Well, this blog post took me a little time to write because I ended up back in the emergency room this past Tuesday (I think it was Tuesday, my memory is a little hazy). After being sent home after my second surgery I was doing fine until I started getting the same stomach cramps I had with my bowel obstruction with equal intensity only this time there was a new symptom: I started violently throwing up bile. I felt like lava was flowing up my esophagus for 3-4 hours. Our doctor told us to go to the ER which was, hands down, the worst 45 minutes, ever… and I’ve been on a 6 hour bus ride in Cambodia stuck in traffic with massive food poisoning. With a mixing bowl in my lap to throw up in and enduring terrible stomach cramps we hauled buns to get to the ER. Graphic, I know, but it’s true. The amount of skill it takes not to tip that bowl in a moving vehicle takes some talent. When we got to Stanford the emergency department was like Disneyland with people lined up outside the door. Can I get a fast pass? No. There was no place for us after we checked in so Kate wheeled me into a corner and waited for a bed to open.
After the emergency doctor listened to my chief complaint, she said, “I think you have another bowel obstruction”. I broke down at this point. A grown, 30 year old man, I just wept. Again they sent me to get a CT scan which revealed two things: a non-mechanical bowel obstruction called an ileus, AND a kidney stone! I need to buy a lottery ticket with my luck! Let’s hope the radiation from the 6 CT scans in 6 months doesn’t cause me to grow a third eye or something.
An ileus comes from a temporary paralysis of the bowels that can happen after surgery. The anesthesia given to me during my second surgery left my bowels partiality paralyzed after they released me from the hospital which meant that I could not get rid all the excess waste in my system, hence a non-mechanical obstruction. Like a plugged up drain, your system starts to freak out and the extra waste in your system starts to poison you. Symptoms include: cramps, nausea, and vomiting bile. Check, check, and check! You and I will never read, Everyone Poops the same way again!
The doctors treat the ileus by putting me on a “nothing by mouth” diet, Roto-Rooter me, hook me up with fluids, pain and nausea medication for a couple days and then slowly move me to a liquid diet until my bowels start to function well again. The first couple days in the hospital were pretty miserable. I was in a considerable amount of pain and the nausea just kept coming in waves.
The next issue was to get rid of the kidney stone. Lucky for me, the kidney stone was only 2mm and could pass through without too much discomfort. The journey of the little urinary asteroid from my kidneys to my bladder was pretty painful. Stabbing pain and my old friend nausea lasted for about a day. The doctors put me on a rapid drip of saline to flush out my system. After the kidney stone passed, I started feeling back to normal again aside from the incision pain which is still to be expected. The incision pain down from my belly button to my waist line is the most uncomfortable, you never really realize how much you use those muscles for everything!
On this third visit, I was determined to wait and not push to get discharged before I was 100% sure that my bowels were back in working order to avoid a 4th visit. When you start to know all your nurses and the other patients in your wing, I think it’s time to get a rapid rewards card for your hospital visits. To the best of my ability, I tried to “enjoy” this third visit and seized the opportunity to reflect, heal and rest. When I was cleared for a liquid diet which included (most importantly) coffee, I made it a routine after the daily visit by my surgical team at 6 am, to walk down to the hospitality area where they always had decent coffee, comfortable chairs and a big window that over looks an arboretum to read the newspaper, Scripture and a couple chapters of a book, which happens to be a fantastic book about solitude and reflection, Sacred Rhythms. The most difficult part about this visit was being patient and missing the two loves of my life: Kate and Evangeline. This time around Evangeline could really tell that her dad was not around and her behavior has really been out of sorts. I think for the next couple weeks we’re going to really try and get back into a rhythm again in all aspects of life. My favorite part of this hospital stay was simply having my girls come down for an impromptu movie night with the three of us cuddled on the hospital bed to watch Evangeline’s favorite movie and letting her eat my graham crackers.
So as for now, patience is the mantra. I have to fight that urge within me for life to go back to normal as soon as possible and risk taking short cuts, I blame my asian drive. My surgeons for the past couple of days sat me down for a straight talk urging me to slow down in all aspects of life which includes backing off on triathlon training for a while and work to focus on my nutrition. As he’s said, “your digestive system has endured 6 traumatic events in only six months, it’s going to take a lot of time to get it all back in order, and right now, going back in for another surgery would be something we want to avoid as much as possible… you’re young and healthy, but the body can only take so much.” They have also suggested that I back off on my diet and go back to a simple diet like I had one I first had my gastrectomy in March. Lots of soups it is. One of the big concerns he had was regarding my rapid weight loss since I’ve lost 12 pounds since coming in two weeks ago. Leaving the hospital yesterday I was under 150 lbs, which is the lowest I have been maybe since 5th grade. It’s still crazy for me to think that I would ever have to worry about being too skinny when I’ve always been a big guy. At my heaviest, I was 240!
So, we’re restarting, again, but patience is the name of the game.