This is me, two weeks after my liver resection to remove a tumour. I look remarkably well, but not every picture tells the true story, so here is my tale of my first two weeks post op.
Ten Days of Hell
Firstly, a few facts. I was scheduled for surgery in Cardiff on 27th July, three months after my colon resection. A week prior to surgery I had another CT scan to ascertain the liver tumour’s development. It had grown about 1 cm to be 4.5 cm in diameter.
Lying in the pre op area, just before anaesthesia, I looked over to the screen in the corner. It was showing the CT scan and the tumour looked quite dominant. I was encouraged to sit up and after some few minutes of manipulation they inserted the epidural into my spine. I laid back down and within moments everything was gone.
I don’t recall waking up. I do have some recollection of that first 24 hours, as I was held in the PACU (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit), with one nurse caring for two of us patients. I woke up some time/day later back on my ward, in a dazed state.
I then managed to make my recovery more challenging by contracting Pneumonia. One of my fellow patients told me a day later that I’d been hallucinating and they were discussing moving me to Intensive Care. Fortunately, the antibiotics took hold and within a day I was stable.
Those next few days in hospital are a mess of incoherent memories and flashes of clarity. The terrible food, stumbling slowly to the toilet, watching downloaded TV on my laptop and the occasional visit from the surgery team.
During one of the latter I was given more detail about the surgery. When Mr Kumar, the surgeon, had opened me up the tumour had grown again from the last CT scan, only 2 weeks earlier. This meant that he had to take more of the right-hand side of my liver than he had planned, to be sure of removing all the cancer. 65% was removed! But it will all grow back and he said, “Within 8 – 10 weeks you’ll be back to normal.” Not something that seemed possible at the time and in the days to follow.
I was released, somewhat to my surprise on the Friday, just 5 days after surgery. Dinah came to pick me up and I was wheeled to the door. Back home I was capable of very little. Just moving from A to B was a huge effort and fraught with danger as my footsteps were unsteady and my balance unreliable. But Dinah was my saviour, doing everything that I couldn’t and ensuring I rested as much as possible.
I left hospital with a range of medications; painkillers, anti-sickness and antibiotics. After one night of chaos it became apparent that some of these were affecting my recovery. That first night I had uncontrollable muscle spasms in my arms, restlessness and sleeplessness. We researched the painkillers – Tramadol, an opiate – and discovered that these side effects were part of its very long list of potential impacts upon the body. So I stopped taking them, and just stuck with one paracetamol, morning and night. That seemed more tolerable.
However, the night time disturbances continued and the lack of sleep was ruining me. Further research revealed that both the antibiotics and anti-sickness drugs had the potential to produce the same side effects. So I gave them both up too. My GP and visiting phlebotomist both encouraged me to finish the course of antibiotics, for fear of the pneumonia returning. But I thought sleep was the greater need, and that as it had been a week since infection I would take that risk.
Unfortunately, the symptoms took another few days to dissipate, so I knocked myself out with sleeping tablets, which left me with a morning daze, but at least I was getting some sleep. At this point, about a week in, it’s all a little blurry, my staggering about the house was painful, but less dangerous. I was still exhausted most of the time, and supplemented my limited sleep with afternoon Yoga Nidra and naps, a lifesaver.
Everyday was a huge struggle. Not just physically. Thoughts of this becoming endless and doubts about further recovery rattled about my addled mind. I knew that I just had to be patient, but a little improvement would be welcome. My liver ached, I liked to think because it was growing, and my stitched up belly (see below) felt stretched tight and bloated. But, thanks to Dinah I was eating really well, albeit smaller portions, but good healthy food. I just sat, splattered on the sofa, and watched the Commonwealth Games and streamed TV series. And waited.
A Glimmer of Hope
Around day eleven post op, I felt that I could walk a little. We decided that I would try and walk with Dinah, when she was walking Mabel, but that I would attempt to get to the first bench in Singleton Park, and then sit and wait until they returned. Blessed by warm sunny weather, once I got to the bench – a full 300 metres from my house – I would sit, plug in my ear buds, listen to some tunes and watch the world passing. Most people said, “Morning” as they passed, and some stopped for a chat about their dog or the weather. I sat and soaked up the warming sun.
Finally, some 5 days after stopping most meds, I was sleeping well and I began to feel marginally better each day. I began to extend my walk to a further bench, and sometimes twice in the day. I am still quite tired a lot of the time but there a small signs that I am returning to myself. My positivity and ‘witty’ banter are beginning to resurface. Just occasionally, but enough for me to feel that the corner has been turned. I am on the road to full recovery. I just need to remain patient and stay with how each day is.
None of this would have been possible without the fantastic support I have received from Dinah and Taylor in the house. Dinah has done everything that I couldn’t with a smile and a light heart. Taylor, my son, has contributed around the house and walking the hound. India, my daughter, has maintained regular contact and recently came round to cook us all fabulous Vietnamese Summer Rolls. And then there have been the CNS team from Cardiff and my local GP. They have always been on hand for guidance and support and they have liaised effectively about my care through their IT systems.
Finally, there have been messages of support and checking in from close friends and those of you who I know through my photography. All of these contribute to my recovery. I couldn’t be doing this without this extended team of supporters. I thank you all and send you all my love.