post surgery

Thursday May 17

Lots of consent forms. Lots of brief chats with nurses, doctors and an anaesthetist. Each time the door opened, I thought I was going down to theatre and the nerves jangled. Finally, at 08:45, I was wheeled down to the basement on a trolley and the lengthy operation got underway.

I was woken up around 10pm in the recovery room to be told ‘The operation went well and we are just giving you something to make you sleep tonight’. Zzzzzzzz.

Next morning, I woke up in the Critical Care Unit (CCU). Similar to a normal hospital ward but each patient had their own dedicated nurse. Constant (15 minute) monitoring of blood pressure, temperature, pulse and other vital signs.

My surgery was complex and involved three different surgical teams; colorectal surgeon (tumour removal), plastic surgeon (used one of my six-pack tummy muscles to reconstruct my rear end) and urologist (re-routed waterworks). Consequently, the doctor’s morning rounds meant three separate visits; one from each different team.

I was aware I had six tubes draining various fluids from my body and I imagined each drain being a different colour (amber, green, yellow, red etc) but I preferred not to lean sideways and try to confirm this theory.

I also had an intravenous drip (via a neck line) feeding me a white gloopy substance that looked reminiscent of PVA glue. The nurse told me this was liquid food (TPN) together with nutrients, minerals, electrolytes etc as the bowel had basically shut down after the trauma of the surgery.

I also had a nasogastric tube up my nose and a catheter in my arm to get more drugs and antibiotics into me.

All in all pretty overwhelming, but nothing I hadn’t been forewarned about, and I probably looked a real sight to my visitors but I felt pretty good – tired and aching a bit – although I was on pretty strong morphine which undoubtedly eased the pain.

However, as I came round and started chatting with the male nurse (who was a Norwich fan), I realised I was thirsty – very thirsty. In fact, I was parched and I felt like I’d drunk 12 pints of Stella Artois the night before and then been forced to lick a dusty carpet.

When the nurse asked ‘Can I get you anything ?’, I seized the chance and politely asked for a glass of water. He hesitated and said ‘OK but I’ll just have to ask a doctor first’.

Five minutes later, he returned empty handed. No glass of water. ‘Sorry – no water allowed just yet…’ He reached into a drawer and pulled out a straw with a sponge cube on the end. He soaked the sponge cube under a cold water tap and passed it to me. ‘Here – take this and suck on it’ [ No soft porn jokes here – Ed ]

I took the tiny sponge cube, placed it in my mouth and sucked on it. I felt a dribble of water trickle down my throat. I sucked again hard on the sponge, greedily extracting every single, last drop of water. I passed the straw back to the nurse ‘That was great – but please can I have another ?’. ‘No – sorry but that’s it for 4 hours’. Sigh.

The surgical team visited and the surgeon told me the operation took a long time (12 hours) and was ‘challenging’ but ultimately successful. I asked him if he’d been able to remove all of the tumour and he replied ‘Yes – we’re confident we got it all out’. I could have screamed with joy and delight but felt pretty weak so I just said ‘Oh – that’s great news. Thank you’ which seemed a woefully inadequate response to the surgeon who had probably, without being over dramatic, saved my life.

My ever increasing pile of medical notes were left on my bedside tray and a single entry caught my eye:

Clinical outcome: Tumour excised.

A brilliant surgeon and a man of few words.