I was taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ITU) after the operation and have been told often enough that it was very much touch and go that first night. I had septicemia from the bowel leaking its contents inside the abdominal cavity for approx 8 hours and went in to septic shock. The doctors in ITU stayed by my bedside throughout that first night, constantly juggling the amount and type of medication to try and stabilise the infection and my condition. I’m told they had given me everything they could and for a while the body was not responding, my blood pressure dropped to 56 over 35 in that time so some of the drugswere to try and increase the pressure by contracting the veins/arteries. Also apparently the heart stopped momentarily as it was struggling so much.
Luckily after a couple of hours my body did start to respond and the antibiotics started to fight the infection. I have met up with the main doctor that operated since leaving hospital and he reckoned the state I was in for a while was maybe a 50% survival rate because of my fitness, but perhaps as low as 10% if I hadn’t been fit. I was on a ventilator, liquid nutrition into the stomach and at one point had 14 different IV’s set up with different medication’s/blood and glucose/saline solutions going in to keep the levels stable.
My family and fiancee came and visited everyday and spoke to me, the doctors and nurses in ITU said I would be able to hear things and understand to a degree. My fiancee played me music too from my running ipod which included Rage Against The Machine - this had the nurses questioning my taste in music but it probably helped gee me up a bit if I could hear it!
I slowly got better and after a few days of Intravenous Antibiotics was still seriously ill but stable. With all the extra fluid in the body to help keep the blood pressure stable I was bloated all over with swelling all over the body so looked ok. I continued to improve and after seven days the doctors tried to bring me round by reducing the sedation and taking me off the ventilator and the breathing tube out. Apparently it wasn’t pretty as I struggled and couldn’t breathe for myself so a quick reversal by the doctors put me under again and the air tube back in so being ventilated again. The same thing happened the next day.
On the 9th day in intensive care it was getting close - after 10 days of being ventilated with a tube down the throat there is a high risk of infection developing. So if I didn’t start to breathe for myself there would be another operation the next day for a tracheotomy to breathe through a hole made into the windpipe at the bottom of the neck. I’m so glad that on the 9th day after an hour of thrashing and struggling I started to calm down and breathe normally. I don’t remember anythingof this time until a few hours of being awake again and slowly coming round. My Mum and Dad came to visit that evening so told me I had been out for the last 9 days and filled me in with what had been happening to me.
I stayed in ITU for another 6 days without any major problems, gradually had fewer tubes going into my arms and nose and started eating again. A physio came round and did a few exercises to move mylegs again to use the muscles a bit in resisting her pushes and pulls. I couldn’t breathe very well due to there still being lots of fluid on the lungs so another physio came a few times with a machine that forced air in to the lungs that I then blew out hard. This helped a lot but it only really cleared when I got out of bed and started moving around or even sitting in a chair. This in itself was hard, the first time I was helped out of bed I stood for about 30 seconds and had to sit back on the edge of the bed, too much exertion even doing this! Another time I was sat in a chair next to the bed whilst it was changed and stayed sitting in the chair for about an hour. I was knackered just from doing this... then one of the physios came round to get me to do some marching on the spot! I lasted about 20 seconds!
Just showering was a massive effort, standing up, getting changed and washing was all I could do and had to rest back in bed afterwards. But gradually I got stronger and could manage better, being able to stand for longer, walk on the spot and get in and out of chairs on my own. After about 4 days of being on the normal ward I could walk the length of the ward and the corridor, and shower by myself. Showering for the first few days was a BIG effort, standing for that length of time was really draining and left me needing to sit or lie for a while afterwards!
Fine - but it was completely alien to be like this. I’m normally strong and active all day every day, so to go from doing a marathon (badly, without any energy!) 2 weeks before being admitted to hospital to waking up having wasted away and not even being able to sit in a chair (as opposed to lying down), needing help to shower, being helped just to STAND by the bed at first is looking back pretty weird and still hard to comprehend.
But at the time these things are just challenges to overcome, the opportunity to make real progress and advance however slowly back todo the things that were always done without thought or effort. There was never any thought of feeling sorry myself or wishing things to be different. One cannot change anything and I don’t like the thought of being negative/wishing for it not to be as efforts are better used in a more productive way. Positive, forward thinking is the only way to dealwith it, accepting the situation and trying ones best, being understanding and grateful to the nurses looking after you and doing allyou can to improve. I knew the best way was to try and eat as well as I could but I was still taking super strength antibiotics so one of the side effects of these were to make everything taste quite bad and not like the food should be tasting! I didn’t manage to eat much of the meals for the first week or so because of this. I had some choc milks to try and drink as supplements and some nibbley type things like granola squares from sainsburys etc but everything was really hard to get down. I also needed to keep drinking as much water as I could but having the breathing tube down my throat for so long had made the muscles of the throat/oesophogas not work properly so I kept choking for about 3 weeks whenever I drank anything which made it harder!
The Physios came most days to do some exercises with me, but mainly we just did ultras up and down the ward until I was hanging so went back to bed. I was still being wheeled in a chair to go anywhere other than the physio sessions and a couple of other walks I’d do in the day. My parents would come and give me some respite from the ward and wheel me outside to feel the breeze and get some sun on my face. This was one of the best bits, I’m normally outside all day so being stuck in the hot ward unable to do much made it especially nice to get outside. The pleasure of rain on your face is not something most people realise to be special.
Once I had been on the ward for about 5-6 days the physios came and said they’d take me to the gym so wheeled me to one of the rooms that was set up with some stairs, an exercise bike and some small free weights. I might have been unlike I used to but as I was on the bike and stairs I started to tell them about ultra running and the stuff I’d done before. This served as inspiration in that gym to hit it as hard as I could and try and improve. I was becoming strong enough to work a bit harder and although the body might be weak and frail the mind was strong and still able to rouse some desire and soul. It was an effort but a revelation too. I would get stronger. I would get back to normal. Once we had finished in the gym and my legs were jellied from going up and down the steps in there they offered me the choice of the wheelchair back to the ward, or trying the stairs and corridors of the walk back. It shows my lack of confidence that I was really not sure if I could do it, but getting to the top of the stairs instead of the lift and walking all the way back (maybe 200m) was the biggest thing I’d done for a while and an achievement.
It was another couple of days in the ward before the doctors started to talk of me going home, I was up for this but unsure as well about if I could and how I would get on. They found a collection of fluid on the abdomen so I stayed for another few days to monitor my temperature in case of infection. It was ok and didn’t go up so a few days later I left hospital. Dad came and collected me and wheeled me out of the ward but before we left we went back to Intensive Care to thank all the staff. I arrived in this unit unconscious and remained so for 9 days, staying in ITU for another 6 days, before being wheeled onto a normal ward still bed bound so it was a fairly big deal to leave the wheel chair and WALK in to say thankyou and leave some gifts for the staff.
After some pretty adventurous times it was nice to get home!