The climb out of post-surgery hell
It’s obvious every surgical procedure to treat a cancerous tumor is different. What each surgical patient experiences post-surgery and recovery is also different. With that in mind what I write here comes only from what my husband and I experienced during his post-surgery and recovery in 2001 from The Ivor Lewis Pull-up procedure. We faced his physical challenge in which he described himself this way, “I am an organized train wreck.” I described the recovery this way, “The climb out of hell.”
Once we returned home from the hospital, many challenges confronted us. We learned right away Werner’s progress toward recovery required us to take on our new roles to become the medical team at home. We learned how to cope with his eating challenges, his inability to swallow water, zero strength, and flat-line fatigue, depression and refusal to use the feeding tube put in place during the surgery.
I think of the two of the lowest times we experienced post surgery. One evening in June, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant. My husband ordered venison his favorite dish. The order arrived. He picked up his fork and knife, cut a small portion of venison, and then placed his knife and fork back on the plate. “I can’t eat.” To my horror, I thought, oh no, does this mean he can never again eat?
Without the benefit of using the feeding tube after the April surgery, Werner continued to drop weight to a crisis point, physically and emotionally. One afternoon, I found him sitting in the living room and uncharacteristically despondent. He looked at me and said, “If I had known what this surgery was going to do to me, I would never have had it. I don’t want to live my life crippled.”
I knew not to say it’s okay or any other platitudes. Words were not fit for the devastation my husband felt. I held him. We did not speak. We sat for a very long time. Outside the window, the gardens were in full bloom under June’s clear blue sky. The sun filtered in the room where we wrestled with the agony until it passed.
Some days after this June low point Werner agreed to receive nutrition from the feeding tube. We set-up the feeding tube pump by our bed. Every night he hooked up to the pump and set the flow on a slow drip. As he slept, life-saving nutrition fed him. He began to gain weight. Slowly his energy level rose, and his strength returned while we experimented with introducing foods he found tolerating.
By mid-July, we began to walk very short distances. Later in August, we hiked eight miles. We celebrated this accomplishment at our favorite restaurant. He enjoyed his order of venison. In October, we celebrated the removal of his feeding tube with a spa weekend booking, a gift from his sister who lives in Switzerland. To my surprise, Werner reserved an hour each day to play tennis at the Spa’s indoor tennis court. The tennis balls he volleyed to me came hard, flat, and fast over the net. In November and fully recovered physically, emotionally, and spiritually, he buckled into his ski boots, stepped into his bindings, and headed out to the chairlift.