My surgery was scheduled for 0800 so I was nil by mouth from 11pm the previous day, so I asked the nurse for some food at about half ten. It felt like it was my last meal, and I remember thinking that my toast and cereal was pretty naff compared to those on Death Row who got to choose whatever they wanted! I shouldn’t have thought of it that way, but part of me was thinking that this could potentially be my last meal and all I was getting was some toast (burnt and cold might I add) and some rice krispies. I don’t think I told Mum this was how I felt, but in all honesty I don’t really remember what I did and didn’t say that night.
I’d been given dinner earlier that evening by the hospital however, Mum hadn’t left my side and forgot about the opening hours of the canteen so I’d asked the nurse for extra toast so Mum could have some as she stayed that night. She hadn’t stayed with me in over week but I didn’t want to be alone. I was so scared. I had this horrible vision that the doctors would come into my room in the middle of the night and wake me up for surgery and spent most of the night crying and cuddling Mum. Again, I don’t remember much I just know I cried a lot and barely got any sleep.
Just after midnight an anaesthetist came round and had a chat with me, he had the job of trying to take some more blood. He was lovely and when he said he needed to take more blood I laughed and wished him luck. He was quite confident in his skills at being able to take blood from anyone and told me he’d been an anaesthetist for over 20 years and needles were “his thing” and he’d have no trouble. How wrong was he!
He tried to find my veins and his face just dropped when they weren’t there. He spent ages tapping away at my hands, wrists and creases of my elbows and in the end took the plunge and failed, multiple times. I think he tried about 12-15 times in the end, he’d been trying for a good hour when he got a phone call. He’d explained that he was the on call anaesthetist that night and if he was needed in surgery he would have to dash off, which he did!
He came back 45 minutes later having just delivered a baby and continued to try to find a vein. No luck, so it onto the arteries! He tried my left wrist first, and then moved onto my right. Just before he tried that he said if he couldn’t get any blood from this artery then he’d have to try the veins in my feet I’d already said there was no way in hell I was letting him anywhere near my feet! I was no longer terrified of needles, but I still didn’t like them and I still nervously tapped my foot whilst waiting for the needle to be inserted – and I most definitely still hated feet! So the thought of a needle going anywhere my feet was a big no no!
Thankfully he managed to get some blood from my artery, but it wasn’t a gusher like you’d expect it to be. No joke, the blood literally dripped ever so slowly into the tube so it took a couple of minutes to get enough out of me.
I did ask him if he wanted to take anymore whilst he had the needle there but he said one was plenty. I also made him promise to guard it with his life as that was all the blood anyone was getting out of me. Nerves and tiredness were definitely taking over so I tried to get some more sleep.
8am and I was woken up for a blood pressure check and told to have a wash and get ready for surgery. I didn’t really feel like showering, my room was so cold and I felt so weak on me feet still, so I sat down on the chair and Mum helped me. I’m pretty I just sat there and cried the whole time.
Just after a doctor came round and told me my slot was being pushed back as there was an emergency case overnight and that patient needed to go under the knife before I did. That worked in my favour though because although I’d already spent the last 23 hours having potassium pumped into me, my levels still weren’t quite as high as they’d hoped they would be so it gave them an opportunity to give me another bag of fluids or two.
I’m not sure if it was the same doctor or someone different, but they then sat down with me and explained all the risks of surgery and potential extra tubes I would wake up with. I’d already signed the consent form the previous day when Dr Alex and been round and he’d explained the main risks to me, however this guy went into far more detail. You could tell that he’d given this speech before because it was all very well rehearsed. At the same time it didn’t sound forced or fake, but you couldn’t definitely tell he’d done this once or twice before.
I wasn’t stupid, I knew there were risks with surgery – especially as I was classed as an emergency case there were bound to be more risks than usual. The fact it was an emergency procedure meant that my bowel was close to rupturing. If this were to happen then it would then leak faeces into my body, which would cause a toxic shock and possible death if it wasn’t caught (and stopped) in time. Hence why I needed to have the surgery as soon as possible, to prevent this from happening!
So that was one of the risks, he then explained that they would start the procedure keyhole, however if they were unable to remove my bowel through the incisions made (due to it being more inflamed than they’d predicted), then they would have to switch to open surgery. This would mean that instead of having three small scars on my tummy, I would have an incision that would go from just below my bra line, all the way down to my bikini line. If they were to do open surgery then the chances of infection would increase as the wounds would take longer to heal. Infection could lead to complications which in turn could lead to further surgery.
Onto the next risk… As said previously, my potassium levels were extremely low and I had been on a drip for the last 24 hours to try to bring them up enough to get me through surgery. I was told that I would most likely need another cannula so to not be surprised if I woke up with another one somewhere. However if my potassium levels were to crash during surgery then they would need to get some into my body as soon as possible to avoid a cardiac arrest. The quickest way to do this was through an arterial line, which would be a tube inserted into my neck as it’s the quickest way to your heart. Hearing this made me freak out, however I was told this would be unlikely to happen as I was (apparently) a “healthy young lady” and if it were to happen, I’d be asleep when they did it. Clearly I wasn’t that healthy, otherwise I wouldn’t have been needing to have that procedure, but other than the colitis I suppose you could say my health was relatively good.
Having a cardiac arrest was another risk, which if it happened they would need to try to restart my heart. Another risk was extreme blood loss. I had already signed to say I would accept a blood transfusion if I were to need one, but again I was told the chances were very slim however they cannot take any risks which is completely understandable. I was told that after most procedures, patients go to recovery and then back to the ward they left, so in my case that would be Mersea, unless they need to go to intensive care, or as it is called in Colchester General, the Critical Care Unit (CCU). I was told if I were to have a blood transfusion during surgery then I would go straight to CCU and skip the recovery ward as they would need to keep a closer eye on me. Again, I was told the chances of this happening were very unlikely…
Other tubes I was told I would certainly wake up with were oxygen tubes up my nose to help me breathe whilst under anaesthetic, and because they anaesthetic can stay in your system for a while even after you’ve woken up the tubes would still be there to help me breathe. I would also be connected to an ECG machine so they could check my heart rate and that everything was okay. That along with one of the oxygen grips on my finger – not sure on the medical term for them!
One that didn’t sound too pleasant to me at all was a nasogastric tube. This sounded absolutely horrible, but I was told I would need it in case I was sick whilst under the anaesthetic, as it was a safe and quick way to remove the contents of my stomach without putting my life at risk whilst I was under anaesthetic (I think that was the reasoning anyway!). It also doubles up as a feeding tube as I would be nil by mouth for a while after surgery too, especially with it being a lengthy procedure. They predicted it would take around four hours in total.
I would also have a stomach drain to remove any excess fluid after the surgery, a catheter as I would still need to pass urine, my new stoma, and I would have a button to click for pain relief connected to a box and a cannula. This pain relief would be morphine and I could press it every 6 minutes. This worried me but I was assured that I couldn’t overdose on the morphine because it’s set on a timer so that once you’ve pressed the button you cannot press it again for another 6 minutes. It all sounded scary but I was told several times it was okay to press the button and that was what it was for. I was told that the body heals better when it’s not in pain so if I needed pain relief, to press the button.
As if all these risks and tubes weren’t enough, I was also told I’d most likely be attached to a drip to keep a constant flow of fluids going into my body and that I would also be wearing inflatable boots. I was told they look like moon boots and that they would slowly inflate and deflate to stimulate the circulation in my legs and make my body think it was walking, in order to reduce the risks of blood clots. It sounded better than the horrible stockings I’d been forced to wear up until that point!
When I was being told all these tubes and risks, and what I could wake up with, it was hard to imagine where they would all fit on my body. I’m only 5 ft 3 so to have all these tubes and bandages on me, it didn’t seem like there’d actually be any flesh left visible! It also made me think of Frankenstein – I don’t know why, but it made me feel as if I’d wake up in a body that was completely unknown to me and all patchwork like. So here’s a rough idea of what I could have woken up looking like…
After all that, I finally went down for surgery just after midday. I cried as soon as the porter and doctor came to get me, and I cried all the way down to theatre.
As we approached the doors I was told to say goodbye to Mum and Dad and I was terrified. I kept thinking “what if I don’t wake up” and I was crying my eyes out. Even writing this now, nine weeks after surgery and in the comfort of my own bed, I’m still crying my eyes out at the memories of it all.
I’d had surgery at the hospital before so I knew you went into a little room before the main operating theatre, although this time I wouldn’t be awake to see the actual theatre. As I was wheeled in I was still crying and I was curled up in a ball clutching my knees.
It was quite a small room, barely enough space to move around my bed and there were three men and a lady already in there, and I could see people moving around in the room in front of me which was the theatre. I had my wristband checked, and was asked my name, date of birth, hospital number and allergies three times, once by each person.
Then as someone else was fiddling around with the cannula in my arm, one of the men leant down to speak to me. Through my tears I could just about make out it was the anaesthetist who had come into my room earlier and explained all the risks to me. Still as calm as before he just asked me why I was crying so much and I said I was scared of dying.
He told me it was his job to make sure that that didn’t happen.
I then told him I hoped he was good at his job and that’s the last thing I remember…