“Did you have a gastric bypass?”

I’ve been tied up since Sept. 13 with a major reconstructive surgery followed by serious complications. In my last post I thought about the possibility of dying from that surgery. Well, I came through the operation OK– but the complications did nearly kill me, several times! :~)

Now that I am out and about, I keep hearing this: “You look great!!!” …. and in the awkward silence that follows, I hear people assuming that I must have had a gastric bypass– because gradually, over the 4 months of surgery and complications, I’ve lost about 60 pounds.

To them (because they have not seen me all this time to witness the graduality of the change), I guess it looks like the rapid weight loss which bariatric-surgery patients receive.

But the energy they see in my face is not about the weight– it’s about having a metabolism working for the first time in 50 years, thanks to the Grace of God directing me to a great thyroid doctor!

So here is the Real Story, as best I can tell it “today.” (I have a few gory pix but no idea how to upload them here.)

 

The surgery was performed Sept. 13 at Williamsport Hospital by a surgeon who had done the same surgery for a friend of mine. (I am not going into the legal issues here.) We expected that the surgery would relieve lumbar spine arthritis, crazy-high blood pressure, and mobility impairments.

Knowing that I would need help after the surgery’s huge  incision (hip to hip), the Social Services Department tried but was unable to get me into a nursing home over the next 10 days, while I did physical therapy at the hospital. Based on information Greg and I had received, we had assumed at least a 2-week stay at a skilled nursing facility. But instead…..

From there I went home (9/24/12), with Laurel Home Health‘s wonderful home nursing care…. Drains fell out (Off to the ER…). Dressings got awful leaky…. It was soon apparent that the center 8″ of the 42″ incision was opening back up. That is called “dehiscence.” (Google up the details). Off to the ER again…

To treat the dehiscence I was at The Green Home for about 3 weeks and came back to Home Health with a Wound Vac and a partially-resolved case of severe anemia (~10/26/12). That amazing machine:

  • sucked gallons of messy fluids out of me,
  • promoted faster wound healing,
  • kept me awake at night with its noise, and
  • apparently masked an abscess forming under one end of the incision, over my right hip.

During this time Greg and I found out how impossible it is to duplicate all the supporting departments of a nursing home, with one caregiver who has a fulltime+ job.

I also found out how weak anemia makes a person, during that time, but thought then that it was just the no-thyroid weakness I had come to know so well… so it went untreated during those 3 weeks….

Well! When the Home Health weekend nurse (11/09/12) saw my bulging, blistered, leaking right hip the morning the abscess made itself known to ME, she sent me to the ER, stat! A later CT scan shows how close this abscess came to invading my colon with pus which the ER surgeon kindly let out through the skin he neatly punctured in the original incision line. He and my thyroid doc described it as a “fountain” of  “quarts of pus and dissolved fat tissue,” about the size of a “soccer ball.” Oh…. yeah…. well, great pain meds  had fogged up my awareness …. that when Greg drove, I could not close the passenger door… because of … that huge hip! Missed that clue!

From there I spent 4 days at Soldiers+Sailors Hospital, on IV antibiotics and iron, while Dr. Jill Burns tried to figure out :

  • what bug had made that abscess and how to zap it with the right drug…
  • whether the initial dehiscense (then almost healed) was connected to the abscess through a channel….
  • how much protein I needed to cram into my mouth to fill in this now-empty hip cavity…. and
  • whether the anemia would respond to the IV iron or would require a blood transfusion.

Two units of packed red blood cells and a long-to-grow pepto-streptococcus culture result later… with the wound vac no longer attached to me by its ever-present umbilical cord, I was sent back to The Green Home and their wonderful, life-giving support services (11/14/12) for 6+ weeks of PT, OT, and more wound care:

  • the closing of the first complication/dehiscence,
  • the packing of the abscessed hip cavity,
  • a scary-powerful oral antibiotic and probiotics to ward off C-diff, and
  • a leaking, off-center faux belly button the surgeon had built, which only quit leaking though its pinhole yesterday .

It is remarkable what 2 units of packed red blood cells can do for a body! With that–and with the thryoid meds finally near the right dosage– I began to heal rapidly. Those are some great nurses over there! I learned so much about wound care and “clean technique”!

I went off the pain meds that had kept me so confused, and started organizing how life at home would be different:

  • how much help I would need,
  • who could help,
  • how to advocate for myself calmly and effectively,
  • how to deal with mobility/house issues….

In short, I was finally able to see (and deploy!) the many angels and friends that had been all around me for years! And I often thought about my late mother‘s recent experience, especially as I used her nail files to keep my nails in trim.

Thanks to one angel especially–Allyn Hemenway who built me a fabulous ramp– I came home from that most recent nursing home admission Dec. 24, was on Home Health nursing and PT through January, and have now just been  released to activities off the property for:

  • limited activities focusing on rebuilding stamina,
  • continuing to lose weight, and
  • softening the extensive scar tissue.

That scar tissue is a reminder of the angels, but also a restriction on movement most people take for granted. It feels exactly like, to be graphic:

  • having a too-tight seatbelt, low across my hips, that I cannot take off,
  • which is holding two wooden bananas jammed in above my pubic bone,
  • plus tight corset-lacing up my middle where hernia repairs were stitched too tight,
  • plus a cinderblock fastened onto my right hip.

It makes all movement interesting, and sleeping….. not. I returned to pool workouts 2/2/13.

In my Facebook photo albums (http://www.facebook.com/sohinton/photos_albums), you can see that I am wearing the few clothing items that still fit. I am hoping a local seamstress can take in the rest so I can wear them for the coming year, before they must be given away to someone who is the size I used to be. To lose weight slowly and safely I estimate one more year in these clothes, so it is cheaper to alter than to buy new.

Many of my usual activities are still suspended for the foreseeable future; it remains unknown how many weeks or months it will take to fully recover from the surgery and the recent (or potential future) complications.

So….. “Did you have a gastric bypass?”

No!  To reiterate…. I finally got the thyroid diagnosis (auto-immune-type) to correct a metabolism not working properly since I was 8 years old. This necessitated a major reconstructive surgery that had been recommended, originally, to treat morbid hypertension and lumbar spine deterioration. (Why? Because losing weight spontaneously makes things that are already hanging too low… hang even lower, ’nuff said?)  :~) And TBTG I had a metabolism before I got into that OR!

 

My theme hymn is this stanza from a well-known classic:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares…

I have already come….

‘Twas Grace that brought me safe thus far…

And Grace will lead me home.

I hope to write more soon about my prayer life during this time. Your prayers continue to be appreciated as I enter the self-management phase of recovery, and as we work through a big-ticket insurance appeal.

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