Each year we try to take our family on some sort of vacation. Lots of times it’s somewhere fairly close by but other years when we can we try to go a bit further. Usually my wife and I decide where to go and what fun things to do while we’re there. Typically Jen does most of this as vacations are her thing. She loves them. In 2011 however I decided I wanted to go to Ottawa. It’s our Nations capital and I’d never been there before. Jen wasn’t overly keen on going though so it was this year I did more of the planning than usual.
Planning went really well. We ended up being able to time things so that we could take over a University class mates from home while they came to Nova Scotia for their vacation. We have friends in Northern New Brunswick so we would stay with them on the way there and back to break up the drive. It is while we were there visiting before Ottawa that I started having the pain in my abdomen.
I could likely go back many years talking about the issues I’ve had with my bowels, it was never anything I considered serious. I chalked it up to my poor diet and lifestyle in general. Usually I had the opposite problem though, this time I always felt like I had to go but just couldn’t. As we were on vacation I was eating even less regular and more fast food than usual so again I figured diet issues.
By the time we made it to Ottawa I was having issues even walking around. I would get waves of pain that would almost double me over, but other times it would pass and I would be pretty good. Constantly going to the washroom but having nothing happen at all was very frustrating and was causing me to miss out on our vacation fun while we were out. Quickly things got so bad that I wasn’t even going out with the rest of the family anymore. Much of my time was spent on the couch in pain. The day planned for seeing the Parliament Hill and taking a boat ride down the Ottawa River I drug myself out to go along as this was my main highlight. We didn’t go into the Parliament buildings but did get to see them outside, it wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped as I was in a fair amount of pain.
Finally Jen convinced me to go get checked out. Luckily there was a walk in clinic not far from where we were staying so I went there. They did a few tests but couldn’t figure out what it might be, they sent me home saying they would contact me with the results of the tests but if the pain kept up to go to the hospital.
The morning we woke up to drive home things had gotten just too bad, I could barely get myself dressed. My wife too me to the Emergency Room at the hospital and they took me in right away. With nothing showing in the tests they sent me for a CT scan.
The hospital and sent my family away as there was no need in four kids sitting in the waiting room. Being there alone was hard. Not knowing what was wrong and not having anyone I cared for there was both stressful and scary. This had to be bad for my wife as well. We were supposed to be heading home, but instead she was trying to entertain our kids in an unfamiliar city by herself and not knowing what was going on with me.
After what felt like forever, but probably wasn’t, the results of the CT scan came back. It was determined that I had diverticulitis. Little pouches which formed in my bowel became infected and inflamed. This likely explains some of the issues I had previously, but this time things were so bad that these little pouches actually perforated. Now I would need to wait for a surgeon to see what was going to happen next.
It was shortly after this that I started feeling very faint and dizzy. A nurse came and took my blood pressure which was very low. This prompted them to get me back in a bed, pump me full of IV and get me some pain medication.
Once I started the pain medication details started getting blurry, I’m unclear on time frames etc. But I finally got to talk to a surgeon who let me know that he was going to have to perform surgery and that I would end up with a colostomy. He also let me know I would end up being in the hospital for around ten days.
Not long after I was given all this information I finally was able to talk to my wife who had tried calling the hospital a number of times. She was so calm and comforting even though it was obvious she was stressed out herself. The whole family was able to come in to see me for a while as the surgery wouldn’t be happening until later that night.
The rest of the time before the surgery is mostly a blur to me as well. Likely from the strong pain meds, the stress, and other emotions I was feeling. The next thing I remember was groggily waking up in recovery.
After the Surgery
As I woke up after the surgery I remember the surgeon talking to me but things were not absorbing properly. It wasn’t until I could hear him in the background speaking to my wife on the phone and explaining things to her, that I started to grasp everything that happened.
He had expected that he wouldn’t be able to perform the surgery laparoscopically and indeed he did have to switch to laparotomy, so I had a large incision from my belly button down. He left the incision open to heal and close on it’s own which was something I didn’t really expect to deal with. He was also telling her that I would need to wait a full year before having the surgery reversed. Before hand he had mentioned that it would be between six months and a year, so I was on the long end of that. The other big news was that I would be in the hospital for around two weeks before I could make the long trip home.
The outcome could have been a whole lot worse but all I was thinking about was spending the next two weeks in a hospital, in a strange city, without my family, and then the next year carrying around a bag of my own waste. It was a strange mix of emotions. I was thankful that he was able to repair me, but at the same time frustration, anger, fear, and loneliness all set in.
As I came in to the hospital on the day we were supposed to be driving home to Nova Scotia, it wasn’t possible for my family to stay for another two weeks. Even though we hadn’t had a chance to talk about it yet I knew my wife was going to have to drive home with the kids herself and leave me to recover. After that I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get home.
Looking back I can’t recall the first time I actually paid attention to the actual ostomy and wound. I know it didn’t take long before I accepted the fact that it was there and would be there for some time. I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea by any means but it was certainly better than the alternative.
The next day when my family was able to see me I learned my wife had been busy. Two of my sisters were flying in to help with things. One sister from Nova Scotia flew in to help my wife with the kids and drive back home with them. My other sister from Alberta was flying in to spend at least a few of the days keeping me company and helping me out in the hospital. She wouldn’t be able to stay for the whole time so my Mother was going to fly in and stay until it was time to go home.
One of the other major issues we had was the peoples whose home we were staying in were coming back. Therefore my family was out of a place to stay until we got things straightened out. Some close family friends all arranged to take up a collection from our other friends and book a hotel for my family to stay for the next couple days. Things were still less than ideal but some of the major things that were concerning me were all of a sudden taken care of.
By and large I’m not an overly emotional guy but this whole situation certainly had me emotional. I had shed a few tears the day before when the surgeon explained everything that was going to be taking place, and once my family left I shed some more thinking about the generosity and selflessness of my family and friends. Just toss a couple more emotions onto the pile I was already experiencing, gratitude and humility.
The Next Year
Over the next year I had to get used to a lot of things. Everyday things like dressing yourself, showering, and going to the store, were all different. I’ve never had the greatest self image but I was even more self conscious when ever I was out or around other people.
Like everything in life I got used to it though. As I worked from home the vast majority of the time this made things both very nice and difficult. Nice that I didn’t have to be around anyone and could wear comfy clothes. Difficult because I was self employed and didn’t have a steady income stream or any health benefits. Therefore all the supplies I needed would come out of our own pocket. Luckily I made contact with a great specialist Nurse here who ended up getting me on a trial with a company who supplied me as long as I answered a survey about their product. This was a huge blessing.
It was during this time however that I realized working for myself, at least the way I had been, could no longer go on. We needed a steady income and health benefits in case anything else like this happened to anyone else in my family. Thankfully we are all pretty healthy people, but just having that security now means a lot to me.
A great opportunity came a long doing IT support for the Michelin tire plant near my home so I jumped at it. At this point I already had my scheduled appointment to have a reversal of my colostomy performed so they graciously waited until that was done and I was healed before I started.
It was a very tough year for me, but it really helped change my life and set me down a new path. It also helped me realize what a lucky guy I am to have such great support in friends and family all around, and even complete strangers. It would have been a lot harder to get through without them all, so I am eternally grateful.