This is James Gunter’s story, part II. You can find Part One here.
When I awoke I did not find what I expected.
They had told me that an appendicitis is a quick and easy operation these days which can be done through keyhole surgery. This would involve making 3 small cuts in my lower abdomen to remove my appendix. When I awoke in the recovery ward and managed to stay awake for more than 30 seconds, I decided to have a look at their handy work, expecting nothing more than 3 small cuts. What I found instead, was a 6 inch bandage going down the centre of my abs and still an inch of wound sticking out of both ends, then also a stoma bag (which I didn’t even know what that was at that time) stuck to my lower right abdomen (as I looked at it).
I was told that they had found my appendix to be in ‘immaculate’ condition so they had to figure out what was causing the problem. This involved having to have open surgery. They had found that the area of my small intestine, just before it joins my large intestine had actually ruptured and was bleeding acidic bile into my soft tissue, which had also started to cause infection. This would explain the pain. They speculated this was because of Crohn’s Disease but weren’t sure. They had taken out 12cm of my small intestine and sent that off for analysis in the lab.
The next few days were very difficult. I had several problems and issues while in hospital to do with inadequate pain medication, and awful and disgusting situations as I tried to adapt to what had happened. But I remember laying on my bed on a Monday afternoon as my stoma bag was leaking and I was awaiting the nurses, thinking that just 4 days prior to this I was in good shape, I had a job I loved, and hobbies I was good at and the sky was my limit. Now I was laying in a hospital bed covered in my own shit, unable to even sit up, unknown as to my future with this possibly genetic condition and if this bag would ever be reversed, as I watched the muscle I’d spent 3 years trying to put on, fall off dramatically each day. This was not a pleasant thought, and still scares me to this day.
After spending a week in hospital I was sent home. I had so much stuff to learn about my stoma, had to cope with it and so many questions on my mind. Time passed very slowly, days feeling like weeks, but after several weeks and many hospital and district nurse visits I was told I could start training again and that they were hoping to reverse my stoma after 6 months. I was unable to work due to the nature of my job- there was no way I could hang off a building in a harness and do physically demanding work with a stoma bag, it just wasn’t feasible. So there wasn’t much to do. I decided I needed to put as much weight back on for my second surgery as I would probably lose more after that operation, so I had about 4 months to get into the best shape I could. This was difficult as my appetite was bad, I was so insecure with how I looked I didn’t even want to leave my bedroom. I joined a 24 hour gym, so I could go down at 2am to train so that no one would see me, and pushed myself to eat more. I also occasionally still went indoor climbing, but didn’t enjoy it at all, all I could think about was the bag stuck to my stomach. When ever I saw myself in the mirror I could barely look at it, it felt alien to me, I was disgusted at my own appearance.
6 month passed very slowly and I’d managed to re-gain half of the 3 stone that I had lost. It was the worst 6 months of my life, I really struggled to eat properly, I had major self confidence issues, not only from having a bag attached to me but because I had also lost so much weight. I didn’t want to leave my room, let alone my house, the thought of doing the simplest of things like going shopping or getting my hair cut felt like so much work and hassle, and I dreaded it. I had so much to think about and so many worries of stuff going wrong if I left the house, like if I had a bag leak or if it fell off or something like that. For 6 months I never once slept more than 2 hours in one go, constantly scared that my bag would fill up too quick and I’d roll on it or burst it. My brain would constantly wake me up to check on it, and most times when I woke up, be unable to go back to sleep. My body clock was all over the place, and the night terrors I kept getting when I did finally manage to sleep didn’t help. But as inevitable as it is, 6 months did pass and I had a date for my reversal surgery and that’s all I was looking forward to. The 8th of May was the crucial day, I was more excited than nervous, excited to get rid of this damn thing that yes had saved my life but was also at the same time making me feel like it was over. It was my stupidly active lifestyle that I missed, I didn’t just work in an office or in a shop, and my past times weren’t exactly knitting in front of the TV. As much as people told me it wouldn’t affect my hobbies and training, it did. My dream job was impossible and my hopes of fighting in the aikido world championships were very doubtful at most, seeing how it wasn’t even safe to train properly.
The day of the actual operation and a couple of days after went pretty quickly, I guess high morphine doses can do that to you. Things had looked like they went well, day 3 post op and I was eating solid food and actually managed to pass something, which was all I needed to do to be sent home. After been given pain killers to take home I was released. I got back and decided to play some games, happy in the mood I hadn’t lost too much weight this time. It wasn’t long before I got some pain, which I thought was normal for what I’d just been through, I took some pain killers and carried on. The pain only got worse, it got so bad in fact that I had to call my mum and ask her to come over with some stronger pain killers. As I was waiting I decided to get up to try and have something to drink, as soon as I stood up i was sick. My mind went crazy, being sick and with pain I thought it was happening all over again, maybe there was a blockage, or maybe the plumbing the surgeons had done had broken or any number of other things that could happen. By the time she arrived I was laid in bed again almost in the same sorry state she had seen me in 6 months before. She immediately called the paramedics again and after explaining I had only been released from hospital 6 hours ago, they came straight out.
So there I was again, being given morphine and carried into an ambulance destined for hospital. Also again upon arrival I was poked and prodded, sent for X-rays and and also a CT scan. They suspected it may have been a blockage caused by scar tissue and many other scary things which all were resolved with yet more surgery. This is not what I wanted to hear and didn’t put me in the best of moods. Thankfully the ‘good’ news was that my intestine had just decided to go to sleep, it doesn’t like being handled and woke up for a day but then decided it wanted to sleep. I just had to wait it out until it decided to wake up. I managed to refrain from having an NG tube down my throat even though I was still being sick every couple of minutes and just bringing up green bile. The pressure this was putting on my wound, the pain was still awful but the thought of my stitches breaking and my wound tearing open was even worse mental torture each and every time I felt the sensation to be sick.
It took about 16 hours for my intestine to decide to wake up again and finally would at least let bile pass through. I was taken to a ward where I knew I’d spend at least the next few days. Over the course of the next 4 days I gradually ate more and things started to pass, I just had to wait for the bloating to go down, which took its time. I was finally released for the second time, 4 days later on the Friday, exactly one week after my operation and I’d spent a total of 6 hours at home. I was again glad to be back, but realised that this issue had caused me to lose even more weight, almost all the 1.5 stone I’d managed to gain between my first operation and my second. I was back to square one.
Recovery this time was a bit quicker, or at least seemed like it was, it helped that my mum took me to Spain to try and help get me away for a while. By the time I got back from Spain on July 18th, my wound had fully healed and thanks to me doing a bit light training from about 4 weeks after my operation, I was ready to start work again. I was sent off to Holland to work on July 19th for 3 months, I had to take a chance and couldn’t give up the opportunity for that type of work. As well as the 10 hours of physical work 6 days a week, I trained hard, both at the gym and climbing and ate well. By the time I got back from Holland 3 months later, I was back to my normal weight of about 81kg. The weight I was even before my first operation.
I am now still training hard and will continue to push myself and hope that one day this all will just seem like a distant memory.
James generously decided to donate the payment for the guest post to CCUK.