About four months into Wayne’s illness, he began to regain his strength and was able to walk a little He was eating and gaining weight, but he was constantly complaining about his colostomy itching so terribly. We discussed this with the doctor and he said that we could reverse it or keep it, whichever was best for us. We talked with all the doctors that would be working with him if we reversed his colostomy, and they decided to take him to surgery and reverse it for us.
Soon after Wayne entered the hospital to have his colostomy reversal, the staff began cleaning out his intestines to ready him for surgery. After pleading with Wayne for an hour, he finally drank the briny solution that was required to do the job. It was about as unpleasant as anything I have ever tasted. Yes, I tasted it just to understand what Wayne was going through.
Wayne’s colostomy bag was removed to give him an enema directly into the exposed intestine or stoma. However, the nurse didn’t get it back in time. You guessed it, the enema began to work and the flood was on. What a mess. I rang for the nurse and tried to contain the overflow to the bed with paper towels and washcloths. A call was put in to Bridget, the enterostomal therapy nurse. She brought in a unique bag to attach around his stoma.
It was a con-shaped bag, about twenty-four inches long, with a “zip lock” top and a clamp on the bottom. She glued on the base as usual, then attached the long bag with a top that closed like Tupperware, It was a good fit. Now, when the nurse had to give him more Fleets enema, she could simply open the zip lock top to administer the liquid and open the smaller end to release the waste.
Pretty ingenious, I’d say, and the bag held a lot so the nurse didn’t have to come in to check it too often.
You can learn a lot by watching the nurses in action and by asking many questions. When the nurses know you are interested, they will take more time to explain every procedure to you. This will give you the opportunity to become involved in every aspect of your loved one’s care.
Wayne was ready for the reversal of his colostomy and he went into surgery the next morning at 7:30 a.m. As the anesthesiologist began giving him an epidural block, his blood pressure dropped to twenty and his heart stopped beating.
The surgery team thumped his chest and started CPR. Finally his heart began to beat again. The doctor came out to tell me what had happened, then ushered me to the cardiac unit and led me to a little room by myself. I knew the situation was really bad when they put me in this little room reserved for families of critical patients.
The doctors worked on him feverishly. Wayne’s blood pressure had dripped back to twenty and heart stopped again and again. This went on four more times before they got him stabilized and administered medication to return his blood pressure to normal.
It’s strange how a man who had always suffered from high blood pressure, which caused his kidney damage in the first place, now had blood pressure so low it stopped his heart. The doctor came out to see me, telling me his condition was touch and go. The next few hours would be critical. If his blood pressure stayed up, he had a chance; if not we were going to lose him. He could die! Actually, he did, four times already.
I struggled to prepare myself for the worst. I told myself it might be for the best--if he had been without oxygen for too long he might have suffered brain damage. However, I couldn’t convince myself of that. I was panic-stricken. There was no one to talk to. If I told my mother about Wayne’s condition, with her bad heart, she too could have a heart attack. She loved Wayne like a son. I tried to be strong and I think I might have made it if I hadn’t called my daughter to tell her of her father‘s condition. That’s when I lost it.
The tears were rolling down my cheeks when I told her the worst might happen. Until then I was holding it together, but somehow putting it into words brought it home to me. I broke down and cried with fear. Fear of losing the man I had been married to for forty-five years. I wondered how I could handle all this alone. I wished that Casey were there with me. I sat in that room, alone with my thoughts, for what seemed like a lifetime, remembering all the good times in our marriage, our children, our life, all the times we needed each other. Now I might not have him to share any more good times.
Casey was packed and ready to go to a golf tournament when she answered my call. She dropped everything and broke all the speed limits traveling the 168 miles from Boardman to Portland.
Not long after I talked with Casey, Wayne’s doctor escorted me to the cardiac critical care unit. Wayne lay on sterile white sheets, his color as grey as death, with IV’s trailing out of both sides of his neck and arm. There was a tube down his throat and into his lungs that was breathing for him. The nurse suctioned fluid out of the tube from time to time. His hands were tied to the bed, so he couldn’t pull at the tube and IV’s and he was unconscious. He looked so helpless, so vulnerable. Tears rolled down my cheeks, as the nurse put her arm around me to comfort me.
Bridget, the enterostomal therapist, came in to change his colostomy bag. She was surprised to see Wayne’s condition, when she had just wished him luck the night before. When she hugged me I felt tears once again.
He started to choke and I could hear his chest rattle. I thought of the death rattle people talk about, wondering if this was going to be his last breath. I was afraid if his heart didn’t fail, he might die of pneumonia with his lungs so full, I took his hand, but there was no response. I had to leave when they were suctioning out his lungs again. I couldn’t take it.