chronic illness

The first 7 days after bowel obstruction surgery

Bowel Obstruction Surgery Recovery
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.

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.