The first 7 days after bowel obstruction surgery

Friday June 1st started out like any other work day and little did I know that within 72 hours I would be recovering from major bowel obstruction surgery. I woke up at 6:45 and got myself ready for work. I was having some pretty sharp pains but shook them off as I got Abby ready for daycare. For once I was actually on time dropping her off and getting to my office on time.

Through the morning, the pain started getting worse. There were moments where I could not sit up straight. It was a pain like I had never felt. At 10am, I finally had to throw in the towel and went home to try to take pain medicine and try to sleep off the pain.

By noon, I knew something major was wrong. The pain was increasing despite medication and I had begun vomiting and it was really dark. It was time to get to the hospital.

John was out of town officiating a wedding so I had a friend drive me to the ER. They took me straight back and put me in a room. The first order of business was lab work. Two young women came in the room wielding needles and I knew by the “trainee” that was listed on their badges that it was not going to be pretty. Four people and six sticks later we finally had success with drawing blood and starting an IV.

I don’t remember much of what took place between the time I arrived at the ER (which was around 12:30) and the time I was admitted (around 8pm). I had three wonderful friends at church rotate shifts so that I wouldn’t have to be there alone. Words cannot describe how grateful I was to have someone there to hold my hand and support me through a pretty scary ordeal.

Shortly before I was admitted, I was taken down to radiology for a CT scan. Within the hour I was told I had a bowel obstruction, I was going to be admitted to the hospital, and would likely end up in surgery.

It was all such a blur. I’m not sure if it was the hustle of all the staff in and out of the room, the intensity of the pain, or the side effects of the pain medicine they had given me. It was likely a mixture of all three.

Thankfully I had support to get through it especially since John was out of town. I am honestly not sure what I would have done without my wonderful friend and spoonie sister Mamie. She stepped in to be my advocate without blinking an eye. She asked the questions that needed answers that I was unable to ask myself. When we found out I was going to be admitted, she drove to my house and packed up things that I would need the next couple days. She made calls to my primary doctor’s office to let her know what was happening. She was totally a lifesaver.

Around 8pm, I was moved upstairs and to the room I would spend the next seven days. Bright and early on Saturday morning, we began the upper GI to try to locate and assess the severity of the obstruction. If you’ve ever had one of these, you know that it is not a pleasant experience. The barium is hard enough to drink on a normal basis but when you’ve been nauseated and throwing up the previous 24 hours it is more than a challenge.

I got most of it down. The next several hours included going back and forth to radiology for x-rays. By the afternoon, my parents had arrived from VA. Dad went to the house to take care of the dogs who had been alone the night before while Mom kept me company. By that night, I was once again very sick. All of the barium I had drank decided it needed to come back up. It doesn’t taste any better the second time around.

The next morning was my final x-ray. When my doctor came to deliver the news that surgery was imminent, I was alone. My husband had made it back to town but he was at church. My mom went home to shower and pack me some things for the next several days. I remember him telling me that I had a total bowel obstruction and he would be taking me to surgery within the hour. I remember texting John and my parents to come to the hospital ASAP.

I have no recollection of the next two days. I do not remember being taken down to surgery. I do not remember recovery or being returned to my room. I vaguely remember my mom telling me that the surgery was over and that he had to remove ten inches of my small bowel because it had gotten wrapped around scar tissue (likely from my surgery in August) and had died. Gangrene had started to set in and had I not went to the ER on Friday it would have been so much worse. I just knew that I had a huge bandage covering most of my torso.

My memory began to come back around Wednesday. My mom would sit with me during the day so John could work and then John would take the night shifts. Pain was pretty manageable with the pain pump but I was still fighting a lot of nausea. I blew two more IV lines after surgery so I ended up with a PICC line. It was Wednesday that they removed the bandage for the first time. I cried. A lot. I was not prepared for what I saw. I had roughly a 12 inch incision with roughly 35 staples. When I asked the doctor why the incision was so big, he replied that he couldn’t fix anything he couldn’t see. Good point.

incision following small bowel obstruction surgery
this shot was taken shortly after the bandage was removed. Aside from the Frankenstein-like incision you can see how bloated I was post-op and the side effects of the lovely Heparin shots I received three times a day.

By Thursday I was able to move up from clear liquids to full liquids and then moved to full diet on Friday. You would think the hospital would have more gluten-free options but my meals consisted of baked chicken and jello. It was better than chicken broth!

Saturday morning, I got my walking papers and was discharged. I felt pretty good when I left. Pain was still pretty high but knowing the expected recovery time was eight weeks and the massive incision left behind, it didn’t seem too early or didn’t raise any flags.

John took me home and had our room set up to make me as comfortable as possible before heading off to the diabetic camp he works at every summer. We planned on a quiet, low-key weekend while I rested and my mom chased Abby.

We were wrong.

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    • Bryan says

      I Just had this surgery on Thursday. I went in to the hospital last Tues night same symptoms was throwing up and had surgery on Thursday. Just today I started sipping on clear liquids, So hopefully tomorrow it will be full liquids or soft food. This was all caused from adhesions and also another part of my intestine was floating freely and wrapping around itself. They had to straighten and sew that back. This is most likely cause from surgery when I was 14, 12 years ago. I had a volvulous and 4 feet of my small intestine was taken out. So I definitely feel your pain from this. How are things now have you had any other obstructions from scar tissue and adhesions? Some doctors say it could happen again and others say it is unlikey. Thanks!

      • Suzanne Johnsen Smith says

        I had the same surgery a few years back – had second opinion and also told only 10% chance of obstruction again – then I had another but thank goodness only partial and just got out of the hospital with same – Have had seven abdominal surgeries so I blame adhesions, etc. Nervous about diet, etc.

        • says

          My GI doctor says its only a matter of time until I have another obstruction because of my surgical history (I’ve had six abdominal surgeries). In fact, he knows adhesions have returned and are impacting bowel function but I cannot find a surgeon that will go in preemptively because I am considered too “high risk” because of my obstruction history. So now I just feel like a ticking time bomb. The obstruction, emergency surgery, and extremely tough recovery (had two partials within six weeks of surgery that required hospitalization) were extremely traumatic and my anxiety has been sky high ever since because I am terrified of it happening all over again.

          • Theresa Null says

            I’ve been going through this same thing. The latest cost me 5 days in the hospital and scared my family. I didn’t like the tube up my nose and down into my stomach, but the doctor said do that or surgery. Not again! I feel like I’m a ticking time bomb as I’m not to eat food that tends to stick together (like peanut butter), nothing that would irritate & then swell my intestines as the scar tissue has made the intestines smaller diameter (how do I know what will irritate them until it happens?) do Metamucil 3x a day (interferes with other medicines so you have time it just right), and a stool softener every day. Yes, this “recovering” from multiple abdominal surgeries is a “chronic” problem. I want to look into methods (other than surgery) to remove scar tissues. Here’s praying!

          • Jeremy says

            Ihi my name is Jeremy and I have had crohns for 13 years, 6 surgery to remove intestines, 12 abcest removal , months of physical therapy. That’s not all the time that I had to go to the hospital for obstruction in my bowl, have ad this happen between 20 and thirty time I hoad this surgery in 2010 were the took two feet of large and small intestine and connected the back wrong it looks like a t. The was the put it back spent an entire year in the hospital , they removed a 2 feet, I was on a feed tube for a year and I got down l lost a 100 pounds and now weigh 120 pound Has anybody gone. With out eating for a entire year other than clear liquid
            due to infections, 6 months in to my year stay my lungs collapsed and I spent month in the ICU, since then I have been in and out of the hospital with obstruction at least 20 of them, I probably will have have to have another
            surgery soon I am scared that I will not make it thru this on considering I almost died on the last on, I have tried to have a life but it is hard when I am in pain all the time, and when I do go out I can’t everything I used and can’t eat what I what too, sometimes I just want to give up and say enough is enough, how can I live a normal life, just wish there people like I could talk to, but I guess not, I hate going to a restaurant and have know we’re the bathroom are just case, I should not have to do this, I should be able to take somebody out to a nice dinner and not have be worried when I would to go next, well thanks for letting me vent. My email is just in case somebody else needs to vent

    • says

      It took a very long time get some type of normalcy! I ended up with two partial obstructions during the healing process with each requiring several days in the hospital. I would say it was a good 10-12 weeks before I started to feel somewhat good again! Feel free to shoot me an email if you have specific questions about the recovery!

      • Gloria Valles says


        I had the same surgery on August 1st and I am so scared to eat anything. Everything I eat hurts my stomach and I get bloated. they have me on ensure and I feel like I am gaining weight. Any suggestions.

  1. bob says

    thanks for the post, just having gone thru this over the holidays i know how alone this type of thing can make a person feel. i dont envy the road ahead but am grateful for the journey that is already behind me. thanks again for the inspiration

  2. says

    Wow. Thank God that you are well. I am helping someone that just went through this surgery for a second time in seven years. I am overwhelmed but trying to just really be there for her, since she has no children or spouse. How hard was it for you to get up and start walking again and eating again? Thanks.

    • says

      It took me a very long time to bounce back from this surgery. It was a good six to eight weeks before I felt like I got a part of my energy back and it was much longer for me to be able to resume a remotely normal diet. I was a good three months out from surgery before I really started to feel like myself again. I’ve had six surgeries total and this one was definitely the hardest by far.

      • melony says

        I am going in for small bowel surgery. I have already had 3 abdominal surgeries do this still be my fourth. I am freaking out.

        • says

          It was definitely a changing recovery but remember to take your time afterwards and give yourself plenty of time to heal! If you have any questions about recovery, feel free to drop me an email!

  3. Roxanne says

    I just had that surgery just got home last nite I was in the hospital for 12 dys almost died before they could figure what was wrong with me . Those pains r gone just dealing with recovery and surgery pains which I know I will heel in time I can’t stand the bag tho the order is horrible . But they r sending me new bags with filter I hope that works anyone knows do they

    • says

      Thankfully I did not have to deal with a bag after the surgery. I ended up having to be re-hospitalized two additional times because partial blockages during healing but thankfully had no other complications! I hope you have a speedy recovery and find healing and relief soon!

      • pam says

        Hi, i just ran across these emails and nformation by happen chance. My girlfriend jackie who has LS is having a bowel obstructiin surgery later early this morning , please pray that she is as strong in spirit as you guys are and she does well in her recovery. I know that God has her and you all in the palm of his hands and he will continue to bribg you all through. Your Faith and Friendship is very inspiring to read. I too once had a huge adomen cut like that from indometrioses surgery stuck to my abdomen in 1997, soooooh painful, but yes this too shall pass,test to testamony, trials to triumph just as you all have done. God bless and continued healing for you all, the INSPIRATERS :).

  4. Acqua says

    I had colon cancer resection July 10, 2012. I thought everything was going great until May 4, 2013 when I was in a lot of pain tying to work through it until I couldnt. We to ER around 12 noon and was admitted by 8pm after xrays, ct scan. At that point an NG tube was inserted and antibiotics added to the IV line along with pain meds. On May 9th the doctor stated surgery was not going to be able to be avoided as the antibiotics was not clearing the small bowel obstruction. So at 6am I went to surgery. My potassium was so low I had to have bags of that before I could go to surgery. I ended up with the surgeon going back in the original 12 inch incision from the colon cancer surgery. He stated he was very happy when he didn’t have to remove any of my small bowel. He performed lysis of adhesions, I had a heria also. I was released on May 16, 2013 and am healing, but have been noticing a seemingly fullness of late. Not experiencing any vomiting, but am a little worried as my abdomen looks a little bigger than it was this am. I must give kudos to the uplifing information provided on this site and thank God my situation was not worse.

  5. emmanuel says

    Hi, I had the same surgery about six weeks ago thouth I don’t feel pains anymore, I’m finding it difficelt to walk upright. Do you think I’m impatient or there is a problem.

    • says

      It definitely took me a long time to feel “normal” again after surgery but if you feel like something is off, definitely go with your gut and ask your doctor!

  6. Anne Adams says

    Hi! Thank you for all the information you have provided. Question: is there a specific thing I can do for my friend who had this surgery yesterday? Anything that I can give her that she’d find comforting/useful as a gift?

    • says

      Because of the incision and bloating after the surgery, you don’t want anything restricting at all! I don’t think I wore pants for weeks! A comfy nightgown would be a good gift I am sure she would appreciate! Things like magazines are great when you are stuck in bed! A Netflix subscription would be fun too! I did a post on a surgery survival kit that you might find helpful and will post a link for you as soon as I’m on my laptop! I hope these ideas help!

  7. Crystal says

    I had a surgery May 22nd to remove adhesions from my abdomen. I felt great for 8 days. On The surgeon told me I had a bowel obstruction. I had to be on Iv fluids for a while because he wanted at least 20 days in between my surgeries. It was the most horrible experience ever. I have severe anxiety now, wondering if I will have another bowel obstruction. My stomach is still bloated 4 months later and bowels are still not under control. Any advice?

    • says

      After my initial obstruction that required the surgery, I had two partials during the healing process that required hospital stays and IV nutrition only. It was most definitely one of the most terrifying and traumatic thing I have ever faced (my NG tube experience still gives me nightmares). I have had 5 other surgeries (which resulted in the scar tissue that created the total obstruction) but this was BY FAR the most difficult recoveries I have ever endured (beating out my abdominal total hysterectomy by a long shot). Like you I suffered with extreme anxiety for many, many months as I was terrified of another obstruction. Over a year later, the anxiety is lessened but not completely gone. My GI specialist told me that with my surgical history (and the likelihood of needing more surgeries in the future for endo) that I had a heightened risk of experiences another obstruction so I am closely monitored.

      It took me a good six months to feel even remotely “normal” GI-wise after the surgery. I stayed nauseated, had difficulty digesting anything besides soft foods, and felt very bloated. An obstruction is traumatic for the bowels so it takes awhile to recover. Stick with softer foods that are easier to digest and be sure to drink a lot of water. If you don’t feel like you are getting enough nutrients, you can try making smoothies at home (adding greens and protein powder with fruits) or drink Ensure. I stayed away from salads and raw veggies as they are harder to digest. I love steak but now I only eat it in small portions and drink a lot of water while eating it to aid in digestion. I hope these suggestions help.

      Did you end up needing surgery for the obstruction itself or did it clear with IVs and hospital monitoring? Do you have a GI doctor that you can follow up with? It is definitely a slow recovery but a follow-up may ease some of your anxiety. Feel free to contact me anytime here or you can shoot me an email!

      • Crystal says

        yes, my obstruction required surgery. This was my 7th abdominal surgery. I had a ng tube for about a week. They tried to put it in before surgery and I couldn’t handle it. My belly is so bloated, I look pregnant :( I am seeing a therapist due to the depression and anxiety from the month long hospital stay. I am afraid to go anywhere, I can’t even walk or exercise due to having no control over my bowels. I am in constant fear it will happen again and will be more than just a small blockage and more than a 34 cm removal of my small intestine. I honestly don’t think I could go through that again

        • says

          Our experiences sound to scarily familiar. They tried inserting the NG tube 15 times unsuccessfully and refused to sedate (which my GI dr was furious about when I told him after). The whole thing was a really traumatic experience and it sounds like it was the same for you. I have had killer abdominal pain the last 48 hours and I can’t help but be eat up with anxiety that it will happen again!

          • Bryan says

            To all who have had small bowel obstructions and due to adhesions and scar tissues. There is hope! Check out . They use a hand on, sort of a deep tissue massage technique. I did this two weeks ago because I went to the hospital 3 times in the last month due to obstructions. It really did help get rid of the adhesions, however I still had another obstruction and surgery because and adhesions was actually choking my small intestine and hand of therapy could not get to that. But the doctors said I had very little adhesions, so the Therapy at clear passage definitely helped a ton. It was the best decision I have made I may go back another time to receive additional therapy from this surgery I had.

        • Diane Carman says

          I am recovering from a sm. bowel obstruction. What a horrible experience this has been. The pain was so bad the night of the obstruction. I was alone and scared. I called 911. At times my hands and legs became numb due to obstructing blood flow. I begged for more pain meds in ambulance. I had a few abdominal surgeries due to my colon cancer. this past year. But I am two weeks out of hospital from this obstruction. but every night when I lay down. The pain starts for 5 hours. I don’t know how long I can cope with this. I sometimes just have fluids to help ease the trauma that will come. Friends come in and check on me to see if I am any better. I hate to complain to anyone. Very bad situation I am in. Thanks for reading my blog Sincerely, Diane

  8. Charles Nicholson says

    I to have had some surgery. In 2009 Colon Cancer and Jan 2013 Small bowel obstruction and 2 weeks later my I opened up and they had to put me back together with an open wound. My hospital stay was 28 days. I have had 2 more Blockages in Oct and Dec. I know how you feel and I know I would not be here today without prayer. I spent one week on a ventilator in Feb. 2013 and today I am back at work. God Bless

  9. Natasha says

    Thank you for all of the information you have posted. I had the surgery on the 21st of February and have been home for 7 days. Still in level 7 pain and having a hard time eating more than just cream of rice or other very mild things. I am extremely sensitive to pain medication and that has made the recovery longer. I went home with NORCO but have stopped taking it because it makes me constipated. Any one else with sensitivity to pain medications? Have not found a lot on the internet

    • says

      It took me a very long time before I was able to eat remotely “normal” after my obstruction surgery (at least 6-8 weeks). Getting the GI system moving smoothly also took some time. The first few BMs post-surgery were killer. The pain was unbearable but as things started to heal, it got better. I definitely took a stool softener the first couple weeks to help things move a little easier. Definitely give yourself a little more time to heal. I had five surgeries before this one for the obstruction and this recovery was much slower and rougher than any of the other five I have had. Hope this helps! Feel free to contact me anytime if you have specific questions!

  10. Kathy says

    I am so glad I found this information! My husband went into the hospital on Sunday morning and by that night, was undergoing emergency surgery for an obstruction in his intestines (due in part to scar tissue build up from a surgery he had as a baby to remove 12 inches of his intestines) Now back home, both he and I are pretty anxious as to what the recovery is going to look like. Do you feel there was anything you could have done differently to avoid additional obstructions?

    • says

      I actually had to patrial obstructions in the healing process that required hospitalization but thankfully no additional surgeries. My obstruction & resection occurred right where the small and large bowel meet which made healing a challenge. Because my obstruction was caused by scar tissue from previous abdominal surgeries there was nothing I could have done to prevent it nor can I do anything to prevent another one from occurring (which may be likely because of my history of surgeries and scar tissue). My GI just keeps a close eye on my abdominal pain with xrays/scans in hopes to catch anything issues before it becomes a total blockage.

      • karen says

        I had surgery 4/23/14 and am bloated again…called dr and as long as I am not in pain or throwing up bile…he seems to think I am ok…now that is a scary opinion to me. Will go to another dr tomorrow cause you just know your body…dont want the tube again:(

      • Lenf says

        I had surgury on June 27 to remove 36″ of small intestine and gallbladder and I can agree with everyone’s comments it was no fun.. The first 7 days in the hospital were pretty controlled , with no food or water by mouth for 3 days and then slow clear liquids the fourth and so called hospital food the fifth day. Getting up and walking was chore, but very necessary to building back strength. I had an excellent surgeon, and care for the seven days in the hospital. Pain button on the IV made things bearable. Upon release the real adventure starts to make sure you take extreme care to follow doctors orders, no lifting at all, plenty of rest , and watch everything you eat. I chose soft foods only, lots of melon and fruit, lots of liquid. Nothing other than eggs, chicken and tuna salad and potatoes . I tried a hamburger one day and paid the price.. No fatty foods.. It has been a slow but steady process, over the past 4 weeks of recovery, and I feel I am only 60% back, so I agree with the comments it will take at lease 6-8 weeks, maybe more.. Then to start building strength back will take several more weeks . Still no lifting over 5 lbs until doctors gives the ok.. I have a friend who started back lifting to early and is in rough condition with two more hernia repair surguries to go.. So listen up no incision has healed up after 30 days , but the doctors says it will take several weeks or months for the bowels to get healed and readjusted in your body .
        There is no exact diet but no dairy, no fatty foods ,no bulk meats, no steak etc and I feel I am doing fine.. It was a tough operation , but I thank God and the surgeon that I am still alive. I am very thankful they got all the tumors , and can help others who have to go through this operation.. I had open heart 6 years ago and it was much more painful,this this.

  11. Jonas says

    I had a kidney transplant in January, Transplants are placed in the iliac crest (front of body, near pelvis), so during surgery a lot of other organs are “adjusted” to make the new kidney fit. A mesh was placed on top of the transplant because the kidney came from a donor, a very kind gentleman, who is almost twice my weight and about 6 inches taller than I. I expected some swelling in the early phases of healing, but after month 3, my abdomen was still distended, with no explanation. The nurse told me that “swelling” of the abdomen can take “months” to heal. I am 5’10’ tall and weigh 100lbs. And, I knew In my heart of hearts that this swelling was not normal, as I had had another kidney transplant when I was 14 in 1990. Never did I experience such swelling. As the months went on, my complaints to the doctor continued, with no intervention. Finally, after an episode of gross distention, pain, and vomiting, coupled with an ER visit, multiple CT scans, radiographs, and bloodworm, it was confirmed that I do have an obstructed small bowel, right where the small bowel meets the large bowel. It slipped out of the doc’s mouth that there had been a surgical error and that adding the mesh to keep the larger kidney in place, contributed to the adhesion and obstruction. Here I am, 8 plus months after transplant, and the symptoms of obstruction keep getting worse. I wear a surgical belt so I can fit into my pants, I wear the same belt to sleep, to add pressure to the obstruction, which allows food (all soft for about a month now) to go through, I will not allow the big name transplant hospital in PA to fix this problem. My dear friend, who just happens to be a liver transplant surgeon, has arranged an appointment at a more prestigious hospital in NJ to have the surgery, It is his hope that because of the experience of the transplant team and of the abdominal surgery team, that this obstruction/adhesion, can be taken care of quickly and with minimal healing time. I hope he is right, as I have a job interview tomorrow. What do I tell them, “I can start immediately, but will then need 6-8 weeks off to heal from an abdominal surgery, Yes, life has been quite a challenge lately. The bloating is severe and the pain is out of this world, If they don’t call me tomorrow, I’ll show up to the ER, On another note, one of the GI guys at the PA hospital told me to “just get used to it”. I was dumbfounded. How can anyone think that way??? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I’m at my rope’s end.

    • says

      My obstruction also happened where the small bowel meets the large bowel which made healing a little slower and caused the two partial obstructions during recovery. I cannot image a physician/surgeon knowing you have an obstruction and not doing the surgery to correct it. Obstructions can be serious. I was septic by the time they found my obstruction as the part of my bowel that was wrapped had died and started to decay (even though I had been in the ER just a week or two prior and they diagnosed my pain as pacreatitis). I continue to have GI problems due to gastroparesis and slow moving bowel so I am mostly on a soft diet but I am closely watched by my GI dr because of my history. I cannot imagine that any doctor would allow an obstruction to go untreated, even if it is a partial obstruction which is what I am guessing you have going on. Adhesions and scar tissue can be tricky things to deal with as often the process of removing adhesions/scar tissue will in turn only create MORE adhesions/scar tissue so there is definitely a fine line sometimes between the benefits and risks of abdominal surgery. My doctors know that I already have scar tissue impacting my bowels but until there is an obstruction or an emergency, they consider me too hight risk to go in preemptively. Its a vicious cycle. Since you’ve had multiple abdominal surgeries that might be the reason doctors are hesitant to go back in but if they *know* there is an obstruction, I cannot imagine a doctor letting it go untreated. I could definitely get a second opinion.

  12. Angela says

    After reading the comments, I feel so much more at ease. My mom had bowel obstruction surgery 7 days ago and knowing what she’s experiencing is normal makes me feel so much better. I had no idea this was so traumatic. Watching her go through this is tough but I’m comforted by all the comments that this is normal and it will take time. Thank you all for putting my mind at ease. I will share this with her so she knows she’s not alone.

  13. Sarah says

    Hi, I hope you can help me. My mom had this surgery about 2 weeks ago and was just released from the hospital and able to come home. She is 45 and has Lupus and was told her healing process may be a little delayed but she should fully recover. About an hour ago I was talking to her in her room when she told me that she felt very nauseous and was freezing cold. Then she began dry heaving but not throwing up. I called my dad and he took her back to the ER. Do you know if this is normal or how long she may be feeling very sick like this. Please get back to me through here or email. My email is


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