Surgery, Complications, and an Extended Hospital Stay: Part II

jaysIt’s been one month since my surgery. Before I went in for the operation, I set a goal for today – go and see the Blue Jays game with Jayee (the photo above is from the last game we went to, an 8-4 win over the Yankess back in April). Not only would it be a nice way to commemorate my expected progress, but what’s more, the first 20,000 fans into the Rogers Centre today get a Jose Reyes figurine! I’ll be watching the game at home, though, as I’m not yet ready for such an outing. And that brings us back to the complications following my operation on May 9.

On the day after my surgery, I was encouraged to walk and sit in a chair, rather than my hospital bed. I did sit up for a while, and I did take a couple of walks around the 14th floor where I was being housed. But I felt very weak, very tired, and still sore in my abdominal area. Perhaps the hardest thing to process though, was just how strange my body looked. I had a yellow catheter running from my bladder, through my penis, and into a soft plastic container clipped to the base of my IV machine’s pole. My stomach bulged and black goo leaked out from between some of the silver staples that held my incision line together. I felt as though my body had been mutilated, and it was my choice. I felt, as I still do, that the decision to have the surgery was an utterly bone-headed one. I thought about fecal therapy, and Humira, and other diets that I could have tried. All the options I left on the table seemed so preferable compared to state in which I know found myself. I was told to go easy on the fluids, which is all I was allowed to consume. So I had a few sips of water and juice through the day, and spent a lot of time in bed.

On my third day in hospital, I was encouraged to try some soft foods, and to chew gum. Chewing gum supposedly fools the intestines to start working. I had no appetite, but I tried to eat a cup of applesauce. I finished half before pushing it away. I tried chewing gum and immediately felt nauseated. About an hour later I vomited a torrent of greenish-black liquid laced with white dregs. I felt relieved afterwards, as one usually does after vomiting, but the nausea would endure for the rest of the day, and into day four.

The one saving grace of day four was that the catheter was removed. The nurse who removed it did so quickly and painlessly. I tried again to eat some applesauce and Jell-O, drink some water and juice, and chew gum. Every venture led to another round of vomiting. It was Sunday night when the on-call doctors met with me and said that if the vomiting continued, I would need to have a nasogastric (NG) tube inserted. Their theory was this – I was suffering from “sleepy bowel.” My intestines had not yet begun functioning following the shock of the massive change in their setup. My other organs, though, continued to secrete acidic fluids, which were building up in my stomach and needed to be pumped out via the NG tube, which runs through the nose, past the pharynx, and down the esophagus into the stomach.

At around 4 a.m. on Monday morning, I puked again. Another litre of black liquid splashed into my plastic turquoise barf bowl. Two nurses came to check on me, empty the bowl, and ready me for the NG tube.

“I’m not gonna lie, it’s not pleasant,” a tall, blonde-haired female nurse told me. “It’s going to be uncomfortable going in through the nose, and it’s going to feel strange once it’s in. When we put it in, you’ll feel pressure in your sinuses and your eyes might water.”

“Good thing I have a big nose,” I said.

Another nurse, a young Asian woman with her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, smiled as she walked in on my attempt at humour in a bleak situation. She brought in a cup of water with a straw sticking out of it.

“After we put the tube through your nose, take some sips of water and that’ll help work the tube down to your stomach,” she said.

The blonde nurse slathered the pointed end of the NG tube with a clear lubricant gel, told me to tilt my head back, counted up 1… 2… 3… then rammed the tube into my right nostril and up my nose. I remember a crunching sound as she kept pushing tube upwards. As the tube curled downwards, my eyes did indeed water.

“Sip. Sip. Sip,” the Asian nurse said, holding the straw to my mouth. I felt the tube sliding further down with each sip of cool water. The pointed end of the tube eventually reached its destination and the three of us took a moment to relax.

“You did really well,” the blonde nurse told me. I felt a strange sense of accomplishment after hearing those words. The tube stretched 63 centimetres from my nose down to my stomach. The end of the tube left dangling from my nose was attached to some sort of suction device that led to a clear plastic canister with a red cap. Within minutes of turning the suction on, the one-litre-capacity canister was nearly half full with black-green liquid. While the NG tube was in, I was not allowed to eat or drink; I was allowed to have ice chips though, in small amounts.

The tube felt awful. It hurt to talk, it hurt to swallow (when I did have those aforementioned ice chips), and it left me somewhat strapped to my bed. I could disconnect the tube from the suction device so I could use the bathroom or go for a walk, but it left me in bed for the most part. I felt even more listless as a result. Again, the thoughts about all those alternatives to surgery kept flooding my mind. Nothing following the surgery had gone according to plan, and more setbacks were on the way.

About rasheedclarke

Award-winning author. Marathon runner. Exceptional dresser. I'd like to be all those things.


  1. I enjoyed reading your story and how you described your postoperative course following the colectomy; despite the disappointments and setbacks. Just remember that you had a massive surgery (colectomy and J pouch I presume?); but fortunately for ulcerative colitis surgery is the cure as opposed to Crohn’s disease. I wish you didn’t have more setbacks on the way, best of luck on a speedier recovery.

    • Hi Erik. Yes, it was a colectomy and J-pouch operation. The whole reason I opted for the surgery was to “cure” the UC. It’s been a rough go, but there are little signs of progress. Thanks for reading, and for the kind words.

  2. Having had a bowel resection due to Crohn’s disease almost two years I am enjoying keeping up with your story. I also had to have an NG tube put it, but had to have it removed after a few hours cause I couldn’t handlr it. Having the tube inserted in my narrow nasal cavity was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, I commend and have a lot of respect who’s gone through it. If in the future someone said I would have to choose between an NG tube and death I would have to think about it. I hope your recovery going forward goes much better as you adjust to the “new normal” a I like to call it and I looked forward to reading more about it.

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