until I could get up and go for meals, walk round the ward and so on. The important thing is not to try to do too much too soon, you could easily faint that way. By the time I was released on Sunday I could already walk down to the carpark and get to the car, although I was really glad to get in and rest.
The ileostomy started to work just about immediately, and I got a bit of guidance from the stoma nurse on Surgery B ward and plenty of supplies for meanwhile. They expect you to deal with the stoma more or less from the first day, so I retaliated by emptying it into a plastic bag and stowing the bag under the bed until a nurse came past and threw it away. To be honest I really couldn't do much else, I didn't want to call the nurse every time and the first few days the stoma was hyper active and had a huge output, every time I looked it was bursting full. Now it seems to be gradually settling down, the output changes a lot depending on what I eat and goes from completely liquid to quite jelly like, and the amount of output is quite a lot less. I have to be careful to drink a lot, and managed to get dehydrated on the ward on one of the first days. I had IV fluids and drank a lot, then couldn't stop peeing for hours! The next day it nearly happened again, but I caught myself early and started drinking and was ok. You just have to re-educate yourself, you have a new normal for drinking, eating and shitting!
As for food, I was hungry from the start and couldn't wait to get some calories in me. I started with clear soup on the first day and gradually added in mashed potato, white cheese and all the soft food they had after that. By the third day I managed some chicken meatball- wow did that meatball taste good! Now I am up to well cooked chicken, white rice, avocado and hummus, although I am not sure my stomach was really happy with the hummus- it was commercial stuff with loads of added vegetable oil, I will make my own and try again.
As for activity, I made meatballs with loads of vegetables in a great tomato based sauce yesterday. I felt pretty exhausted afterwards but only for a few minutes, then I got up and cooked rice too. I am walking a bit as I said, I think after the metal stitches are out I will be able to do more.
All in all, not too bad an experience, I saw a lot of old friends and felt that I had made the right choice of surgeon too, based on my recovery so far. I don't think I would actually recommend having major surgery if you don't have to, but it isn't the end of the world at all!