Hospital Recovery

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Standing up and leaning into the walker, I took my first steps. I still had things attached to me. I wanted to tighten my core (abdominal muscles) and protect my lower back, as I’d been used to doing before lifting weights or while I ran. But then I’d think about my muscles having been cut through.

Day 1: Saturday, Sept 16th

Around 10 am the day after surgery, I was walking from ICU to the Transplant Unit on 9 Long (that’s what they call the larger wing of the 9th floor). My belly felt bloated and heavy, like being 2 months postpartum again. I was moved to a shared room with a woman who was very upset and vocal. We we separated by a curtain but still, it was difficult to rest or have conversations with my husband.

Since I was out of ICU, they switched to taking my vitals every 4 hours and doing blood draws every 12. They removed everything except the catheter, IV ports and the nasal cannula. Still, it felt like a taste of freedom!

I did a few laps. Walking the loop of 9 Long takes you past the nurse’s station, twice, and all the rooms, and the elevators. Once my cousin was moved to 9 Long, I gave him a visit. He was looking SO good and already feeling so much better. It was crazy how quickly his body responded to a healthy liver.

J and I walking my first lap around 9 Long.

Around 8 PM I was moved from the shared room into a private room (because I had asked politely). The nurse said that Dr. Ascher likes her donors to have a private room anyway. So it was good thing they moved me before she came to visit! Otherwise, I suspect she may have scolded them about it.

Day 2

I got to meet my donor mentor, Jon! We’d talked on the phone several months prior. We’d emailed several times leading up to the surgery. It was more helpful than I can say. So meeting him in person was a treat.

Unfortunately, my vision was still crazy blurry. It was a nightmare, making me feel sick and keeping me from really seeing anyone or using my phone. I was seen by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) who confirmed nothing looked bad with my eyes. So it was probably just a side effect of the pain reliever they were giving me; Oxycodone.

About Painkillers

Leaving ICU, I’d been switched off IV meds and onto oral Oxycodone with Tylenol. Oxycodone is a strong opioid narcotic pain reliever. One of my nurses explained that Oxycodone is stronger than Vicodin, which is hydrocodone (another narcotic) + acetometaphine (aka Tylenol). He said it was possible I didn’t need something as strong as Oxycodone. I could try a pain reliever that was less potent if Dr. Ascher would approve.

She let me try a high dose of just Tylenol. That fixed my vision issue. And honestly, I think the Tylenol was sufficient to manage my pain levels. Narcotics not required.

Day 3

I CAN SEE AGAIN! It was heaven. I also got one of the 3 IV ports removed. I was starting to feel frustrating with all the things still stick to my body and removing just one IV port was a blessed relief.

I also got to shower. Showering involved some plastic arm covers over my two remaining IV ports and letting water fall over my incision. No scrubbing. Pat dry. 

All throughout my stay I was intermittently visited by doctors, nurses and specialists. A PT and an OT came to talk about how I can move around while protecting my abdomen and incision. A Registered Dietician talked about eating in recovery, being mindful that I don’t have a gallbladder anymore. Therefore my body wouldn’t have a reserve a bile to bind to fatty foods and help me digest them normally. There’s a percentage of people who struggle with fat absorption and not being able to eat fatty foods without consequences once their gallbladder is removed. Yet others seem to be okay and not experience problems.

Everyone who visited would remark on how well and how fast I was recovering. I think the encouragement is great for keeping spirits up. They talked about me going home Tuesday or Wednesday. While a stay of up to 7 days was covered by insurance, the reality is that the sooner you get out of the hospital, the better.

Day 4 (Tuesday)

That morning they asked if I’d like to go home. I said, Heck Yes! So long as I can be sure my plumbing was working. You see, your intestines go to sleep during surgery and it can take a few days for things to start working again. And when they do, they may or may not work properly. I’ll spare you the details and just say things weren’t yet as I’d like them to be. So, with a little intervention, we got that taken care of Tuesday morning.

By Tuesday we had both earned our shirts!

A pharmacist came by to give me meds to take home. Then I finished up my last few laps around 9 Long. By the time that last IV port was removed, I was so tired of jello and chicken broth and all the hospital smells and gowns and wheeling around my IV pole. I still feel a little ick if I smell something that reminds of me of the hospital hand soap. I’m glad I left when I did.

Highlights of my Hospital Stay

  • Having really stellar nurses. They literally do everything.
  • Getting flowers from family and friends. They were the only good smelling thing anywhere.
  • Visiting with my cousin and seeing how good he looked!
  • Meeting my donor mentor and his wife.
  • Realizing that I can now start thinking about what’s next and making plans for the future again.