21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – Emergency Surgery

Emergency surgery: this was the “worst case scenario” the surgeon had warned me about 2 days earlier. The surgery mom was about to undergo was very dangerous and has a 50% mortality rate – and yet, I felt relief. We now had an answer and we could now take action and one way or another – this would nightmare would end.

The surgery waiting room is set up with clusters of bench seats that create ‘L’ shapes. Each ‘L’ is surrounded by little walls that provide privacy so families and loved ones can be insulated in little seating pods. There is also an open area with tables and chairs. 2 of the waiting room walls are covered in a colorful mural of surrealism. A tv monitor provides status updates for each patient in surgery such as “Procedure has started. Patient is doing fine,” or “Patient has been moved to recovery.”

G, Lynda, Gloria and I were all there together, as we had been, every singe day since my mom went into ICU, and several other close friends lovingly joined us bringing supplies like phone chargers, blankets, food and cards. For four hours we enjoyed each other’s company. We played rummy, did puzzles, ate comfort food such as meat loaf sandwiches and laughed. We were optimistic and spoke of my mom’s determination, perseverance and strength as the tv monitor continued to post “Patient is doing fine.”

When the surgeon appeared I jumped up to greet him. He explained to me that my mom had done well despite the “insult” she had received. He thoughtfully informed me that he had removed her entire colon and she now has an ileostomy. He went on to describe how my mom’s abdominal cavity had been covered in excrement and that he diligently cleaned every crevasse, nook and cranny using 24 liters of water. He posited that the perforations in her colon had likely been there for days. He gave me time to process the information. He waited in silence as I slowly conjured questions. The next 48 hours were most critical.

We celebrated the success of the surgery and our little support group disbanded – each of us, on our own, processing all the information the surgeon relayed about the surgery and the days ahead.

Over the next 2 days my mom’s body did amazing things. Her heart, lungs and kidneys were making a recovery. All the numbers were improving and things seemed to trending in the right direction. G, Lynda, Gloria and I knew this would be a huge lifestyle change for my mom but we new she would be up for it. If anyone could wake up without their colon and with an ileostomy and roll with it, mom could. We made jokes at her bedside as we imagined her healing and coming home.

“Mom isn’t going to deal with any shit ever again!”

We laughed so hard at that one.

The only piece that was still very concerning was her mentation, her awareness/alertness. Even though they had completely stopped giving her pain medications and it had been days since she last received any type of sedative, she was very drowsy and unable to be roused. This was the piece of the puzzle that we needed for her next phase of recovery. In order to get her off the ventilator we needed her to be conscious and alert. Mom was still fighting an infection and the surgeon wondered if perhaps her gall bladder had become infected and should be removed to help control the source of infection. He explained to me that he could “go in” again and remove her gall bladder and at the same time, wash her abdomen out again to ensure it is as clean as possible. He apologized before using the analogy of washing spaghetti.

“Imagine,” he said, “trying to completely clean all the marinara sauce off of each noodle in a bowl of spaghetti.”

I chuckled.

He apologized again.

I consented to a second surgery.