My 4th Endo Excision Surgery

"Uterus & Guts," created by Ivy Denton
@deathwindchimes 

Before I get started, let me explain the image above. A talented artist by the name of Ivy Denton created it for me (they also created the EndoGuy and PoopChuteSnakie you’ll see below). They’re taking commissions if you’re interested in throwing ideas their way! “What is it,” you may be asking yourself. It’s a whimsical interpretation of my insides: a uterus with two cervix, no fallopian tubes (hence the band-aids and floating ovaries), and it’s accompanied by it’s new buddy: an intestine missing some pieces. I think it’s adorable! Thanks, Ivy!!


On with the good stuff! If you didn’t already know, back in July 2018 during an excision surgery Dr. Kurtulus discovered a pair of Endo lesions on my small intestine . He brought in a colo-rectal surgeon, Dr. Schultzel, to look at it and decide if we could remove it then. Unfortunately, it was deemed too deep and risky without a proper bowel prep and a future resection would take place.

On November 26, 2018, I had a tag-team surgery for my Endometriosis. Dr. Mel Kurtulus once again performed my excision surgery and Dr. Matthew Schultzel performed my bowel resection. This took place just four months after my last excision surgery. The procedure lasted about four hours and went without a hitch. I remained in the luxury resort…I mean the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute at Scripps Memorial Hospital for three nights/four days while I recovered.


The Bowel Prep

This was my very first bowel prep. Ever. And I was terrified of so many things. I’d heard horror stories about the taste of the prep, and equally horrifying tales of the aftermath.

I was prescribed Suprep, which of course my insurance refused to cover. If that ever happens to you, get a manufacturer’s coupon off of their website and bring it to your pharmacist. It certainly knocked a bit off the price for me!

Honestly, it didn’t taste that awful…kind of like a salty grape-flavored 7-up. But ugh it was still rough to get down.

35 minutes after I downed my first big dose of Suprep…and the torrential downpour had begun. Over the next 2 hours, I pooped a total of 19 times (I’m sparing you the details, but kept a detailed log; no pun intended). Most of it was liquid and sometimes I couldn’t even leave the toilet in between craziness.

My colo-rectal surgeon also had me on a regimen of ClearFast, to help not only keep me hydrated during the process but to make for a faster/easier recovery after surgery.

Then at 10pm, I took my 2nd dose of Suprep. It took about 30 minutes to take effect and over the next hour I poo’d liquid 13 times. At 11:30, I dragged myself to bed. At 4:00am, I woke up to take my prescribed ClearFast and learned that Suprep was still in command. I pooped again 5 times over the next hour. And when we got to the hospital, I poo’d liquid again twice before surgery (once in my surgery cap ‘n gown)! I was scared that the clear liquid-pooing would keep them from performing my surgery since I was obviously still voiding. Nope! The show must go on!

The Bowel Resection

After a few months of working with my insurance and getting Dr. Schultzel specially-approved for my surgery (even before he was in my insurance network), the day was here! I endured the prep and I was ready!

My Mum came with me to the hospital and my husband had to work, we met the smiling faces of hospital staff who have remembered us from previous surgeries, AND I had my favorite nurse help me during pre-op setup. Fist bumps, hugs, and cheek-kisses were exchanged all around the pre-op area as they wheeled me out of the room. Have I mentioned how much I love this hospital? They’re like family!

I digress: back to the surgery!

Previously, the endo was spotted on my terminal ileum, which is the area where the small intestine meets your large intestine ( X marks the spot on the picture below). At my request, my colo-rectal surgeon was also going to remove my appendix due to the close-proximity of Endo and the chance that it, too, may be affected. He was also going to inspect and possibly remove any portion of my large intestine that may also be Endo-laden (see the red square below). He ended up doing JUST that.

There were a total of five incisions (1 on my right side, 3 on the left, and a larger one at my bellybutton). I was given a TAP block injection while I was under anesthesia to help with my post-op pain. And in went the camera…

Dr. Schultzel spotted the Endo lesion on my terminal ileum right away, then saw more lesions on my cecum (kind of the bottom right portion of the large intestine) and near my appendix. He also saw a lot of pelvic Endometriosis, but knew Dr. Kurtulus would be handling those nasty buggers.

This is where things get exciting! When I learned I’d have my guts stapled together, I envisioned a big ol’ heavy-duty office stapler. BUT a surgical stapler, especially a robotic stapler, is waaaay cooler! It sort of cuts and seals at the same time with a row of tiny little staples. If you’re familiar with sewing, imagine a serger machine. Zip & slice! One neat little package. I have no way of knowing how many staples still reside in my guts, but I imagine a lot of little teeny ones!

If you don’t want to imagine, you don’t have to: here’s a Youtube video (not mine) of another surgeon using a robotic stapler during a surgery (fast forward to the 0:44-second mark) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSxiTZwdUFA

So, Dr. Schultzel removed my appendix, my cecum, a portion of my large intestine, my terminal ileum, and small intestine. All in all, it was a little over 7 inches (18 cm) of my guts. The stapler system was used in all areas where my guts were removed.

My small intestine was reconnected to my newly-constructed large intestine and that connection now lives over my liver, near the right of my bellybutton. Then he wrapped that little newly-formed gut-intersection in a flap of my omentum (a fancy term for a fatty, fleshy organ that sits near the stomach and is kind of like a draped apron) – imagine a little poopchute burrito or taco near my bellybutton. 🙂

Dr. Shultzel then passed the controls of the Da Vinci over to Dr. Kurtulus (see The Endo Excision below). Once Dr. K finished removing any Endo and adhesions, Dr. Schultzel continued to work his magic. He pulled out all of the cut-out bits through a hollow tube placed in my bellybutton incision (called an Alexis wound retractor), stitched, and glued me up.

Alexis Wound Retractor; photo courtesy of Applied Medical

My incisions are definitely larger than surgeries-past, but so much more was done. After reading about the Alexis Wound Retractor, now I understand why my bellybutton incision is roughly 2 inches long!


The Endo Excision

Awww, Endometriosis. It loves me so much it keeps coming back to visit. With it being just four months since my July wide-margin excision surgery, we weren’t expecting to find much, if any. Dr. Kurtulus was there to inspect under the hood just to be safe while I was already under the knife for my bowel resection. A wonderfully, perfect coordinated effort. Boy, were we in for a surprise.

He found newly-formed adhesions on my left side, which involved my left ovary and abdominal wall, more along my peritoneum lining, as well as new adhesions that had begun to smash my bladder back down. He also found Endometriosis lesions “all throughout the pelvis.” They had grown back on my right ovary, my right ovarian fossa (where the ovary hangs out), my Pouch of Douglas, the uterosacral ligaments, near my bladder, my left ovary, and the left adnexa. And, as is customary, an Endometrioma (the chocolate cyst) had formed again on my left ovary. Always my left ovary!!! Even after just four months…*sigh* But…”the rest of the pelvis and abdomen looked clear of endometriosis lesions.” Yay!

He removed all of my Endometriosis lesions with wide-margin excision. He also removed the Endometrioma (he saved my left ovary) and he cut away all of the adhesions that had formed. He also, as is our custom, performed a cystoscopy to look inside my bladder for any Endo or abnormalities: pink, healthy, and all normal! And for the first time in a few surgeries: no Endo on or around my ureters!

Everything that was removed: the gut-bits, the Endo lesions, the adhesions, and Endometrioma were all sent off to pathology. This was the longest pathology report I’ve ever received: a total of seven pages! And it confirmed the presence of microscopic Endometriosis on my appendix. I’m SO grateful the surgeons and insurance all agreed to preventatively remove it.


The Recovery

My Mum, husband, and friends who saw me after surgery said it appeared to be my easiest one yet, in terms of how I felt during recovery. I, on the other hand, felt it was my hardest.

Four days in the hospital: my Mum stayed with me every day while I was there (I love you, Mum!!), my husband would visit after work, both of my surgeons visited as often as the could, and the nursing staff were freakin’ amazing!

During my stay, I was given a cocktail of Tylenol, Gadapentin, and Celebrex to manage my pain. I was offered Tramadol (100mg), but didn’t want it since I already don’t like taking my 50mg Trammy at home. But the cocktail did well and pain was minimal. If memory serves me correctly, I threw up a few times the evening of my surgery (likely related to anesthesia) and became intimately familiar with the hospital-issued throw-up bags.

My surgeon and hospital staff encouraged me to get up and walk the halls as often as I could muster. Not only would this help keep me limber and young (Ha!), but it would help get my bowels workin’ and tootin’. Those long walks around the 5th Floor wing were fun: I stumbled across my surgeon on one of those walks, as well as my best friend, Rosie, and my husband escorted me down the halls a time or two!

I remained on a liquid diet until I farted…late the evening on my third day. Very long days of nothing but soup and jello. But that fart? Which was AWESOME because not only was my Mum’s face epic and unforgettable when I tooted, but all of the nurses were just as excited as we were, AND I was served a small meal of soft foods (diced chicken breast never tasted SO good!). Mum and I even had a laugh keepin’ track.

The next late-morning, I was able to poop (if you can call it that…I’ll spare you the details, but I hope my Mum is laughing when she reads this) and Iwas merrily discharged on Thursday, November 29, 2018.

There were bouts of the dreaded shoulder-gas pain, both at the hospital and at home. A few of them were scream-inducing memorable. And those are the worst moments I remember. Sneezes, coughs, and vomiting were equally unpleasant. As well as trying to get, and remain, comfortable for sleeping. When I got home, I mostly remained on my Tylenol pain management, with the exception of 1 Naproxen Sodium and Two Tramadol through the duration of 2018.

I was off of work for six weeks. And got a little better every day. I kept a running tally of milestones:

  • 11/28/18: Released from hospital and finally at home
  • 12/4/18: I can raise my arms above my head without feeling like I”m pulling my guts out of my incisions
  • 12/8/18: First sneeze since surgery: one sneeze, two sneezes, three sneezes!! SOOO PAINFUL!
  • 12/14/18: I can blow my nose without my guts hurting!
  • 12/17/18: I still can’t bend down and wash my feet, and it’s been 3 weeks since surgery…so I got a pedicure at a local salon. There was some disgusting dead skin!
  • 12/19/18: If I use the handrails, I can walk up the stairs like a normal! Slowly, but normal!
  • 12/20/18: I walked the entire mobile home park! It took over half an hour, but I did it!
  • 12/27/18: I drove!!!
  • 12/29/18: I lasted 10 days without needing to take a pain pill!
  • 1/3/19: I laid down on my side for just a few minutes! Soon: no more back-sleeping!
  • 1/7/19: I’m back to work!!!
  • 1/9/19: I can lay down on my stomach! Albeit for just a few minutes. But still!!
  • 1/17/19: as a fun note: bending or squatting or sitting for long periods still becomes very uncomfortable. So…I haven’t shaved my legs since before 11/26! Bwuahaha.

I cannot tell you how much better I feel since before my surgery. I haven’t had any of my pre-surgery pain. Not one! My bowel movements are (99.9% of the time) pain-free. The constant pain on the right and left sides of my lower abdomen are GONE. My December period was light and cramp-controlled with Ibuprofen. My back pain is gone. And I poop ALL the time.

And…I’m a pooping machine! I compared the first week of November poops to my January poops, both the frequency and the pain levels. My jaw hit the floor:

I now eat six small meals a day, instead of three large ones, to accommodate my new bowels. I also have severely restricted my alcohol intake. Where before I could enjoy 2 or 3 beers in a sitting, I can now only have one. Same goes for wine or cocktails. More than that and I’ve noticed I’m severely dehydrated and my gut’s not happy for days. So, I’ve become the ultimate cheap date: appetizer menu and one drink. And it’s been a marvelous trade-off.

I’m super grateful to my Mum for being with me for a week while I recovered. There’s just something so special about the healing energy of a Mum. And to my friends who came to take care of me after Mum left: thank you. ❤


The Bills!

Nobody’s favorite part…the money!! This has been my most costly surgery to date; not only because of the two surgeons involved, but the hospital stay after surgery! And my bills are still rolling in:

$224,476.41Hospital Facility Bill Insurance paid per contract
$1,687Endo Excision Surgeon Bill Insurance paid per contract
$2,082.19Pathologist Bill Insurance paid per contract
$3,416Colo-rectal Surgeon Bill
Insurance paid per contract
$2,800AnesthesiologistInsurance paid per contract
$683Asst Surgeon: Excision BillInsurance paid per contract
$285Asst Surgeon: Colo-rectal BillInsurance paid per contract
$2,250My co-payI paid in full
$235,429.60Total(updated 4/4/19)

Surgery Photos

Before I share all of the surgery and recovery photos, I wanted to share the photo I found the most amazing.

Back in July, Dr. K took a photo of my bowel with the 2 pink & red Endo lesions. In November, those same splotches had turned BLACK. In a matter of four months, the disease altered that much. I know that lesions come in a broad range of colors…but I didn’t realize they changed color or shape once they were formed! Nor so quickly! So, we’ll start with that! Be flabbergasted with me 🙂

But here are the rest of my surgery photos I received at my post-op appointments (click on them to enlarge):


Recovery Photos

Mum took a lot of photos while we were in the hospital (but funnily enough…none of her!). Here’s the Hospital Shenanigans:

And here’s a slideshow of my incisions from Day One to Week Seven!

If you’ve made it ALL the way to the end of today’s blog entry, you have my applause!

I’m eternally grateful to both my skilled surgeons and their staff; the insurance crew who expedited the approvals through the system; my Mum, my husband, my Seester, and my friends for not only helping me, but putting up with my grumpy-recovery BS; as well as my employers and my co-workers for allowing me to do this second surgery this year. 2018 was one hell of a ride. And this surgery could not have gone any better without each of you.

Let’s hope there’s no need for future surgeries!

(Updated April 4, 2019)


There was a cancellation!

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My August 15th surgery has just been bumped up to July 18th!!

My work is totally cool with the change.  HR even came in to offer some kind words followed by, “I’ve never been more excited for someone to get a surgery.”  He knows how much I’ve been hurting lately.

My Mum can still join us!

And I’m nervous and excited and scared and and and…the whole spectrum of emotions that bubble-up with a pending surgery.

Best news ever.

 

A Quick Update from Surgery

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A quick pre-op snapshot

So, surgery took place on Wednesday, September 21, 2016.  It’s main intent was to take a look inside to see if my Endometriosis had returned, to excise any lesions and free any adhesions.  The official list of procedures to be possibly done that day, “Robotic Assisted Right and/or Left Ovarian Cystectomy, Excision of Endometriosis and Lysis of Adhesions, Possible Enterolysis, Urethrolysis, and Cystoscopy.”

The surgery took a little over two hours.  I did not get to meet with my surgeon afterward, unfortunately, but did have the pleasure of speaking with him on the telephone before I left the hospital that day.  What I remember:

Meg, the nurse, “Lisa, I have Dr. Kurtulus on the phone.  Do you have any questions?”

Me, “Did he find anything?”

Meg to phone, “She would like to know if you found anything. [pause] He would like to talk to you,” and she passes me the phone.

Dr. Kurtulus, “Hi Lisa!  How are you feeling?”

Me, “I’m okay.  Did you eat lunch?”

Dr. Kurtulus,”[laugh] Yes, I ate lunch.  [Pause] So you want to know if we found anything?”

Me, “Mm-hmm”

Dr.Kurtulus,”Well, your Endometriosis was far worse than your first surgery.  No wonder you were in so much pain.  I cut out what I could, freed up adhesions, and restored your anatomy.  You have Endo on your bowel now, too.  I took lots of pictures.  We’ll talk more on the Fourth.”

Me, “I’m so glad you found it!”

That’s all I remember.  And I am grateful for that post-op-haze-memory.  My post-op appointment will take place on October 4, 2016, at 2:00 p.m.  And I cannot wait.

I did “everything right.”  Six months of Lupron Depot.  A continuous birth control pill.  Altered my diet to “The Endo Diet.”  Treated my body better.  My MRI, CT scans, and ultrasounds were all normal prior to surgery.  Yet I continued to press the issue and sometimes all that is left is to take a peek under the hood.  And I am so grateful that Dr. Kurtulus listened and performed the surgery. It wasn’t all in my head.

If any of you read about my 2014 recovery, it was horrible.  This time around, it’s not so bad at all.  I plan to write more about that once recovery is over, after I talk to Dr. Kurtulus to find out if he did anything differently this time.

But for now?  I’m going to walk around the house, drink my water, pop a stool softener and hope today (Day Six) is the day I poop. My god…sending the man out to buy prune juice today. 😉

I hope you have all had a wonderful week.  For those of you who are fighting the pain, continue to endure.  And advocate for yourself.  You’re not crazy.  You’re not weak.  We suffer from an invisible illness, which may be invisible to all tests and scans, yet may be wreaking havoc in our bodies.  You know your body.  Listen to it and take action.

Thank you, all, for your support before and after my surgery.  I can only hope to be as supportive to you when you need me.  ❤ Lisa

 

Truth, Theory, or Tall Tale?

Any gynecologist can surgically remove Endometriosis.

TallTaleEndometriosis is largely considered a gynecological disease.  So it makes sense that your gynecologist would be the one to suspect it, open you up, remove, and diagnose the disease.  Right?  Wrong.

Although some of us have been lucky enough to have gynecologists who are skilled Endo excision surgeons; many women are not.  Some physicians will never even suspect Endo, or claim it’s “all in your head,” denying any further diagnostic tests or studies.  Some gynecologists simply will not perform a laparoscopic surgery, claiming a continuous regimen of pain pills and injections will suffice to mask the pain.  Others will open you up to confirm the presence of the disease, only to sew you back up and refer you to a “qualified surgeon” for the removal of any Endo and/or adhesions.

Not all doctors are created equal.  And it’s unfortunate.  And not all women with Endo have it in the same spot.

Your gynecologist or excision surgeon may be able to remove Endo from your pelvic area and some of your torso; however, if Endo is found in other locations such as the lung, spine, or brain, you’ll be referred to a surgeon specializing in those areas of the body.  It is not purely a gynecological disease.

It is purely an insane mess.