My Surgery Experience: Small Bowel Resection
Warning: This is a long blog post but I wanted to give an account of my surgery experience. Before going in for surgery I didn’t find much on people’s experiences on the internet so I thought posting this might help someone who was facing their first bowel resection surgery and doesn’t know what to expect. Hopefully it’ll give a little insight.
Day Before Surgery
I had thought there’d be prep the day before surgery (like prepping for a colonoscopy) but I was pleasantly surprised that no prep was involved and all I needed to do was fast (no food or drinks) from midnight the night before surgery. I hadn’t really been given any guidance on eating after the surgery (what could I eat, when etc) so I tried to enjoy eating (from the small range of food I could manage to eat) while I still could. Went to bed at my usual time but drank more water than usual and between that and my nerves, I was up and down most of the night.
Day 1 – The Day of Surgery
I was told to be at the hospital for 7.30am and I was expecting to be hanging around and waiting for most of the day. It was hard not being able to drink anything when I woke up especially as my mouth was extra dry from nervousness.
I checked in upon arrival and within a few minutes I was brought in to see a junior doctor who went through a questionnaire to get all my details, I had to give a urine sample and bloods were taken. I was then told to get changed into a surgical robe and I’d be taken down to theatre.
It came as a bit of a shock that I was going down to theatre so early and as I said goodbye to my fiancée I did get a little upset. I’ve never had surgery or been put under general anaesthetic before. I was totally going into un-charted territory and I was scared. As much as the surgeon and hospital staff were nice, nobody really went through what would happen to me in much detail.
I said my goodbye’s and headed down to the theatre holding area where I was put in a bed. There were a few other people in this holding area who I guess were also going for various surgeries. Various doctor’s/nurses came over to me to insert needles etc. I remember asking if I could be knocked out before going into the theatre as I didn’t want to see or hear any discussions of my surgery at that stage. The way I saw it, there was no going back now. They said they couldn’t knock me out before going into the theatre but they would do it as soon as we got in there. And just like that we were off into theatre. I remember looking up at the big surgery lights above my bed and seeing a number of nurses / surgeons around my bed. But the last thing I remember is putting a mask on and true to his word I was knocked out pretty quickly.
Next thing I know I’m waking up, very drowsy. I sort of make out my surgeon at the side of my bed and he’s talking to me but I’m not taking in a lot of it. From his expression, he seems pleased. Then he was gone and I was left with the orderly’s. I remember being wheeled to my room which was a bit of a trek as while my operation was in the public hospital, my room was in the private (with an underground tunnel in between the two).
My fiancée arrived shortly after me and let me know that he spoke with the surgeon. He said that they took out just over a foot of intestines but it wasn’t the terminal ileum like they thought from the MRI, it was an area higher up in the intestines. This made me hugely relieved. I was petrified of losing the terminal ileum as getting this section out can mean trouble with bile salt reabsorption (and therefore potentially lots of diarrhoea) and b12 absorption.
I remained quite drowsy for the day and pretty much just snoozed. I had a catheter in so I didn’t have to get up to use the bathroom and it wasn’t as awful as I thought it was going to be. I barely felt it to be honest. I had a number of needles in my hand and arm and I was hooked up to drips and monitors and had oxygen in my nose. I wasn’t put on pain medications for about an hour after arriving in my room and out of 10, I’d say the pain was a 9. But once they gave me a shot in the abdomen and an anti-nausea injection I started to feel better.
Later they hooked me up to a morphine pump but I didn’t need it too much. The worst thing I remember that first day is having a very very dry mouth and gasping for some water but not being allowed any. They gave me this gel to moisten my mouth which was better than nothing but was awful.
By the evening time I was allowed sip on some water. Water never tasted or felt so good!! The pain in my intestines started to kick in but the pain in my left shoulder was actually worse. I had heard that bloating could be really bad from trapped air as they pump your intestines full of air but I don’t think I ever heard about it being trapped in shoulders. But seemingly it can be quite common. I was given heat pads which relieved the pain as did a few pumps of morphine.
I was very weak which made it hard to move in the bed but I made sure to move legs as even though I still had my surgical socks on I didn’t want any chance of clots happening.
I slept with the back of the bed up so it was like I was sitting up. A nurse came in a number of times during the night to take my temperature, blood pressure etc.
This morning I was allowed a cup of green tea. I thought I would have been starving at this stage but I was happy enough just to be allowed have liquids again.
I was visited by the physio who got me to some breathing exercises. I think the point of the exercises was to stop the lungs filling up with fluids. After I had my bloods taken in the morning I felt a bit nauseous but the feeling passed. I was tender in the stomach area and the pain in my shoulder was still there.
The surgeon came to visit and told me about the surgery. He said it went better than had imagined and other than the part of the intestine they took out, the rest of my intestines were pristine! He showed me a photo of the section he removed and where it was distended and strictured. It looked huge! I couldn’t believe he had taken that out of me. He didn’t know how anything could pass through that section of the bowel as it was so bad and how I managed it for so long. He said that it was old scarring.
Two nurses brought me to have a wash and freshen up which was lovely. I wish I had brought a night-shirt rather than just PJ’s as I would have been able to change into it but as I still had the catheter in I had to keep the surgical robe on.
I was encouraged to get up and walk around a little and to keep my legs moving. I sat out for a good bit of the afternoon and evening. It was sore getting out of the bed and I needed help (and a few pumps of morphine) but it felt good not to be in bed. By the evening I was allowed some broth I had brought in and jelly. Unfortunately the jelly was the hospitals radio-active, full-of-sugar version but I was so hungry I ate it even though it tasted very artificial.
The pain in my left shoulder was pretty bad and I found it hard to breathe. The nurses gave me heat pads which helped relieve it. Again I was woken up numerous times during the night for temperature and blood pressure readings but I don’t think it was quite as often as the previous night.
I got the catheter taken out early and was able to get into my PJ’s. I was able to get up and get to and from the bathroom which was good as I had to measure my first bladder output in a jug.
This morning the catering staff brought me in a menu. They didn’t explain anything to me about it – what I could have or couldn’t have etc. I had a read and couldn’t believe it. Options for breakfast included Cornflakes, fruit salad crackers, options for lunch included roast lamb, herb roast potatoes and lemon slice with custard and options for tea included chicken and mushroom pie and prawn salad. Surely this wasn’t correct. When they came back in to take it from me, I asked them if they were sure that menu was for me…. to which they replied ‘yes, it’s gluten free!’. I had to ask again “Surely this menu isn’t for somebody who had major bowel surgery less than three days ago?”. She took the menu and said she’d ask the nursing staff.
She came back in a few minutes later with a different menu with light low residue options. I often wonder if I hadn’t said anything if they would have given me food from that initial menu. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who may not have questioned it.
This new menu had a lot of white and beige food – white bread/toast, eggs, boiled chicken, white fish, boiled potatoes etc. I actually couldn’t believe that I was actually going to be allowed to eat food. I had thought I’d be on a liquid diet for weeks after the surgery. I know it was low fibre food but still… it was actual food.
My first breakfast consisted of gluten and dairy free white toast together with a bowel of broth and a coconut yogurt from home. It was brilliant that I could bring in food and store it in the fridge. I didn’t manage the full yogurt as I found it quite heavy but I did manage the toast and the broth. For lunch I had a plain piece of plaice and for dinner I had two poached eggs. And I had plenty of liquids.
I spent most of the day out of the bed. I was encouraged to get up and walk around so my fiancée took me on a couple of very slow laps of the floor of the hospital. I’m not used to going so slow and being so tired after a short amount of exertion.
For the first time since the surgery I passed wind. I saw this as a good sign.
The surgeon came in early to see how I was doing. He was happy with my progress. He said we just needed to see what happens when I had a bowel movement.
I had a lot of visitors today and walked a lot. I also managed to have three bowel movements. They were as you’d imagine for not going for four days. They were pretty normal though which surprised me and no diarrhoea.
All the needles were taken out today.
I started to feel a little off by the end of the day and my back was sore from the surgery or from sitting or lying in the bed. I started to use the heat pads for my lower back.
The surgeon came in this morning. He was delighted with the bowel movements. He said that if I continued that way I could possibly go home within the week. I couldn’t believe it.
I was dizzy, light-headed, nauseous and tired though. I probably overdid it the previous day. I had a visitor in the morning and I just couldn’t muster the energy to engage in a lot of chat. I felt crap and she even said that I looked quite pale. I just wanted to curly up on my chair. Every other day people were saying they couldn’t believe how well I looked etc but this day I felt and looked like shite.
Later though two nurses brought me in to have a shower and wash my hair. They gave me anti-nausea tablets which helped a lot and I definitely perked up after those.
A dietician called in to see me in the afternoon. She said to follow a low fibre diet for a few weeks and then slowly introduce new foods every two days or so.
My back was still sore but the heat packs helped. My wound was pretty sting-y. It was checked out and I was put on antibiotics in case it was an infection.
I tried sleeping with the bed a bit flatter tonight. It’s hard to know which makes it more comfortable.
The surgeon came in – he wasn’t too concerned with the wound and said that if I had a bowel movement today I could go home tomorrow. Had bowel movement. A little hard to pass but formed. Had shower and washed hair by myself and could definitely walk faster.
I’m allowed home at lunch time. Much quicker than expected. The surgeon didn’t think my wound was infected but that I was actually having a reaction to the dressing. So they put me in a different dressing and took me off my medication and I didn’t have to go back on my immunosuppressant drug either. And with a bit of paperwork etc I was on my way home at.
Overall, I don’t think the experience was as bad as I thought it was going to be. The staff were lovely, my hospital room was top notch and I felt I received great care.
In an upcoming blog, I’ll give an update about recovering at home and what life is like now months after the operation.