Life after Surgery

I thought I’d share some of the ups and downs of my experiences after surgery.

I had stomach surgery three months ago, July 13, around 7:30 in the morning. I don’t recall much after waking up that first day—I was groggy and confused, but I do remember how happy I was to see my wife. I couldn’t turn or sit up in bed—the pain from moving kept me immobile, so I stared at the ceiling a lot and prayed I wouldn’t cough or sneeze.

My stomach was stapled and bandaged with thick white gauze and lots of tape, and I was hooked up to an NG (nasogastric) tube, which was a long, thin, flexible tube inserted through my nose and down into my stomach, which kept me fed and medicated by IVs of various sizes and colors. I couldn’t eat or drink anything, so I listened to my belly rumble for nourishment of the old-fashioned kind. Another tube, a JP (Jackson-Pratt) drain from the right side of my stomach, collected bodily fluids from the surgical site and collected them in a bulb that had been squeezed like an old tennis ball. It slowly expanded and sucked the fluids out of my stomach.

On day 2, the pain lessened enough that I was able to get out of bed and walk a little, despite the medical contraptions connected to me. I did better when the unit nurses moved me—bed and all—to a room on the other side of the hospital later that day. One of the nurses had lowered the bed during the transport, so I found it easier to get my feet to the floor. It was a slow and still painful procedure getting out of bed and walking, but I was determined to get healthy again. This attitude pleased my physical therapy nurse, so she added a few things to my To Do list.

When I wasn’t walking or doing chores on my list, I spent the time in bed and bored, so I read Kindle books and WordPress blogs, and hung out at Facebook on my phone and tablet when my wife wasn’t at my bedside. I never felt as lonesome as I did when my wife wasn’t with me.

My room nurses removed the NG tube and wicks (small, absorbent gauze between my staples) on day 4 (July 16). Then I had my first taste of water; it was delicious. Food came in liquids and gels—my favorite was lime gelatin. The physical therapy nurse visited me and added more exercises to my To Do list. I did them fine with hardly any pain.

On day 5, my room nurses awaited my first bowel movement. It didn’t happen, so I spent another day in the hospital, eating real food—soft and bland—and strolling around the hallways to fight boredom. I’m not much of a TV watcher, so I read a few more books.

The awaited BM arrived on the night of day 5, so my surgeons (I had two) came to see me the morning of day 6 and released me to go home. When I got home, I took to my recliner and slept for several hours.

I started Home Health therapy the next day, stuck to my exercises, and felt good during the rest of July. I had my first shower on the 29th; it was heavenly.

Two days later, my face and hands swelled. To this day, my doctors don’t know why, but the consensus is it’s my thyroid. I take thyroid medicine (have been for almost twenty year) and I was off my medicine during my hospital stay. Apparently, it knocked my thyroid levels out of whack, so I’m under a stronger dosage and awaiting more lab work and another consultation next month. Meanwhile, I have bouts with swollen lips, nose, eyelids, and hands. I’m writing this today (October 25) with a swollen left hand. The swelling isn’t life threatening (as far as the doctors say), though my throat swelled one time in August and had me worried.

I went back to work full-time August 24 and came home exhausted. I didn’t realize how much I charged through life until I couldn’t. Stomach surgery will do that to you.

Coming home weak, shaky and exhausted happened every day until September 17 when I had another bout with facial swelling and called off. My family doctor put me on a leave of absence. I’m still on it until November 2.

I still get weak and shaky. I wake up feeling tired. So, frankly, I’m uncertain whether I’m ready to go back to work at the old 9-to-5. Sure, I could use the paycheck, but how many times will I end up calling off because portions of my face are swelled to where I can’t see or talk and my hands can’t grip anything?

Thursday, I have an endoscopy scheduled. Next month, I have blood tests, probably another CT scan of my thyroid, and a few other tests on the books going into December. That means more days missed at work from calling off.

So, I’m seriously looking into retiring. I’m 63 years old and fifteen weeks away from turning 64. I planned to work until my full retirement age. That’s three years away and looking impossible to achieve. I could work part time. But I’d lose my health benefits if I did—not that my job’s health benefits are very good to begin with.

Retiring is a big decision. Can I afford to live on Social Security? I don’t know. But the biggest quest, I think, is: Where do I see myself in five years and how do I see my path of getting there?

With all the time I’ve had in recuperation mode, I’ve come to an insightful realization. I’m not the person I was before my surgery. And given my current status, I like being home with my wife. I like being able to go outdoors and be in touch with nature again. I love watching the leaves change color, the animals that scamper in my yard, and the way the trees and grass sway in breezes. October is a great time to change gears, relax, enjoy the out-of-doors, and embrace each moment as it arrives. My job took that away from me. It consumed much of my time and deadened me to the things I truly find beautiful in life.

I want to continue embracing each moment of that kind of life with joy, glad to think that my previous busy 9-to-5 life can be a closed chapter in my history.

My surgery saved my life. My sincerest hope is that I’ll continue living several years more. And with that life, I want to appreciate the beauty around me without dreading the thought of shutting the window on that part of my soul for the pittance of a paycheck from a 9-to-5 job I don’t particularly care about anymore.

Living

Three months ago to the date on the calendar, I almost died.

I woke up a little after midnight that Monday morning because I had excruciating stomach pain. My wife drove me to our hospital’s emergency room where they x-rayed my stomach and then loaded me into an ambulance and sped me north to one of the two major “city hospitals” where the awaiting surgeons sliced open my stomach and repaired a torn duodenal ulcer. Later, one of my surgeons told me that if I had waited an hour longer, I would have died.

That was some heavy info to ponder while I lay recuperating in a hospital bed for a week. My nurses made sure there was no sepsis or complications from the surgery, and I pondered about the important things in life while I made sure to exercise my legs and lungs to prevent blood clots.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the hospital allowed me only one visitor, which I had to approve in writing the best I could while on my back. I chose my wife, of course, and she visited nearly every day while I kept in touch with family and friends via phone and (shudder) Facebook. (I don’t like Facebook, but that’s another post for another time.)

Because of the drive and her part-time work schedule, my wife could only visit for four or five hours. We have been married for 39 years (40 in November) and she is my partner, best friend, and my crutch to lean on when I need to lean. So, when she wasn’t at my side and I wasn’t on my phone, the rest of the time I was busy soul searching. (I’ve been told almost dying can do that to a person.)

When I left the hospital and went home to finish recuperating, my love and appreciation for my wife and family had grown. My cares and worries about my job, social status, and everything outside my family circle became less important. Being anything outside my role as husband, dad, and grandfather, whether artist, author, or that guy who works in the photo center at a Walmart store: not important.

Three months ago, I almost died. But three months ago, I started living again.

Cold Is the Night [poetry]

Alone
Cold is the night
Lonely silence until she hums music
Sweet songs in her head
Humming hymns and strumming chords of her favorite songs
Fingers playing music
Pressing hot reflections of a time gone by

A door slams somewhere far away
Footsteps fade away
No sound but her humming
She
Alone again
Shivers in the cold behind closed doors

Someone enters and lights a fire
A lover spreading warmth
Blankets of heat make life cozy
Love makes all music more attractive

All the same
Cold is the night
For musicians playing alone


Penned July 22, 2007

Perfect Moment [poetry]

For a perfect moment
I turn to touch you with my lips
I give you sweet kisses down
making you tremble with anticipation
I take you to the edge of a precipice—
a teeter at the edge of a fall

You cling to me
but you fall in the rush of your sweet release
crying your passion
into a beautiful embryonic abyss of mind and soul

You open your eyes and smile at me
You tell me how perfect everything feels
making us sigh and wish it were so
We return from the depths of our reverie
taking our time while we go

Passing [poetry]

Sunday mirrored light of a hot sun reflecting off of brick buildings and parkways
where a hospital sits deep brown and yellow in its last degree,
fading like the old woman inside dying with a smile on her face,
happy to be leaving.

But I with a burlesque smile am sad to watch her go.

She should be dying without the day outdoors calling me,
pulling at me to be carefree.

I close the curtains and watch her leave
with no one else in the room to bear witness to her final breath,
one last windstream passing over silent lips
while mine tremble out a shackled goodbye.

Her hand falls softly away from mine
for she has the stars to touch now.

Wilderness Run [fiction]

Across the wilderness’s heated hardness growing, Sarah quickened with memories rushing at her. She ran until she had to rest, wishing for a Long Island iced tea to quench her thirst and dull the memory of leaving him behind in San Diego all those years ago.

She spat sand as he surfed in on a Pacific memory, found her, and filled her thoughts with his sweet and sour past. She chose to diet on the sweet parts—her crutch, always.

Sweet was the sugar on her mind, melting to soft goo that made her speech simple and her brain drowsy and caused her to curl into a fetal position and doze from reality.

The creature stood over her, watching while she slept.

The Haunting [fiction]

Rain woke her.

It struck against curtained glass like the nails of something evil wanting to come inside.

Sarah sought safety behind two pillows a kiss away from each other; his picture and a bottle of Jim Beam Black watched over her in the swoon of the night.

Soft chills shivered though her body seeking the safety and warmth of his body in memory.

It was a rainy night when they first made love. It was a rainy night when they stopped. It will be this bed and rainy nights that will entangle, hold, and haunt her forever.

Black and White [fiction]

There it was in black and white, the feeling that drove Sarah mad—old tingles that used to come in color when she was a teenager. But the passage into adulthood had clouded the rainbow with storms, her eyes searching with a half-smile for the sunlight behind the clouds.

Marriage had been a shelter from the rain—his love for her as loud as thunder. But a meddling Zeus struck their tree of life. Its fruit only seeded twice before it died with the tree.

Damn the gods, she vowed.

Still, they tried new things to sow new gardens—all of which withered and died. They whispered hope to each other and grasped at whatever hunger and edge they felt. Sometimes they hoped too much; their attempts derailed like a speeding train on a mountainside, crashing them against bitter rocks, hurling them bleeding far apart, and their good times forgotten amidst hostile after-thoughts.

Some days she hid within the shadows of her walls, and days when she limped through life fractured and poured out, almost empty. Other days she awoke to bedroom curtains flapping from a desert wind blowing hope. A crack in Zeus’s armor. A rainbow on the horizon. A sudden tingle and a thousand syllables on her tongue and lips.

But rain came always and stole her color.

Dark.

Black and white.

And through it all, she held on harder than she ever tried letting go.

That had to be worth something.

Rain [poetry]

Rain on the windows paints calligraphy on his walls—

He recites verses
to music playing
where pear flower stars burst forth
in the multicolored bowl on his kitchen table
where he once compared nature with artifice
and made love to the girl with ornamental hair

That’s what happens, she says to him now, when tradition
and art
are sacrificed
for the preservation of book pressed flowers

When I A Boy [poetry]

When I, a boy, when I could,
I voyaged out into your cool company—
the coldness of boots pulled on at the doorstep
before walking that large solitude
of no cricket, no owl;
walking with silent snow feet among birdless woods
tossed among the taste of echoed blood
at such a time of the coyote,
invisible and dull by the snow.

My secret ice-making ice-haiku poems
driving me to the warmth of your breath—
letting me dream my dreams of romance
written at twilight by fire
in the hidden garden of no ordinary lovers,
letting me feel again the enticing light
that secretly guided me like the slow slipper of moss
to the doorstep of your excited hands—
when I, a boy, when I could.

Love [fiction]

Again, Sarah was moved, obsessed, reaching out, entwined. Next to her open window, moonlight covered them as they climbed higher; the peak ever closer, closing in; all the right switches connected. And in that moment, she found it, or what she believed it to be: Love! It embraced her in brilliant colors and strengthened her raison d’être. It shattered the darkness of doubt deep within her. Like a new day dawn filling a long night’s sky, life became love.

Only for a moment until the moment was gone.

And in her return to lonely singleness she started over again.

When Dawn Came (Revisited) [poetry]

It was here one night,
among white blossoms and junipers,
that we lay and were touched
while the rest of the world snored
in their small beds.

We breathed frost words to breezes on branches,
breathing deeply in the deep woods
with no earthly destination,
hidden behind the pulse of dawn
throbbing on a trigger’s touch.

You were delicate incense I lit alone.

In silence,
my fingers found the sweep of stars on bare skin—
a house-warmth murmur of Christmas gold when you breathed.

You were a bird
whose only cry came in color in the company of starlight,
whistling up the violets
in a garden wilderness of morning delight,
flowering into streaming pink and gold,
and fleshed with last night’s rose petals when dawn came to us.