Total Obstruction Part 1: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Hello, I’m back!  Home and recovering from one of the most horrible episodes in my short life.  I’m going to write about it in the hope that this helps me process the trauma, but feel free to read it too – there may be some kind of message in there somewhere!

Midway though the second cycle, I was just about getting used to chemo.  The dose had been reduced and life was still difficult, but a little less so.  Everything was becoming a bit more manageable and I was making it out of the house occasionally e.g. to take rehearsals or visit people.

But as fatigue subsided, the pain took over.  This had happened before, in cycle 1.  I dutifully reported that I was experiencing waves of abdominal pain and taken in for an x-ray.  Within minutes, my highly qualified consultant oncologist told me that I was just constipated and everything was fine – at least that bit.  So, when I again brought this to her attention, there wasn’t a great deal of concern and there was no X-ray this time.  As they weren’t worried, neither was I and just went into pain management mode.

There was also a specialist nurses’ hotline, which I called a few times with sage advice given like drinking peppermint tea or running a hot bath.  Perhaps these remedies helped a tiny bit but the main problem was still very much there.  In the space of a week, small waves of discomfort turned to ship crushing tempests.  As my declining digestive system struggled to move or let anything through, the waves became more frequent as the storm swirled around (ok – within) me.  I tried everything: food addition, restriction, liquid diet and I threw all the laxatives that I could find at the problem.  But gradually, the waves were augmented by a kind of dull ache that wouldn’t go away.  After about five days of this, the crushing tsunami was reaching a level that would take out a small Thai island and maybe even upturn a Japanese power station.

By day six, I’d had enough.  I just couldn’t cope with this alone.  I was crying and yelling.  I called for my mum, even though she’s been dead for over three years.  Perhaps it’s an indication how good my life has been in recent years that this was the first time I’d done so.  And this was the first time I’d felt really hard done by.  Stoicism suddenly stopped working.  The pragmatism with which I’ve often approached my cancer journey wasn’t enough to manage this situation.  I called the hotline again, presenting all the symptoms of a complete bowl obstruction but wasn’t vomiting so apparently this wasn’t an emergency.

On day 7, the situation was even worse and I couldn’t bring myself to eat or drink. I was finally be given an appointment and had a change of scenery from lounging around in pain at home to waiting around in pain at hospital but on harder chairs.  I was transferred by a now concerned junior doctor to A&E where I waited a few hours.  This included about 20 minutes stuck behind someone’s irate relative who decided to express herself very strongly to a helpless young receptionist.  All I needed to do was register in order to join the queue.  I pleaded just to be able to give my details before said relative resumed her assault.  This didn’t work and, without the capacity to protest further, I made a bed out of my bag and coat, lying whimpering on the hospital floor, wondering what I had done to deserve this.

When the impassioned rant finally came to some kind of end, the shaken but very professional receptionist took a deep breath and asked me for my details.  She had to look round to see me as I was still down for the count.  Then it turned out I should have brought some paperwork from outpatients and another hour or two went by as some documents were produced and I was eventually given a berth and a barcode.  They also gave me a syringe of morphine (the kind they now use for calpol) and, for the first time in a week, that took the edge off the pain.

After a CT scan, and by about midnight, I found myself in a ward.  I don’t remember much about that night but, with the aid of more morphine, possibly got some sleep.  By morning, I was told for certain that I had an airtight bowel obstruction.  This was vindication of my concern and helped alleviate the guilt of people going out of their way on my behalf.  It’s obvious now, but this was really serious and I deserved much earlier intervention than I got. Ok I was a bit like the boy who cried wolf.  But having first not been sure if the wolf hanging around the garden was just a harmless dog, this time it appeared at my door without even bothering to put on Grandma’s clothes.

I was told I’d be in for surgery that day.  Surgery has come on a long way with the laparoscopic keyhole variety and now even with robots.  But I was told I was in for the good old fashioned open kind you’d find in an abattoir.  My guts were too distended apparently.  First, I had the usual series of explanations and consent forms to go through, including being informed that this operation could kill me.  Good thing I’d just about gotten round to filing my tax return and writing my will. After an uncomfortable epidural (more on that later) I was given a mask and very swiftly went to sleep.

Spoiler alert: Surgery didn’t kill me.

To be continued…