WHAT TO EXPECT: There is no way to sugar-coat this, recovering from surgery is the pits.
You will start in the ICU, which will be such a blur it won’t mean anything to you. You’ll then be moved to a regular hospital room where the challenges begin.
You will be heavily medicated so it is unlikely there will be any pain. There will be a tube going through your nose to your redone digestive system. There will likely be a feeding tube and a drainage tube sticking out of your abdomen, which is gross but you will soon get used to it.
You will sleep on your back because you can’t roll over. This won’t matter much because you won’t exactly sleep anyway. You’ll just sort of fade in and out.
Within a day or so of your surgery, they will have you walking. This improves your overall health and speeds the healing process.
They will also give you a little plastic thing called an incentive spirometer. You breath into it many times a day to keep your lungs from getting congested.
In the beginning you will be fed through a tube and not allowed to eat anything. They will give you a glass of ice water with a sponge on a stick you can use to rinse out your mouth. That ice water will taste better than anything you have ever put in your mouth before.
The primary way the medical professionals determine your digestive system has started to work again is you will start to pass gas. The staff and doctors get really excited to hear you fart, which only goes to show their lives aren’t nearly as exciting as they seem on television.
After you have a swallow test to make sure there are no leaks in your new system, they will take the tube out of your nose. You’ll then be able to drink liquids. Gradually they will introduce you to soft foods. This is when you begin the long, and extremely difficult, process of adjusting to your new digestive system.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT: You get to lounge around in bed all day, but other than that this pretty much sucks. You will be heavily medicated so much of what you are experiencing won’t seem quite as awful as it sounds. Take comfort in that you will get through this eventually, but this will be a particularly challenging time.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Walk when you are supposed to: They will insist you walk several times a day. Some people resist this, but that is a bad idea because walking helps prevent complications and speeds up your recovery.
Use that incentive spirometer: Repeatedly blowing into this thing gets old fairly quickly. However it is important to do it because it keeps your lungs from getting congested, which is the absolute last thing you want to happen at this point.
Be nice to the nurses: No matter how awful you feel ALWAYS be nice to the nurses. They will act professionally no matter how badly you treat them. However, if you are nice to them they will go out of their way to advocate for you. Sometimes this becomes extremely important.
Be VERY careful around first year resident doctors: Gary refers to these as child doctors because they are so young and inexperienced. They have a surprising amount of power considering their lack of practical medical experience. That inexperience can lead them to make bad medical decisions. If you have a concern about something, be sure to talk to a real doctor or a nurse, not just the resident.
Expect complications: A gastrectomy is very complex and there are many things that can go wrong. Realize there is a fairly good chance everything won’t go perfectly. This probably won’t be something awful, but just be aware you probably aren’t going to breeze through this.