Quick Back Story

A week ago Monday I saw a general surgeon to discuss the two hernias I was left with after my pregnancy with Eliott. Ten years and four kids later, these things weren’t necessarily giving me major problems, but were moderately uncomfortable when they bulged every time I had to sneeze, blow my nose, cough, or laugh too hard.

The first, a typical umbilical hernia, was a little under two inches in diameter and located directly behind what used to be a nice compact and respectable innie belly button. I remember in that pregnancy with Eliott the slow and painful process as I watched it turn inside out and pop like a little turkey timer. I used to bandaid it down, it was so painful at the time. After Eliott was born and my stomach returned to its new normal, I was able to mostly keep it tucked in.

But there is no amount of bandaiding that provided any sort of permanent hope for this outty today. Remember Q*Bert? Anyone? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

The other was just above my belly button and known simply as an epigastric hernia, meaning a tear in my abdomen. It was also pretty small and this one I couldn’t put my fingers into and feel around, but it left a slight bulge above my belly button, and resembled a skin cyst or node of some sort.

Again. Not a huge deal, but what the heck, we’re on Obamacare and might not be for long. Also, this is really the first time since Avery was born that she is finally old enough to climb in and out of everything herself, allowing me to avoid picking her up for the required 6 weeks of healing.

Initial appointment was Monday.

Surgery scheduling calls me Wednesday afternoon to say they can get me in as early as Friday morning.

What the heck.

Just enough time to change all the sheets on all the beds and refresh towels, because Mama ain’t doing laundry for a while.

Meet Q*Bert
Bad light and difficult angle, but my belly button just sort of falls out because of the umbilical hernia, and the slight bump just above it is my other hernia (it is more pronounced in different light).

The Day Before Surgery

Okay so the details are a little spotty, but I’m going to provide a quick rundown of the next 48 hours, just because it seems like something that should be captured.

Thursday morning I’m entering the YMCA at my typical time, when my phone rings for my pre-op phone call.

Good morning Mrs. Wait. This Novant Health Medical Park calling about your surgery scheduled for tomorrow, do you have a few minutes to go over some information? (Sure, just don’t make me recite my social security number, I’m not exactly in a private place right now.)

I duck into the locker room and am given the rundown on what to expect the next day. A few notes that stick out:

Don’t take your fish oil tonight, it is a blood thinner. (Weird. But no problem, I keep it in the freezer and forget to take it nearly every night. I guess this also means no drinking alcohol?) In fact, go ahead and skip all your vitamins except the magnesium if it helps you sleep. You can also take a Xanax tonight or tomorrow morning, with water, if you are feeling anxious about the surgery.

Who will be your support person? (Does my husband count? He’ll be shuttling me back and forth from the hospital with our four kids under the age of 13 who aren’t allowed inside due to the hospital flu quarantine. How long does this surgery actually last?) It would be ideal if he could be there while you are in surgery, just in case the doctor needs to provide any updates, but if he must leave at some point to relieve a babysitter, just be sure the OR nurse has his cell number. (Updates like…? I mean, call me crazy, but this is kind of a simple procedure, right? I mean, like, I’m not going to die or anything. How soon do I get to go home?)

Finally, begin fasting tonight at midnight. When you wake up tomorrow, go ahead and shower like you normally would (haaaah) just don’t use any lotion or deodorant after your shower. And you might want to wear loose fitting clothing that will be easy to get on and off.

My neighbor happens to be in the locker room at the time of this phone call, so I quickly fill her in and ask if she can be on alert the next day in case we need her. She obliges because we live in the best neighborhood in the universe. Then, I go tell my friend at the front desk about this last minute crazy whirlwind weekend, and she tells me she is off on Friday and can come over and keep the kids as long as I need.

How do these things keeps happening?

The Day of Surgery

At this point I am weirdly not freaking out or anything. Didn’t even take the Xanax. I’m a little headachy from the lack of coffee and of course, mildly starving. It is raining and the kids have a day off of school for end of quarter grading. I could not be looking more forward to my drug induced nap in a few hours.

If you haven’t been to a hospital lately, let me quickly update you on some security procedures. Every time someone enters your space in order to do even a menial task (with the exception of emptying the sharps box), he or she must ask you your full name and birthdate before doing anything. Also, they have these grocery store scanning guns which I assume they are using to create my itemized bill. I noticed the nurse scanned my bracelet and then my bag of saline, sort of silently announcing, “You’re paying for that.” Fine.

Then, after protocol, they immediate ask, “How are you doing today?”

At first, I did the typical, “Oh fine. You know, no kids. This is great. Haha.”

But by the time I was being wheeled into the OR, I had had enough of the niceties.

When the male OR nurse went through the name, birthdate, and howareyoufeeling(s), even without drugs I answered, “Well, let’s be honest. I’m feeling a little vulnerable right now. I mean, I’m laying here on a table-with-wheels in a room full of strangers and I have no underwear on. I think a better question is how are you feeling today, because you are a key part of the team that is supposed to be keeping me alive. Did you get enough sleep last night?”

I get a little hung up on the possibility of death inside hospitals.

He sort of laughed. He also assured me he was fine and I was definitely not going to die. Then he announced me to the room (I said my name and birthdate AGAIN) with, “This is Claire, and she’s feeling a little vulnerable today.”

At this point I felt like it was only fair to assure them that I meant vulnerable in the way of leaving my life in their hands, not so much the lack of underwear part. “I mean, I have a whole bunch of kids. My dignity’s been gone for a while now.”

Within a few minutes, they hook me up to the sleepy time meds and the next thing I remember is waking up after what felt like a day of sleeping. I even had dreams. (I looked at the clock back in the recovery room. 45 minutes had passed from start to finish. So weird.)

As I’m coming out of my sleep stupor, though, I suddenly have this crazy memory of John coming out of back surgery, and his breath, which I could smell from the doorway. I kind of panic and then blurt out my insecurity about my breath. Another male nurse gives me a peppermint flavored sponge on a toothpick.

And it is fantastic.

“Do you give these things to everyone?! Why didn’t my husband get one of these?!” I ask.

“Only the nice people,” he says, and he’s not joking.

“Oh that’s funny. No one ever calls me nice. I swear. Like, ever. Never. No one ever calls me nice. I’m not nice.”

“No. I think you are very nice Mrs. Wait. You have been particularly pleasant. And trust me, not everyone is nice in here.”

At this point I do not have the wherewithal to conclude that I have absolutely no idea what I may or may not have been saying while going in and coming out of anesthesia. But I’m just so thrilled to think that here, in what is obviously a very raw and unfiltered state, I’m totally coming across as nice.

As soon as we see John I say, “Hey, tell my husband what you just said. Honey. He said I’m nice! He called me nice. Isn’t that so weird?”

“Oh you must have her on some really good drugs. No one ever calls her nice. I mean. Ever. She’s not nice.”

“No! No, it’s not the drugs. I think, at my core, I might actually be nice. Isn’t that great!”

In hindsight, I think it was definitely the drugs.

Next morning: slight swelling (it got a little worse the next day) and taped up surgery site.

The Day After Surgery

After sleeping most of Friday with minimal pain, I wake up very early Saturday morning (4am early) wide awake, and aching. Trust me when I say, you have no idea how much you use your stomach muscles until they’ve been sliced open, even slightly. Breathing too deep is painful. Talking, even softly, painful. Laying down, not too painful, but laying down and turning my head sideways? Painful.

I end up on the couch and stay awake until Isaiah and the sun both greet me simultaneously. I relocate to my bedroom after John gets all four kids out of the house and off to soccer for the day.

Just as I’m starting to fall asleep, there’s a knock at the door. Assuming, at first, that it is the little girl from across the street, of course I ignore it. But then, instead of the usual 2nd knock, I hear a van door sliding open and closed, and some muffled talking. I hear a few more cars drive by, and I’m convinced it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, picking what is obviously the best day of my year to come preach me the Good News.

Oh hell no.

I fall asleep plotting my conversation with them when they come back.

At 11am, I finally wake up, shuffle around the kitchen, get a cup of coffee, and my sister calls. While I’m on the phone with her I hear another knock at the door.

“Omigosh, Laura, it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know it is. Stay on the phone. I want you to hear this…” I’m saying as I swing the door open with a little less gusto than planned.

A huge pink bouquet of flowers greets me.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve all these surprise surgery elves (nothing, actually, I did exactly nothing), but let me tell you, I couldn’t be more humbled and dare I say it, #blessed, by this great little town we have stumbled upon. Again.

I die.

Then I apologize to the florist for assuming he was a JW. And I actually tell him that. He says he came by earlier but I must have been sleeping. I apologize again, because now he seems even kinder than he did with just the flowers, which prevent me from giving him a hug.

At some point I go back to bed for a little while and wake up to find a chicken pot pie on my kitchen table.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve all these surprise surgery elves (nothing, actually, I did exactly nothing), but let me tell you, I couldn’t be more humbled and dare I say it, #blessed, by this great little town we have stumbled upon. Again.

Today

Today I’m off all the Vicoden and have cut back to just Advil. Let’s be honest, I fancy regular bowels, and there is nothing that will stop that train quicker than some Vicoden. My pain is pretty minimal, considering, it just hurts to sneeze, cough, laugh, or move too suddenly.

I’m pretty swollen. Swollen, like, five months pregnant in my first pregnancy, or six weeks pregnant after that first kid. You know the kind of baby bump I’m talking about. I’m icing every hour because it feels good. I’m not sure that it is doing anything.

Also, a few things went differently than planned. First, my doc did not use mesh to fix me. She got in there and realized my tissue is “paper thin” and “You are also tiny, so there was no way to use a piece of mesh without it showing this square right behind your belly button.”

Score one for the fantastic female surgeon who continually thought of cosmetics from start to finish, no lie, in this entire process. Her name is Dr. Lori Kellam and as of today, I recommend her wholeheartedly.

That said, I won’t be able to see what she did for two more weeks. She sutured the hernias and also repaired a short length of my diastasis recti. She did not use any stitches on the outside however, I am being held together by nothing but glue, steri-strips, and a double wrapped belly binder.

The hardest part, dare I admit it, is looking at my house fully knowing that even with John’s best effort, it will be a bit of a disaster for the next month or so. The control freak in me feels good enough to have to consciously make the effort to just let the mess be there.

I will try to remember to update with some better “after” pictures when everything settles down, but don’t expect that anytime soon.

Post-Pregnancy Umbilical Hernia Surgery

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