After nearly forty years dealing with diverticulitis, I crossed the safety line almost a year ago. It was no longer feasible to take medication to resolve the flare-ups. The side-effects from the Levaquin, the designated drug that kept me away from the surgical table all these years gave me a trigger thumb, a trigger finger months later, and later yet, tendinitis in the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. In essence, unawares, I had entered a danger zone requiring immediate attention or risk dire consequences.
No time to waste, after five consecutive episodes of diverticulitis in a twelve month period, I had to face the unavoidable. I asked doctor friends for advice. I read articles about healthy eating. I sought information online, but in the end, it came down to now or never.
The passing of the years didn’t make things easier. Trying to lay blame for the condition was a futile exercise. Yet, there’s a high degree of consensus placing the blame on stress. Regardless, I had to take action. While I had been lucky all these years, my luck was running out. It was clear.
My consultation with the surgeon went well. I was impressed with his medical training, as a myriad diplomas lining the walls of his office attest. He inspired trust. He had the training, the experience of thousands before me with similar issues, and a conviction that I had no alternative.
Despite all the above, a high degree of ambivalence and fear lingered on and off as the set date approached. So, I continued to read, now more about personal experiences online from patients who had undergone the operation. Some stories scared me more and others helped me regain my determination to proceed.
For me, the main obstacles were the preparation for the surgery and the post-operational road to a new normal. I spent four months prepping. I had healthy, balanced diets. I had probiotics every morning, yogurt for breakfast daily, and stayed away from food I knew from experience had always pushed me to another crisis. As my gastroenterologist explained, for the surgery the area had to be cold, not in a flare-up, for at least 90 days.
Two days before the surgery, I had to prepare by following a familiar procedure, for the process is very similar to the prep for a colonoscopy with its two liters of laxative swallowed by the glassful every fifteen minutes until the liquid’s all gone; only this time it was double the dosage four hours apart. The day before, three strong doses of antibiotics spread out in the afternoon and evening. The day of the surgery, an enema and a shower with special antibacterial soap.
From that hazy morning barely six days ago, I recall my rejection of an anesthetist and a request for an anesthesiologist to oversee the anesthesia process. I have a vague souvenir of a woman introducing herself to me as the anesthesiologist and giving me a description of what she would do, probably while injecting my line with a strong drug that blocked everything else beyond that moment.
I have souvenirs of isolated images but little recollection of actual visitors and conversation my daughters both assert I held. It’s all a vague memory with few exceptions. One of these is the initial Patient Administered Analgesia. It gave me a nagging itch over my entire body. The antidote for the itch was Benadryl, but it can only be administered every so often, which left me itching and scratching like a mad man the rest of the day.
Luckily, there were other choices. The nurse suggested as an alternative, morphine. The morphine turned me into a belligerent, aggressive, irritable and irrational man, but worst of all, it didn’t take away the pain.
In a more sequential format, my surgery took place early Thursday morning. All day Thursday, I used Dilaudid for the pain, the drug causing the uncontrollable itch described earlier. It was Friday afternoon when the nurse suggested morphine. Luckily, I only endured it for a half day. By late Friday, I stopped it and changed for what I would term, a miracle drug, Toradol.
For the record, from what’s published on the Internet, Toradol’s another drug with possible serious side effects. It should be closely managed. It should only be administered by a competent physician. But it worked for me and I used it moderately, as prescribed.
It took my pain away. It soothed me. It pacified me. Its effects were totally opposite those of the morphine administered intravenously.
I should also emphasize still in disbelief that I stopped taking pain killers by the fourth night after the operation. Last night I took a couple Tylenol Extra-Strength to pass the night and I slept the whole night through. This contrasts drastically with my expectations from most of the material I read.
For those frightened by the stories from the Internet, by Saturday my doctor had placed me on a liquid diet for breakfast, a bland liquid diet for lunch, and a soft diet for dinner. By Sunday, I had a small pancake, scrambled eggs, a nice, thick slice of ham, a cup of coffee with skim milk and sugar, and apple juice. Later that morning, I came home with instructions to continue following a healthy diet, free of spices and foods that would give me gas.
The gas that everyone warned me against has not inflicted any pain. I walk as often as I can, which also follows medical advice. The meals I eat are small, but balanced.
Diverticulitis has no cure. An operation can be ignored and the condition treated as long as the episodes it causes are not more frequent than one or two a year. An experienced gastroenterologist and an abdominal surgeon are best qualified and able to explain the odds to an individual facing a similar condition.
This short narrative is not meant to encourage anyone to enter into a similar procedure. Everyone is different. However, I remain pleasantly surprised with what seems to be my normal recovery. Thus far, I feel very lucky, which is why I want to share my experience after the surgery with others who may be weighing their alternatives.
Nevertheless, going through with the procedure is the right choice when facing the acute risk of a ruptured intestine along with a dismal rate of survival. From my perspective today, barely five days after the surgery, I should have done this years ago. I can look forward to a happy, healthy recovery, with years free of pain and abdominal crisis.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn’t lead to an educated choice. Hopefully, my description of the process only days after the surgery will clear up anyone’s reasonable apprehension to go through with it. It’s meant to help patients suffering from diverticulitis, fearful of the surgery, and still weighing the options.