Thursday, December 20, 2012
On November 30, I had my gallbladder removed. I had gallstones, and although attacks were once or twice per year since 2006, the one in July was a doozy, the worst, and the scariest, and it was time to do something about it. Being the waffler, the scairdy-cat, I had one excuse after another why I couldn't have the surgery just yet, but finally I had to bite the bullet and get the procedure scheduled.
Things always happen for a reason. It wasn't just my gallbladder that was in trouble. Blood tests showed my liver wasn't acting normally, and after the surgery, neither was my pancreas. After two days in hospital, I was scheduled for another procedure, an ERCP, where the surgeon inserts a scope down the esophagus and into the bile ducts. Apparently there was a stricture where the common bile duct empties into the intestine, so he inserted a small tube to keep the opening unblocked.
I was warned prior to this second procedure that 8% of patients develop pancreatitis from it. I'm in that 8% category now.
But wait! It gets even better.
The first surgeon wrote orders for morphine for pain management, and if I was allowed anything by mouth, then vicodin as well. This order was standing; after the ERCP I was in such horrid pain, they gave me morphine every 4 hours. It helped for about one hour, and then the vicodin meanwhile was a lifesaver.
The second surgeon never saw me after the ERCP so no new orders were written. I started to bloat up so badly, nothing helped with the pain. I walked as much as I could tolerate and then some, did belly rubs, whatever, and nothing helped. I finally told the first surgeon that I felt like I was getting worse. This, after being in hospital for 4 days now. Finally the second surgeon came to see me the evening of the 4th day, and was shocked to learn I was still on morphine for pain control. He said that morphine shuts down the intestinal tract's motility, and as a result I had developed ileus - build-up of fluid and air in my small intestine. Well, how was *I* supposed to know this? And how come the first surgeon didn't know this?
The second surgeon wrote up new orders cancelling the morphine, putting me on dilotid instead, and then making me entirely NPO, nothing by mouth whatsoever. Since Sunday morning, I had only had ice chips, water, and a tiny bit of juice.
I went through another 24 hours of intense pain, and let me tell you, the dreams when I did fall asleep were awful. I dreamt of pressure, pressure, pressure. It was like being in a grocery store, and people would come weigh their produce and the weight was added pressure in my belly somehow. I can't explain it but it was pretty awful. I prayed a lot. I asked for help, some relief, a change from this misery.
FINALLY. My intestines started acting again. It was a slow, laborious process, but all that back-up started to loosen and move along, and every hour was a trip to the bathroom to get rid of toxins and other things.
My lab results also finally started showing a downward trend in the liver and pancreas tests. I still hadn't had anything by mouth, and no desire to drink or eat anything, either.
On Friday, I started feeling hunger pangs. I talked to the surgeon and he said he would put me on liquids and see if I could keep it down, so I had tea, some juice, a little gel dessert thing. All small sips or bits, but it all stayed down, so Saturday he put me on "full liquid" diet. I asked for soymilk. Yum! That was like treasure! The hospital dietary department isn't equipped, surprisingly (for a California hospital in the rice, olives and nuts belt of the state), to serve a vegetarian special-needs population, and I had to be lactose free as well. I had a lot of tomato soup. It was the best thing next to sliced bread at the time!
Sunday I was allowed full diet. I did my best, but a couple of bites of food made me full, so I left an awful lot to waste. I drank a lot of water, though, and every meal I asked for soymilk.
At long last. Ten days later, I left the hospital. I took a vicodin, went shopping at Costco, then came home exhausted and hurting but happy to see my dogs. Friends had taken turns caring for them, and they were put through the ringer with the unstable life of fosters. I hope never to do this to them again.
I've been on sick leave since then, and every day now I have to force myself to eat. I put my day's fruit into a dish and that is what I have to finish by the end of the day. I've put up homemade soups in the freezer and every day I take a container out and that's what I have to eat by day's end. I have plain bread or crackers, lots of herbal teas, lots of water. Pancreatitis is nothing to mess with, and until I feel like mine is back to normal again, I just don't feel like eating. I know I've lost some weight, but I don't recommend this method to anyone at all. Some of the anorexia is due to the two episodes of anesthesia, and some is due to my pancreas still being unwell. I lost all desire for coffee, so now I drink Lady Grey tea with soymilk for my morning ritual. I may some day want coffee again, but for now, I'm going with the flow.
I go back to work next week, but Monday and Tuesday are all standby for me, as I am normally on call anyway. It will make an easier transition back to work, with my first regular day back being Wednesday.
Next week on Thursday I will have satellite internet installed, so all this frustration with local providers is coming to a blessed end. There are days I have to sign back on a minute after I did so, and then a minute after that, and so on for half an hour. Yes, it's that bad. If I'm quick enough I can open one email, but then have to go back into my email to delete that one. Then I have to go back in again to open the next one. Frustrating doesn't begin to describe it!
Life is good. I'm a pretty lucky girl. Things could have been a LOT worse especially given my tendency to put everything off as much as I can.
Most of all, I'm grateful for the prayers and positive thoughts sent my way these last few weeks. I can feel them working through me.