Warning: the following content contains descriptions of smelly bodily functions. Reader discretion is advised.
So now we were in Vernon hospital, where the bowel surgery had been scheduled. Vernon is not nearly as crazy busy as Kelowna. Interactions with the nurses were more relaxed.
Another cell phone panic moment: Right after arrival I realized I had left the charger tied to the railing of the bed in Kelowna. DUH! I messaged Pat, who rushed out there to retrieve it, bless her busy heart. Then we had to figure out how to get it to Vernon. One of the nurses had the brilliant idea to use the lab mail, which goes out daily. The towns are only an hour apart. Pat had to go through some hoops to access the lab after hours, but she has lots of goodwill built up among the staff. Whenever she is in Kelowna with Ernie she rarely leaves his side and does the nurses' work for them. She called in a favor, got the charger into the lab mail and it was back with me late the next day, phew. I owe that woman!
Did I get antibiotics right away? Quite frankly I cannot remember. Thursday I got 2 bags of blood pre-op. I had managed to bring the hemoglobin up prior to this, but alas, my blood credit got used up in the other surgeries.
Surgery (right hemi-colectomy) went ahead as scheduled on Friday July 20th. Recovery was no fun, but initially not as agonizing as I had feared. There was a pump with some morphine product that the patient gets to squeeze as needed. It is set to guarantee against overdoses. To my relief the pain was bearable as long as I lay very still. I was hooked up to an IV for fluids, and a catheder meant no worries about having to get up to pee.
The only fly in the ointment was the physios who want to start mobilizing patients as early as one day post-op. You want me to SIT UP AT THE EDGE OF THE BED? ARE YOU KIDDING??? Pure agony, even with drugs. People are encouraged to take more hits from the morphine pump and force through the pain. I sincerely wonder if this policy is based on what is best for the patient, or on the need for fast turnover. Every cell in my body wanted to just lie very still till some of my belly had knit itself back together, about 3 days. Anything else seemed counter-intuitive.
Three days passed like this. On Sunday members of the Linda clan surprised me with a visit. Linda, son Keelan and second daughter Chandra with her adorable kids. The kids live in Kelowna but Linda had come all the way from Greenwood, a 3 hour trip. They came bearing a beautiful orchid, a gift baggy with nice smelly things, and more V8. It was wonderful to see them, gowns, gloves and all. I was propped up in the bed and having little pain as long as I made no sudden moves, including sneezing or laughter. Life wasn't so bad.
For anyone undergoing colon surgery, the first sign of recovery is the passing of gas. This had still not happened. I was getting mildly worried. By Monday I was using much less morphine. That night I couldn't sleep. I started feeling more and more miserable, and spent most of the night just sitting up in bed suffering. I was breaking out in a cold sweat, nauseous and feeling lousy all over. In retrospect I wonder if this was morphine withdrawal.
By 4 AM we had a breakthrough: GAS, hallelujah. Followed shortly by an attack of Cdiff in all its gory glory. Adult diapers became involved. At its worst C diff causes uncontrollable flooding diarrhea about every hour. Not fun, and especially worrisome if one has just had colon surgery. Let go of all pretense at dignity, ye who enter here.
If C diff doesn't kill you the antibiotics used to treat it will. Intravenous Flagyl didn't do much till they added oral VancoMycin, the antibiotic of last resort. Side effects of Flagyl include nausea. I couldn't even keep down water. The nausea kind of came and went, and never mind the details. They are getting blurry already, which is just as well.
At one point the surgeon ordered a CAT scan to make sure he would not have to remove the other half of the colon. Yikes! I did not fancy the prospect of being a bag lady. On the way to the scanner, from the stretcher I saw a lady carrying a nice bouquet, with two white gladiolus surrounded by dark peach alstroemeria and some orange zinnias. It was such a cheerful bunch it made me smile. When I came back to the room it was there waiting for me! Thanks son Alex.
And speaking of flowers: On my last day in Vernon the florist delivered a beautiful arrangement of 3 red roses at the peak of perfection. The card said: "Alles sal reg kom".* My Seffrican friends will appreciate the quote. It was from Chris, the first time EVER in almost half a century that the man had given me anything floral. I was touched to tears.
I was feeling better by Friday, a week post-op. Normally I would have been discharged by now. Not yet. I did talk to the surgeon about the possibility of being transferred to Nakusp. He said he'd look into it on Monday. The weekend crawled by. I was out of books, but a kind volunteer scored me some weekend papers and I indulged in TV rental. Comes Monday, I am out of diapers, unhooked from the Flagyl and from the saline drip and the catheder is removed. Life unplugged, wow. But as for getting out of there, suddenly Doc wants to see "a formed stool" first.
Dear Goddess, that might take another week! To top up the frustration Chris called about some government papers that I had to sign. It turned out to be false alarm, but it was enough to give me a sleepless night. There was no way I could heal in that environment.
Tuesday morning I told the nice doctor that if I were not gone by Wednesday I would call a friend and get home on my own somehow, even though I could not imagine sitting up in a car for 3 hours. To my surprise and joy he agreed and called Nakusp hospital then and there.
He expressed concern that a small hospital would not accept a patient with Cdiff. It turns out that not only is it a frequent occurrence, but Nakusp and New Denver have an almost perfect record of containing the evil critter. An ambulance was organized, and by 7.30 I was in our own sweet tiny hospital.
My only complaint was that the ambulance attendant refused to take my flowers on board. I later heard this was his decision, other drivers carry them all the time. It was sad to leave the orchid and roses behind as well as a pretty leafy arrangement sent by other friends.
The private room had a huge bank of windows with a view from my bed of the same mountain I see from my living room. The full moon was just rising, skirting the edge of the mountain like it does this time of year. I was met by people I know.
Miracle of miracles, the window OPENED! Delicious fresh mountain air after 3 weeks of the canned stuff. Since I had missed dinner the nurse scrounged up something from the kitchen. A bowl of soup that was not just cream of cornstarch, a mini-quiche, a serving of cottage cheese with real fresh fruit, and a slice of home-made pumpkin pie. A feast.
As I told everyone who came in: it felt like going from jail to a five star hotel. Food is cooked on the premises and is real. A potato is a potato, not mashed up flakes from a box. Friends came to visit, a nurse spent an hour giving me my first shower in 4 weeks, it was wonderful. The physio therapist designed an exercise program I could do in bed, and by Friday declared me stable enough to go home. By now we had the last dose of Vancomycin and the Cdiff appeared to be under control.
Friday afternoon, after exactly 4 weeks in hospital, I was home. Heaven.