Monday 26 February 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly on her surgery: 'Until you lose your independence you have no idea how fundamental and valuable it is'

Ciara Kelly
Ciara Kelly
The discomfort after surgery is not to be sneezed at.

Ciara Kelly

So I'm almost one week on from my surgery. And to be honest I've gained quite a bit of insight. I've never actually been properly unwell or more importantly dependent before. So this has been an eye opener. I had my operation five days ago. A fairly routine thing - an abdominal hernia repair since we're discussing it - and something I've seen hundreds of patients go through without much of a peep - occasionally popping into me afterwards for a few extra pain killers or to take a look at a gammy wound.

But the actual lived reality of being post-op is much different. The first time I got out of bed to shuffle to the bathroom, I could not believe the pain. Could not believe it could be normal. A nurse helped me the eight feet across the room as I couldn't get there by myself. How could that be? I fell back into bed afterwards, my head spinning and a sudden feeling I might throw up putting me in a cold sweat. I didn't dare venture out of bed again for another 12 hours.

It got better by tiny increments. I could sit up straighter in bed without feeling my stomach was about to rip apart. Although I did sneeze once unexpectedly which made me wonder had I ruptured my spleen. But I became slightly more mobile. Shuffling at a snail's pace independently across the hall felt like a major victory. I was put in a wheelchair and delivered to the car park and home. Which presented its own challenges.

I couldn't get up the stairs. Couldn't lift either leg up the steps. So the ancient sofa bed was called upon. Its sorry, thin mattress looked uncomfortable so the pillow top one from my bed was dragged down and plonked on top. A mercy run to the chemist was organised for pain killers and laxatives. And a sick bay was fashioned in the living room with books and magazine and DVDs I was too tired to look at, too weak to even open. What the hell? I'm 45 not 85 five. AND THIS WAS A ROUTINE PROCEDURE! That fact seemed to mean nothing.

I fell asleep around the clock. Occasionally mid-conversation. I rang someone at one stage because I was too tired to text. I worried about the strange burning pain internally - what could it mean? Were my stitches coming apart? Should I text my surgeon? (He is my mate.) No I'd look like a wuss. Should I ask my GP? No. Ditto. I clung on to my waning dignity. More sleep will cure it.

The dependence thing was the biggest issue. I couldn't stand for long enough to prepare food - or even to make a cup of tea initially. If I needed something - anything - from upstairs, I had to ask someone to get it. I couldn't provide myself with fluids, food or medication without the assistance of someone else. I'm lucky - the upside of having loads of children is that they are very useful errand-runners. But I was left thinking what it must be like to be older or alone and trying to cope with something even as relatively minor as this. To be honest - it must be awful.

It is amazing how much we take this stuff for granted. And how vulnerable and interdependent we all are. Independence is an illusion that can be shattered in a moment by a diagnosis. And until you lose your independence - even briefly - you have no idea how fundamental and valuable it is. What I have learnt is - be nice to people, you may need them. And be nice to people - they may need you. Oh, and take the painkillers - it's ok to be a wuss, you're sick.


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