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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mitteness

Surgery and Recovery (My Tumor Story Continued)

Disclaimer: There are a few graphic images below.

Surgery day is here! I arrive at 9:30. I'm the only patient I see for the first few hours. After checking in, changing and waiting, I'm taken to my stretcher at 10:10. My file is reviewed with the nurse. I wait another 40 minutes and my blood is drawn and IV is started. I see lots of staff but still no other patients. I'm situated by the nurses station so I get to hear and watch everyone's conversations. About an hour goes by and my surgeon comes by to introduce herself and go over the expectations of the surgery. Number 1 is to save my uterus and other ovary. Not too long later, my anesthetist comes by to introduce himself. He's great and thorough. He throws a lot of data at me, which I love. I'm pretty concerned with nausea post surgery so we choose to implement all of the tools to try to prevent that. I'm very prone to motion sickness (I can't look at my phone in the car) and whenever I get sick, it involves nausea 90% of the time. He says we'll head in soon. My surgery is scheduled for 12:30.

At about 12:45, three nurses come to get me. I walk to the OR with them carrying my IV bag. When I walk into the room, it looks like something straight out of the movies (or TV shows). I don't even have the wherewithal to take it all in. It's very overwhelming and real at this point. But, it's also moving quickly so I don't have any time to think about anything. I lay down on a narrow bed, start getting connected, breathe in a bit of oxygen quickly followed by the gas and I'm out. The next thing I know I'm in full panic mode crying from intense pain. I didn't think it would hurt this bad and I remember saying "I'm such a wuss." I'm being rolled onto my side for an emergency epidural. I ask where I'm at and what time it is. I'm in the recovery room at it's 5:40 pm. Turns out, after my first large dose of hydromorphone, I stopped breathing. They used narcan to reverse the "overdose" which resulted in my temporary extreme pain. They even had to bag valve me. Crazy stuff. Next thing I know, I'm in my room. The new women's hospital at HSC is beautiful. It's like being in a hotel. I'm feeling nauseous. Dinner is brought, but I can't eat. I chew peppermint gum, which helps a bit temporarily. They give me something for it, which doesn't seem to help at all. We decide to use IV gravol which makes me drowsy and eases the nausea. I'm able to eat some rice and peaches. I wake up the next morning feeling much better. I can even eat a bit more.

Day 1: I get up and walk every few hours. I'm feeling way better than I feel like I should. Once my catheter is out, peeing is the hardest task I have to do. It's impossible to bear down so I basically sit on the toilet and will my bladder to empty itself which feels impossible. I confirm with the nurse it's more from my epidural IV than from something more sinister. I have a history of UTIs and that's not another thing I want to deal with right now. I get briefed by a doctor who says my surgery went well and everything else looked good. The mass was on my left ovary. They only had to remove the tumor, ovary, fallopian tube, IUD (by request) and some lymph (for testing). The tumor has been sent to pathology and we'll have the report in 3-4 weeks at which time we'll decide what the next steps are. For now, the focus is simply recovery.

Day 2: My epidural is removed the second night at 4:00 am. We are watching my response for the next four hours to determine if I'm on my way to going home or staying another night. I seem to be doing okay and learn that the only other things I'm currently on are an anti inflammatory (Celebrex) and Tylenol (like, regular Tylenol; it cost me $1.62 to fill the prescription). My pain is well managed, my vitals are great, I'm walking regularly and I finally passed gas (the ultimate decision maker on whether or not you can go home). I call Quinn at 11:40 am to tell him I can be picked up. He's floored. "Do you feel ready?" He voiced his concern before I went in that I would try to leave too early. The nurses and doctor think I'm ready and I think I'm ready. I get dressed, walk out on my own and head home. I'm so excited to drink a decent cup of coffee. And I pooped, so #winning. Quinn keeps making me laugh which is actually miserable and funny at the same time. I've never been so afraid to sneeze in my life. It's amazing what you can will yourself to do or not to do. Also, I sleep great.

Day 3: I feel even better. Like, significantly better. I can't believe it, really. I don't feel the need to take any pain killers until 6:00 pm. I'm walking a bit and reading a lot. Moving very slowly. I can't quite stand up straight yet. I'm doing lots of ankle and wrist circles just to do some sort of movement. I still can't eat much, but I'm happy to have a freezer and fridge full of good choices (HUGEST thank you to everyone who contributed!). I weigh myself and I'm down 6 pounds which is less than I thought and I'm thankful for that. Hopefully I can keep it there. I don't want to lose too much muscle mass. Everything seems to irritate the incision when I'm standing and my stomach is visibly distended. I'm very comfortable sitting, thankfully. I go to bed tired around 9:00 and don't sleep well. I wake up at midnight to take more Tylenol in hopes that it helps me sleep, which it doesn't. I wake up unsettled a few times. Hopefully as my pain keeps decreasing and I can gradually increase my activity, sleep will get easier.

Day 4: I wake up feeling substantially better, again. Incredible. I'm able to avoid pain killers which allows me to use the pain to decide what I should or should not do. I get outside for two very short walks (less than 10 minutes each). The weather isn't great but being outside feels so good. My appetite still sucks. Wearing clothes is uncomfortable. I spend most of the day reading. I learn that the bottom of a squat feels really good. My belly swelling has went down quite a bit. It's impossible to take a deep breath. My sleep is better than last night, but worse than the first day. It's the first night I experience real pain, but it's brief and manageable.

Day 5: I wake up feeling about the same as yesterday, which is disappointing, but understandable. I can breathe deeper but I get winded quickly. I can only do a task for 5-10 minutes before I have to sit down again. I sneezed. YIKES. I'm so glad I went to a pelvic floor physio before my surgery. She gave me so many post op tricks that have made this process much easier, like how to brace my core with my hands or towel (GAME CHANGER). My heart rate increased while folding laundry, making it feel like I was in the middle of a workout. Wild. A friend of mine brought me to Value Village to buy a few dresses since wearing pants sucks right now. I slept better but my staples are getting more uncomfortable. Day 6: I'm moving easier and my endurance has increased noticeably. I call Cancer Care to schedule my staple removal for day 7 and they say they can't get me in until day 10. I nearly start crying. The staples are increasingly irritating. Everything is getting better except that. I have to hold my clothes away from my body when I'm walking because they are so bothersome. I was told I could see my own doctor to get them removed so I call them, but they only take day of appointments. I'll give them a call tomorrow and cross my fingers. If not, I'll survive, of course. My mental health is the best it's been in a while. I feel sharp. I start planning more productive projects and appointments for the coming weeks. For the first time since I've been home, I sleep in my own bed. Quinn likes to stay up later than I do so when I lay down in the living room, I'm cramping his style. I think I'm afraid of accidentally being bumped by him or the dog, which is why I've chosen the couch thus far. I actually sleep way better in bed than I anticipated.

Day 2 ------> Day 4 ------> Day 7

Day 7: I call my doctor and they can get me in! Yahoo! I drive myself to the clinic. It's my first drive since surgery. The staple removal is actually less painful than I anticipated, but there were definitely spots that felt very "pinchy", which the nurse warned me about. I sweated through it and I even squealed once. I weigh myself again. I lost another 6 pounds. I re-weigh myself thinking it's an error. I'm significantly less bloated and my appetite sucks, so I shouldn't be shocked, but I still am. I haven't started blood flow restriction therapy yet, but I'm even more motivated to do it now so I can prevent any additional muscle loss. I go on my longest walk today (30 minutes) and my clothes don't bother me! It was hard, though. I had to sit down when I got home. And,

although I can now take a deep breath when I am sitting, it's hard when I'm standing making recovery on the move difficult. My endurance is improving quickly but I still get winded fairly easily. I ran a few errands today on my own. It definitely feels like I'm on the upswing.

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