Dear intestines, all I want for Christmas is… not you
On December 19, 2014, I visited Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center with the intention of making 100 percent sure surgery was the correct answer.
Less than an hour into the appointment, I had spoken to the nurse, gastroenterologist and surgeon about my symptoms, failed medications, the surgery’s process and timetable and whether I would definitely need it or not. I figured that would be it. And then I would leave. Just like any other ordinary doctor’s appointment.
But this didn’t turn out to be an ordinary doctor’s visit.
It turned into a five-day hospital stay.
The nurse, GI and surgeon all seemed a bit worried. They said I looked pale, skinny, weak and fatigued. They not only confirmed I needed surgery, but I wasn’t even healthy enough to undergo the procedure yet.
After being admitted to the hospital and getting some tests done, they concluded I was anemic, dehydrated and malnourished.
- What a difference two year makes, huh?
I had corticosteroids, antibiotics and TPN (total parenteral nutrition)—some weird looking white liquid consisting of vitamins and minerals, amino acids and lipids and all that good stuff—pumping into my veins. They put the TPN through what’s called a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line—a more durable, long-lasting form of intravenous therapy that’s admittedly a heck of a lot scarier to put in than an ordinary needle.
- How does it work? Well, I’d mumble off a bunch of medical jargon I found off the internet, or I could just show you this video from MacMillan Cancer Support, which I also found on the internet…
As each day passed, the doctors tried to get me one step closer to going home for Christmas Day. One big step was being able to eat enough so I wouldn’t return to the hospital for surgery in the state I originally came in.
I tried a diet of “full liquids.” Unfortunately, most of the foods they were able to give me were dairy products, such as pudding, yogurt and ice cream—which don’t pair very amicably with an inflamed colon.
So I wound up drinking a lot of Nestle’s BOOST non-dairy nutritional shakes. However, I needed to drink an obscene amount in order to receive an adequate level of nutrition.
As the countdown to Christmas continued, a plan was in the works. Slowly but surely, the plan was coming into fruition.
And then Christmas Eve came.
My diet was upgraded to “low residue,” meaning no nuts, popcorn, most fruits and vegetables and other fibrous, tough-to-digest foods.
So I had eggs and home fries for breakfast… and they were delicious—from what I could eat, that is.
You see, I had gotten to the point where I was almost afraid to eat. Plus, I would get full more easily, so I would pick at what I could eat without any cramps or urges, and then be satisfied.
When the doctors would come in, they had a look of disappointment, asking if that’s all I was able to eat.
So the plan went through its final tweak: I would go home (yay!) for a few days to spend Christmas with my family; to avoid worsening symptoms, I would stay on a low-residue diet; and, to avoid worsening hydration and nutrition over that span, I would go home with the PICC still inside me so I could administer the TPN at home. After a few days at home, I would return for my procedure: a total colectomy.
On December 24, 2014, I returned from my ordinary, run-of-the-mill, five-day gastroenterologist appointment.