“The” Surgery: Part Three

[Click for Part One and Part Two.]

I am glad I am writing these posts now, because I think if I would  have written all of this when I was “in” it, I would have probably been fairly despondent and cranky. Like I said at the beginning, I am feeling *great* right now. Of course, I am still “recovering.” I can’t lift Philomena or push a shopping cart, and I get sore and tired easily. Nevertheless, I feel so much better than I did even last week that it gives me hope for a full recovery. Not going to lie, there were moments in which I felt I would never get better.

While I was “in” the suffering, I kept hearing about truly difficult situations: a friend’s baby having his second heart surgery in his 8 months of life; someone diagnosed with cancer; a relative close to dying; a friend’s brother dying; and many more. Of course, hearing about these situations gave me “perspective” on my own little difficulties. And yet, it provoked something greater in me. I talk quite a bit about the “beauty” in suffering, but when you’re in it, the suffering feels pretty darn ugly. Truly. But, I guess that’s the point. So much of our existence is lived trying to rid ourselves of any suffering, pain, or inconvenience, be it physical, emotional, spiritual. However, we can never totally eradicate it. Suffering is part of our human experience. We are fallen; we are broken. We need to accept that in order to accept the answer to it.

And not to get too preachy, but the beauty comes in the reality that we have a God who took on all of our humanity, even the brokenness. I mean, Christ’s passion and death was probably pretty ugly, right? During my “lowest” moments this past month when I really struggled to have hope, that is when I encountered Him most profoundly…because I had to. That is the most beautiful of all needs.

And beauty? It was there. It was so there. I have never felt more loved by friends and family than I did in these weeks.  As I said before, I was inundated with cards, phone calls, emails, texts that were incredibly sincere, supportive, and prayerful. Friends invited Ryan over for food and company during his lonely days in Wichita. Someone at our parish mowed our lawn without being asked. People sent up gifts for Philomena. A priest friend offered a novena of Masses for me. We received giftcards for gas and other expenses. My household sisters from college actually filmed a succession of videos that told an intricate story to entertain me in the hospital. My aunt and uncle were the most gracious of hosts for the five weeks. My mother-in-law took off a whole week of work for when we were supposed to return. We received a moving “spiritual bouquet” from friends at our church. Now that we’re home, people are bringing us meals, helping watch Mena, and being my “personal shopper” [that would be my sister]. The list goes on.

And yet, the gold star for generosity goes to my mother. She lovingly took care of Philomena and me without ever once complaining. Where they were staying was 20-30 minutes from the hospital, but she still made the drive with Mena twice every. single. day, so I could have a few precious hours with my daughter. And she still cooked and cleaned and took care of all of us. She and my dad had to cancel a vacation to Boston, which they did without a second thought.

I already wrote about how extraordinary Philomena was during this time. My heart was so moved by her witness to me.

Then there’s Ryan, who drove to/from Omaha five (!!!) times, all while balancing a full-time job and two classes. He never complained either. Seriously. I think I was the only one doing all the complaining.

I suppose this is my way of saying thank you for all of the kindness and prayers. My body was broken, but my heart is full.

The End.

Nurse Philomena advanced quickly in her skills.

Nurse Philomena advanced quickly in her skills.


“The” Surgery: Part Two

[Click for Part One.]

Well, the surgery ended up being more serious than anticipated. I think it took around eight hours? They had to remove *eight inches* of my small intestine. That first stay in the hospital ended up being seven days. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, and I had a catheter along with an NG tube for quite a few days. Truthfully, that week was kind of a blur of morphine, ice chips, and HGTV. That said, my clearest memory is of Ryan being absolutely extraordinary. It is humbling needing help with *everything*, but he was right there with me every step. It was his encouragement that got me out of bed and moving around a bit, even though I was so uncomfortable. And I was able to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

I received *so* many calls, texts, emails, flowers, and cards from friends and family. Even though this was one of the roughest weeks of my life, I do not know if I’ve ever felt more loved. More on that later.

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #2

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #2

My birthday was Day Six in the hospital, and it was particularly tough. I was finally allowed to drink liquids, but with the return of bowel function came a whole host of other absolutely awful issues I will not detail here [you’re welcome]. It was also the day Ryan had to return to Wichita, so I was left alone. Not to be dramatic, but I do not think I have ever seen the cross more clearly than in that afternoon.

Anyway, so I ended up being released to my aunt’s house, where I was able to stay for a couple days. Another aunt from Denver came to help out, which was another blessing. I thought I was starting to recover, albeit slowly. However, a routine blood test the day before my second surgery revealed an elevated white blood cell count. As soon as I returned to my aunt’s from the blood draw, the doctors called me and told me to return to the hospital where I was to be re-admitted.

Ryan had already planned on returning to Omaha later that night, but when he got word of the issues, he left work right away to drive the five hours to be with me.

After more blood draws, an X-ray, and an IV-contrast CT scan, it was discovered that I had a very large abscess in my abdomen. Basically, it was a significant collection of infected fluid from a bacteria that somehow found its way into the abdominal cavity [is that the right word? I know I’m hacking all of this medical-speak.] The next day the “short” surgery ended up being a few hours, in which they drained the abscess as much as possible and tried to fix some of the extensive damage it caused. They put a drain in my abdomen, so I was able to see all the lovely secretions myself for days to come [yay!], and I was put on serious IV antibiotics. Once again I was in the hospital for an undetermined amount of time. Ryan had to return home that Monday, but as I will talk about later, my mom and Philomena came up twice a day for many hours.

A week later they removed the drain and were talking about releasing me. However, Dr. Hilgers decided as a precaution to order one more IV-contrast CT scan to make sure everything was alright. Sadly, the scan revealed that the abdominal abscess had returned, and two more abscesses on my liver had formed. The next day I had a “procedure” in which interventional radiologists used the CT scan images to place another drain in my abdomen and a second on my liver.

Yet again, I had drains coming from me, ridiculous amounts of antibiotics (now given to me in my new-and-improved picc line), and an undetermined amount of days in the hospital.

After five days, I had another CT scan, and it was determined they could take out my liver drain. [Sidenote: can we talk about how ironic it is that the woman who doesn’t allow a microwave in her kitchen for fear of residual radiation had five CT scans in the course of three weeks? Yeah. The doctors jokingly called me a “glow-worm.”] However, because I was on medication to prevent blood clotting, when they pulled out the drain, I bled and bled and bled. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the most serious of issues, but just seeing all that blood soaking gown after gown of mine was unbelievably frightening. Finally, they were able to get the bleeding under control, and I had to receive some platelets.

Nurse Philomena taking a break from her duties to color.

Nurse Philomena taking a break from her duties to color.

A couple days later (at the end of week three in the hospital), they were ready to release me to my aunt’s house, but I wasn’t allowed to return to Wichita until my abdominal drain could be removed. I had a home health nurse come every day to take care of the drain. And (you’re not going to believe this) a doctor who is doing her fellowship with Dr. Hilgers came to my aunt’s house *every day* to check on me. Talk about compassionate care.

Anyway, I ended up staying at my aunt’s for another 10 (long!!!) days. Other than a possible blood clot in my lung that landed me in the ER one afternoon [it ended up being nothing, thank God!], these days were fairly uneventful. I was on two types of oral antibiotics that left me incredibly nauseous and listless. I really tried playing and interacting with Philomena as much as possible, but that proved to be difficult at times.

Finally, my drain was pulled last Monday (October 13), and we were able to come home on Tuesday. I was definitely crying tears of joy [and pain! Five hours on the road post-surgery is no joke] as I walked into our house, where Mena and I were greeted by signs, streamers, balloons, and presents. Oh, and Ryan was there too. ;)

Part Three will be much happier, I promise!

“The” Surgery: Part One

I didn’t mean to be cryptic when I alluded to my recent hospital stay, but it is just such a looooooong story without many pictures. I didn’t want to bore you with the details until the time was right. And I suppose now will suffice. I also decided to break this into a few parts, because I am quite ramble-y. My apologies.

[I’ll start with a spoiler: I doing very well and recovering incredibly. There were some scary moments in the past six weeks, but I am okay. Praise the Lord.]

As I’ve mentioned before, Ryan and I are experiencing secondary infertility; there is a high likelihood we will not be able to have any more natural children. There has been a lot of heartache over the past year-and-a-half, but I can honestly say we are moving to a place of peace with the struggle. I plan to write a lot more about it in the future; however, as many of you know, we truly think God is using this cross to lead us into the world of fostering and, God-willing, adoption some day. Ryan wrote beautifully about this journey, and I encourage you to read his words…not just because he says lots of kind things about me. ;) [Incidentally, he wrote that post while I was in the hospital.]

That said, even though we thought God was using our infertility to make us open to life in other ways, namely fostering and adoption, we still weren’t ready to close the door to natural children. So, in June we had a couple weeks of appointments with Dr. Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha. I had an investigative laparoscopic surgery at that time. The surgery revealed extremely extensive endometriosis all over my reproductive organs, appendix, bladder, and most notably my small intestine. It was recommended that I return in a few months for a more extensive surgery to remove the endometriosis, which would most likely involve a bowel resection.

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #1

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #1

I will admit that Ryan and I agonized over this decision. Quite frankly, I don’t have a lot of the outward symptoms of endometriosis, so it’s not as if I was living with pain on a daily basis. Furthermore, the surgery is pretty expensive, and there was no guarantee (obviously) of being able to get pregnant afterwards. However, through a lot of discussions and prayer we came to the conclusion that we would do it simply for my health, and if by some miracle I’d be able to get pregnant again, then that would be an extra blessing. I say “my health,” in that there are women in my family who have had to have hysterectomies at young ages, so our hope was that this surgery would prevent the same for me. Also, the endometriosis was so insidious on my small intestine that there was a high probability of future problems. And we both agreed that if I was going to have a surgery like this, we might as well do it with one of the most experienced endometriosis-removal doctors in the nation, even if it mean the inconvenience of being five hours from Wichita.

[Before any naysayers show up here and tell me things like, “endometriosis can be fixed by diet and hormone therapy alone. Surgery is unnecessary.” Maybe you are right. However, I spent well over a year making major adjustments to how I was eating and taking ridiculous amounts of supplements. I went to regular doctors, a naturopath, and NaPro doctors. We really felt like we did everything we could have. So there’s that.]

The major surgery was scheduled for September 9, with a second (smaller) surgery on September 19 to removed some protective coating they placed in the first one. My mom and Philomena stayed with my aunt and uncle who lived in the area, and Ryan took a week off of work and class to be in the hospital with me. In terms of the actual procedure, Dr. Hilgers was going to focus on the removal of endometriosis on my reproductive organs; another general surgeon was going to focus on my small intestine and the removal of my appendix. No one was exactly sure as to how long I would be in the hospital, but they said something along the lines of “maximum five days.”


See what happens next in Part Two.

Philomena: 2 years, 22 months

[Fair warning, this is merely a doting-ish, overly sentimental musing on my daughter’s current state.]

Philomena is at *such* a great age. I know I have probably said this about every stage, but well, so be it. Sometimes I just want to bottle up her two-almost-three-year-old-ness and keep it forever in my heart.

I can’t do that, so a blog post will have to do.

– Mena is still introverted and shy, but I find that very sweet. And she is definitely becoming more and more sensitive. Philomena is starting to feel emotions more deeply, but she also gets over them quickly too. And yet, her attention span is seriously longer than mine.

– Contrary to what you might think and much to my dismay, she is really into bugs and all things creepy-crawly. [Except bees. She’s dramatically afraid of them. Thank you, Winnie the Pooh.] Nothing excites her more than holding a caterpillar or digging for “wormies.” And this is awful for me, because I have to pretend not to be totally freaked out.  I am terrible at pretending.

not a bug, just an acorn

– She’s kind of klutzy like her Mommy. Like, she can’t catch a ball for the life of her. She just kind of hold her hands there, and when the ball inevitably falls to the ground, she gleefully picks it off the ground and throws it back. [Yes, I realize this is a pretty important gross motor skill. We’re working on it. I promise!]

– One of Philomena’s most beautiful traits that I pray she never loses is her extraordinary empathy. I was in the hospital for three weeks [Long blog post to come! Sorry! However, I’m almost all better now.], so Mena’s world was completely turned upside down. Instead of tantrums or defiance, she faced this awful situation with mind-boggling flexibility and compassion. Every time she visited the hospital, she would give me so many “gentle pats,” because she knew I couldn’t hug. If I ever winced in pain (which was a lot), she would exclaim, “I love you sooooo much, Mommy!” Without anyone telling her to do so, she began “helping” me get out of bed, go the bathroom, etc. She would refuse to let anyone else bring me my slippers or water. The sweet nurses began referring to her as “Nurse Philomena,” a reality with which she was quite proud. She would often remind me, “I make you so happy, Mommy.” Indeed.

– About six months ago I remember complaining quite a bit about how she wouldn’t play independently for very long. Oh, how times have changed. Now she is a classic only child who will play by herself in her own little world for significant periods of time. She creates these weird and convoluted scenarios with whatever toys are in front of her. She talks and talks, but usually we have no idea what’s going on in her mind. She pretends certain people are with her (like friends or cousins), and they take trips to the zoo or Aldi or to church to pray for Mommy [we live such an exotic life].


– Since every Mommy blog must have some words about potty training [wink!], I suppose I should mention that Philomena is about 85% potty trained. She still wears a diaper during nap and bedtime, and we don’t plan on changing that anytime soon [sleep is just too precious for that kind of work]. Other than that, accidents are rare nowadays. The credit for this endeavor goes completely to my Mom. We kinda-sorta potty trained all summer, but three weeks with Grandma and bam! that’s it. [I am in denial about how much sugar was used for this feat.]

– I don’t want to pretend it’s all champagne and roses around here. [Is that the right expression?] I mean, Mena’s a toddler, so things have to be *just so* or she gets very upset. Like most toddlers, routine and method are so important to her. It’s infuriating at times, but it also is interesting to see her develop her own little world of logic and rules. And when her expectations *are* interrupted, she usually gets over her dismay very quickly. She outwardly reassures herself with such self-directed promises as, “SOMEDAY I will get to watch Curious George. Maybe after naptime.” Or, “SOMEDAY I will get some candy. Maybe tomorrow.” I refrain from pointing out that “someday” rarely comes about. That life lesson is for another day.

IMG_0016People often say [by “people” I mean random strangers], “oh, she’s sweet now, but just wait until she’s THREE! Three is so much worse than two.” Maybe they’re right, maybe not. Regardless, Ryan and I still are struck almost-daily by just how madly in love we are with this special girl. Our gratitude runs so deep for the gift of her life.

End gushing.

[Unless you want some more. Philomena at two years, 19 months, 16 months, one year.]