During the last few days, I’ve learned how very much energy an extensive and intrusive surgery can drain from a person. And I’m discovering that the remarkably difficult road to recovery presents its own challenges. I am providing post operative support to a man whose scar begins just below his sternum and snakes down in a more-or-less straight line for 13-inches. He is worn out. With barely enough energy to pull himself to a standing position on his walker and move slowly for a short distance from one place in the house to another, he reaches his destination winded and needing to sit down.

His surgery, for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, took roughly seven hours from the time he was wheeled into the operating room until the time he was taken to cardiac ICU.  Then, twenty minutes later, his vitals revealed that something was badly amiss and in need of urgent attention. So, he was wheeled back into the E.R. The surgical staples were removed, he was opened up again, and the doctors worked to find the source of serious internal bleeding. After several units of blood were pumped into him and the source of the problem was identified (his spleen was removed during the surgery and the stitches to close the wound had failed when his blood pressure spiked), the surgeons corrected the problem and “stabilized” him. The entire process took several additional hours.

Four days later, the hospital moved him from ICU to a private room. Finally, he was allowed to eat, but only “soft” food. But he wasn’t hungry and couldn’t eat much. Six days later, after eating very little at every meal (so much so that the nurses and dietetic staff expressed concern and said, “we can’t get him to eat, what should we do?”), he was moved to the rehabilitation unit. There, he was given various therapies but, still, he would eat very little food. The staff could not seem to make him eat; his family was unsuccessful either. This went on for a week. He was released from the rehabilitation unit to go home (to his daughter’s house) seven days later.

For two days now, he has tried to walk a little every few hours. And he has tried to eat. But he has a hard time swallowing. His already low energy from the operation is curbed even more by a lack of fuel; he’s eaten so little since coming home that it’s scary. And it’s not because he won’t. It’s because it’s so hard to swallow. I’ve decided it is unwise to release a patient right before or in the midst of a weekend. There’s nowhere to go for answers from people who know anything about the patient.

Tomorrow, we call an outpatient rehabilitation unit to arrange for ongoing therapy. And we ask questions of everyone we can. We inquire as to why his discharge papers that addressed which medications to continue, which to discontinue, and which to start do not mention his diabetes medication. We will ask about the difficulty swallowing and what can and should be done.

For my own record, here’s a calendar of his most recent interaction with the hospital and discharge. He was in the same hospital a week earlier for the diagnosis; he stayed several days then, too. What a taxing series of experiences. And it’s taxing on the caregivers, though not nearly as taxing as it is for the person receiving the care.

July 24: Tuesday, early morning surgery and late afternoon ICU
July 28: Saturday, late afternoon, out of ICU in private room
August 3: Friday, evening move to rehabilitation unit
August 10, Friday afternoon, released from hospital

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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