For those of you who remember The Far Side, by Gary Larson, you’ll probably recall the comic featured above. It is one of my favorites. It also came to mind as I wondered how best to write this post. You see, the morning of Thursday, Jan 18th, the day after my previous post where I proclaimed, “I’m alright folks,” I awoke to unfortunately familiar abdominal cramps and other symptoms associated with a bowel blockage–clogged pipes as I like to say. It wasn’t long before I was sick again, losing fluid like crazy and unable to eat anything solid. As I lay on the couch with a heating pad, I considered that it may have been unwise to use Scripture somewhat frivolously by referencing God’s good purpose for wine and adding a winking emoji at the end of my last post, since I have been mostly earnest about Scripture in the past. So, this is how I picture God’s reaction to reading that post (he follows me, of course): “Making light of my word?? Hmm? Smite button!”
I kid of course. Again.
I’m back on liquids and now weigh less than many of the kids in my 7th grade son’s basketball league. I certainly weigh less than I did when I got married, so I had to remove my ring. I realize, now, that I can’t put off the unavoidable. I’m scheduled for surgery this Monday to correct whatever is wrong inside my small bowel–the ileum to be exact. And no, I don’t see this as a lack of God’s goodness but rather His providence to protect me from trying to manage what is obviously a serious issue. Though no CT scan shows an obstruction, my local GI surgeon is concerned that I either have a kink or some other benign physical problem or it could possibly be a tumor that is indiscernible from inflammation on imaging (I know, frustrating).
I’ll hold much of the details, but I’ll explain how the surgery affects my current therapy. I’ve written previously about my fear of being removed from the experimental trial by being off treatment for too long. I spoke with my oncologist, and she explained it simply. If the complication is not related to disease, then I can restart treatment as soon as I’ve healed sufficiently from the surgery. If it is disease, well, I’m automatically off the trial because I’ve experienced progression. There is no reason for me to feel that this is unfair, as I’d need to change therapy because the drugs are no longer working, anyway. The immediate concern, though, is my being off treatment for an extended period. We just have to hope and pray that my disease remains stable until I’m able to begin therapy again, whatever form it takes.
Since informing my doctors of the recurrence of bowel blockage, much transpired quickly. On Thursday, despite the short time frame, the surgical team scheduled me for the operation on Monday. The following day, I spent a couple of hours at the hospital for pre-op. Though I really wish my current information from the various health care facilities was shared (cloud computing anyone?), I answer the questions about my history and prescriptions, allow the blood draws and EKGs, and generally try to be a patient patient, because I realize the medical staff has a job to do. I have the highest respect and admiration for people in health care, particularly nurses. But, despite the circumstances, I try to make the best of the situation and have a good time with them, too.
One individual worth mentioning is my “wound/ostomy” nurse, Jane, who works at Athens Regional. She has been incredibly helpful the past year or so with my struggles with the ileostomy, but we’ve actually become friends, too. She’s professional, and the best around at what she does, but she’s also a crack-up. And she likes craft beer. I honestly look forward to my visits with her, even when I must endure the personal embarrassment of removing my pouch and performing stoma care together. It’s icky, to me at least, but Jane is great at making me feel comfortable.
So, on Friday, I welcomed a special visit from her, as she entered the consultation room, pen in hand, to mark a spot on my belly where the doctor might install a colostomy should that possibility exist (this is the desired outcome, but the surgeon will not know what is possible until he looks inside my abdomen). We were doing our usual chatting and joking, but then she used her thumb and forefinger to measure the distance from my belly button to my current stoma on my right side. And then, attempting to hold her fingers at that distance, she measured from my belly button to the open area on the left side. She made a small, green mark at what she considered an equidistant location. But, as I watched, I thought her fingers contracted ever so slightly, so I used my thumb and forefinger to measure again, and told her to mark a bit farther left. She looked up at me with a wry grin and said, “ok, let’s do this…” And she wrote the word “Yes” across my belly about an inch wide, a wordless action that said she knew what she was doing but was tolerating me. I just laughed and gave her a high five. I turned my head away from her, and with a voice meant to indicate that I was thinking out loud, said, “Brent, she thinks you’re a control freak, and this is how she patiently, humorously handles you.” You see, Jane revealed several months ago that she thinks I’m a control freak. But she said it with a smile. Deep down I know she’s right.
I have many great stories of time spent with medical staff and assistants, various techs, nurses of a myriad specialties, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and, yes, the doctors, too. These people have had a tremendous positive impact on me and have enriched this difficult journey with an abundance of kindness and support to combat the pain and difficulty. Indeed, I hope at least one of my children chooses a career in health care.
So, to recap, I’m to have my 4th abdominal surgery on Monday at Piedmont Athens Regional. At this point, the doctor doesn’t know exactly how long the operation will be or what it will entail. He won’t know until he has a look inside. They expect I’ll be in the hospital 3-5 days. We fight on. Thanks again for all the love.