Monday, March 19, 2007

Surgery


I had surgery to remove the tumor from my colon on August 17, 2004. The surgeon said it was likely that the remainder of my colon could be reattached and function normally, but there was a chance that instead I would have to wear a bag to replace the function of my rectum. Eww, I thought, but I felt confident that the surgery would go smoothly and I wouldn't have such a fate.

I was scheduled to go into the operating room in the morning, but due to delays with other patients I didn't get out of the waiting area until late afternoon. I was feeling pretty weak since I hadn't eaten solid foods in two days and had nothing at all since midnight. It was so late that after I was taken to the preparation area there were no more nurses or attendants around. Eventually my surgeon came looking for me and had me moved to the operating room. Things were not going smoothly.

The next thing I remember was waking with terrible pain in my abdomen. I heard my mom talking to the nurses and pressing them to give me more pain medication. Eventually they gave enough to take the edge off -- apparently many common pain killers don't work well on me and I need unusually high doses to get relief. The anesthesiologist had also managed to knock the crown off my front tooth while removing the breathing tube. Again, things were not going smoothly.

Once I was more comfortable my mom asked if she could go back to the hotel since she was very tired. It was around 10pm by now, but it seemed strange that she wouldn't stick around for a little while. I suspected that the news from the surgery was bad and she was having a hard time hiding her reaction from me.

I don't remember whether I got the news that night or in the morning. The surgeon removed the primary tumor but it had already ruptured the intestinal wall and spread dozens of quarter-sized tumors throughout my abdomen. He said tumors like that were beyond his power to remove. My only hopes were chemotherapy and a radical new surgery being tried at the National Institutes of Health.

He had also been unable to reattach the good part of my colon back to my rectum. So the end of my colon was now routed out near my belly button and emptying into a plastic bag. I was not ready to deal with that. The hospital sent an ostomy nurse to teach me how to care for the site but I couldn't watch. Fortunately my mom was there and learned enough to guide me after I was sent home.

My recovery was painful but rapid. Dealing with the ostomy was icky, tricky, and embarrassing. But two weeks later I was able to tour around DC and get drinks at the Sculpture Garden with my sister. Then I flew to Michigan for a couple more weeks of recovery before starting chemotherapy.

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