Plus bonus advice on not having a colonoscopy the same week as surgery. I always wondered what it would feel like to be 80 years old and 6 months pregnant. Okay, I’ve never actually wondered that but I do now know exactly what that feels like. I am shuffling around at the speed of Tim Conway’s old man character from the Carol Burnett show, with a belly swollen to a well formed 5 or 6 month baby bump, complete with the need to pee or fart every 30 to 60 minutes. Only I am not 80. And I am not pregnant. I just had what turned out to be major surgery. Who knew this is what happens. Well, turns out a lot of people, but I, in my naive bliss of never having gone under the knife or been under general anesthesia, did not know. I had what is called an umbilical (ventral) hernia. In other words, a tear in the tissue above my belly button, with a bit of my intestines sticking out. I only noticed it because there was this funny bump I started pushing in above my navel, which turned out to be that intestines bit. I finally asked my husband about it, and he declared in his full medical knowledge – that it looked like a hernia. To be fair, he has had two, so he does have some knowledge of hernias. I thought that was ridiculous. I thought hernias only happened in the groin area, and if they did happen around the belly button or elsewhere, didn’t they hurt like hell, cause your guts were falling out? Wouldn’t I know if I had a hernia? Turns out, nope. Didn’t feel a thing. All seemed fine. But apparently not. Not sure how long I pondered this bump, but finally in a routine visit with my new OB/GYN, I happened to mention this, so she took a look, agreed with my husband’s prognosis and recommended me to a surgeon to take an actual qualified assessment. I went to see the surgeon, and she confirmed I did indeed have an umbilical hernia. In fact, two tears from what she could feel. Which brings us back to my swollen belly and old lady shuffle. I had my surgery. It was, frankly, a terrifying experience. Although I should add that nothing bad happened, my surgeon and anesthesiologist were awesome. But it was still terrifying. It began like all great hospital visits, with a dress down and wearing of that ever attractive paper gown, tied in the back. All my vitals were taken. I was repeatedly asked my full name and date of birth. I was given a tylenol. Easy peasy. Then, it went downhill. I was to receive two IVs. Not one. Two. This was because I was getting laparoscopic surgery with a robotic arm, and in case one IV got in the way or something happened, they wanted to make sure there was a backup. Somehow this seemed perfectly logical to everyone except the person getting two IV’s shoved in her arm. You see, I have a vein problem. For as long as I can remember, giving blood or getting an IV has been an adventure of “where in the world can I find a good vein on Margaret’s arm?”  The irony is I have that traditional translucent white Irish skin with blue vein lines all over the place. I can see my fucking veins everywhere. I’ve had old lady skin since I was 12. But clearly not the type or point of the vein that they need for serious things, like sticking needles in to take blood or insert vital fluids to keep me hydrated during surgery. Instead of one of my two assigned nurses doing it, they called in an IV expert who happened to be roaming around. This turned out to be a mistake. After missing the right spot TWICE in my left arm, she finally just dug around until it worked and got that baby going. Another two misses on my right arm, and she and I were both done. She waved the white flag and called in one of my two nurses, named Sara. Turns out Sara just transferred to the OR from 10 years in the emergency room, where putting an IV in is a matter of life and death and you have to do in a matter of seconds. She looked at my arm, didn’t see the issue, put the tourniquet on, I pumped my fist, and she stuck that needle right in and got it working. I officially loved Sara. I should probably stop to mention here that I had already experienced one painful IV experience earlier this same week, when I went in for my first ever colonoscopy. Yeah, let’s not even attempt to understand my perfect logic of having two major medical procedures in one week that both involve being put under and having medical instruments stuck both in my arm and other cavities of my body. It made sense at the time I made the appointments. As I told my surgeon: hey, I had a colonoscopy earlier so I’m all cleaned up for you in there to make your work easier. She did not laugh. I thought that was hysterical. Anyway, the nurse before my colonoscopy dug around in my right arm, and got it working, but she told me my veins were too deep and that was the problem. It’s bad enough we are to feel shamed for everything, but for my veins being too deep. Really? So here i am lying basically naked with IVs in both arms and the rest of my lower arms looking like arm models for a heroin addict marketing campaign. Doctor comes in and explains everything. Anesthesiologist comes in and explains everything. And before he leaves, asks me if I want something to calm me before surgery. And I’m thinking, I’m perfectly calm, what kind of whacko needs drugs to calm them before they get drugs? A really smart whacko, that’s who! I’m then wheeled into the OR, where I am assaulted with the coldest, brightest lit, overwhelming room with machines everywhere that I’ve ever experienced. I shuffle my bumm over to the operating table from my rolling bed, and then the fun really starts. My feet are strapped down. My arms are put out to the side and strapped down. And then the anesthesiologist puts a round cup of some kind over my mouth and nose. And I start to kind of panic. I am trying to say that I don’t like the sheet around my neck, and I can’t breathe, and my arms hurt, and . . . . all I hear is “let’s get you some liquid sunshine” . . . . . . and I wake up with my whole body shaking, including my jaw, which I didn’t know could shake, and the most incredible pain I’ve ever felt, other than when I birthed a nearly 10 pound baby. But it was right there with that pain. And there’s a nurse asking me the level of pain from zero to ten. I say “eight”. I mean, it was probably a ten, but who ever actually picks that absolute highest number on those scales. I must really screw up a lot of NPS surveys with my attitude on scales. She calmly says, “let’s get that down to a 3 or 4”.  And I’m thinking, let’s get this down to zero. I say to her that I can’t believe the pain. So much pain. And why is my jaw shaking so violently? She calmly replies, “well what did you think, you just had major surgery.” If I hadn’t been literally racked by unbelievable pain, I would have punched her in the face. Okay, I would not have literally punched her; it’s my metaphor when I’m really pissed at someone. Although, I don’t know, I might have actually punched her at that moment. Finally, the pain gets to the point where I’m not completely consumed by it, and we are rolled into the recovery room, where I then realize I’m wearing a completely different paper gown. Now, I have this incredible image of myself with arms and legs strapped down on a table where I am butt naked with robot arms roaming inside me. I pray there was no video. My husband comes in and goes through what the doctor told him. She said I did very well in surgery. Not sure how I could not have done well being drugged, naked, and at the mercy of a robot. The pain? Well, turns out I didn’t have 2 hernias, I had SIX! She calmly tells him for that reason, the surgery was a bit more complex and took longer. At some point, I did learn that instead of one slice on my side, I actually have three incision points. Must have been part of that more complex side. So boys and girls the learning here is don’t put off surgery, which I might have done for a while due to work stuff. Now that I have the scoop and am awake, everybody seems ready to get me up and moving and out of there. I just want more sleepy drugs and to go back to sleep, like, forever. I’m numb, and in pain, and confused; so let’s get up and go pee and get you in a wheelchair and to the car. I may be exaggerating a little, because I should emphasize the nurses and everyone at this hospital were so incredibly nice. I mean really really nice. I think at some point I even got that really good orange jello. They were that nice. But it didn’t really matter, because that did not stop the pain. Which, from the moment we got home and for the next 48 hours, my life revolved around pain and how quickly I could take another dose of crack. (okay, it was not literally crack but one of the family of legal Opioids). I have read a lot about addiction, and am terrified of these drugs, but you would not have known it those first two days, where those little white pills were my best friend. And THEN I find out I can also take ibuprofen in between doses of crack to help with the swelling.  Woo hoo!! I am happy to say by day 3 I had weaned myself off the Hydrocodone and was now mainly on Extra Strength Tylenol with the occasional 2 advils thrown in for good measure. The pain became manageable – especially if I didn’t move from bed :-).  I could actually sit up in bed without screaming, which was a major accomplishment. Oh, and did I mention I could even poop without feeling like I was ripping a new hernia? So, life was good. And I was hitting a lot of little applesauce cups to make sure I didn’t get nauseous when taking the meds. I love those things. Based on this experience, I have 7 key pieces of advice for anyone going into surgery, really of any kind, but especially surgery around your core.
  1. Take the meds. All the meds they offer, when they offer them.
  2. Get off the meds. As soon as possible.
  3. Ice is your best friend. Use ice wraps as much as you can. Ideally with a heated blanket, because you’ll be freezing, so it’s a constant balance.
  4. Eat all the jello, pudding and applesauce you want. I recommend the little cups, because you won’t be that hungry, and there’s something comforting about going back to being a 5 year old.
  5. Take an extra week off than you think you need. You will need it.
  6. Just stay in bed as much as you can (while still getting up every couple hours to walk around)
  7. Ask for help. A lot. Do nothing. Have someone bring you hot tea, water, drugs, applesauce, ice packs, etc.
Finally, hope for the best and assume the worst, so you don’t walk into surgery like you walk into the hair salon. YOUR BODY IS BEING CUT OPEN. Do you hear me? And now, I need to go have another applesauce cup.