I had such a nice sleep overnight, and woke up well-rested. Last night my evening stroll went really well. As always, I was attached to telemetry full-time, I needed no supplementary oxygen, and kept my O2 saturation levels in the 90s while doing two laps around the ward. The nurses, surgery team, and the doctor on the floor were very pleased with the progress, since I was on 8L of supplemental oxygen two days earlier.
After my exercise I was tired so I went back to the hospital bed and rested until the respiratory therapist showed up. He came to hook me up, for the 4th night in a row, to a BIPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) system. Outside of the ICU, I can only use the machine for 4 hours of breathing at a time. Since finding out I was on no supplemental oxygen, the respiratory therapist discussed with me whether I should do the BIPAP this last night at all. I told how the unit gives me good sleep but it also gives me anxiety dreams about escaping prison, or confederate soldiers, or Nazis, or pushy salespeople.
One advantage to keeping the BIPAP was that it would keep me from having low O2 sats during the night, which would be good in case the staff overreacted and kept me a bit longer. But he figured the progress thus far was very encouraging and I would sleep better off the BIPAP. So he cheerfully collected all the equipment and left me alone for the evening.
I slept so well, free of the BIPAP. Either my O2 sats were doing really well, or the nurse didn’t plan on bugging me, but I not disturbed much at all. Every 2 hours I was awakened for vital signs, blood sugar level checks, and every 6 hours, a blood draw for activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT). 6 hours seems like a long time between tests, but when they are a blood draw with a needle, it seemed like I was constantly having needles stuck into my arm.
Earlier in the evening they removed my second IV, located in my right hand, because it had clogged and stopped infusing, and while trying to force it a little with saline, it burst and started leaking. Better that, than pushing some clotted-up junk into my blood vessel. Also after a magnesium infusion that day, I had been unhooked from all IV fluids for an extra-special kind of freedom — no supplementary oxygen cannula and no IV lines, so it wasn’t really needed anymore. One nice benefit of getting short on your hospital stay!
At around 6am I got my Tramadol, Tylenol, and Benedryl and shortly afterwards the surgical team stopped by on their morning rounds. They checked out my belly wounds and the edema in my scrotum and were satisfied with what they observed. They said I would be discharged by noon today!
Normally discharge times are a cruel, horrible lie and you spend hours and hours waiting for mysterious things to happen, but this time it was pretty fast. I had my first regular-diet breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs with a slice of American cheese melted over the top, grits, yogurt, vanilla Ensure, and a couple pats of butter, salt, and pepper. The last elements were new, denied to me until now due to the post-surgical bland diet, and I have to say that adding butter, salt, and pepper to the grits made all the difference.
We tried during this time to arrange having a few new prescriptions delivered to the hospital room using the Meds to Beds program, but they could not guarantee a before-noon time so we would have to brave the clinic and pharmacy’s traffic circle and get curb pickup for these.
The nurse and staff rotation happened late in the morning, and we got a nurse tech named April who actually knew us from one of the previous hospitalizations! The benefits of being a frequent flyer! We did a little catch-up before going over the 100-page tome of discharge papers, detailing all medications, upcoming procedures, and the like. We got advice and support from the surgical team member on duty, and the nurse came to take out the last IV in my left wrist, the red O2 saturation light wrapped around my finger, and all the telemetry wires. It was a relief to get the itchy telemetry adhesives off my skin.
I got dressed in the loose-fitting street clothes I wore when I arrived for surgery a week earlier, and before long at all patient transport was pushing me and our backpacks in a wheelchair and trolley to the front entrance.
My mom read my mind or the universe, as usual, and texted me just as I got into the car, asking if they were going to let me go today, and I replied that we were already discharged and headed home! We spent about a half hour finding the pharmacy curbside delivery spaces, which were hidden deep inside a fire lane covered in NO PARKING, NO STANDING and NO STOPPING signs, and a helpful sign about how your car would be taken and crushed if you stopped there, and I called the pharmacy and they confirmed it was okay to park there until they came out with the medications.
And then we were on the way home! A downside to being released before noon was that I didn’t have any of my painkillers on board, the 6am tramadol lasts about 4 hours, and the Tylenol lasts 6 hours at best. So all the jostling during my transport to the front entrance by wheelchair, and especially my transport home in the car, felt like being worked over by a couple bar bouncers. I found some gum in my wife’s car and kept chewing more and more pieces of it to give my brain something else to think about. But distractions were easily found: in our 7 minute drive home, I randomly got texted by about 4 different people asking if I was still alive, or if I would ever get home. I would update them later, I was not in the best shape to do so at the time.
When we got home, my wife brought me my cousin Brandi’s walker — a huge lifesaver during the last year — and I tried to negotiate my way across a yard full of exposed tree roots, then up four steps to the back door and at last I settled down in my recliner and had a lovely reunion with my oldest son and with my in-laws who stayed with the kids and minded the house while we were away. They left quickly since they had a lot of stuff to get back to doing, and I did regret not getting enough time to visit with them before they went.
Then I got handed my doses of Tramadol and Tylenol, and leaned back in the chair to get a bit of relaxing in. It was very pleasant being back in my own home, for once completely free of being hounded by phlebotomists and glucose finger sticks, and in charge of my own care for the time being. I felt like Bilbo returning from his Hobbit adventures and sitting back in a comfortable chair. For lunch I had a couple stuffed shells that my sister-in-law had brought over (amazing!), roasted butternut squash soup, and roasted vegetables. This was the most flavorful food to hit my palate in a long, long time. I listened to some relaxing bardcore music on Youtube and had a small portion of a velvety-rich chocolate cake that our friend Aggie made.
I existed in a state of bliss for a while, but it was briefly interrupted by our cat Tiga, who wanted some lap time on the cat quilt my sister made for me. I spread it out and Tiga soaked up affection and purred for a while, stretching out more and more, until one little, sharp, kneading claw crept off the very bottom of the quilt onto the leg of my sweat pants. I jumped and leaped with the unexpected shock, the cat propelled himself to safety, and my entire abdomen erupted into unbelievable pain that took me at least half an hour to recover from. It felt like my intestines had leapt out of my torso, and I still pray it didn’t do any terrible damage. It was definitely the worst thing I felt since the surgery. I resolved there would be no more lap-snuggling for a while, and the cats circled me all day like the black and white yin-yang koi, trying to find an opening and being very sad indeed they were being frustrated by this consequence.
So far, I’ve learned that not having a gallbladder anymore, even slightly medium-sized portions are uncomfortable to digest, since instead of dumping bile into the digestive tract, we have to meter our food intake to balance it against what continuously leaks out of the liver. At this stage it is very easy to overwhelm the bile production.
The nicest things about being home: first, getting in and out of the recliner is so much easier than getting in and out of a hospital bed; second, our fridge is full of the most amazing food when my appetite comes back; third, although lying flat on my bed is uncomfortable and a little bit painful, it is so nice to nap in my own bed; fourth, it is so quiet here compared to the stressful buzzing and dinging of the hospital, and finally, being in my familiar place surrounded by the love of my family and waited on by my incredibly helpful oldest son is an irreplaceable blessing.
To all who read this, be sure to count those blessings and savor the peaceful moments afforded to you! Thanks everyone for your generosity, prayers, and well-wishes!!!