Trust Your Gut

On Monday 22nd October, I awoke to pain in my abdomen in the lower left side, a pain that I’d never felt before. It was in a specific area and felt tender to touch. In the early hours of that morning, I had wolfed down half a Big Mac (a stupid thing to do when you no longer have a stomach), so my initial thought was that there was something “stuck”; an obstruction. I figured I would just stick to liquids that day, but even drinking was causing pain. So I made my way to the emergency room…

I explained my situation to the Doctor that examined me, and he too suggested that it could be an obstruction – a partial one since I was still able to drink fluids and use the bathroom. I was referred to emergency room at the main hospital for further investigation.

After waiting some time, I was examined by two different Doctors that asked a lot of questions regarding my medical history. Despite me explaining that the pain got worse shortly after drinking and that I didn’t think it was a stricture (the pain happened 5 minutes or so after drinking, which I figured meant it was slightly further down than the anastomosis – where the oesophagus and small intestine is joined together), the Doctor said he wanted a second opinion from a Gynaecologist.

At this point it was after midnight and I had been at the hospital over 9 hours. I hadn’t eaten anything for almost 24 hours – I was exhausted.

I sat down with the Gynaecologist and explained the type of pain I was having and pointed to the area that was tender. Immediately she said that the pain was too high to be anything gynaecological related, but that she would examine me anyway to rule this out.

Everything was normal as expected, so I was referred back to Akuttmottak and was admitted. The return journey was much more exciting! The transporter walked us both to the basement and we got onto a golf cart!  She drove us through the underground tunnel that connects both Haukeland Hospital and “Kvinneklinikken” (I had no idea these two buildings were connected).

Nothing much happened over the next few days. The pain was still there, I felt nauseous constantly and I struggled to eat and drink. On Thursday, I was sent for an X-ray with contrast.

After drinking copious amounts of barium liquid and laying in various positions, the radiographer could see that everything was moving through my intestines normally and that there was nothing stuck. He explained that the part of intestine that was causing pain had quite a few twists and turns. Since I was able to eat a bit more than previous days and was feeling a little better, I got discharged the following day. At this point, the surgeon (that had operated on me last year) suggested the pain could have been a number of things. That it may have been something that was stuck, and had since passed, that it could be bacteria from food (without stomach acid, it’s easier to get sick from food), or it could be adhesions and scar tissue from the first surgery – something I’d never heard of before.

Over the weekend, still in pain, I stuck to a soft diet but tried to consume as many calories as possible since I’d lost weight that week. As the days went on, the pain became excruciating. Shortly after eating, I would be laid down on my side, crying in agony. I took painkillers, but nothing seemed to help. On Wednesday 31st (5 days after being discharged and my 10th day in pain), I saw my Doctor, who referred me straight back to Akuttmottak.

That night, I was referred for an ultrasound. Apart from a few small gallstones in my gallbladder, nothing else was found and the cause of the pain was still not diagnosed. The next step was a CT scan.

Two days later, a few hours after I’d had the CT scan, I was told that I had high ileus and suspected adhesions. At this point, they couldn’t rule out a hernia, and that the only way to diagnose and hopefully fix the problem was through surgery. Since my last surgery was open, this one had to be open too as it would be too risky to do it laparoscopically. From that moment, I had to begin fasting and prepare for surgery. After the surgeon left, I sobbed uncontrollably. Although I was relieved that I finally had a diagnosis, I was devastated to hear that I had to go through another major surgery.

On Sunday evening, still on the waiting list for surgery, I was allowed to go home for the night. Although I still couldn’t eat much without being in a lot of pain, it was nice to relax at home and get a proper nights sleep.

After shortly arriving back at the hospital on Monday morning (my 15th day of pain), I was told that I was going down for surgery. I quickly texted B and my mum, packed away my things and down I went.

Upon arrival, I spoke with the anaesthesiologist and discovered that the surgeon was one of the three that had performed my Total Gastrectomy last year. This was a relief to me, as I felt safer knowing that it was someone who knew how everything looked inside!

A couple of hours later, I was woken up and moved to the recovery ward where I spent quite a few hours. Despite them giving me anti-nausea medication prior to surgery, I was dry-heaving constantly. They gave me various drugs over the space of a few hours, and nothing seemed to be working. Since water was making the problem worse, they gave me an ice lolly, which seemed to settle things… It was probably the best ice lolly that I had ever tasted!

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A few hours after Surgery

That evening, the surgeon came to speak to me and explained that the surgery had been a success and that they had found adhesions. Basically, it had formed a string that had wrapped around part of my small intestine – this explained the pain shortly after eating, the tender and swollen area of my abdomen and why food was coming back up. Luckily, there had been no permanent damage to that part of my small intestine. After the surgery, I was allowed to eat normally again and noticed very quickly that the surgery had fixed the issue since I no longer had pain after eating and drinking.

The pain from the incision however, was very difficult to cope with this time. The epidural wasn’t working well and the pain medication wasn’t helping. After trying different regimens, they gave me morphine, which helped a lot.

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Scar Update (Left before surgery, Right after surgery)

So now I’m going through the recovery stage again… Lifting restrictions for 6 weeks and no exercise – only walking. Although the problem was fixed, abdominal surgery (whether it be laparoscopic or open) carries a risk of developing adhesions so they could form again. But I have to remain positive and hope that they don’t. 😇 🍀

 

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