If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this surgery, it’s that I am a very stubborn patient! Convinced this was a simple procedure due to it being laparoscopic, requiring only four keyhole incisions, I thought I’d bounce back in no time, but it hasn’t been quite that easy, mostly because I decided to take up the “I know best” attitude, not letting anyone tell me what to do but instead doing the exact opposite! Yes, stubborn, I know, if not utterly stupid! Post-surgery I was instructed to stay on a full liquid diet for 7-10 days and then slowly (key word) advance to low residue, low fiber solid foods. However, being the “know it all” that I’ve become, I decided after three days of full liquids that I’d “had it” with this way of eating and my body was somehow different and could handle whatever I put it through. Yes, after my seven-hour spinal fusion, fusing my spine into a manipulated 20 degrees using 21 screws and 2 titanium rods, I developed the same attitude, thinking I, the uneducated patient, somehow knew best. If the surgeon said no exercise for a minimum of a month, it was ok to wait two weeks to start back into my old routine of push-ups, cardio, strength training and running “marathons”, right? I was, after all, invincible, or so I thought. I prided myself in pushing my body far beyond the limits, setting new records and being able to handle whatever obstacle was thrown my way with “ease” (not mentioning the fact that I’d learned to abandon my weaknesses and pain within the dark, brutal depths of my abused and ever-increasingly lifeless heart, convinced I would never again let someone harm me in such excruciating and humiliating ways; I put up walls to keep everyone out, convinced the world was against me and the only person I could trust was myself). This surgery may not have been as serious as a seven-hour spinal fusion, but after all I’ve put my body through I’m discovering it no longer holds the capacity to “bounce back” with such ease and I am no longer (and never was) the exception. After three days of a full liquid diet, I decided I was feeling pretty good and therefore could handle solid food, right? Well, not just any solid food; I decided to give into my cravings of fresh fruit and vegetables (full of high fiber and difficult to process), as well as whole grains with seeds—everything I’d been instructed to avoid for a minimum of four weeks. After about a week or so of eating this way, however, I’ve never felt more miserable but tried to convince myself as well as others that I was “fine” and once again “invincible”. I’ve had zero energy, excruciating gas pains as well as bloating which is complicated by my tendency to restrict my intake any time I “feel fat” or bloated due to years held captive by the nearly fatal chains of anorexia and self-starvation. It was a slow decline, but I’m seeing how the voices of ED crept back in after surgery, which is exactly what we’d all feared. It started with the bowel preparation the day before surgery, requiring consumption of nothing but clear liquids as well as many laxatives to “clear out” my system. Naturally, as anyone would, I lost weight due to the low number of calories consumed as well as evacuating my entire digestive system of all waste. The day of surgery finally arrived and my poor stomach churned with hunger pains due to the fact that I couldn’t eat or drink a single thing after midnight and it was now nearing lunch time. As I was registered for the upcoming procedure, an IV line placed and fluids pumped into me, I heard my ED screaming at me with urges to “restrict, restrict, restrict”, when I knew I was in trouble! The surgeon, who was known for his crazy, bold socks, came to check on me prior to surgery and I meekly surprised him with a gift of superman socks I’d searched for and purchased as a thank you for being my “superman” and FINALLY getting the job done after many years of waiting. His face lit up at the sight of these socks and he promptly changed into them as we waited for the room to be prepped and sanitized following his last procedure.
As I was taken to the operating room and laid on a cold, metal table beneath many bright lights, the kind staff carefully explained all that would be happening while I was put to sleep. A tube was inserted down my throat, another IV inserted, catheter placed and four keyhole incisions made as my abdominal cavity was inflated with CO2 in order to form a dome over my organs, protecting them from accidental harm. To cover the basics of what took place during those two hours, my rectum was cut from all surrounding tissues and stretched up to my backbone, where it was fastened and secured by many stitches. When I awoke, requiring about an hour to recover from the anesthesia, the first thing I asked for was a grape popsicle to moisten my parched lips. They said I had to wait until I was taken to a room and was then joined by my vivacious, caring surgeon who was still wearing his superman socks; he informed me that I have very “good anatomy” and everything went as planned, without complications. I was then taken through many hallways of the massive Cleveland Clinic to a shared room where I would spend the next day or so. Finally, as it was nearing dinner time, I was given my long awaited grape popsicle and a liquid dinner tray arrived, of which I left untouched due to the nausea and pain. My incisions hurt with each breath and intestines churned with discomfort as my body was still traumatized by the burning through flesh and manipulation of organs which were meant to be left untouched. Once I was settled into my room and pain medication administered, I told my family to leave because they’d been by my side the entire day and we all needed some rest. Doctors and nurses came to check on me throughout the night, awaking me every couple of hours to monitor vital signs and administer pain medication in order to keep my pain under control. Early Friday morning I was awakened by a young resident doctor who asked me many questions regarding how I was feeling, informing me I might be able to go home later that day. However, things did not progress quite as quickly as anticipated and I struggled to force myself to eat due to the pain; the doctors were most concerned, however, by the fact that I wasn’t yet passing gas which meant the CO2 was still trapped within my abdomen, explaining the piercing “gas pains”. I managed to force down about a fourth of my cream of wheat but struggled to get much more in; my surgeon came back to check on me later in the day and we were both uncomfortable with me going home that night, so I stayed overnight to give my body more time to heal. It was also good I didn’t go home that day because my IV had been discontinued but I struggled to drink enough to prevent dehydration and my magnesium also dropped, requiring two bags of IV magnesium. So, on Saturday, after lunch, I was discharged and picked up at the front entrance by my loving dad and sister. The car ride was painful but not as painful as it would’ve been had I not forced myself to make laps around the nurse’s station throughout the day, which promoted healing.
After three days on a liquid diet, convinced I was now “healed”, I gave in and ate a turkey sandwich. Exempt from any negative consequences following digestion, I decided to abandon all the surgeon’s instructions for another four to seven days on full liquids and slow advancement to soft low fiber foods, choosing to instead eat a large salad with grilled chicken and fresh vegetables, as well as dried fruit and all the other foods I was instructed to avoid for a minimum of four weeks. After about a week of eating this way, my symptoms caught up with me and I struggled to bounce back. I suffered from painful fluid retention and bloating, complicated by the fact that I wasn’t drinking enough to allow my body to rid itself of the IV fluid and toxins. I’ve also been struggling from extreme allergies, which left me beyond miserable but once again in denial; after finally having enough of “trying to be strong and invincible”, I gave in and allowed my body the rest it so desperately needed. I also decided to “give in” and follow the surgeon’s instructions to the best of my ability, despite the fact that it went against everything ED taught me and what had become familiar. Instead of high fiber, low calorie foods my body was desperately craving higher calorie, easy to digest foods in order to allow my digestive system to rest rather than work in overdrive. So, I’ve been learning to “take it easy”, as much as I hate it, which in turn allows me to heal faster and more thoroughly. And yes mom, you did know best, although you couldn’t tell me otherwise! ;) I guess the statement “mother knows best” is true, after all! This surgery is revealing many things about my true nature and stubbornness, as much as I fight against it! God is showing me that it’s ok to let people in and care for me—that not everyone is against me. He’s helping me to tear down the many walls I’ve created for protection which at one time were helpful but have now become destructive. With His gentle guidance, I am becoming the woman He created me to be!