Going through a major operation such as the one I did, a subtotal colectomy, sure brings along some perspective. D-Day was Monday, April 25 – the day of liberation in Italy as a friend pointed out when wishing me freedom from pain and a means to regain my life.
(I’ve made a series of vlogs to document what this was like on a daily basis which I’ll post once I’m back home.)
The day itself was somewhat ‘uneventful’ if one can put it that way. I was lucky enough to be taken down two hours earlier than anticipated, way better than others in my ward who were taken down for other procedures in the afternoon instead of the morning. I was in pretty high spirits until the bed started rolling, at which point, a little bit of anxiety did set in. Luckily my iPod was on hand and I cranked up the volume on my chosen song and began singing to myself, much to the amusement of the orderlies wheeling me down to theatre.
The anaesthetists were phenomenal. Dr Noel Borg asked me what my favourite cocktail was (Long Island Iced Tea for the record) and said he was mixing up a special order for me while Dr Constantin Mashion (hope I got that right!) began cracking jokes left right and centre. I was laughing as they wheeled me in to theatre, surely the best medicine.
After that, I obviously don’t remember much except that the very first thing I asked while in the recovery room was whether the operation was performed laparoscopically or not and the reply was YES!!!! I couldn’t believe it, in fact, I’m pretty sure I asked them a million other times. My husband told me that the first thing I told him when he saw me was that they had succeeded with key-hole surgery.
Day after surgery dawned and the pain was definitely there, very present, very uncomfortable, very real. And yet, I was awake, I had no drains, no cuts to the abdomen, a functioning stoma, the catheter was removed and miracle of miracles, I was managing to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, it was very, very, very hard, I felt like what I imagine a non-functioning elderly person feels like every day. Just pulling myself into a sitting position on the bed felt like I was scaling Everest (not that I’d ever do that!). Every little action performed suddenly became a major accomplishment. You begin to really appreciate the tiniest things in life, with each new boundary shattered, celebrated, something that seemed hitherto unattainable now the next milestone on the road to becoming whole again – brushing my hair, getting out of bed alone, using the bathroom, washing while sitting on a chair in the bathroom, standing up from a chair without feeling any pain.
What was clear was that my surgeon Mr Charles Cini performed a miracle, he’s a genius. The operation went off without a hitch and, despite my weight and the fact that I’ve been on steroids for 8 years, he avoided opening up my abdomen and performed what seems to be a textbook case of keyhole surgery. This is crucial, vital when it comes to my recovery. I’m in awe and will be forever more.
Being in hospital also gave me further insight into other matters which aren’t surprising but still had their impact on me, such as the incredible medical stories told by the fellow warriors in my ward, the friends who bother to call or show up and those who don’t, and just today, how happy I am that it is me lying in this bed and not my three year old son. Today I took a longer walk, down the corridors of the ward next door which just happens to be Fairyland, the ward dedicated to children. My son has already had to do a minor (very minor, but still under general anaesthetic) intervention and will have to repeat this regularly for a while and walking through Fairyland brought a lump to my eyes. All the more so as I thought of the parents there at the moment whose kids were admitted for much more serious reasons.
There is clearly going to be a huge change in my life now. Quite apart from the immediate – recovering from major surgery and getting back on my feet as a 41 year old woman, wife and mother of a three year old – I now have a new appendage that is to all effects and purposes part of me. My stoma is working well, which means that my small intestine is now functioning as the main output for waste through a hole in my abdomen. The ostomy bag is another matter – we’re still trying to figure out the best fit for the type of stoma I have and my body type (more on this in a separate post). This will also change once I lose weight, something that I hope will happen once I’m finally – F I N A L L Y – off steroids after having been on them for 8 years. It is going to be a learning process. I’m already having to get used to new feelings, movements and sounds in the abdomen as my body processes the food I’ve eaten and expels the excess. And of course, I’m learning the ropes of how to care for it. But bottom line is – this should give me my life back. Once I’ve recovered, I should be able to do anything any able-bodied person can and wants to do. I will still have a chronic condition – ulcerative colitis will always be a part of me since it is a systemic disease so its extra manifestations (such as iritis, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis) can always rear their head. But my quality of life is set to improve, drastically. And for this I am eternally grateful.
(I can’t sign off this post without a shoutout to my phenomenal gastrointestinal consultant Dr Pierre Ellul – if all doctors were like him, what a happier world this would be – and his great team including Dr Martina Muscat. He guided me to this decision with patience, care, empathy, and conviction.)