To summarize my progress in the days leading up to surgery, I had managed to gain 12 pounds in just over 3 weeks, by eating more than I ever have. The tumour, based on the imaging scans, had slightly reduced from 4 to 3 cm in diameter. Given the new size of the tumour, the surgery was supposed to be a minimally-invasive esophagectomy and partial gastrectomy, and was only supposed to be 5 to 6 hours long. I wasn’t going to need a feeding tube, and I could probably start eating after a few days, and be out of hospital after 5 to 7 days.
Then the surgery happened, and the plans changed.
Most of the following details are gathered from my family, as my memory of the first 48 hours is quite hazy. After being brought to the operating room and being opened up, my surgeons realized that the tumour had unexpectedly grown to the size of a fist. The operation became far more complex, and lasted 11 hours instead. The reconstruction made it such that the risk of an anastomotic leak was “high”. A feeding tube (J-tube) had to be inserted, to be required for the next 3 months, to help with nutrition. Those were the news that my family received when I came out of the operation. Apparently the surgical team told me the same thing a few times, but I have no memory of it.
Overnight, my nasogastric tube was somehow pulled out, and I had to be brought back to the operating room the next morning to have it reinserted. Then throughout the course of that day, my red blood cell count was dropping, and after a few blood transfusions with no difference in the drop of those cells, it was determined that I was bleeding from somewhere. I had to be brought back to the operating room to find the source of bleeding. My surgical incisions were reopened, and after 5 hours reinforcing the connections and looking around for a bleed, the team was satisfied I was no longer bleeding. This would be my third time in the operating room within 2 days. Those were 2 very stressful days for my family. In my case, I was too sedated to process/remember the information, let alone appreciate the gravity of the situation.
Now that the initial drama appears to be over, I’m on a slow path to recovery. Because of large incisions tearing through my core muscles in my abdomen and chest, I’m in pain anytime I try to move or breathe hard. Sleeping is especially hard as I can’t find a comfortable position and needed help just to wiggle around in bed. Today, after 7 days of the initial operation, I have started receiving nutrition through my feeding tube, as I am not allowed to have anything to eat or drink. I have also lost 12 lbs in the past week (essentially lost all of my previous gains). If everything goes well, I will start eating by mouth in 5 days time, and perhaps be discharged in 1 week’s time.
I want to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout the hospitalization, as I have never felt as vulnerable as I did for the past week. The nursing and allied health teams have been fantastic, and having family as cheerleaders makes the journey easier.
Time to rest. More to come!