The name of the blog explained

To say that I was a touch apprehensive about the possibility of another operation is an understatement. I was terrified. One thing was for sure, I was not having “routine” keyhole surgery again. Thankfully it wasn’t an option when repairing a 6 inch hole in my abdominal muscle wall; I was going to be opened up. Even so, I was scared. The last operation I had was not a roaring success (although technically it was as my hiatus hernia was fixed) and I really didn’t want to go through that sort of experience again.

I even resorted to a session of hypnotherapy to try to ease my nerves. I’m not sure how effective it was, but I certainly felt relaxed during it. By the time the operation came round, in September 2004, 18 months after the original operation, I felt a little more prepared.

Amazingly enough, it turned out that I had not been tested for MRSA enough to be regarded as clear of it so I was to have a room all to myself again. In the geriatric ward. Again. The women’s section. Again.

I went back to Poole General Hospital, settled into my room and was told that, due to an emergency admission my operation had been put back by 24 hours. Great! Another day to stew over it!

The following morning I was taken down to theatre. My last memory before the anaesthetic was a bit weird. I knew that my massive scar would go, but it was immediately above my belly button, so my last, groggy words were,
“can you ask the surgeon to try and keep the belly button?”

I opened my eyes. The recovery room. Was I on a ventilator? No. I was clearly alive. Either that or the afterlife was not as I expected. I felt terrible, but not in an “I’m about to die” way, more like an “I’ve just had major, but not life threatening, surgery” way. Oh, and there was a very unpleasant looking drain from my stomach.

I flitted in and out of consciousness as I was wheeled back to my room. I slept for about 5 months (a couple of hours, but it felt like an eternity) and woke up, sore, but ok. The pain was being eased by an epidural, so there was limited movement below the waist. I felt rough, but I knew that things were ok.

Over the next couple of days I started to feel brighter. Then a nurse came to change my dressing and clean my wound. The first thing I noticed was the nice, clean scar. It was such a difference and I knew that activities such as swimming wouldn’t be so embarrassing. With the shark-attack scar I felt really exposed if I was in a pool, as if i was being stared at. Now, however, it looked completely norm……

Ah! It was gone! No belly button!

My first feeling was shock. Followed by, “for heaven’s sake, it’s just a belly button! It never did anything for me, it just sat there accumulating fluff. Move on!” And that was it. A lifetime of having an answer to the classic training ice-breaker question of telling everyone something they didn’t know about you had started.

I was in hospital for a week. The only event of any note being the time I was washing myself, sitting on the bed, completely naked, when a very confused old lady walked in and just looked. My hands did the sensible thing and shot downwards, covering my modesty, while a nurse ran in and ushered the poor woman out.

I was off work for three weeks, then back to work. Back to normality with no hernia of any type. No operation to dread. No belly button.

I can live with that.

Home, but a bit lumpy!

I was welcomed back home by a massive firework display at home. Well, maybe not at home, but at Baghdad. And not fireworks, but missiles. Yes, I was home in time to watch endless rolling news reports about the US/UK invasion of Iraq, which went well!

We stayed with Mary’s parents for the first few months as I got adjusted to home life and was still very weak. I could walk with the aid of sticks, but got tired out extremely quickly so I spent most of my time sitting down watching telly. Mary’s dad hired a wheelchair and took me for a walk (well, push) along the seafront, blanket over my knees, too tired to fully respond to people I knew, but it was great to be outside.

As time went by I gained strength and was able to ditch the sticks one at a time. My appetite increased as well. I asked for pizza on my first night back home, but could hardly eat any of it. That eventually changed, though, and I started to put back on some of the weight I’d lost. Then some more. And more still. I like food.

To start with I also needed a nurse to visit me at home to change the dressings on my, still open, stomach wound, as the surgery didn’t want the great unwashed (ok, someone with MRSA) coming in every day. I made it to the stage, though, where I could change the dressings myself and we were just left with all the relevant equipment, and painkillers, along with some very hefty prescription charges. By changing the dressings on the wound I could see that it was getting gradually smaller and started to look forward to not having any dressings at all.

At the end of May, Mary saw a job advertised in the local branch of Barclays Bank. It was a little less pay than I was on at the time, but it was walkable from home and the job paid more than 3 weeks sick pay before fobbing you off with SSP. I went for it, probably before I was really strong enough, but found myself getting an interview. I went to Dorchester for the interview and, much to my surprise (especially as I still had an open wound on my stomach which, to put it bluntly, smelled quite badly) I got the job. I started on July 15th, 2 weeks before a 30th birthday which for a while it didn’t look like I was going to see.

So, normal service was resumed. I was back in my own house, back at work and had a scar on my stomach which could pass for the result of a shark attack. I mean, it was massive! I had now, however, noticed something very odd. Moving lumps around the scar, especially around an hour after I’d eaten. I knew what it was, but needed to see a doctor to confirm it. An incisional hernia.

What had happened was this: Because the wound had been left to heal naturally and not stitched back up, the abdominal muscle wall had also not healed properly. What I could see was my intestine and the movement was it digesting dinner. Lovely! And strangely interesting as well. It couldn’t stay like it, though, which meant one thing. Another operation.

Homeward bound

To say I had made a quicker recovery than expected was an understatement. 5 weeks after being admitted to A&E I was up on a general ward and working harder than ever at my walking. I was able to take more visitors and my youngest son, Jamie, who was only 2 at the time, came to see me for the first time.

For my physio sessions I would be wheeled down to the hospital gym and I would practice walking with sticks on flat ground, eventually progressing to a small set of wooden steps, which felt like climbing Everest at first. I would also get the chance to sit on an exercise bike, which I found a lot easier as I wasn’t supporting my whole weight on my legs, but enabled me to add some strength to them. I could feel myself getting stronger through the day.

On this ward I saw something which totally shocked me. As I have said, I was in isolation due to the MRSA (unclean! unclean!). Every day the cleaner would come round with a mop and bucket, open the door, drag the mop through the door, mopping as she went, mopped the floor in my room and mopped her way back out. What was the point of the isolation? Don’t get me wrong, I liked the privacy, but really! You wonder how hospitals can be cleaned every day, yet bugs like MRSA can still spread, there’s your answer.

Although I couldn’t leave the room, I enjoyed having the ability to get myself out of bed and walk around it whenever I wanted. It still left me incredibly tired just making a few steps, but it felt great. What wasn’t so great was the fact that I still had a whacking great open wound on my abdomen, left open to avoid any abscesses, which needed cleaning every day. This wasn’t a nice gentle wash, but the cutting out of dirty wound tissue. As this would have been very painful, I was allowed that staple of the maternity ward, gas and air. I don’t know what the street value of this stuff would be, but I reckon it would be rather high. I felt amazing as my abdomen was hacked at by pink elephants and sparkly unicorns.

After a couple of weeks I was ready to attempt…… THE STAIRS!!!!! (Dun dun dunnnnnn!) OK, slight over dramatisation there, but this was big. There were three flights and I was to try one to start with, which I did with surprising ease and speed. What I didn’t do was stop. I immediately went for the next flight, then the next one. I had made it to the top, first go. The challenge was to get back down safely, which I did with equal ease/determination. I knew what this meant. Within a couple of days, and a couple of check ups, I was finally given the ok to go home. It had been 7 weeks, some days looked like the only way I was leaving was in a box, but I was actually going home. On 19th March 2003 I had everything packed and was finally discharged from inpatient care. I went out via ITU, to visit the nurses there who I owe my life to and give then some flowers and chocolates, but nothing could do justice to what I felt about the work that they do. Then I walked out of the doors of th hospital, still using 2 sticks, got into the passenger seat of my father-in-law’s Chrysler Voyager, and made the journey from Poole to Swanage I had been aiming for.