On the first night after my surgery I was pretty hopped up on
goofballs painkillers, and I don’t remember how I positioned my body in my uber-comfortable hospital bed, but it wasn’t right. I had a very sore neck and upper back on Wednesday, in addition to the pain all around my abdomen. I had a rectal tube lodged in my ass to drain the liquid waste from my J-pouch, and it was feeling uncomfortable. I asked for something for the pain, but I didn’t want to have anything too strong. I took a lot of heavy painkillers after my first surgery, and I think it led to my bowels taking longer than normal to activate after the surgery – a condition called ileus or “sleepy bowel.” So I was given Extra Strength Tylenol. It did fuck all. Still in pain, I caved and took a stronger pill, dilaudid, on Wednesday night and managed to get in a few hours of relatively pain-free rest.
Around midday on Thursday I was feeling better. My neck and back had improved, and although there was still abdominal pain, I could manage it without any medication. The brown mess leaving my rectal tube was looking more solid Around 4 p.m., I took a walk around the floor and returned to my room where my nurse was waiting to check my vitals. My blood pressure and pulse were good, but I had a fever. Never a good sign, but not exactly a rarity following surgery. I took another Tylenol pill and my temperature dropped to a normal level, but now I started feeling as though I had a cold coming on. I had a sore throat and my nose felt stuffy. On the bright side, the waste leaving my bowels was thickening, and the doctors gave their approval to have the rectal tube removed. Sweet relief. I felt more mobile with the tube out, and I went for another walk around the halls on Thursday evening, but I still felt like I had a cold.
From Thursday night into Friday morning, I went to poop the conventional way(!) three times. My stool came out in liquid bursts, but there were also some small, formed pieces in the mix. I used wet wipes to clean up in hopes of preventing the dreaded “butt burn,” a burning and itching sensation around the anus which can happen to J-pouchers as a result of their frequent bowel movements. I also applied a small amount of barrier cream around the anus after each poop.
On Friday morning I had a stuffy, runny nose, a sore throat, and almost no appetite. I managed to slowly spoon a cup of oatmeal into my mouth, followed by a serving of vanilla yogurt. The doctors came around to check me out, and I told them that I felt like I had a cold, but they weren’t too worried about it. I had no fever, my blood work looked normal, I had no pain beyond what was expected following a bowel surgery, and I was passing stools from my J-pouch, so I was given the green light to go home.
I was in two minds about my impending discharge. I didn’t feel well, so I thought maybe I should hang back in hospital for another day in hopes that things would settle down. On the other hand, I wanted to get out of hospital. I reasoned that I had some kind of cold-like illness, but I could better combat it from home. I could sleep on my bed, I could eat non-hospital food, and I could rest more comfortably alone in my room. So I signed my discharge papers and called my dad to tell him that I was being released. He didn’t say it, but I could tell from his voice that he had a feeling I was probably being let go a little too soon. But I just wanted to go home. I wanted my bed and my pillow and my comforter and my teddy bear.
I got home on Friday around 2 p.m. Being Valentine’s Day, Jayee and I wanted to see each other, and going into the surgery, we both assumed the day would be spent with me in hospital. When I called Jayee to tell her I was being released, I learned that she had taken the afternoon off work so that she could surprise me in hospital by dropping in sooner than I expected. I felt bad that my desire to go home wrecked her surprise. I do tend to wreck things between us. Still, Jayee altered her plans and came by my house on Friday night.
She brought me an awesome Valentine’s Day present – a handmade zoetrope with a number of “film” strips that portrayed running through different locations. She knew how much I missed running over the past year, so her gift was part running simulator, part reminder that I will be able to run again. Plus, she gave me a Choo Choo Choose You card, the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for any Simpsons fan. I had packed my Valentine’s gift in my hospital bag, so I dug it out when Jayee arrived. Jayee’s present was an Ecocube, an eco-friendly, compostable wood planter packed with lavender seeds. I thought it was a cool twist on the clichéd gift of flowers, and luckily for me, Jayee did too. I also got her a kitschy Valentine’s Day card from Urban Outfitters, because, you know, I’m sort of a hipster.
As nice as it was to see my girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, I still felt ill. I still had my stuffy nose and my sore throat and I was starting to feel feverish again. I had no appetite, and I only managed to drink a rehydration mixture of water, salt, and Gatorade. After Jayee left for the night, I told my dad I’d like to go back to the hospital Saturday morning. I figured I could at least get one night of decent rest on my bed, then take a shower and head back to Mount Sinai’s ER to get checked out the next day.
My dad drove me back to Mount Sinai at 7 a.m. on Saturday. Two homeless men sat hunched in the waiting room, another lay on a gurney near the entrance to the ER. The USA-Russia Olympic hockey game was on TV. I was admitted to the ER and a nurse set me up in one of its small rooms. I had more blood work done, I received an IV drip, and a number of doctors periodically came in to see me. I didn’t have a fever, my blood tests were “unremarkable” in the words of one of the doctors, and there was a consensus that I likely had an upper respiratory infection, but not an infection at the incision site or in my pelvic pouch. I spent about nine hours in the ER, most of it just waiting. I was discharged again, this time with a prescription for antibiotics to ward off the infection.
It’s hard to say exactly where/when/how I picked up my respiratory illness. In the days leading up to my surgery, I was around some sick relatives. I did my best to keep my distance from them and keep my hands and face clean, but I have a feeling I picked up something from them, and the symptoms only became evident after my operation. I also had other ill relatives visit me when I was in hospital, so maybe I contracted something from them. Family is so overrated.
I had some toast and applesauce when I got home on Saturday evening, took my first dose of the antibiotics, and went to sleep. I was feeling better on Sunday morning. I had a little more energy, a little more of an appetite, and a little less of a sick feeling. I continued taking the antibiotics for a week, and my condition improved gradually each day. The mucous buildup in my chest and nose started draining and I polished off a couple of Kleenex boxes in no time. By the time my antibiotic run ended last Saturday, February 22, I was feeling much better. I still had mucous to clear out but I didn’t feel sick. No fever, good appetite, less pain around the abdomen, and my new bowel setup kept on working through it all.
As of today, I’m still feeling decent. Not great, but not bad either. I’m getting used to my J-pouch, doing some light freelance work again, eating a low-fibre diet, and overall trying to give my body a chance to rest and repair itself. If the weather here in Toronto didn’t suck balls, I’d be going for walks around the neighbourhood. While I wait for a warm up, I pace around my room for a few hours each day to stay somewhat active. I have a nice vetiver and cardamom scented in here, so it’s kind of nice.
I hope my recovery keeps getting better from here.
Image via someecards