The first afternoon in the hospital was fairly uneventful. I was still feeling the extreme effects of anesthesia and felt very little pain. I was put on a liquids only diet but was able to eat very little of it. I felt quite nauseous and really couldn’t get out of bed. The good news (if this can be considered good news) is that I was catheterized so I didn’t really have to get out of bed. I know I napped a good chunk of Monday evening and had my vitals regularly checked to make sure all was still well.
Wednesday was the hardest day of all. I started the day with some difficulty breathing. I basically just had some nasal drainage, but the medical team wanted to make sure I didn’t have any lung issues resulting from the surgery. They ordered a chest x-ray to take a closer look. One of the hospital workers brought in a stretcher to take me down. I hadn’t been out of bed at this point so the nurses said they would just carry me to the stretcher. I figured that was overkill, so I forced myself up and walked over to the stretcher – ouch! Adjustments to the height of the stretcher, the transport technician throwing a huge blanket right on my incision, and every crack we hit in the floor paled in comparison to the shooting pains that then came from having to sit up straight with no support while they took the x-rays. By the time I made it back to my bed, I was in pure agony.
As a pick-me-up, my Uncle John visited for much of the afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good company. Shortly into the afternoon, the gas pains began. I had been warned that this was the worst part of abdominal surgeries. They need to pump your stomach full of gas so they have more room to move around during the surgery. They attempt to expel most of this gas but if some remains, you are in for some pain. For some reason, my gas pains didn’t hit until Wednesday afternoon but when they did hit, it was in full force. I can honestly say that I have never been in more constant pain in my life. I simply could not get comfortable or get any relief. The gas pains just moved around in my stomach, chest cavity, and even in one shoulder.
The medical team gave me various medications that “could” help with the pain but they warned me that the chances were slim. The only real way to get rid of the pain was to make it expel from the body. The only good way to make this happen is to endure the pain and get up and walk around. It doesn’t feel productive, but I had heard this from enough former transplant patients to know that it was true. The difficulty was in knowing when was the right time to get up. I didn’t want to start too early and risk falling, but I didn’t want to endure the gas pains any longer than needed either!
My first attempt was at about 11 PM Wednesday. The night nurse came in and told me I was getting up for a walk. I politely declined but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She could tell I was hurting and knew a walk was the only way I was going to see improvement. So I stumbled out of bed. The act of getting out of bed was the most painful for me. It shot pains through my stomach and made me feel like I was going to pass out. Once I was on my feet, I instantly felt like I needed to lie back down before I fell down. The nurse had me hold my IV pole and just stand there for a minute or so. Again, I was ready to lie back down but she insisted I keep going. I made it all the way to the door in the room before she let me turn around and go back. I must say, while that walk was quite painful, it was wonderful. I was able to pass some of the gas which led to a short relief from the gas pains. This meant I was able to sleep for several hours which gave me more strength for Thursday.
I woke up ready to walk a ton on Thursday but then couldn’t find a nurse to help me walk! When my mom arrived, I set out immediately. I made it all the way around the hospital wing and was even able to stop in and say hi to Candi (although it was a very brief hello!). It was exhausting and painful but felt wonderful at the same time. I tried again a few hours later but the act of getting up left me clammy and light headed. I barely made it out of the hospital room before having to turn around and head straight back to bed. Frustrating! But I was determined and did make it around the wing two additional times on Thursday. These walks definitely helped me turn the corner. When I was no longer so focused on the gas pain, the incision pain just wasn’t that bad. It was much easier to get up and move around and even to eat. These were the signs that the doctors were looking for and which ultimately led to my being released on Friday.
The highlights of my hospital visit were the meetings with my surgeon and Candi. The surgeon explained that the surgery was an awesome success. He said my kidney was one of the best he had ever transplanted and this was a great sign for the kidney’s future in Candi. He also said that her energy level and ability to move around were a fantastic indicator of how big a success the transplant was. Seeing Candi confirmed what he said. She looked simply wonderful (a whole lot better than me!). She was upbeat, energetic, and chipper (as my mom described it). I’ll let Candi explain the numbers but that was all great news as well. These discussions were just the pick-me-ups I needed!
Prior to being released, I was told that I would need to come back 10 to 14 days after surgery to have them take another look at my incisions and help break up some of the glue holding it together. I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds for 4 weeks. Once I get off of the pain meds, I can start driving again as long as the pain of pushing the brake isn’t too great. I asked about going back to work and they are recommending I take it a little eaiser than planned next week. I had anticipated getting a ride into the office and working full days.
The surgeon loves the idea of me trying to do some work, but he is afraid I will only be able to do it in 2 – 3 hour increments. He feels there is no way I can make it a full day, which is what I would be locked into with riding with others. So I still have to figure out my work plans. I can shower (great news!) but am to avoid baths and swimming for a couple of weeks. I need to drink massive amounts of liquids and try to get back to my normal eating habits. Bowel movements are the biggest challenge donors face upon going home. The pain meds naturally constipate you and it often takes the stool softeners several days to begin working. That brings us up to date. I am taking it easy for the weekend, hoping my body will be ready to return to a somewhat more normal routine on Monday.
Many people have asked me if I would be honest about the pain levels in this post. Obviously, I have to be in order for this to be a valuable resource for future donors. But, at the same time, I don’t want to scare people away from considering donation just because of some pain. So perhaps the best way to end is simply to share my thoughts at this stage of the game.
The surgery itself was extremely painful and certainly not a fun experience. But hearing the doctors talk about how great my kidney was doing in Candi’s body and then seeing the energy that Candi gained have continued to make my decision to donate a no-brainer. The pain and inconvenience I suffered are a tiny price to pay for the freedom and future this rewards the recipient. If I had to do it all over again, I would dread the gas pains, but I would definitely make the same decision! I believe even more strongly today that kidney donation is an amazing gift that almost anyone should consider. Thank you so much for coming along for the ride! I will continue to keep you updated on our progress!!!