Tuesday, April 04, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0131 - Milestones

Life is a series of milestones while recovering from surgery.

The first, and by far the most exciting for me, was temporarily waking up in the recovery room after the operation, asking questions of the student nurse assigned to me from Conestoga College, and then drifting back to sleep while they transferred me to the surgical ward. Knowing that you are alive, albeit almost immobile, and being awake to see my wife and son right after surgery was one of the most euphoric experiences I've had this past week.

Then I had to move on to other less sensational markers of progress along the road to recovery. In the ward, I realized that of all the tubes and devices associated with lower bowel surgery, I was without a nasogastric tube and a drainage tube from the incision. This meant there would be two fewer things to monitor.

But I did have an intravenous line delivering the standard saline solution along with Zantac (prevents reflux of the stomach acids during healing). On the same IV pole was another device for controlling pain medication (dilaudid) through a PCA. Not to mention the urinary catheter and its attendant bags for voiding fluid waste.

Over the next few days, I measured my progress through four things. One was the number of loops of the surgical ward I could walk during the day while holding onto the IV pole. These I gradually increased, proud that there was something under my control that helped my recovery. The second was the gradual decrease in the use of the pain medication until I was taken off the PCA pump and put on ordinary Tylenol oral tablets. The third was the introduction of clear fluids, then other fluids, then finally light, solid food. Finally, getting rid of the urinary catheter and IV itself was definitely life enhancing.

All the way along, there were minor victories and frustrations. My emotions were all over the map (as I've already indicated). At times I was elated. Other times, all the nurses and associated medical practitioners irritated and frustrated me - different stories from different folks. Then there was getting used to feelings of pain-medication induced highs and depression like I haven't experienced in many, many years.

Even when all the tubes and devices were gone, and I was eating solid food, the victories seemed compromised by increased pain from abdominal gas, going to the bathroom and passing only blood and gas, finding it impossible to be comfortable in bed, not sleeping, being awoken my nurses for vitals, blood samples, and oral pain medication. Nothing seemed to be a straight-forward victory or defeat. They were unceremoniously mixed together.

Not only were visits from family and friends a welcome relief, I looked forward to the short, 2-3 minute visit from the surgeon each day. His visits were my red-letter markers for progress during 8 days of hospitalization.

But I'm alive! I am being discharged! My wife and children love me! I have good friends. My medical team is doing their best, and I strongly believe we're moving in the right direction.

Stick with me. This unwanted journey is nowhere near complete, but we've turned some corners and achieved some important milestones along the way.

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