Last Updated on July 2, 2017 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP
I’ve been wanting to write for days now. I’m bored, and there are only so many Netflix documentaries I can watch between fits of Percocet fueled naps. Alas, sitting up for too long, combined with staring at the computer screen, both make me equal parts dizzy and nauseated. But I’m going to give this my best attempt anyway, with the understanding that any incoherent sentences, grammatical errors, or simply poor story telling, are all to be blamed on the fact that I had my entire torso rearranged just a few short days ago.
I’m not functioning at 100%, kids.
Hernia surgery. We’ve established numerous times now that despite every effort to make this a popular running blog, my fan base is comprised of countless people who are about to, or have recently, also had their entire torsos rearranged in the form of some hernia repair. As it turns out, not a lot of first hand accounts of these surgeries exist on the internet, and doctors like to tell you this out patient procedure is “no big deal”. Except it is a big deal. A “you’re gonna be pretty useless for about a week”, painful, incapacitating sort of deal. Someone needed to say it. So I did. And I’m going to write about it…again.
To bring you up to speed: on June 27th of 2017 I had laparoscopic ventral hernia repair with mesh. In February of 2015, I had open incision umbilical hernia repair with mesh. The procedures were performed about 1,000 miles apart, one here in South Carolina, one back in Vermont, obviously by two different surgeons.
Now, I couldn’t begin to tell you why my first hernia was considered “umbilical” and this one considered “ventral”, even though they showed up in the exact same location (but this gives me the opportunity for a new blog post title, so three cheers for that, I guess). I also couldn’t tell you why the hernia came back, or why this recent surgery was so vastly different from my last hernia experience. But that is why I’m the patient, and not the surgeon.
Alas, here we are, 96 hours post hernia surgery #2. The two experiences, while sharing some similarities, were overall very different. Again, I’m not a surgeon, so I am trying not to be so bold and assume the differences are because one surgery didn’t work (obviously) and the other one (hopefully) did. Instead, I’m going to go with the theory that my most recent surgeon proposed: both techniques are valid, but clearly one didn’t work, so it was time to try something different.
And try something different we did indeed.
Let’s get right to the surgery. Back in 2015, I was operated on in a small hospital in a very liberal, very …I don’t know how to describe it other than “Vermonty”… town in, you guessed it, Vermont. Pre surgery, I was brought into a very quiet, private room with dimmed lights, a cozy lounge chair, and a nurse who was consistently changing out my warm blankets for MORE warm blankets. It was one aromatherapy candle and stone massage short of being a day spa.
Here in South Carolina, I was brought into a pre-op area that was sterile, closed off by a curtain, and rivaled the same sort of triage area you see in an emergency room. I didn’t get cozy non slip socks, but I was given what I’m pretty sure were shoe covers. (I wonder if I should have kept my Oofos on?), And forget the cozy chair, I was immediately plunked onto the gurney, staring at the ceiling. Alas, I wasn’t there to discover peace and tranquility, I was there to get my intestines sewn back into place, so none of this really mattered. But the stark contrast between experience was blatant, even Geoff mentioned it.
I felt reassured that they meant business here. No time for niceties or Yani CD’s.
Pre-op routine was exactly the same: put on a gown, pee into a cup, let the nurse start your IV, and sign your life away to the anesthesiologist. I met a bunch of different people who all asked the exact same required questions (name, birthdate, what are you here for, and who is operating on you today?) When the surgeon came in, I reminded him that this repair job HAD to be strong, because the hernia ruined my last 100 miler.
The surgeon gave me a blank stare, then replied in his Lithuanian accent: “I cannot run 100 miles.”
I shot back “Well I can’t perform hernia surgery.”
Without skipping a beat, he responded “I can. And I’m good at it. We’ll fix you up, 100 mile strong.” Then he laughed and I’m pretty sure mumbled something about crazy runners under his breath as he walked out of the room.
I had to make sure we were on the same page.
I was started on an IV of Toradol and Tylenol, which I was told would help get a head start on swelling and pain management. Next thing I knew, another anesthesiologist, different from the first one I met, came in with a nurse and started the “who are you and what you are here for routine” again. I told them, they put a cap over my massive head of hair, told me to kiss my husband and third mom (one of my bosses showed up to cheer me on) goodbye, we were about to get this show on the road. As they started wheeling me out, Geoff yelled “love you honey, have fun!” The anesthesiologist laughed and said “Fun? He must know something we don’t know!”…and then he proceeded to accidentally crash my gurney into a wall.
He quickly apologized, but I couldn’t help but laugh. “THE ADVENTURE BEGINS!” I yelled as he wheeled me away.
I saw the anesthesiologist inject something into my IV before we started wheeling down the hallway. I immediately started playing the “I wonder how much I’ll remember before I pass out” game. Turns out, I’d remember a lot more this time than last. We made it to operating room #8, where I told the nurse that 8 was my lucky number. She told me it was her UN-lucky number, as she played it at the casino the weekend prior and lost a ton of money. We then discussed how long it takes to lose $60 on penny slots. A long time, was the general consensus. They had me climb off the gurney and onto the operating table. I remember the anesthesiologist putting the EKG electrode stickers on my chest, while the nurse put some sort of air compression sleeves on my legs. They started to explain to me what those were for, but I’m pretty sure I interrupted and tried to tell them about the awesome pair I wore in Colorado, and they were welcome to send those home with me if they wanted to. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
Then the nurse had me put my arms out to the side, and suddenly I was being strapped down, arms, and legs. I remember thinking, if ever there was a time to panic, that was definitely it. But I didn’t.
And that’s the last thing I remember.
I woke up with intense pain on my right side. This was surprising to me, as last time I woke up in zero pain. (And surprising in retrospect, as there were no incisions on my right side.) The pain was excruciating, but I was also still half comatose, and I couldn’t convey to the nurse (or even keep my eyes open long enough to see if there was one there) how much pain I was in. So I grimaced. I held my face, almost involuntarily, in the most awful of a scowl. I remember one nurse saying to the other “what’s wrong with her face?” and the other nurse replying “I think she’s in pain”. I don’t remember being moved back into another semi-private triage room, in the same place I started (I think), and I don’t remember Geoff and Cathy (mom #3) coming back in. But I do remember a nurse telling me the only way I could have more pain medication was if I would eat something.
I did NOT want to eat, but I DID want those pain meds.
So over the next HOUR, Geoff and Cathy hand fed me one tiny package of graham crackers (see photo above). It wasn’t necessarily that it took me that long to eat, but that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. And my mouth was so, so dry. Turns out this time they used a breathing tube during surgery, and despite the fact that the anesthesiologist said only a very small percentage of people experience pain, my throat was on fire.
Eventually I downed my crackers and Sprite (side note, why do hospitals always provide junk food?). I could not keep my eyes open, and I felt like I was being rushed by the nurses to get up and get moving. I understand why, of course, but at the time I wanted to tell everyone to leave me alone and let me sleep. Eventually they made me get up and go to the bathroom. Sitting up was probably one of the worst experiences ever. I was so dizzy, and so nauseous. I was absolutely certain I was going to fall over, but no one else seemed concerned. Geoff and Cathy walked me down the hall to the bathroom, and Geoff practically held me up on the toilet. Ahhh, marriage. It’s so sex and romantic (note my sarcasm)
We get back to the room, and the nurse asks me how I feel and encourages me to get dressed. I tell her I’m certain I’m going to either pass out or throw up. She changes her tune and tells me to lay back down, then goes off to find me some Zofran (anti nausea medication). I’m hooked back up to the IV, meds are administered, and almost immediately I feel better. I force myself to stay awake every time the nurse takes my blood pressure and other vitals, knowing the exercise scientist in me would be proud. 103/67 is the lowest I get to (I think), and I congratulate myself. Yay running! And then I doze off some more.
(If you’ve read my last surgery report, you can already tell this is going much less smoothly)
My running friend Danielle, who also happens to be a surgical tech (or an OR nurse, I apologize I don’t know which one) at this hospital comes in to check on me. I remember her telling me that she was sorry she couldn’t work my surgery, but was in another surgery next door reattaching a man’s…manhood. I had to double check with Geoff after the fact to ensure that’s what I really heard, haha. She also told me that she gave me a forehead kiss in the OR pre surgery (post Heather passing out) and told the staff they better take extra good care of me. It’s fun to know people.
Eventually, I do get up and get dressed (and by that, I mean Cathy dressed me). I’m wearing a huge, Velcro waist binder that goes from my hips to over my chest. Let me tell you, this thing was, and has been, a life saver for me. Apparently there was concern about too much fluid build up between my diastasis recti, or at least that’s what Geoff remembers the surgeon telling him.
I sign a waiver saying, among other things, that I won’t sign any legal documents in the next 24 hours. I take pride that I’m still able to see the irony and hilarity of this protocol, despite being a drugged up mess. A nurse comes in and gives Geoff a thank you card, which again, I find extremely…odd. Aren’t I supposed to be thanking them? And I do, every single one I see as I’m being wheeled out to the lobby in a wheelchair being pushed by an older gentleman volunteer.
I also stop for a selfie. The pain meds had definitely kicked in…
Geoff gets lost trying to find the car. They had sent him out first, and I can only guess that he went out a different entrance than the one we parked in front of . The volunteer guy seems confused, and I can’t help but keep falling asleep in the wheelchair. He asks if I should call him, but my perpetually stuck in the 1980’s husband doesn’t really DO cell phones, and besides, he has mine. With the ringer turned off. But somehow I got home, so apparently he showed up eventually.
We head to CVS where I HAVE to get out of the car and go in to show my ID and obtain my controlled substances (Oxycodone, and opioid), which again, I find highly…confusing. I mean, I understand the reason for the “control”, but I don’t understand the reason why there isn’t some sort of foresight into obtaining said prescription BEFORE surgery, or having it sent home with you from the hospital. But instead, I waddle my hot mess self who can barely stand up or keep her eyes open into the crowded CVS pharmacy. I can FEEL the stares from others as I’m slouched in the waiting room chair like a drunk sorority girl, passing in and out of consciousness. The stares don’t bother me. At all. I’m that far out of it.
Eventually, they call my name, I sign for my pills, and Geoff whisks me, the Percocet, saltine crackers, and a two liter of sprite home.
Chelsey and Cathy are waiting for me in the parking lot, and they help tackle the arduous duty of getting me up THREE flights of stairs. Ahh, apartment living. I’m settled in to my couch, where once again, I doze in and out of consciousness. I try really hard not to laugh as Chelsey and Geoff take turns shocking each other with our TENS unit.
And that concludes “What I remember from surgery day”. Next post: Ventral Hernia Surgery Recovery. Stay tuned…