A Hard Recovery

It’s been hard week. On the whole, Anne is moving in the right direction; she’s certainly doing better now than she was a week ago. But in terms of how she’s been feeling, it’s been a case of a few steps forward followed by a few steps back, over and over. The following includes some of the (slightly) gory details, so consider yourself warned if you’re squeamish.

In my post last Friday, I mentioned that Anne was able to drink fluids and walk around a bit. Unfortunately, later that day she started to have severe stomach pain and bloating, and then bad nausea and vomiting. They brought in an x-ray machine and found that her intestines were not functioning properly to move everything through; she had an ileus, a very common but very unpleasant aftereffect of gastrointestinal surgery. They put in a nasogastric tube to relieve the pressure in her stomach, but the feeling of the tube actually made her feel more nauseous, and they took it out the next day. She also stopped taking the narcotic she was on, dilaudid, since that can make an ileus worse.

Since Sunday, the ileus seems to have gradually worked its way out, and Anne isn’t feeling as much pressure from the bloating. She has still had almost constant nausea despite round-the-clock anti-nausea meds, and she’s still in a fair amount of pain. The doctors aren’t sure what’s causing the nausea now. They’ve encouraged her to start eating soft foods – e.g. oatmeal, chicken soup – and it seems to have helped some, as the stretches between episodes of bad nausea seem to be getting longer.

We still don’t know how much longer Anne will be in the hospital. This morning her blood work showed an elevated white blood cell count. It’s low enough that it could simply be normal day-to-day fluctuation, but if it is high again tomorrow morning they’ll do a CT scan to make sure there are no infected abscesses from the surgery.

Like I said at the beginning: this has been a hard week, especially for Anne. There have been days where she had to fight not to be sick for every minute of the day, and the day seemed to stretch on forever for her. She’s reached the limit of what she can bear a few times, and then kept going, because there’s no other choice. I continue to be amazed by her. At the same time, it hurts not to be able to take away her suffering.

On Sunday morning I wanted to read the story of Jairus’s daughter from the Gospel of Mark. I forgot that there was an interlude in that story, about the woman with the flow of blood. One line in particular from that episode struck me: “Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:25-26). I’ve usually focused on the healing part of the story; this time I was struck by the years of suffering that preceded it. I tend to think of suffering as something noble and abstract. But I think real suffering usually includes bodily fluids and bad smells, little indignities, vomit and tears. It’s good to be reminded that the Lord came to those places, that the Lord is most present here, in this hard stuff. He has been so faithful in carrying us. But it’s still hard.

We’re grateful for all the support we’ve had, all the well-wishes and prayers. We’re confident that things will continue to slowly improve, and very grateful in particular for the care and the skill of the medical team at Penn. Anne has described her recovery as a cha-cha: a step forward, a step back, a few steps sideways, another step back, another step forward. But it seems to be a cha-cha that, despite all the back and forth, is slowly shuffling in the right direction.


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