On this Monday I am taking it pretty easy. Resting and recovery are the only items on my schedule.
With that in mind I wanted to talk about laughter after surgery. Laughter on its own is fantastic. Laughing lifts the spirits and sparks that joyful part in us all.
But then again, not so great when laughing pulls at stitches. Last night my husband and I were watching a funny show and nearly got through without a hitch. That is until the very last scene where one of the main characters did something so funny that my Dearest and I were rolling with laughter.
He was euphoric with comedy humor and I was gripping my side in a combo of laughing at the hilarity and body protesting the pain. I was laughing at him, then next at myself as we erupted even more so together. The humor continued to unfold on screen feeding the howling frenzy of two people unable to look away from all that perfect acting. I tried not to laugh, which made the whole situation that much worse. Tears streaming down my face, I tried calm breathing which proved ineffective when in the grips of a full belly whopper. Think about lamaze, lamaze isn’t funny. Think about real estate, that’s not funny either. And then it built up again, chuckling at my other half as he was watching me in my blended state of hilarity and distress. The look on his face with those wide eyes and open mouth guffaw was priceless. We couldn’t help ourselves, we were hilarious. The mix of cramping, pulling, roiling abdominal muscle against stitches, torment and the play of emotions, both in the show and in ourselves, was its own twisted comedy.
And so today it’s no surprise I feel like I got sucker punched right in the belly. Blarg! Throughout the night I was diligent about pain meds and used a heat blanket which was heaven. Even still, today I am stiffer and slower than I’d like to be. Laughter ambushed my recovery and likely put me back a day or two in my road to wellness.
Even still, I keep thinking I really need to watch that episode over again when I’m fully recovered. And no more funny business until then.
The last couple of days I’ve been busy with surgery pre prep. This includes doing things like packing my hospital bag (Packing Video)
Prepping a week of outfits for my children.
Thinking ahead about little lunches to pack.
And in the past I have even done this.
And tidying my bathroom and closet/dresser. (Which happens to be nervous cleaning with the benefit of coming home to a clutter free, stress free environment.) And just making sure everything is set to go smoothly while I am away for a couple days. Aka paying just arrived bills, make sure my volunteer time at the school is covered, make sure drop off and pick up times are written down for my hubby, practice speech with the little guy so it’s easier for when he practices with his Daddy, etc etc.
You get the drift.
The surgery that I am having is a gallbladder removal. My gallbladder has been a quiet offender for the last nine years. It was hiding as mysterious pain that I passed off as overexerting myself or being a weekend warrior and unexplained increased liver levels resulting in unfavorably high numbers that over time magically resolved. What finally helped us put it together was this last December I passed a gallstone which landed me in the ER. Yow, that was exciting!
So the deal with gallbladders is they help aid digestion by storing bile created by the liver, then releasing that bile, aka gall, into the digestive tract which helps break down and emulsify fats to help digest your food. Yay!
However, when your gallbladder gets cranky and inflamed or maybe tossing stones, is when things start going sideways. Stones can back up into the liver causing liver issues, which is something I am dealing with. And sometimes stones can back up into the pancreas and cause issues there as well. Also, as in my case, once stones start moving through, a bunch get together and decide to work their way out which is painful as can be. So that’s why I’m going in.
Much of the time gallbladders can be removed laparoscopically. Which sounds terrific. There’s less down time and a smaller incision. Very good things. But, if you’re like me, and you’ve had a couple too many abdominal surgeries, there is a higher opportunity for scar tissue which makes the laparoscoping (<—-Yes, I made that word up) harder than it has to be. In essence, it makes the surgeons job tricky in that scar tissue creates an obscured environment for her/him to see and maneuver to do the job.
So I’m having a standard incision below the ribs right above the gallbladder. This will make a straight shot in for surgeon to clearly see the offending area and do his/her job.
This plan of action is good for a couple of reasons.
1) Scar tissue is a beast and I am Fantastic at growing scar tissue. I’ve even had surgery in the past to remove scar tissue. So I’m pretty sure there’s a bunch in there. I don’t want my surgeon to go in laparoscopically and then have to turn around and require standard entry. *Zero hitches in the plan!*
2) If the ducts that lead to the liver and pancreas need to be flushed, Voila!, there’s plenty of room to do that.
3) Another scar to rock on the beach! No, not really. But yes, really. For the damage this little gallbladder time bomb is turning out to be, removing it will be worth the battle scar. And let’s be real. I play organ favorites. I just like my liver and pancreas WAY more than a sputtering, malfunctioning gallbladder. So there!
4) The bile produced by the liver to aid in digestion will still happen. Instead of going through the gallbladder, it will empty into the small bowel to begin its digestive aiding job there. (Whew! Thank goodness I still have that part.) If I had a colon still, I may experience looser stools. As an Ileostomate, this is already the case, so less of an issue for me. Score for being an Ileostomate!
Things I am going to keep in mind moving forward is diet. I am already an infrequent fatty food enjoyer. That’s one point for me. Plus we officially live 1000 miles away from my very favorite corn dog stand located in Otis Oregon. So in that regard I’m safe. But it’s those festival, Oktoberfest, onion ring, occasional joyful moments that I will have to be more mindful of. *Gasp! * Don’t forget ~ SUPERBOWL!! Well, it must be time to perfect those boneless hot wings. <—-See? I love food. And I will continue to do so thoughtfully.
In the end I am grateful that I am not having a bowel surgery. For ONCE I’m not going in for IBD. I am grateful that being an Ostomate is actually sort of helpful in this case. I am grateful that the surgeon doing my procedure is also top notch in Ostomates of all sorts. (Which is a BIG deal to me.) I look forward to improved liver function and no more painful stones passing. I am glad to be having this done at a time when the rest of my world is relatively calm. I am super grateful that my husband is able to take time away from work to care for our children.
Most of all I look forward to getting back to regular life. I have plans in action that I want to see through and a life that needs living with me at my best.
I haven’t shared any pictures of myself when I was young, mostly because I don’t have very many. Recently a classmate sent this my way. You guessed it. This super pale, ultra thin girl was seventeen year old me back in 1994 at my senior prom. Not one person will be surprised to hear I did not have a date. I had been undeniably sick since middle school and had moved in with my grandparents a couple years earlier. Recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, it felt like I spent more time in our local hospitals, clinic, and recuperating at home than I did in high school.
Young me recently had a test showing the presence of precancerous cells. My colon was firm and not responding to treatment. My stool was a warm mix of blood with clots that smelled like death. Think the aroma of maggot infested chicken carcass and sewage left in the garbage can on a hot summer day – but that toxic sludge was coming from inside me. A painful, cramping, stressful way for a teen girl to live while trying to appear normal and live under the radar. I was in constant fear of crapping my pants at school, a very real thing I experienced on more than one occasion- even during a slow dance at homecoming. Perfectly Mortifying! Needless to say I had no boyfriends in high school or much of a social life.
It was hard to be invisible when my hair smelled of the sulfa medication I was taking in efforts to try to feel better. The really huge perm was a failed attempt to be free of the odor of hell infused sulfur suffocation wafting from my locks. Those huge glasses? It’s what I could afford, entirely NOT the trend, uncomfortable and slid down my nose all the time.
I went to class every day fevered and painful with rotten bowels and achy joints and muscles. It was common to pause and sit on the stairs or lean against the lockers that I was sometimes crammed into because I was an easy target. I walked around heart poundingly, clammy palms, dizzy with a combo of blood loss, malnutrition and low blood sugar. People put stuff in my hair, ran their fingers up and down the visible ribs in my back to, ‘play me like a xylophone’, threw rocks and called me AIDS patient and Cancer girl. I missed school for regular appointments to receive blood transfusions and z -track iron into my butt which added to the gossip.
In this particular picture I was recently weaned off steroids and pretending to be healthy. I was days away from going into a flare that would end in the removal of my large intestine and part of my rectum. Ten days later I was an Ostomate. My life as a J-pouch girl was right around the corner.
Ah, high school.
I quickly returned to school comforted that almost no classmates knew about my surgery. High school was a feeding ground for the strong and popular. People like me were consumed daily as tasty treats.
Isn’t it funny the way you can look at a picture and remember everything about that time and place in your life? As if the picture is documenting a moment complete with a touch of soul in it. Transporting in a way, but with the perspective of who you are now against who you were and what you experienced back then. Magic.
Back then Asacol was a trial drug administered in an enema form. I also got to try Asacol in pill form when it first came out.
I was young enough to hope my colon was sitting in a jar somewhere helping scientists figure out a cure for IBD. Which was strangely comforting. To be honest, I still like to think of my intermittently removed parts as another clue towards IBDs destruction. (Apparently I’ve had it in for IBD for a while now.)
As much as high school was torture, it also had its sweet spots. Twenty six days after surgery I went to the senior outing at a water splash park and took pride in the fact that no one could tell I was an Ostomate. I had a few good friends. I had a principal and school counselor that went to bat for me once they knew what was up. Most teachers ignored me (which was better than disdain, so I’ll take it as a win.) There was one special person, St. Elmo that saved me from giving up. Twenty years later I still hug him whenever I see him. There was one football player whose locker was right next to mine. He saw me being shoved from student to student, picked me up – books and all, and carried me to my locker so I could get there in one piece. There was the school mascot with a tricky life of his own who was always kind and even sat with me once while I rested on the stairs. Small moments like these made such a difference back then and still do today.
I joined in the flag squad, went to school dances, attended a few football games and tried to be normal. I loved honors english, working in the library instead of PE, and volunteering to help the football team by cleaning the locker room, equipment and anything else the coach needed.
I graduated on time with an appallingly low GPA which was a miracle made up of a dozen smaller miracles. I proudly walked across the stage to get my diploma with an Ostomy under my blue silk dress.
These are some of the experiences that shaped who I am today. I learned a lot about human nature -both ugly and beautiful. I know for a fact that there are several kinds of strength. I grew a healthy dislike of crap of all sorts – and those who deal it out. I know what it’s like to be stripped down to the nothing and to start over again. I understand the importance of small joys. I have experienced how with
one small action at a time you can create happiness for yourself. Gratefulness is a living thing that spreads and grows when nurtured. There is value in try, try, try. And most of all, I know the power of hope.
I consider myself lucky to have lived such an extraordinary life so far.
I would tell that seventeen year old me to keep going. Things are about to get a whole lot better.