Total Obstruction Part 4: Baby Steps

Monday arrived and, with it, progress.  Ok the progress was painstakingly slow, but noticeable nonetheless.  I was moved on from a liquid diet to soft food, mainly consisting of porridge, mashed potatoes and ice cream (thankfully, not mixed together).  A physio arrived to hold the seven tubes sticking out of me, whist I walked my first of many laps of the ward.  I saw what the outside looked like for the first time in almost a week and there was even some blue sky.  This gentle exercise meant the catheter could come out and this enabled me to complete more laps.  The physio, who no longer considered me any kind of priority, thought I’d be good for two laps, so later that day, I knocked out four:  I’ve got an ultra running comeback story to write after all!

I also received a visit from a very pleased looking surgeon who told me he reckoned he’d gotten the whole primary tumour out and inspected my wounds with a clear sense of job satisfaction.  I warmly thanked him for keeping me alive.  I couldn’t not ask how the removal of the largest of my five detected cancers would affect my prognosis.  Like any good surgeon he adopted the attitude of an artisan butcher, telling me that, maybe after some chemo, they’d cut out the liver and lymph node cancers and then remove the further spread that will inevitably appear later on. Everything must seem so simple when your primary weapon is a scalpel – let’s see how that works out.

My guts were even starting to work a bit more.  But not in the way in which I’ve become accustomed.  And here’s one detail that, even in my newfound spirit of complete openness, I’ve found very difficult to share.  But if I’m making it my mission to raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding bowel cancer, I may as well do so with this.  Because I have, quite literally been torn a new arsehole.  I guess that classic colloquial threat won’t work on me now – that and trolls on social media hoping that I get cancer and die.  See – I can find the positives!  But anyway, I have what is called a stoma, which excretes into a colostomy bag that I have to change up to thrice daily.

Waking up with this bag after surgery was pretty unsettling.  I’d been told beforehand that I would definitely need one as my bowels were too distended to stitch back together after removing the obstructing cancer.  When a couple of specialist nurses came to change the bag, I looked at this red lump of intestine sticking out of my stomach in utter horror and spent the next few hours in a state of subdued self pity.  I could barely look at the thing.  Still very tender from surgery, I was given a false sense of how uncomfortable this procedure would be and couldn’t comprehend how difficult it would be to change the bags myself.  It didn’t help that I could barely move without pain.

But as Monday slowly drifted towards Wednesday, I proceeded to make progress on all fronts.  I weened myself off the morphine button to the point I was switched to slow release tablets. Visitors seemed pleasantly surprised by my physical and mental state.  I started to feel well enough to seek entertainment and, rather than lying back, sat up to watch TV on my phone and eat my soft meals. As my body became more able to fend for itself without the need for IV drips, tubes gradually came out and I could move more freely.  This brought about a bit of independence, but I was so used to receiving help for things like moving, eating and washing that it was a bit of a surprise to be told that I could now do these things myself and to get on without calling for nurses.  In addition to more and more laps of the ward, I started to introduce gentle strength work like standing on one leg, squats and calf raises.  I knew things were going well when I was told off for turning my walk into a few steps of something that could just about be called a jog.

By Wednesday morning, and just at the point  where I was starting to feel institutionalised and unsure of how I’d fare in the outside world, I was told I’d be discharged.  Apparently it doesn’t matter how ill you’ve been if you’re able to trot around quickly enough to get in the way of medics working in the corridors.  But there was just one thing left – I had to pass my stoma bag changing test.  I’d been shown a couple of times, but I’m pretty slow to pick up practical things.  Eventually, and under the eye of a couple of very patient nurses, I awkwardly took myself through the process and they were satisfied I could do this well enough not to infect myself, even if I wasn’t.

John came along in the middle of the afternoon to drive me home, for which I was very grateful.  Especially as, first, he had to wait around four hours for me to be allowed out, because, despite the chronic bed shortage, hospital discharge takes ages.  But as I was prescribed more morphine, I suppose the pharmacy care package was worth the wait.  I’m also in possession of an overdose inducing number of paracetamol tablets, so I suppose no one is concerned about my mental state!

By the time I left hospital, I was no longer institutionalised and couldn’t wait to be home.  Writing this over a week later, I’m still quite a fan.

The fifth and final part of the Total Obstruction Saga should bring us up to the present day, but in summary – things are going so well that I’m able to go out and do things, so this might be a few days in the writing.