When I walked into Harris's room yesterday morning, lugging my bags full of stuff to keep me busy for the day, the surgeon was standing by the white board and had just started drawing a picture of the brainstorm that hit him the night before. He had no idea why he hadn't thought of doing this before except that he's never been presented with this kind of stricture in a "young" healthy male with a benign condition and with no apparent logical explanation. He's done this with cancer patients all the time, but Harris's situation was a new one for this doctor who's done thousands and thousands of colon surgeries in his past. When I googled Harris's symptoms earlier in the week, one of the reports mentioned that this stricture thing happens in only 1.2 to 2.4% of colon surgery patients, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that we're dealing with something so rare.
Originally the plan was to go in and definitely perform surgery yesterday. Best-case scenario with that plan would have been if the colon was healthy and clean, the old anastomosis (where the two ends were joined together three weeks ago) could have been removed, a new one created, and Harris would be on his way to another 4- to 6-week recovery.
Worst-case scenario would have been if the colon was not in optimal condition, which the doctor feared would be the case, a major surgery would have been done to remove the anastomosis, and then he probably would have ended up with a temporary colostomy. In that case, he would have had to go back again in a few months after the colon had time to heal, undo the colostomy with a new major surgery, and then redo the anastomosis again. Two major surgeries. Not an ideal situation but it was very likely since Harris's colon has been so traumatized in the last three weeks and wasn't perfectly cleaned out because of all the blockage that has occurred.
So the wheels started turning in the doctor's head. Or prayers were being answered, and the Holy Spirit gave this doctor some new insight and wisdom. You choose who's the real hero here!
Evidently when the doctor performs surgeries on cancer patients, it is often necessary to do a colonoscopy procedure and put a temporary stent in the patient, and then in three or four weeks, go back in, take the stent out, and perform the necessary surgery. It occurred to the doctor that maybe he could attempt that first in an effort to avoid the potential colostomy, which seemed inevitable to him. He explained to us that he wanted to prep Harris for surgery, try the stent, but if that didn't work, he would be forced to go ahead with the original plan of seeing the condition of the colon and either fixing it or doing the colostomy. We agreed that it was a logical thing to try.
After two hours of being in the operating room, the doctor came to visit with me and explained that they first attempted to put in what's called a retrievable stent, but there were too many twists and turns for it to work, so he abandoned that mission and successfully put in a different kind of stent instead. It's designed out of titanium and nickel and is similar to a piece of chicken wire. It's 2.5cm wide, which is the normal circumference of the colon, and 9cm long, and he was able to place it right through the section that had narrowed down to less than 6mm. Success!! There was some immediate relief to Harris's digestive system, and the doctor was very pleased with the results. He was especially pleased that we were able to avoid a potential colostomy, and this was all done without having to go in for major surgery! It was just done from the bottom somehow. Amazing.
But here's the challenge. He's never put one of these in a patient before with the thought of leaving it there permanently. He honestly does not know whether or not that is going to work, and he put in some calls to other colorectal doctors around the United States to gather their opinions. He also told me that he's going to a conference week after next, and he will be conferring with other surgeons while he is there. In other words, this is a big experiment for him. This particular stent has not been FDA approved for long-term placement, but he was currently not aware if others had successfully done that or not.
Best-case scenario is if he finds out that we can leave it in there and Harris can live a normal life with a stent in his colon. If that's the case, then he can resume his recovery period from the initial surgery and get back to life as usual. Maybe he'll become the subject of an article in a medical journal someday! Suppose it will pay us royalties?!?
Worst-case scenario is if he finds out that it is not wise to leave the stent in long-term. That will mean that we would still need to do another major surgery to remove the stent and fix the colon as he originally planned to do.
We will wait and see. And keep on praying.
As far as Harris's condition the rest of the day yesterday, his pain level was only about a 2 in his abdominal area, although he was kept pretty drugged up with morphine all day, but that NG tube is still down his throat, and that was creating a pain level of about an 8. He is so incredibly tired of that tube because every time he swallows, he can feel it. He ends up spitting out lots of phlegm, and it's really annoying. It's so painful just to watch him deal with it all the time, and I can't even imagine how painful it is for him.
We've been saying that the NG tube is the biggest curse but yet the biggest blessing of the whole hospital stay so far (besides the nurses, who are pretty incredible!). That tube is so painful, but when you see what all it continues to pump out of his stomach, we're really thankful that it's in there. It keeps him from getting sick to his stomach all the time, and it's been the only method of escape for all the bodily fluids that tend to accumulate there. For someone who's existed on ice chips for three days and hasn't eaten anything of substance for a week, it's amazing to us how much waste a body can still create.
The day was long, and the doctor showed up in the room at 11 p.m. last night to check on Harris. He had spent most of his day in the operating room, but we were impressed that he still showed up in our room as he promised. Even though Harris still seemed somewhat distended and hadn't had much of anything pass through the bottom side yet, the doctor was pleased and said that was normal. We will be conferring with him again today. He told us yesterday that Harris would likely be released early next week, but he has to be able to start eating again and successfully passing waste through his body.
We were blessed beyond measure yesterday with brownies and fruit delivered to our kitchen counter yesterday, which totally made Kelsey's day after a long day of school and swim practice, and then I was able to call her and tell her that there were also two meals that had been delivered to the front doorstep. Our kids all had various plans last night, so it was wonderful for me not to have to worry about what they were going to eat. Thank you, my dear friends!! You know who you are!
If I could clone myself today and be able to put one of me in the hospital room and one of me here at home, I would so do it. The house is so peaceful and quiet right now with just the whir of the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher, but I'm heading off to a different kind of quiet. Harris isn't able to speak much with the tube, but maybe today we can get that out. That is the goal! Praying right now that I can arrive before the doctor does . . .