Saturday, May 16, 2015

Post Op recovery: Life in the slow lane

Getting Through Surgery and Beyond

When I was told I needed to undergo a total hysterectomy I had 5 anxious weeks to wait before the actual day of surgery. Thanks to wise guidance from my friends and family I didn't spend that time idly waiting and worrying, instead I took their advice and got busy Getting Back UP.

I decided to control what I could control...and for the rest, well, I would place my trust in the doctors.

The first thing I did towards taking control was to consult my nutritionist and friend, Mona Bostick. She provided me with a detailed plan based upon my current nutrient deficiencies and one that would best prepare my body for the upcoming surgery. For 5 weeks I focused on the nutrient-dense foods she recommended but in addition to that she gave me a tip which later proved to be the best advice I'd ever been given when facing surgery: to prepare and freeze my post-op meals in advance.  Using her post-op guidelines--which differed greatly from the pre-Op plan!--I made soups and stews and smoothie "kits" and utilized those weeks by stocking my freezer. Not only did this keep me busy but it actually gave me a sense of empowerment, a belief that I was controlling the outcome of my surgery even 5 weeks in advance of it.

(Note: A few people have asked me for the nutritional guidelines that Mona prepared for me along with the recipes I used for certain meals. In case there are more people out there who may find this info useful I've decided to make it a separate blog entry in partnership with Mona, stay tuned.)

Pre-Op nutrient-dense foods meant loads of colorful, fresh veggies and a
variety of lean proteins.

Another effort I made was to exercise as smartly and as often as possible leading up to the surgery. Keeping my body strong would aid in physical healing but as most everyone knows, exercise releases endorphins and I needed all the "feel-good" chemicals I could get! Plus, I knew that after the surgery it would be at least 8 weeks before I could resume an active lifestyle again so I wanted to pack in as much as I could. (My last blog entry has details of all the events I did leading up to the surgery,

March 24th: Surgery day

My operation was scheduled for 1:30pm which was tough for 2 reasons: 1) I had to spend the morning trying NOT to think about this major procedure I was about to have and 2) I couldn't eat or drink anything all day. I sooooo wanted coffee!!

I spent the biggest part of the morning working but then spent an hour prepping the guest bedroom for my eventual "recovery zone" and packing for my hospital stay. I made sure to pack my inspirational items--cards and gifts from my friends and family--to help motivate me to get better.
I love the Gypsy Nation! Thank you so much to my running family for your
generous love and support through all of this.

I still believe... that I have the best friends ever!

Cool chicks and a mad rabbit, courtesy of my Cool Cuz', Sandy.

My sister, Maria, bought each of us matching bracelets 5 weeks ago.
She told me we couldn't remove them until I came through surgery with
flying colors. It was her way of saying that she was in this with me...thank
you so much, Maria! (The doctors wouldn't let me wear it during the surgery
but by that time I was going under and didn't miss it)
My mom and stepdad drove from Chapel Hill to take me to the hospital around lunchtime. Well, lunchtime for them...I still couldn't eat and I was famished, the last time I ate was about 14 hours ago. Mom and Bob did their best to keep the conversation light but my anxiety was building as we approached the hospital. It didn't help much when, upon arrival, I once again had to sign waivers saying that I understood potential risks of this surgery: partial paralysis, bladder/bowel incontinence, pelvic prolapse, death.  So much for keeping the mood light.

Mom got a fancy new bracelet of her own as my official supporter.
Nice look, Ma, but I think it clashes with your outfit.

My surgery is being done at Cone Health's Women's Hospital just 3 miles from my house. The staff and facilities here are top-notch but the best part about it is that my friend, Angie, aka Dr. Angela Roberts, is going to do the surgery.

I know I'm in good hands and I'm trying to stay relaxed by joking
around with my family here. The truth? I was really fighting off tears.

Who could be glum around this group of clowns? Jim left work early to get here before I go under, Mom and Bob
planned to stay all day (and night, if needed) and my great friend and
neighbor, Laura Rodrigues, insisted she be there before, during and after the surgery.
Thanks to all of you, I am so fortunate to have you in my life.

As with most hospital procedures, there's a lot of waiting around. Apparently
Dr. Roberts was running a bit late (totally excusable when this involves
saving lives). This was my view from the gurney for about an hour.
As I mentioned, my surgeon today is also my friend. It occurred to me that there may be some conflict regarding the ethics of physicians operating on friends and family so I brought this up in one of our office visits. I really wanted her to do this surgery but I also told her that I would fully support any decision she made. Lucky for me she wanted to operate on me, she's a highly-skilled and well-respected doctor and I didn't want to settle for second-best.

For those of you who know the real me, you know my sense of humor can be twisted (some may say bordering on sick?) But guess what? Many doctors are also known for their twisted humor so in honor of today's occasion I selected the perfect card for Angie. I gave this to her right before they put me under anesthesia, and just before she was to slice me open...

Jim and my mom thought this was hilarious, Bob just shook his head at me and I
think Laura now questions my sanity :-) ... but Angie got a kick out of this. It was
exactly as I'd hoped, that the room would be full of love and laughs as I'm
wheeled off to surgery. (For the record, the inside of the card was filled with kind words
of gratitude for having Angie as my friend and doctor)

One last selfie with Dr. Roberts before she gets down to business "stabbing
me in the front." :-)

3 Hours Later...
It's done! Dr. Roberts tells me that the surgery went better than expected. She is so cool, she took photos of what she removed guessing (correctly!) that I'd want to see the tumors when I woke up. I will include one very graphic photo at the end of this post for those who want to see it. WARNING--did I mention that it's a graphic (gory) photo? Don't scroll down at the end of the post if you're squeamish.

I came out of anesthesia pretty quickly but I had to stay in the recovery room for
almost 1.5 hours because my blood pressure remained too low. Once it approached normal
levels I was wheeled into my private room where my family greeted me.

I felt so good after the surgery--perhaps mostly due to relief that
everything had gone so well--that I sent mom and Bob home. Jim took
over as my support (with bracelet to prove it) for the evening shift.

March 25th:

Last night I asked the nurses to remove my morphine drip, I was feeling well enough to handle less-potent pain meds. In addition, I was able to get by with just 1 Percocet every 4 hours. Today they are wanting me to "eat" in order to restart my natural body functions...but I'm restricted to liquids only.

I had veggie broth, diet ginger ale and lemon-flavored Italian Ice.

Sandy's face sums up exactly how I feel about the liquid diet options.

March 26th:

Systems are partially working today, the catheter was removed yesterday and to my great relief (really, no pun intended) at least my bladder function is okay. The jury is still out on another matter, but I will spare you the details. I'm now taking Motrin 800 and 1 pain pill every 8 hours so things are going well, I also get to begin eating limited solid foods today.

Honestly, I don't know why more people don't come to the
hospital for meals...just look at the culinary masterpiece they served for breakfast.
Not a lot to do here all day. My job is pretty much to rest and eat and get up every few hours to walk laps around the elevators on my ward. In between laps, total bed rest. I've had plenty of visitors but also many hours of solitude spent looking out the window and watching TV. I did bring books to read but due to the meds running through my system it's very difficult to focus my eyes for reading.

I had a view of the parking lot from my bed, but thanks to the
folks at Bouvier Kelly Inc. I have these gorgeous flowers to look at.

These ornaments were given to me by my favorite gypsies
last month. I asked Jim to hang them from the TV as motivation
to GetBackUP. I'm working on it, my friends--hope to be out
running with you again soon!

It just gets better: PB&J, chips and chocolate cake. It's amazing how little "nutrient dense foods" are served in
the hospital, which is a large part of the reason Mona left her job at the hospital to start her own practice as a
dietician/nutritionist. Now I get it, Mona.
(Note: I never ate the desserts, I kept ordering them for Jim and for Bob as a thank-you for their company)

What a great surprise! Jim (an NC State and Wake Forest fan) bought me
a UNC blanket for good luck in the March Madness NCAA tourney this week.
He stayed until the game was over but I actually drifted off before the end of the game.
March 27th:

Jim snuck in some contraband, my favorite Fage yogurt--whoo hoo! They only have high-sugar, lower protein yogurt options available here in the hospital... Go figure.
I'm feeling better every day and now am really itching to get out of here. The TV system they have here is HORRIBLE. You can only push an "up" button to advance the channels; no going back, no flashback to last channel, no entering a specific channel. You have to go all the way around the dial to find anything and when you get to the last channel the television shuts off. You then have to turn the TV back on and continue surfing "up". I relied heavily on our local PBS station, and the show du jour is Bob Ross Painting:

(For the astute readers, my motivational ornaments have been
moved to my IV machine beside me...they were easier to see from there
than from the TV monitor.)

Dont'cha miss Bob Ross?
The Last Supper... last meal before leaving the hospital.
Apparently the cuisine of the day is Beige.


Yay! It's Saturday and I'm finally home. I have a long recovery road still ahead but being home will make the road so much easier.

I got this cute arrangement from my sister, Becky, bro-in-law Pete and
my 2 nephews, Jackson and Joey. Thanks, Kubins!

I got these fun socks from my friends Mark and Michelle.

Ahh, the perks of surgery just keep coming. Did I mention
that I have the best friends ever???

March 31st-April 11th:

The first 10 days at home were much harder than I thought they'd be. Yes, I was free of all pain meds upon leaving the hospital but I was still in a lot of discomfort. I was retaining fluids and my incision area was so inflamed that I couldn't fit into any of my largest pants. Fortunately I got gifts of loose, comfy nighties and draw-string sweats from some friends. There's a good reason why you'll see no photos of me in these fashionable ensembles but at least I was more comfortable.

At first I was full of energy and was happy that I could move about the house freely, but after about 3 days it felt like my entire body shut down. I think I tried to do too much too soon and my body sent me a warning to kick back a bit more. So, I paid attention. I slept a lot and tried to find small projects to keep me busy without straining myself physically. And thanks to Mona's fabulous advice about preparing my post-op meals ahead it was so easy to eat well. I made smoothies from my stored Ziploc Freezer bags (various mixtures of berries, kale, protein powders, flax seeds, nuts, bananas) and I had many low-sodium, easy-to-digest vegetarian soups on hand to choose from.

My orders from the doctor: Try to walk outside for 30-minutes daily (no more) accompanied by another adult, no driving, no lifting of anything over 15 pounds, absolutely no physical activity allowed other than the walking (no yoga, no stretching, no golf, no jumping, no jogging etc. etc.), no air travel, no long car rides. Most of these restrictions would be in place for at least 6 weeks and some for at least 8 weeks. I'm going to be a slug by then.

I'm guessing that if I do get to run again it will take a long time
to get back into marathon condition. But, if that's the biggest
worry I have, I'll be absolutely elated to start over from the beginning!

A sampling of how I spent my time:

My neighbor, Manny Rodrigues (Laura's husband) brought over
some palm fronds in advance of Palm Sunday. He asked me if I
knew how to make crosses out of them. From my crafting days
as a youth it slowly came back to me, along with the frond "lanyard"
weaving. Thank you to all my childhood camp counselors... who knew that
at age 48 I'd be asked to break out these mad skills again?!

I had a rotating schedule of friends who came by daily to
walk me or help me with chores. This particular day it was Tamara's
turn but I want to thank everyone who took time out of their day to make mine better:
Cindy, Stacey, Kristen, Tamara, Jim, Mom, Bob, Laura, Meredith,
Mark, Michelle, Buck, Manny, Julia, Ken and Leah.

Thanks to Tamara for this extremely valuable gift. Of course I
love the message on the pillow, but she gave it to me for a reason
I had not anticipated: to hold against my abdomen when I coughed
or sneezed. To anyone having abdominal surgery, get yourself
one of these small but firm pillows--it worked wonders for me!

I've been working towards the goal of
attending the Rock N Roll Raleigh races. The date will be 2 weeks
post-surgery for me and I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get
permission to travel by then. It's only an hour-and-a-half drive
(Jim will drive, not me) but with my body tissues still in a vulnerable
state I have to wait and see.

The countdown I used for inspiration. I'm really hoping I can attend so that I can thank and cheer for all of
my running friends in person.

The Cherry blossoms are stunning this week.

Seeing this tree bursting with blossoms,  I kept thinking of Agnes
from Despicable Me: "It's so flufffffy!"

Today it was Laura's turn to walk me.

Cookie crafting for Easter. I had some requests for Easter cookies from
friends and family so I figured, "Why not?" I rarely have time to bake
when I'm on the road and this will be a fun way to keep busy while
all my friends are running or on the golf course over Easter break.

My cookie projects lasted for days...the house smelled so good all week! I may have gone a little overboard...

I made personalized cookies for my granddaughters, Rowen and Summer.

I took a break from cookies to bake a special "Crown of Thorns" Challah loaf for Manny and Laura:

And now back to the 200+ cookies...

Okay, enough of the cookies already.  I just wanted to give you the true scope of my efforts as a temporary shut-in. I will say that Jim was a happy camper since I rarely make enough cookies to allow him his fill, usually he gets food along these lines instead:

Jim is always shocked to know how I can turn a fridge like this--full of nuts, seeds, seaweed
raw fruits and veggies into "REAL FOOD" like cookies.
Don't ask, Jim..just enjoy it while you can.
April 11th: Rockin' and Rollin'!

I'm doing well enough to make the trip over to Raleigh to catch up with my Gypsy friends who are coming from all over the country to run the Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 Marathon here. I know I'm going to miss being a runner this weekend but I will be cheering my heart out for all of my friends.

Road trip!!

Jim is already losing his patience with photos...and this is
only the first one I've asked him to pose for.

From the top of the escalator I spot Joe, Ted and Michelle heading into the Expo.
Can't wait to hug them!

One day I'll be back out there.

Just got a text from Kassie showing Granddaughter Rowen enjoying
her cookie.

After the Expo we went around the corner to catch up
with some of our Greensboro friends. Cindy McCall reminded
me that even though we both live in the same city, the last time
we saw each other was 1 year!
Gypsy love! I've missed you guys so much and you've been my motivation to GetBackUP. Here we are
at the pre-race dinner where they surprised me with a very touching gesture...

...Joe Harris holds up the surprise: My Gypsy friends will all be running in my honor with these bibs that
Al had made for the gang.

Sunday, April 12th: RACE DAY!!

After the early dinner last night, Jim and I checked in to a nearby hotel where I spent a bit of time making my sign for today. As much as I'd like to be out there running it's going to be  motivating for me to cheer for my friends...and plus, given how exhausted I was after yesterday's trip over to Raleigh, I know I'd never make it through the first couple miles. I was so worn out and slept soundly last night!
The 3 Musketeers are ready to Rock' n' Roll! Jim is showing his support for all of our dear CMTA friends, Joe
is running "To Remember" all our fallen soldiers and Kevin shows his allegiance to his Half Fanatics family.
Good luck to all of you today!

Jim has his usual pre-race coffee, hoping to wake up at least by mile 3 or 4.

Susan Carino models her flower and the honorary race bib. I'm modeling the sign I made
to let my friends know how much they've inspired me over the years, but especially these
last few months.

I broke out the RnR Gypsy Tour Photo Frame for this race. It's harder than it looks to
get everyone in the frame...

Looks like everyone is excited for the big race, just as the sun is coming up over downtown Raleigh.

Inside the VIP lounge I find some of my favorite Greensboro Gypsies: Cindy, Carolyn, Buck and Heath. Except for
Buck, this weekend is the first time I've seen these friends since last year...we've gotta change that this year, guys!

I am so honored that they're running for me today, what a special gift.

With a fence in front of us I feel safe enough to take a selfie out in the
crowded street. For the rest of the walk to the start I tucked in safely behind
Jim to keep from getting bumped in the gut by the stitches are
still tender!

Ron and Susan used their RnR connections to secure a spot for me behind the fence near the stage--no crowd to worry
about from this safe vantage point. Thanks, Carinos!

Joe crosses the start line...

Kevin toes the line at the start as he talks to the start line officials. I think he may be telling them to get out of his way. :-)

Here comes Jim approaching the start line...

Ron and Michelle are so speedy the camera can't catch them...

Susan, Lisa Marie and Al are on their way!

Once I saw all my friends start the race, about 24 in all, I headed back to the safety of the VIP lounge. Believe it or not, it's only 7:15am and I am really tired already from all the activity. I plan to rest here for about an hour then head back outside to find an uncrowded spot along the final mile to spectate and cheer until all my friends have crossed the finish line.

This is a close-up of the bib my friends are wearing today.

Billy Williams, Carolyn's husband, made the trip over from Greensboro this morning to watch his wife
cross the finish line today. I'm glad I'll have a partner on the course.

I scored a live interview with a local news reporter; she saw the sign and the bib and
wanted to share the story of our tight-knit Gypsy running community. 

Thanks to Kathy at WRAL #outandabout for sharing the love!

My friend, Tim Fennel, shared this photo from the RnR Press site...
that's me on the corner about 1/4 mile from the finish line waiting to
see my friends come up the last hill.

Jim sighting...

Looking strong, Jim!

I have absolutely no idea what he was saying.

That's Kevin, front row middle, giving it his all to the finish. He had a Personal Record in Raleigh today--
great job, Kev!!!!!
Here comes Buck, back row middle, adding another strong finish to his race card for the year. Congrats!

Heath looks like he barely broke a sweat on the course today...nice job!

Cindy rewards herself back in VIP with one of my
Easter Egg cookies. You've earned it, girl!

Joe captures some moments as Smashmouth rocks the crowd at the post-race concert.

Nice bling, Team Gypsy!

The 2015 bonus medals are awesome this year...I'm hoping to get a few of them but at
least I can admire all of my friends' hardware.

Enjoying the gorgeous spring day, listening to the RnR post-race music lineup: Carolyn and Billy Williams with
Bill and Julie Hughes.

You all really do inspire me--great job today to all of you!
(Susan, Carolyn, Al, Jim, Ron and Buck)

As I mentioned when I posted this pic on my Facebook page, "Apparently, NOT running is hard work"
After the race festivities were over and I hugged goodbye to all my friends, Jim drove us back home.
I think I made it 10 minutes before I went out like a light.

Monday, April 20th:

Happy Birthday to my Dad!! Happy Birthday to my friend, Melissa W.!! Happy Boston Marathon Monday!!

I rested a lot after last weekend's road trip but I was also cleared to extend my walk-sessions going forward.  In honor of all of my friends running the Boston Marathon today I decided to walk 6.2 miles (still 20 miles shy of the marathon distance but it would be a marathon effort for me today). I knew this would be safe as long as I 1) took resting breaks, 2) I carried a light backpack with emergency contact info, a phone and water 3) I stayed along well-traveled streets in case something happened. 

So, it took me over 2 hours of walking and resting (I paused my map App during sitting breaks) but it was really special to know that while I was out walking my friends were running the Boston Marathon at the exact same moment.

When I posted this initially on Facebook I confused many of my friends.
They didn't see the "Walk" label and didn't know I was also taking sitting breaks.
Instead, they saw "Ran 6.65 miles" and thought I was back up and running again.
Oh, how I wish that were true, but today was a beautiful day for me.

On the road to recovery and slowly making my way.

Here's where I post the WARNING for those who do not wish to see a graphic picture from my surgery. DO NOT SCROLL DOWN FURTHER ON THIS POST IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE THE PHOTO!!!!

Keep scrolling if you want to see a portion of what was removed during my operation...

I don't have the exact measurements of this but I was told that this would
not fit in your hands easily. My uterus had been the size of someone's who was
26 weeks pregnant thanks to the growth of these lovely tumors.
I'm glad to have them on the outside finally...good riddance!

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