NOTE: This blog post contains graphic descriptions of medical procedures. It is written with express permission from the person whose situation is described.
On June 16,2016, I read a cryptic message on Facebook from my friend Jenny. She had checked herself into the emergency room due to unexplained excruciating pain. For most people, this would be cause for alarm and while it was concerning, it was not unusual.
You see, Jenny had her first surgery in 1983 and 45+ surgeries since: 4 back surgeries between 1984-1989; first tonsillectomy in 1986, second in 2002 (they can grow back); breast cancer and bilateral mastectomy in 2004; emergency gal bladder removal that was scheduled for outpatient and ended up as 3 weeks in the hospital in 2005; neck fusion and breast reconstruction in 2011; knee surgery in 2016.
I have known Jenny since 1999 and have been present for most of her surgeries for the past 22 years. I am her primary care giver and medical power of attorney. So, I didn’t call her to see what was going on that night, I just showed up.
Her knee surgery in May 2016 had been big trouble because she was allergic to the substance that they injected to replace her cartilage and they had to remove it. I guess I assumed this visit to the hospital was related. But when I walked into the ER, I found her in a condition worse than I have ever seen.
Jenny had sepsis (blood infection) caused by acute diverticulitis that led to a ruptured colon and a gangrenous appendix- the pain that finally forced her into the hospital. They put her into a medically induced coma for 17 days. They performed emergency surgery to repair her colon on June 17, emergency surgery on her appendix June 19 when they found it, and 28 cavity washes to remove all fecal matter from her organ cavity. She came out of her coma on July 4.
The infection was harder to fight. Septic shock kills 40% and Jenny almost died twice. The way the medical staff behaved was telling. But she survived, got transferred to long term hospital care from August to December, then rehab in a nursing home December to April 2017. She parked her car on the street in 2-hour parking on June 16, 2016 and would not walk out of medical care until April 22, 2017, 310 days later.
Happiest day of her life. Please see photo above.
She had literally been gutted. And her gut wound remained open even after she left the hospital. In August 2017, she had to undergo another 12-hour surgery to attempt to reverse her temporary ileostomy and install a mesh to permanently close and support her abdomen.
The surgeon tried to reverse the ileostomy, but said it was “like a trying to remove a garden hose from a block of cement”. Her scar tissue had filled in around her intestines and the ileostomy would be the first in his career he could not reverse. They installed the mesh and closed her up.
Around October 2019, unexplained symptoms begin to appear- abscesses, drainage, terrible pain. They narrowed down the cause to fistulas but after dozens of CT scans, they could not find them. Then 3 weeks ago, the stars aligned, and the radiologist found two fistulas that now must be repaired.
Tomorrow on March 15, 2021, very early in the morning Jenny will undergo another high-risk surgery to try to save her life. Her surgeons will attempt to remove the old mesh, remove her intestines from her body, patch up all the holes, replace the intestines into her body, and install new mesh.
This surgery is expected to take at least 7 hours. Her brother Tony will be at the hospital and we will both get a call about the outcome of the surgery sometime tomorrow afternoon. If all goes well, Jenny will be in the ICU for about 5 days, and in the hospital for another week. With any luck, she will be recovering at home by April 1st.
I will stay with her at home until she is well enough to be on her own. The outpouring of support from friends and family has been wonderful and very much appreciated. And rest assured, you will be called upon if/when needed.
I have only one more personal favor to ask… please pray to whatever God you believe in that Jenny survives this surgery and recovers fully to a better quality of life.
More updates to follow…
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2021