Friday, 19 September 2014

Recuperation, rejuvenation

Last week, my challenging last couple years came to a peak.  I finally faced one of my biggest fears and was admitted into the hospital for surgery.  It has always been a goal of mine in life to never have surgery, but it's funny how your priorities change when faced with health issues.

I have never had a great stomach.  I have always had problems with attacks of sudden diarrhea. My doctor had decided it was IBS, and that I was young, so not to worry.  I have also been on the birth control pill for years.  When my husband and I got married two years ago, we decided we would stop with the pills and hopefully welcome children into our lives.  That was apparently not in the cards for us.  I have had increasingly severe stomach and menstruation problems along with infertility since a miscarriage shortly after our honeymoon.

Over the course of that year, my problems with diarrhea became a new monster.  I would be struck by attacks at all times of the day and night, and the frequency and severity of them became worse and worse.  It got to the point where I would feel like I have diarrhea, but I would be unable to actually pass anything, sometimes for over an hour.  I couldn't find a food link, it seemed to happen whether I had eaten gluten or dairy, or anything at all.  By the end of the first year, every episode of illness would last a couple hours, would usually result in nausea/vomiting, and the pain was awful.  When I started passing blood clots with my stool, I decided to push the issue with my doctor, as this was something beyond IBS.

In January 2014, I initiated a referral to a GI specialist to perform a colonoscopy.  This was scheduled for the end of March, and when I report to the hospital after the worst bowel prep imaginable (I'm taking medications that force my guts to empty, but my guts refuse to let go), they sedate me to find that they are unable to pass any of the scopes past my sigmoid colon.  That's right, my colon is so narrowed that the scope they would use on little babies is unable to make that turn.  Dang.  Okay, new plan is for a CT scan to image the bowel.  That is apparently a year long wait, but I manage to have some strings pulled, and get myself bumped up to a May appointment.  CT scan shows an otherwise normal bowel, but this area of dense adhesions around the sigmoid.  My GI doctor feels this is still inconclusive and orders an MRI.  Another 20 weeks to wait for that.  Except I end up at emergency with pain and bleeding after a bad bout, and they mark my MRI request as urgent, and I am able to get in within a week.  MRI confirms what the CT shows, adhesions around the sigmoid.

When I see my GI doctor for results, his first suggestions is that we "try to manage this at home with diet and more fibre".  Ha!! At this point, I am having severe episodes that last 4 or more hours regardless of what I eat (which is mostly soup and Boost, a liquid diet), am regularly passing blood with my stools, and am pretty much in constant pain, which is worst when I am actively ill.  I tell him that this will not work for me, fibre aggravates the problem, as anything that adds bulk to stool is a nightmare to pass.  Luckily he suggests we go ahead with a referral to a surgeon.

So now, 9 months after starting the referrals, I check into the hospital after my third (and hopefully last!) bowel prep.  My most recent episode of illness lasted 7 hours.  That is 7 straight hours sitting on the toilet in agony, unable to pass anything, including gas, nauseous, in 10/10 pain, praying to God to strike me dead rather than continue dealing with this.  Ridiculous that it came to this point before something was done.

Surgery went very well.  They found a "big tangled mess" of adhesions, a thickened area of bowel that could barely squeeze anything through, and the surgeons said thank god they did surgery when they did, or I could have ended up with major problems- a ruptured bowel and emergency surgery on a septic abdomen.  Scary.  They cleaned everything up, and removed the problem areas, including 14cm of bowel.  The lab reports came back confirming that this nightmare was caused by endometriosis.  

I can't stress enough to everyone that you know your body best.  When you feel like something is wrong, don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and push for further testing or treatment with your doctor.  I am so glad that I had the nerve to step up and say NO, fibre won't cure me, I need something better.  Had I been meek, I very well could have ended up in the ER with a ruptured bowel or worse.  Be aware that birth control pills can mask symptoms of this disease.  I had symptoms before, but never to this extreme, and they got progressively worse from the point that I stopped taking the pill.  Knowledge is power, so don't be afraid to read and ask questions and be your own advocate.  

So now I am focusing on recovery.  I am resting up and easing into eating again.  Over this whole ordeal, I have lost 50 lbs.  I am so much weaker, I can't lift or wrestle big dogs at work anymore, and I get so tired doing any kind of exercise.  I am looking forward to getting onto a better foot health wise, building my strength and endurance, and increasing my fitness.  

I am also looking forward to getting some serious reading and crafting done!  I have a stack of books on the ready, a mix of favourites to reread, a book club selection, and some new titles.  I already polished off His Dark Materials during my hospital stay- if you haven't read this series, I highly recommend it!  I brought some knitting with me to the hospital too, but didn't get much done.  Apparently it is really hard to focus with morphine in your system.  
My to-read pile
I am working on a knitted blanket for my husband that is inspired by the Game of Thrones' Stark family (he is a huge Stark fan). Gotta keep him warm, as winter is coming!  I am using illusion knitting to make two separate panels of the wolves, and then a centre panel with a forest of cabled trees and the illusion knitting "Winter is coming".  I will attach the three main panels with some chunky cables, and put a border around the whole thing.  Tassels are a maybe at this point.  The whole thing will be in grey and white, to play homage to the Stark colours.  I think Pete is more excited than I am about this project!  
My design sketch for the Stark blanket
For quilting, I am currently reworking a quilt for one of my husband's cousins.  When her mother passed away, she had some of her clothing made into a quilt, but never really loved the final product.  She asked me to take it apart and come up with a more modern design.  I hand-ripped all the seams to take apart the quilt, and separated the whole thing (thank goodness there wasn't extensive quilting over this one!).  Since there were lots of dark colours, blacks and blues, I thought it would be nice to make a scene of a full moon shining over the ocean.  I made a little mock-up in Excel, and got her approval, so I started laying out the fabrics this week.  I am excited for this project, I have some nice little touches in mind to make this a special quilt that she can treasure forever.  
Annyong admiring the before quilt
Demolished quilt
Moon over the ocean layout
I am thankful that my friends, family, and work family have all been so supportive of me throughout this journey, and I hope that moving forward I can live a more balanced, healthy life.  I am ready to put this past behind me now, and move onto bigger and better things.  Here's hoping for a healthy, fit, fertile future.  And, of course, lots of crafting!
My kitchen is a garden!