Total Obstruction Part 2: Still Alive

I woke up.  That in itself felt like a bit of a win, given the circumstances. I was a bit groggy and moving didn’t seem to be working, but my brain was switched on and possibly let my voice speak too.  Doubtless incoherently, I expressed some gratitude for my continued existence and a yearning, heartfelt desire for water.  Spending about a day nil by mouth will do that to a person.  I’m sure IV hydration drips work, but they don’t do anything for thirst.

Once transferred to the High Dependency Unit, I was given a glass of water and a small crowd of nurses gathered as I took the most wonderful sip of my entire life.  The crowd wasn’t disappointed – apparently it looked like I enjoyed it.  A few hours later, a nutritionist arrived with some orange juice and I took the second most blissful sip I’ve ever had.  The crowd didn’t cheer, but they might have done.

So far so good.  Moving provoked an angry response from my body but I wan’t really in pain otherwise.  Then, as the anaesthetic gradually wore off, I was less pleasantly reminded that I was still alive in the form of several different kinds of constant pain.  The medical response to this was to get a spray can that produces a feeling of extreme cold.  This was sprayed around my wounds, and elsewhere for control purposes.  That was about as unpleasant as the pain and, wherever the spray landed, I felt it.  The nurses were a little surprised at this, often stating that there was ‘no block’.  I didn’t completely understand the significance of this at the time, but it turned out that the epidural wasn’t working at all.  But the ‘pain team’ decided that if the drugs don’t work, try a bit more of the same drug.  So they increased the dose of epidural and continued to find ‘no block’.

At least I had a choice, I suppose. I could choose to feel more abdominal pain from the wounds or in my back, depending on the angle of the bed.  Not even sips of water and orange juice would alleviate the misery.  On reflection, I could have done more to help myself.  The main measurement of pain is through a self reported score from 1 to 10.  I found this very hard to judge.  Sure I’d been in much more pain, especially recently – I could imagine much more.  So I kept reporting moderate scores of around 4.  I was even told by a grumpy doctor that I’d just had surgery and shouldn’t expect to be pain free.  But I couldn’t stop complaining and calling out and, given it was completely relentless, the pain was unmanageable over any period of time.  The nurses around me later said that I was probably a 7-8.  If I’ve learned anything in the past fortnight, it’s to recalibrate that pain score.  After another failed epidural boost and around 24 hours after surgery, I was given morphine and some blessed relief.

Morphine really works for me.  I didn’t even need to press the release button as often as allowed.  When the pain team returned in the form of a lovely hiker from Zimbabwe (I was well enough to have conversations by this point), I promised her anything she wanted by way of thanks.  The physio team visited twice to first help me stand up, then take a dozen or so awkward steps around the ward.  My brother Jon had dropped everything to come down as soon the night I’d arrived. He visited in between working from (my) home and assembling the treadmill I’d ordered in more mobile days.  Maud visited too and, thankfully, didn’t insist we go running.

Having done some moving I was told I could have my catheter out.  If you don’t know what one is, look it up – despite serving a purpose, it’s the most unpleasant invention I’ve ever come across – adding a completely different kind of stinging pain to the other aches, moans and and winces.  So having it out was amazing.  But there was a problem – I needed to go to the toilet naturally within eight hours or I’d be declared ‘in retention’ and need the catheter reinserted.  After around seven hours, I still hadn’t gone and commenced a desperate struggle to do so that included drink a lot of water.  A nurse even tried the old chestnut of running a tap but no good.  As eight hours ticked by, I resigned myself to this fate and, swelled by water, the pain was increasing anyway.

Then something happened elsewhere in the ward.  Something big.  Big enough for my issues to pale into insignificance and everyone calmly rushed to another bed, leaving me to my own devices for over two hours.  Luckily I had a morphine button and took advantage of it.  This took the edge off the pain but this was a pretty grim period.  I hit the button so many times that the machine stopped dispensing and I received a quizzical response from a doctor who almost had the audacity to ask why I’d pressed the button so many times, but saw the look on my face and thought better of it.  My suspicion that something major was going on elsewhere increased when all the medics looked a bit sad and the doctors ordered kebabs.  Eventually I went through the ordeal of catheter reinsertion.  It helped a bit that the male nurse doing this had trained in the Philippines, where they had to practise doing this to each other, so at least knew what kind of indignant agony he was putting me through.

Still reeling from the catheter episode, I was transferred to an understaffed ward in the middle of a busy night shift.  Morphine again replaced direct care and I think I got some sleep.

To be continued…