After 9 days, I've gotten up the energy and gathered my fuzzy thoughts to blog about the post op experience. I'll try to do my best to recall the significant points from the week. As a side note, I started this post the evening of May 5th, only to poop out and start again tonight, the 6th and then again the 7th, so bear with me as it may be a long one!
April 26th Following Surgery-I vaguely remember waking up in the ICU saying something like "I did it!" I can't recall exactly who was there, but I remember asking Dan if Cayden was ok and if everyone was doing ok and him letting me know that Cayden was still in the operating room but was doing really well so far. I don't remember much after that but am pretty sure my parents and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came in to see me, too. That was some anesthesia!
April 27th - My first recollection was of Dan trying to visit me and being told that the visiting hours in the ICU didn't begin until 10:00. I felt and heard the "boots" inflating and deflating on my legs (you know the ones that they use to keep you from getting blood clots post-surgery). The clock was fuzzy, but it must have been about 9:30 a.m. or so. He said he'd come back after 10. At some point that day I remember being told they were going to move me from an ICU bed to a regular bed and move me upstairs to floor 3. I felt a slippery board under the sheet and behind my back. Miraculously, they quickly moved me from one bed to the other. Again...everything was blurry and fuzzy.
It's hard to know for sure what happened when. I remember hurting REALLY bad and being told that if I needed relief, I could push the button for pain medication. Yes, I am pretty sure being a liver donor is probably the most painful surgery on the planet. The surgeons weren't kidding me. I was also very thirsty, but the nurses wouldn't let me drink any water. Talk about torture. The best they could do was swab the inside of my mouth with a small wet sponge and wet my lips. I remember feeling very nauseated for much of the time. The minute I pushed the pain medication button, there went my stomach. Fortunately, I never threw up. I really wanted to text some friends and update my Facebook profile, but it was literally impossible for me to see the letters on my Blackberry. Everything...letters, numbers, characters, were blurred together. Later that afternoon, My dad and Patti came by to say good bye because their flight left early the next morning. I felt horrible, but all I could think about was how Cayden was doing. I actually looked at my scar. It was a HUGE J shape running from my sternum and making a right just above my belly button over to my side. No stitches or staples, just dermabond surgical glue. Amazing stuff really...super glue for the body! I also discovered I had surgical tubing hanging out of the side of me and a drain port to collect the excess fluid so the nurses and surgeons could check for a bile leak. For someone who was squeamish about donating blood, this really took the cake.
April 28th - Two days after surgery and...The Visit! The nurses and doctors all told me what a great recovery I was making so far. Hmmm, could have fooled me. I hurt SO bad! I still couldn't focus on my phone and they wouldn't let me drink yet...only ice chips. Yuck. When you're desperate for water, the ice chips just don't cut it. I managed a lap around the nurses stations on the E3 Wing with my IV tower in tow. That day, Dan asked if I wanted to see Cayden, and I thought I was up for it. He wanted him to be surprised, so we didn't forewarn him that I was coming. Holy cow, what a trip. On a route that I had easily walked so many times, every bump in the wheelchair caused me to whince in pain. The elevator ride down nearly made me throw up. By the time we made it over to the Lucile Packard side, I was tired, sore, and feeling very sick to my stomach, but I was bound and determined to see Cayden. I remember having to wait forever because they had brought an ultrasound to Cayden's room, and he was having a tough time not getting sick. When I finally saw him, it was the smile on his face when he turned and saw me that made every ounce of pain, nausea, and exhaustion worthwhile. (See http://www.danluce.com/ The Reunion post for photo). I could only last a little while, but I was glad I'd made it! What a blessing.
April 29th - Finally, clear liquids in the evening. I managed to drink a little apple juice, a couple of bites of jello and some very yucky chicken broth before I felt nauseated. More laps around the nurses' stations. Another trek over to see Cayden. More visits from family members. I was the "model" patient. Another problem I was dealing with was the fact that I couldn't sleep at night, partly because I wasn't able to get comfortable. But, there was another reason. I was very aware of "Gertrude" who happened to be my very needy, Austrian roommate. Everytime my IV bells started going off, she'd call the nurse's station. Either that or she'd call them at 3:00 a.m., because she needed to have her "commode" emptied. Ugh! I was about to go nuts in there.
April 30th - Real food! Today, much to my relief, Gertrude checked out after having some serious difficulty getting coherent from the Ambien the nurses gave her that morning. I ended up having the room all to myself. Ahhh, peace and quiet and the best night's sleep in the hospital all week. No commode emptying at all hours of the night...nice. Not only was the day great because of that, but my mom helped me get cleaned up and washed my hair during the afternoon. It was the highlight of my day. When you look like a match lit within 5 feet might catch your hair on fire, you know it's time for a wash. I was feeling really tired again today. I'd be awake for a bit, and then doze off for a couple of hours...no warning, just out like a light. I had to say good bye to my mom and Don today since they were leaving to go home on Saturday.
Now here's a story for you. If you've ever had surgery, the doctors and nurses care an awful lot about your intestinal gas and bowel movements, of which I'd had neither since surgery day. When you've been under general anesthesia for so long, it takes quite some time for your intestines to "wake up". Apparently mine were taking an eternity to wake up, and I was getting fed up. A lovely enema capsule earlier in the day finally got things moving (ever so slightly as Dan would say), so they gave me some real food, only when it arrived, it was chicken and rice with curry sauce! Not exactly what someone who hasn't eaten real food for an entire week should probably eat as a first meal. Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. I was able to eat just a few bites before feeling sick.
May 1st - Fresh Air! First thing this morning, the surgical team stopped by my room and said I was doing so well that they thought I was ready to discharge today. I just couldn't see that happening. I still had a lot of pain and just didn't feel confident about leaving. The great thing about Stanford is that they advocate for what the patient wants. So another day it will be. Today one of my favorite guys on the Liver Team, PA "Tito" swung by my room a little later and asked if I'd be willing to visit with another woman named Lorie who had donated her right lobe to a friend just two days after I donated mine to Cayden. She was feeling a lot of pain and having a tough time, so I agreed to go visit her in the afternoon. I spent a lot of time sleeping that morning in preparation for my visit with Lorie. With all of my parents now safely returned home, Angie swung by for a visit in the early afternoon. I mentioned the visit with Lorie, so Angie asked if she could come, too. When we headed across the hall, Lorie was obviously in the same state of affairs that I had been a couple of days ago, in incredible pain...in and out of awareness with all of the pain meds she was taking. We learned that she had donated her right lobe to a friend of hers who had Hepatitis C. Both her mom and dad were there to support her through the donation process. I assured her that she would be feeling significantly better in a couple of days and that I was in her place just on Wednesday. She held my hand and smiled. It felt nice to be a help to someone else today. Afterward, I made the trek down the hall, down one flight of stairs and onto the elevator for the next floor down so Angie and I could sit in the courtyard I could see outside from my window. It was a beautiful day, so we sat for awhile. It wasn't long before I knew I was ready for a nap again. No stairs this time...elevator all the way. Despite the pain, it was a nice day.
May 2nd - Sunday and Discharge Day! Hooray, after just 6 days since surgery, I was getting to go "home" today. I spent much of the morning preparing to leave...sleep, go to the bathroom, sleep again, go to the bathroom, sleep again...get the picture. I was very tired! They let me have lunch before leaving, which surprisingly was a 4 cheese penne that tasted good. The only problem was that I had no appetite, so I ate about 5 noodles and I was finished. At around 1 I let the nurse know I was ready to leave. She showed me how to take care of emptying the fluid from my JP drain and took out the last of my IVs. Dan grabbed a wheelchair from downstairs so we could wheel over to the children's side of the hospital and see Cayden before I left. It was a quick visit, but I could tell that he was feeling better, too. He was chomping at the bit to get out, and the docs said he'd likely be just a day behind me. Amazing!
Getting into the car and home was quite the ordeal. I felt EVERY bump in the road on the way back to the house. When we arrived home, all I wanted to do was get comfortable, but that seemed impossible. The hospital might be a noisy place, but the beds rock. They adjust so many ways that all it takes is a small push of the button to be able to make a little ache go away. Not so at home. Armed with about 7 pillows, I attempted to get myself propped up in a way that felt ok. About 10:45 p.m. Dan came back from his second trip to the hospital, so he helped me get my first real shower. That was an experience. Tired, shaking, and Dan standing outside the shower holding my drain, it was all I could do to get cleaned up. After showering, Dan had to reposition gauze around the surgical tubing that emerged from my side held on with a couple of stitches. Everything is 50 times harder after surgery, guaranteed!
It was a tough night that night. I hardly slept and had to position myself so that my body was upright. Not only that, there was a problem with my oldest stepson, which created a night of chaos, stress, and anxiety. Fortunately, he was sent back to Seattle the next morning, so we could get back to focusing on our surgical recoveries rather than continuing to deal with old problems.
Next blog...life out of the hospital!