What day is today? I think it is Friday, so that means we’ve been in Vancouver for 10 days now. Some of it has been a blur for me!
Before surgery we spent a couple nights at the amazing luxury JW Marriott Parq hotel on my brother’s accumulated travel points and status. What a treat! Looking back on it now, it is amazing how handicapped I was and how much pain I was in, and I hadn’t even had the surgery yet! Now that I’m sitting here with 50 staples in my abdomen my limitations seem more obvious!
We had 5 nights in town before the surgery, so we could meet the cancer docs and do the pre-op and pre-admitting tasks. The night before surgery, we were staying at a cancer lodge right by the hospital. I had a hideously bad night. I threw up all the cranberry juice they wanted left in me for sugar for recovery and started passing enormous blood clots almost hourly with a period that were close to the size of a deck of cards each. If my surgery wasn’t hours away, I would have otherwise went straight to the ER.
Luckily we had to report to the admitting department for 5:30am on Monday so finally it wasn’t a day that was going to require a ton of waiting.
Their surgery teams at the Vancouver General Hospital are well oiled machines. The surgery prep room is a big area with stalls for each surgery patient and each member of the surgery team stops by and works through specific pages of their surgery plan in a binder, asking questions and answering ours. I was put in a plastic lined paper gown with ports for a big warming vacuum-like hose but I was sweaty enough already so didn’t need or want extra heat. I had little disposable paper booties and a cap on my head and they started an IV in my left hand. Jeff was allowed to stay with me through all of this prep which was so helpful because I felt so miserable.
Soon we had to kiss goodbye and I was wheeled away to an operating room. They have dozens of them and mine was pretty far around their circuit. I remember there being great fresh, windy air in the hallways.
Soon I was in an operating room and they introduced the nurses who would be helping. They were prepping instruments along a wall. I think I moved myself to the surgery bed and then things get foggy. I had a mask on my face quite quickly and was soon knocked out.
When I woke up I was in a big room with a wall of windows but my eyes wouldn’t focus. I couldn’t feel or move my right leg or some of my right fingers. They told me I was almost completely upside down. I guess I lost a ton of blood. I remember them telling me I was getting a second blood transfusion but I didn’t remember the first one. One of the nurses was panicking once trying to get a blood sample and she poked me everywhere and said I didn’t have the blood pressure to get any blood out. She even stuck the needle in my thumb and said sorry, that was going to leave a bruise.
They gave me a wand with a button for pain killer and I guess I was using too much and when you use high doses of hydromorphone it suppresses your breathing. Every time my breath got shallow, all my sliced open abdomen muscles clenched right. It was brutal, but kept me breathing. It was like a big upper abdomen cramp.
The surgeon came and talked to me briefly, but said I wasn’t going to remember any of it anyway so he’d come back tomorrow. I remember he said congratulations twice and shook my hand so I hoped that was a good sign?
I remember knowing I was in the recovery room a long time and was feeling worried about Jeff who would have been waiting all this time. They said they would bring him in for a bit. I remember telling them he was wearing his green LUCKY 🍀 shirt for the occasion so they’d be able to spot him in the waiting room.
I remember Jeff coming into the recovery room. I couldn’t keep my eyes open because the horizon was flipping and my eyes couldn’t right the world. Jeff seemed to think that was funny that my eyes were spinning all around.
All I wanted to know from Jeff was how was the surgery and was it cancer. He said it was likely ovarian cancer but they got everything they could find. My greatest fear was being one of these people you hear about that are opened up, found to be full of cancer everywhere, and there is nothing the surgeons can do. Seems like that wasn’t going to be my story and that was all that mattered to me at the moment.
I think it was 7 hours before I was finally moved to a hospital room. That first night is pretty blurry to me. I know I had a nurse named Michael who had a bunch of things he had to do for me all night. He removed the oxygen tubes from my nose in the middle of the night and by morning he removed the catheter from my bladder.
By mid-morning they had me up to walk and pee! Oh geez did it hurt to get up! My stomach! Yet at the same time, the pain was in my skin and muscles and already felt better than before. From what I’ve been told, the mass was tightly wedged in, and stretched from my rectum to my ribs and was pressing on my kidney. There was a ton of scar tissue in the way from a previous surgery.
The surgeon came by each morning and several times during the day. He was so nice! He set the goal pretty high and wanted me to do 10 laps in the hallway that day in order to leave the next day already.
But my hemoglobin numbers crashed again over my second night back to 69. They gave me a third blood transfusion. When it still didn’t give me the boost they expected, they sent me for a cat scan to see if I had internal bleeding. The surgeon didn’t want me to get too worried about it. He said he left packing material in me and that could do the job or some drug treatment would be possible before he’d have to go back in, and even that I shouldn’t worry because I was there and being monitored.
They thought the cat scan would minimally show a big clot to explain my blood values but it didn’t show a bleed or a clot. They wondered if they underestimated my blood loss during surgery and then remembered me telling them about all the clots I was experiencing the night before and now think I lost a lot of blood before the surgery even started.
The cat scan showed fluid on my lungs though. With abdominal surgery pain, it is easy to just hunch over and not take deep breaths, which is what I did. I sure didn’t want to cough the fluid out! Coughing with an incision like this can be compared to getting hit by a truck and maybe the truck would be preferable. So then I went for a chest X-ray to make sure nothing else was going on in my lungs.
I really felt very cared for and monitored. They tested even my blood sugar regularly and I had two doses of insulin during the week even though I’m not a diabetic, just because my blood values were squirrely. They just treated each abnormality as it was detected. Made me appreciate being in such a high quality place. I lost a lot of blood in my previous abdominal surgery six years ago and they didn’t do a transfusion and just sent me home with a suggestion of iron pills. I already feel better than that time.
On Thursday, they discharged me. Originally the plan was to spend a night in an airport hotel and fly home but holy jeez am I not ready to fly. I haven’t even pooped yet, to the great dismay of the nurses (but once you at least “pass gas” they are happy to let you go). We found Vancouver’s most caring, gentle cab driver and he brought me to my friend Colette’s house in North Vancouver so I can recover a bit more before flying.
Some pictures for you. Ready to see the staples? Here was my view a couple days after surgery:
Some amazing flowers I received while in the hospital:
EDIT: Sorry, didn’t post this after writing. A couple days late! I’m home now, and doing pretty well. Waiting for another week or so for the pathology results and to hear what the chemo plans are for me. More soon!