Chapter 5 Post-op & hospital stay part one of three

I rubbed my eyes as I woke from my slumber, surprised to find myself still in the pre-op room. A nurse was beside me checking my vitals.
“When will I go to surgery?” I asked.
“You already had it” she replied as she walked away.
That’s when I saw the wall clock.
It was 4:30pm
Six hours had gone by!
It felt as if I took a brief nap.
I looked down at myself to check and see any changes … still covered from the neck down with a white sheet…it seemed as if nothing had changed from this morning.

Grateful that the surgery part is behind me, now I realized that the equally challenging part awaits…the recovery. I was still hooked up to the IV. My next memory was of me being transported to the hospital room – which was in the 10th floor Silver building.
It was a semi-private room, I was grateful that I had the window side with an amazing view of the city complete with the Empire State Building – and that I was alone… for the first night.
Shortly after I settled in the surgeon stopped by with a beaming smile to tell me that they were able to remove the tumor and the surgery was a success. He also mentioned that since the tumor was pressing up against the abdomen muscle it was removed as a precaution. Had to remove a muscle? I thought.
“What are the long term effects of not having an abdomen muscle?” I asked.
“It shouldn’t interfere with your quality of life” he replied.
Then the surgeon mentioned something to the effect of the abdomen has is surrounded by many muscles….
As he was speaking all that kept going through my mind was the fact that the tumor was gone and the surgery a success. I was elated! After the surgeon left I was greeted by the hospital acupuncturist who asked me if I was interested. I said absolutely and scheduled a treatment for the next day.
Afterward a doctor came in with an entourage of people in white coats behind him.
Again- just like the surgeon I was amazed at how young he looked, he has a dark, olive complexion and fine features with deep dark eyes behind a pair of glasses… he reminded me of an actor. He was talking but I didn’t hear what he was saying, I was busy rattling my brain trying to remember the actor he reminded me of — priorities you know.
As he left the room I remembered who he reminded me of… Robert Downey Jr when he was in the TV show Alley McBeal, only with an olive complexion.

About an hour later the Physician’s assistant stopped by complete with beaming smile and dancing blue eyes repeated the news of the tumor and the successful surgery, I didn’t mind hearing the news again – we chatted for a little bit and she was out of the room.
Shortly afterward a barrage of nurses and “Patient care specialist” stopped by to take vitals and such, one of which told me that the IV contained painkillers and instructed me how to self administer should I start to feel any form of discomfort, it was primarily a button sitting beside me.
So, any tiny form of “discomfort” I pushed that button.
The friends who were with me at the surgical consult appointment stopped by, one at a time. It was great to see them and I relayed the message given to me by the surgeon.
That night I remember I thought I could just throw off my bed sheet and just walk over to the bathroom just a couple of feet away. The night nurse was there when I did throw off the sheet… only to find a rubber tube inside of me. Both half asleep and confused I instinctively started to pull the tube out of me, the nurse kept saying not to do that…then it registered… it’s a catheter.
“How long will I have this?” I managed to say
“A couple of days” replied the night nurse.
Ok, so I don’t have to go to the bathroom.
I managed to sleep the rest of the night.
A “Patient care specialist” greeted me the next morning as I rubbed my eyes open.
I then looked at the wall clock above the sink diagonal from me… it was after 5am.
She brought in fresh bed sheets and helped me wash myself as best as we both could do.

Later that morning the catheter was removed and I was free! Well, as free as I can be since I was still attached to the IV pole with the painkillers, so that I didn’t mind.
The nurse mentioned how important to pass gas to make sure “the plumbing worked well”. So that was my new mission of the day, so, after a couple of false alarms, it finally happened- later that evening I finally passed gas…. although it was a modest one…but hay, it was something. I felt such a sense of accomplishment as I dozed off to sleep.

I remained bedridden for the rest of the day- catching up with soap operas I haven’t seen in years, answering voicemails from concerned friends living far away and surfing the internet with my PDA – grateful to ambidextrous, since I was using my left hand. My right hand had the IV – therefore limited in mobility.
I also had a new roommate – she came in the middle of the day, bummed out that I wasn’t alone in my solitude.
I only heard voices from the other curtain, from what I gathered she has cancer too but don’t know what kind. The physician’s assistant stopped by to check in and later on some friends stopped by bearing flowers, which immediately cheered up the room.

That night I woke to one nurse telling another that the machine monitoring my vitals was broken, she was responding to my blood pressure reading – it was too low.

“No, that’s her reading, it’s been that way since the surgery” the nurse replied.
My blood pressure read 78/54.
That’s true.
Up till age 35 my blood pressure was always two digits both top and bottom numbers.
After age 35 the top number became three digits, with the bottom remaining two digits, three digits being 100 or 110 the highest over 65 or around that realm.
The fact that I have low blood pressure is amazing since everyone in my family – both immediate and extended – has beyond high blood pressure… I mean orbit high. I remember my mom’s reading was 210/175, I didn’t know you could still be walking around with those numbers.

That day I went on a liquid diet, breakfast usually consisted of tea and Melba toast, both lunch and dinner was soup and jello.
That night I had to go to the bathroom for the first time since before the surgery. Yeah!!
So in I went.
Then I partially removed my hospital gown.
The reflection I saw from the bathroom mirror almost made me fall against the wall behind me.
There I was, basically topless with a vertical line of staples starting at two inches above my belly button all the way to “Down there”.
My jaw dropped.
I was transported back to the scene where I asked the surgeon during the surgical consult appointment how large would the incision be. The surgeon made an apex. three inch gap between his thumb and pointer finger on his right hand. Ok, I could deal with that I said to myself then.

This was no three inch incision, but more like a 7 inch vertical incision down my belly. On my right side dangled two plastic round disks that contained a liquid substance connected by tubes that went into me. I quickly figured out they were drains.

Ok… now I know what questions I should have asked the physician’s assistant while I was in her office going through the pre-op preparation process.
Since this is my first (hopefully my last) operation I should have asked what to expect after the operation and recovery process – I didn’t anticipate the catheter, nor the possibility of a 7 inch vertical row of staples down my belly complete with drains attached to my right side across from the top line of my pubic hair.
As long as I know what’s going to happen beforehand I’m fine, but these little surprises throw me over a loop.

Throughout this whole ordeal I kept reenacting that final scene of the TV drama/comedy “Dallas” where Victoria Principal’s character wakes up to the sound of a running shower, goes to the bathroom and opens the shower door to reveal Bobby greeting her- that’s when she realizes the past year was a dream.
I keep thinking I’m going to wake from this painkiller daze and find this past several months to be all a dream, that I wasn’t diagnosed with colon cancer, I didn’t have the surgery and I don’t have this 7 inch scar down my belly.

Website on colon cancer for the Latino community:
http://coloncancerlatino.com/

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