Finding My New Identity (post 3/9)

Finding My New Identity (post 3/9)

depression | anxiety | sadness | bipolar | therapy | mental health | therapist | OCD | suicidal | recovery | overcoming | struggles | battling | treatment | medication | severe | support | coping | alone | feelings | demons | inspiration

So, there I was with Maria, trying to figure out what to do next. How do I take this business owner passion and either parlay it into a different business, or somehow set it aside for the life of an employee? Leaving behind my entrepreneurial spirit was almost unthinkable to me at that point, if it wasn’t for my family’s need for an income – any income – something to hold us over in helping my wife pay the bills. This was not going to be an easy road. There would be four failed jobs before landing where I am today. Four stressful periods of being new, learning new systems, working for pennies, and struggling with my identity.

First, I called an acquaintance I knew at the local Subaru dealership. He brought me right in for an interview and I flew through it. Looked like I would be selling cars. After a few weeks of training on poverty pay, I’d be sent to the wolves. I don’t even like cars. I mean, give me a Vette or a Ferrari and I’m going to be thrilled, but to sell them? I don’t know the first thing about them and certainly don’t get excited about them. This job ended with a mental breakdown of significant proportion. I was driving into work one day, I couldn’t bring myself to turn into the dealership, so instead I drove myself to the hospital, crying hysterically. I wasn’t suicidal, but I didn’t know where else to turn. My life seemed to literally be crashing in around me.

identity-2

A Little Bit of Luck

Life is filled with luck. And I like to think when you’re a good person, luck comes your way when you need it most. Almost immediately, I got a message from an associate in the interior decorating business and she knew of a job opening at a lumber yard for a kitchen designer. After a long, heavy sigh, I picked up the phone to set up that interview. You see, the kitchen cabinet and countertop business had been the business I was in, and failed. Home Depot and Lowe’s were both in-town competitors and as I foolishly grew too fast, there simply wasn’t enough business to go around. So, did I want to go back into this business in the next town over? Certainly not. It was a painful subject for me. Most of me wanted a clean break from it and to move on. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury. I was very good at the actual design and sales of kitchens, I couldn’t deny that, and here was a job that just landed in my lap. I had to take it – my family needed the income – and if I had sat home one more day thinking about all my failures, well, that wasn’t going to be doing any good for anyone. But I hated this job too.

It was right at this point when Elliott was born. I took a few days off from the lumber yard to be in the hospital with my wife and son. All the while, I was having another severe nervous breakdown. The same, frustrating parts of the kitchen business had been rearing their heads again at work. Trying to fulfill my promises to customers while my sub-contractors weren’t returning phone calls, showing up late…just not being professional. And I took the disappointment extremely personally. My customers were counting on me to execute their projects and when product constantly came in damaged or late and I couldn’t control the subs, it was on me. And that was too much for me. I always put myself in my customers’ shoes, always strove to do the right thing every time, but I was getting no satisfaction from my efforts. After a few days at home with our new baby, I tried going back to work, but only lasted a few days…I couldn’t go on like that.

Calling In Favors

Next, it was on to another phone call to a trusted, dear friend, who had decades of success in the furniture and mattress business. Again, not the identity I necessarily saw for myself, but my family was desperate and though I knew the hours were going to be horrible, Sybil and I talked about it and were willing to give it a try. The income potential was literally six figures. Peggy got me an instant interview at Raymour & Flanigan and it was on to a six week (again, poverty-level training pay) orientation into their sales team. I learned a lot and enjoyed my time very much at this large company. It was well run –  something that was refreshing to me – and I finally got to work with a large handful of people whose company I genuinely enjoyed. Most of my working life had been rather solitary, so it was a nice change to have co-worker camaraderie. I had mentors who cared about me and took me under their wings. It started to grow on me. Until the hours started to wear on me.

I could be “Up” – the term we used to indicate that the next customer in the door was yours – and literally sit in a chair or stand on the tile floor for sixty to ninety minutes just waiting. This was not good for my head. I’m a doer. I’m a thinker. When I think too much, I get frustrated that I’m not doing enough. But that was the job. We had a very small handful of chores, but for the most part, your job was to wait for your next customer, especially if you were ‘up.’ You weren’t expected to do anything but wait. And waiting was not my style. Couple this with the stress of getting home at 7:00 or even 9:30 some nights and working most every Saturday and Sunday…this was not good for my young family. So again, I needed to move on.

dj

My great friend, DJ Murphy, with his sister Lesley

Friends are everything. And I had a great one in a guy named DJ Murphy. After I had quit Raymour & Flanigan, I had put out a text message to a few of my closest friends. “Hey, I need a job, any ideas?” Now, I don’t blame anyone for their responses. It was nobody’s job but my own to find myself a job. Everyone’s got their own bigger fish to fry than to worry about me. But DJ, I will always be grateful for, in that he was the only one who sent back a thoughtful, useful response. He literally sent me three very solid leads on folks he knew of looking for help right then. That meant the world to me, and I called them all right away.

I landed with ServiceMaster disaster cleanup and restoration services as their new Marketing Director. This seemed like a great fit for me. The owner’s job description for me said that he was looking for someone to attend 2-3 networking events per week to really get the word out on his growing business. Well, I could literally attend almost 2-3 networking events per DAY, based on all my experiences and connections within the business community. To me, this was the perfect position. I’d get to network – which I loved – and talk up our company to warm contacts. I wasn’t even really selling – how do you sell a disaster? – so it was really more of a PR position than anything else. Yes, I would be paid a base plus commission, but I didn’t feel like I had to go out every day and get somebody to sign on the dotted line for something I sold them…it just wasn’t going to work that way.

So, I designed an entire Marketing Plan for the company, found the best organizations to join, researched a huge list of the biggest potential clients and lead sources, and was off to the races. Then, another big blow to my enthusiasm. Once the plan was outlined, the lists were in place, and the networking events only turned out to take up a small fraction of the week, the only thing left for me to do – in my boss’s eyes – was to cold call insurance offices. And I mean all of them – across the entire western side of the state. This was to be my daily routine going forward. “Hi, I’m Tyson, with ServiceMaster, just want to make sure you know who we are and I’ll pop in every now and then and say hello. We’d love for you to think of us when one of your clients has an insurance loss.” That type of spiel, every single day, all day long to 15 – 20 stops per day! Now, I would be back to begging for my living. These were not warm contacts, these were completely cold calls, people who had absolutely no interest in me interrupting their day. But I was going to have to annoy people for the foreseeable future. It’s just not me, not my style.

Stay tuned for where I landed next…it gets better! On to post 4 in the series of 9.

Finding HOPE (post 1/9)

Finding Maria, my Therapist (post 2/9)

Finding Maria, my Therapist (post 2/9)

Finding Maria, my Therapist (post 2/9)

depression | anxiety | sadness | bipolar | therapy | mental health | therapist | OCD | suicidal | recovery | overcoming | struggles | battling | treatment | medication | severe | support | coping | alone | feelings | demons | inspiration

I’ve spoken briefly about Hope. It’s certainly not a one-word cure, and while I pray that you find something to focus your Hope on, there are many things that can work in conjunction with Hope to help you on your path to healing. I took this notion to great lengths in order to find my peace. I knew I needed help.

Dr. Maria Cresham of “Therapy on the Run” in Torrington, CT

First of all, there’s my therapist, Maria. Maria is wonderful and it took me a long time to find her. I had been through many therapists. First of all, they’re not always easy to find, when you’re working with insurance. There’s that whole thing to contend with. Then, trying a new therapist is often more traumatic that the reason you’re there in the first place. The important part is finding someone you can personally relate to, I think. I had seen a 70 year old man with one foot in retirement, a frail grandmother, and a ‘child’ counselor because that’s all I could find…all manner of people I had nothing in common with and a hard time opening up to. And when I did, I could feel my pain flying right over the top of their heads, quite literally, like they were barely listening to a word I said. And I wasn’t even a particularly tough case. Not suicidal, a lot of things still going well in my life, namely a supportive family and a rather intelligent mind, if I do say so myself.

Relating to Your Therapist

Finally, then, I found Maria. She is just a few years older than me and a fireball to say the least. She gets me. She got me right from the start. I challenge her, but she understands me, can predict my reactions and knows how to steer me in the right direction. She does it with finesse. I use the word finesse, but probably shouldn’t. I don’t mean finesse in the sense of gentleness or grace, I use it because she’s relatable. She swears – like a sailor – but it makes me laugh. I tell her my problems and she tells me hers; it’s a give and take and sometimes I feel so fulfilled when I leave her not because of what she’s done for me sometimes, but because of what I feel I’ve done for her. We’re buddies, and we get each other. We can finish each others’ sentences and it works. And on top of it all, she’s technical…she knows her shit, pardon me. She is a Ph.D. and brilliant at her craft. Knows enough about the medicines out there, that she can help steer my subscriber to the right formulas for me. I appreciate Maria each and every day and am so proud to call her my friend before my therapist.

maria-2

Getting to The Source

I started seeing Maria very shortly after the closing of my business. This was, of course, the instigator for my pain at the time. I had a huge battle brewing in my head. At the age of about seven, my mother and Aunt Jean had helped me run a carnival in the backyard of our house after a neighborhood 4th of July parade. This was my very first entrepreneurial adventure. Aunt Jean had brought over a bunch of her old stuffed animals to use as prizes, and I charged all the neighborhood kids a nickel to play different games for tickets toward those used stuffed animals. I was hooked. I counted up all those nickels at the end of the event and must have had two dollars! That morphed into selling candy to the neighborhood kids out my bedroom window, a neighborhood handyman service, babysitting, and even an Amway business when I turned eighteen. I was destined to be an eternal entrepreneur. I never imagined I would be anything else. I wanted to be rich.

My Uncle John – when I was maybe twelve – had a small cabin cruiser on the Long Island Sound for a couple years. I used to go fishing with him and even slept out on that boat once or twice. I loved it. I can remember shortly thereafter, picking up a magazine called “Boating” from the local grocery store, and I was hooked. I thought for sure my life’s work would culminate in the purchase of a million dollar motoryacht and I would sail the seas in the lap of luxury. Then life throws you a curve ball. Fast forward twenty-five years or so and my business is gone, I’d scraped by for nine years, barely making a living, and now I was left with a two-year business degree from a community college and a resume that could boast only of a failed business. I spinned it…I did what I could: Great at sales, wore every hat as business owner, well-connected in the community, tons of volunteer time. But it boiled down to somebody having to take a chance on someone who had already had his chance.

Losing My Company

Needless to say, I was not handling the last years of my company well. I felt like I was losing control. With five showrooms and six employees to pay, I never had anything left for my family, neither money nor energy. Every day I was putting out fires. When you depend on so many other people; contractors, suppliers, manufacturers; shippers and designers, it’s very easy to lose control. Nothing seemed to ever be done the way I would do it personally and thus, the quality never met my standards, let alone my customers’. Products that I was counting on that would come in defective and now the project was put on hold. People I was counting on to be honest, responsive, on time and independent were always letting me down.

I take responsibility, however, because in the end, it was up to me to make sure the systems were in place to counter these hurdles. I just never had time to implement any good systems. When I wasn’t running around trying to keep customers happy when I couldn’t blame them for being upset, I was at the office paying bills…for hours! At times, I thought my entire job was to get up, go to the office and just pay bills all day long. I was drowning in unproductive activities with no time to really improve our company’s initiatives, morale, training and execution. I gave it my all, but it wasn’t good enough in the end. We simply grew way too big way too fast and I held immense amounts of guilt for allowing that to happen.

I let people down and it made it very hard to express love at home and even harder to sleep. Maria would be a ray of sunshine for me during the ensuing couple of years. We’ll continue this discussion about where I went from there in post 3/9 of this series.

And if you missed the first in this series, please check out: Finding HOPE (post 1/9)

Finding HOPE (post 1/9)

Finding HOPE (post 1/9)

depression | anxiety | sadness | bipolar | therapy | mental health | therapist | OCD | suicidal | recovery | overcoming | struggles | battling | treatment | medication | severe | support | coping | alone | feelings | demons | inspiration

This next progression of 9 regular posts – not including the Weekly Inspiration posts on Saturdays – document some of my struggles with depression. It is an immensely personal story, but I’ve decided to share it with the hope of reaching just one person out there who can relate to it, and perhaps see through to the other side of it. Mine was not a severe case; I was never suicidal or hospitalized. However, I’m sure there are millions more people who suffer from minor cases of depression and anxiety, than those that have severe cases. So, I would think that some of my experiences – while not as serious as others’ – would be relatable. Please respect the personal nature of my battle and those of others who may comment. And while Facebook is a great outlet, and I welcome comments in both spots, I highly encourage you to link into the blog post itself and leave your comments on the blog’s website, so that as my following grows, more and more people with similar struggles can read your encouraging words. Thank you so much in advance!

There was a time in the not-to-distant past that I was crying multiple times a day, each and every day. If I skipped a day, it was literally because I didn’t have the energy to shed one more tear. I had a hard time recognizing and certainly defining the Hope in my life. 2016 was an extremely tough year for me. I had just lost the business I had run for 9 years, and poured my heart and soul and life savings into. I was so passionate about being a business owner and an entrepreneur…a community man involved with so many different organizations because of my business affiliations. I was Past President of the Rotary Club, active in the Chamber of Commerce, especially with the Young Professionals Organization. I was a Corporator for a couple of local non profits and my wife called me “The Mayor,” because everywhere we went, I knew someone. It was a life I enjoyed and I took a huge amount of pride in playing the role of successful local businessman.

Losing My Company

Unfortunately, it was a losing battle. Though we had double-digit growth for the first 3 or 4 years in business, that, of course, was starting from zero, so you’d better hope there was some early growth! It clouded my judgement however, and I got greedy. Soon, I was opening offices quicker than I could pay for the existing ones. Expanding product lines like it was going out of style, all the while thinking that more was better, bigger was better, and that the short term investment would pay off in big dividends quicker than you could say, “check your financial statements.” Well, it didn’t. And the next big job we kept thinking would put us over the edge to easy money never came quick enough and the thing imploded. Way too much debt and not enough customers. So, there was this loss to contend with…personal bankruptcy…the whole nine yards. Not a fun year.

The Blessing that is Elliott Francis

elliott

Fortunately, for my family, Elliott was born on December 28, 2015, so although 2016 was a year wrought with stress, Sybil and I had something to be very thankful for, waiting for us at home every day. He was a Godsend. Not to mention, of course, that Noah was 3 and already keeping us plenty busy. My relationship with my wife has always been rock-solid and because of this – though as I said, I had a hard time acknowledging it consciously – I always had Hope in my life…Hope in the form of my family’s undying love and support. Now, I’m going to contend that if you are struggling with depression, you have Hope too. You just have to find it, and grab a hold of it with everything you have. It WILL get you to the other side. And it doesn’t have to be a big thing. The love of family was huge for me, but I know that not everyone has that. In fact, it’s probably one of the main reasons people fall into despair…feeling like they don’t have anyone.

Hope Around Every Corner…if You’re Looking

Consider this, though. Perhaps there’s a girl at the coffee shop, who you just can’t wait to lay eyes on every single day. Perhaps even that you’re homeless, but that the Tuesday night meal at the shelter is your favorite part of the week and you can latch onto that. Consider that maybe your little apartment, even though you’re out looking for a job everyday and there might be nobody waiting for you when you get home – that when you do get home to your space, your oasis…you feel good, you feel at home, you feel safe. These are all things that can bring a glimmer of Hope into your life. Hold onto the good things for dear life and let them be stepping stones to bigger and brighter things. And if all else fails, or really – long before all else fails – remember that there is an unending supply of Hope in Jesus. The Bible can bring you the comfort you seek and will carry you to the other side of darkness, no matter what that darkness feels like to you.

Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the one who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me from every side.       Psalm 3: 2-6

rainbow

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.                    1 Peter 1: 3-6

My prayer for you is that you find HOPE. It can be in the smallest corner of your life, but if you find it and hold onto it, you can reach peace and comfort again, especially in the Lord. This, of course, is not my whole story of depression. There were to be many more struggles and very difficult times. But I talk about Hope early and the fact that it’s had a huge impact on my healing, so that you’re not reading eight more posts of doom and gloom before you get to some brightness. Stick with me…there’s more pain…but there’s a boat load of happiness on the other side too.

rays-of-light

In my next post, I will continue this discussion about finding Hope and how I used the gracious help of my therapist and my church and a few other resources to bring me to the happiness I experience today. Please stay tuned for post 2 in this series of 9.

Finding Maria, my Therapist (post 2/9)

Surgery 4 Recovery; post 3/3 in a series

Surgery 4 Recovery; post 3/3 in a series

Surgery | J Pouch | Ulcertative Colitis | Colitis | Crohn's | Recovery | Hospital | Ileoanal Anastomosis | Colectomy | Colostomy | Trauma | Abdominal | Scars | Medical | healing | adhesions | bowel | obstruction | ileus | peristalsis

So, one evening, at about 11:00, a half dozen nurses come into my room carrying these beautiful puppies. One of the nurses rescues pregnant dogs and helps them deliver and on this night, the nurses were so excited to share them with me. A little puppy therapy was just what I needed!

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PHOTOS OF SURGICAL INTERVENTIONS

Recovery from surgery is no fun. There were a couple of temperature spikes, which are scary. They often produce vomiting and just an altered mental status that thankfully now, allows me to not even remember them. But at the time, I guess I was in rough shape. Actively cooling me with ice in my armpits and anti-nausea medication, but not before the awful feeling of throwing up and the chills and the sweats and all that. Fortunately, the staff is well trained in dealing with these flare-ups and they got me under control quickly. You just have to be careful what the cause is…is there an infection and is it minor or something major having to do with the surgery itself, deep in your abdominal cavity. Luckily, the couple of fevers I spiked were nothing too serious, just scary. But when it comes to recovery time, every little setback means 3 or 4 more days of observation.

So, I think I had about 6 CAT Scans while I was there. Most of them, were of course, focused on the lower abdomen. But with a high pulse rate over a number of days, my fantastic surgical PA, Meg Parker, had the inkling to do a full set…the abdomen, all the way up to my chest. With great thanks to her, this test found a Pulmonary Embolism, which was basically a blood clot in my lungs. Fortunately the clot itself was not too serious, the doctors were confident that it would dissipate on its own and not travel to anywhere dangerous. However, the priority immediately shifted to the prevention of further clotting. After all, I had been lying in a hospital bed for more than two weeks at this point with very little walking or exercise and the risk of clots forming in the legs and traveling to very dangerous places was a serious consideration. My condition was contraindicated for blood thinners, so therefore, the course of action would be the installation of a vena cava filter to catch any would-be clots that might want to travel up to my heart or lungs.

The procedure is not painful really, but a bit unnerving. You lie awake on a surgical table with your head turned to the side. Local anesthetic is injected into your neck, so that the interventional radiologist can then make an incision into your Jugular Vein (yes, just knowing this is going through one of the largest veins in your body is a bit disconcerting). With image guidance, he inserts a catheter through the vein, down through the heart and into position in the Vena Cava, the largest vein the the inferior section of your body, carrying all the deoxygenated blood from your lower extremities back to your heart. There’s a lot of pushing and prodding at the site of the insertion point in my neck and the specialist guides this catheter into place before deploying the filter itself, which attaches to the inner walls of the Vena Cava and helps to block any large clots from moving upward.

filter

A bit scary to think that this antiquated looking device is the only thing standing between me and a potentially life threatening blood clot, but I guess it’s the standard of care and I should trust it. Apparently, it can come out in about 5 or 6 months. So, again, another procedure that warrants a few days of observation before considering discharge. Here we are over two weeks post surgery and I’m still waiting patiently for all the stars to align that will lead me home to my family.

The biggest frustration is the ileus. Ileus is defined by Wikipedia as a disruption of the normal propulsive ability of the gastrointestinal tract. Although ileus originally referred to any lack of digestive propulsion, including bowel obstruction, up-to-date medical usage restricts its meaning to those disruptions caused by the failure of peristalsis, the normally symmetrical contraction and relaxation of muscles that propagates in a wave down a tube, allowing food materials to travel through the bowel in a normal, one-way pattern, toward the exit. So, when the bowels are significantly rested from lack of food, and certainly man-handled as in surgery, they fall into a state of ileus and are just not capable of doing their job yet…so you wait.Yet another thing you have to observe for days before going home.

So, the nurses come in every so often and listen to your bowel sounds. You’re hoping and praying that they hear something, ’cause you’re not going anywhere until they do! And the GI tube up your nose doesn’t come out until they hear something – can’t have food and fluids in there if they’re not moving. Finally, a little gurgling, finally the idea that we can try some clear liquids to see if they travel your tract properly. At first, it’s very uncomfortable. You’ve been in IV nutrition for almost three weeks now and none of your insides are used to anything being in there, so it doesn’t exactly feel normal as the process winds up again. Gas pain, you’re taking it very slow, just hoping that things stay down. The food TASTES amazing, but you’ve got to be careful to not over-do it. Finally, with success, they decide it’s time to take the GI tube out and try some more normal, yet soft foods. You get the idea, nothing happens fast…so it’s a process of waiting and trying and praying that your body gets back to normal as soon as possible.

Three weeks was about my limit! People constantly asked me how I didn’t die of boredom while I lay there so long. For the first few weeks, you have very little time to actually get too bored. There’s a lot of desire to sleep, and the way the nurses are these days – or at least were for me – they were very good at not waking me up just to take a set of vitals. In the past, it was an every few hour thing that you got woken up to get poked and prodded. I felt thankful that my nurses let me alone when I was sleeping, for the most part. When you’re not sleeping, there’s always some procedure you’re mentally or physically preparing for, or meeting with the doctors that you’re looking forward to. Then there’s the watching of the clock to request your pain medicine at regular intervals. You don’t want to miss that, so that keeps you occupied too. And when it comes, the next hour or so is lost to space and time because you feel so good and relaxed. The time eventually drags a bit, but you know you’re there to heal, so I tried to embrace the rest and just let my body relax. A little bit of TV here and there, but mostly rest and reflection. Then, there’s the guests. I had at least a couple guests every single day, which meant the world to me. So, was I bored? Not really. But at the three week mark, I started to get EXTREMELY bored. Like I said, that was about my limit and I think it probably had more to do with knowing that going home was just a day or a few hours away and I just couldn’t wait any longer for that culmination of excitement to ensue.

And finally that day came. All the IVs were disconnected, I was eating regular hospital food, and getting visits from the case worker, who coordinates my home care – the visiting nurses to change my dressings every couple days. I saw a nutritionist, who provided some guidance on what foods to stick to and avoid. Some last minute visits from doctors to wish me luck and send me off, expecting to hear from me for follow up appointments. A couple of quick procedures: One to pull out the triple lumen (also called a picc line, or central line). This is the IV port that the surgeon installs during surgery into your mid-clavicular area, that goes almost straight to your heart. Think about it, a single IV in your antecubital space (the opposite side of your elbow, sometimes called the “elbow pit”), is not very practical for a three week hospital stay. You’re constantly moving your arm, so as to irritate this area and compromise the site’s integrity. Not to mention, when you’re on the amount of IV fluids and medication that I was, you need more than one site, so the triple lumen allows for three semi-permanent ports to be used to hook you up to all the stuff you need to be hooked up to. Not only this, but they were taking blood almost every single day. Can you imagine being poked for three or four vials of blood in a different vein for three weeks? The triple lumen makes it easy, they unscrew an IV, pop in a blood collection vial and grab the blood they need over and over from that same site, painlessly.

So, anyway, that central line has to come out. It’s a funny feeling, but doesn’t hurt. Though anything that you know is directly aimed at your heart is a little disconcerting to think about. You just hope nothing goes wrong – and nothing almost ever does – but it’s just one more thing you pray about…and follow directions very carefully. The worst part about the going home preparation was the removal of the tension sutures on my incision. This was the last thing to be done, but certainly the most uncomfortable. Here’s what my incision looked like at this point:

incision

I know, I’m sorry, it’s disgusting. But it is what it is. Eighteen years ago, after my first surgery, they simply sewed me right up the first time and after that second surgery, stapled me up all nicey nice, so what you have appears as a completely closed up incision…no redness, just closed skin. Apparently, over the past 20 years, what they’ve learned essentially from the battlefield, is that it is much more effective to let an incision heal in the way you see here. Closing it up completely was leading to more infection right under the surface of the skin and concerns with fluid discharges, etc. Instead, now, they leave what looks like more of an open wound, and allow it to heal up from the inside out, exposed a bit more to the oxygen in the air. This is supposed to create a safer healing experience and healthier skin growing over the incision eventually. But, before going home, these sutures come out. So Meg, the surgical PA, arrives to do this and these are not thin pieces of suture thread. They are thick wires, wrapped in a rubber tubing to protect the surface of the site. They have to be tugged on to snip in the right place, the tubing cut off, and then pulled out over the width of this scar…underneath the surface. This did NOT feel good. It wasn’t necessarily painful, but it made me lightheaded and close to fainting as she pulled out the first two, because it is so disconcerting to feel the pulling and tugging through what you consider a very sensitive area. Fortunately, my triple lumen wasn’t out just yet and she called for my nurse to push 1 mg of Dilaudid pain medicine through the IV to help me through this process. That was heavenly. It only takes a minute or two to take affect and then pulling the other four was a breeze. I thanked Meg for her gentleness and expertise and I was off to the races. I’ll spare you the picture of what it looks like without the sutures. It’s not pretty, but they said it would be closed up and skinned over in 2-3 weeks. Until then, regular dressing changes by the visiting nurse and I’d be on my way.

Dad drove me home from the hospital after gathering all my things. All the pictures that had donned the walls, colored by my nieces and nephews and sons. I know they brightened the day of every nurse that ever walked into that room. I was so grateful for their empathy. I met some incredible people over those three weeks and as I rode the wheelchair down the hall to the elevator, I got lots of hugs, kisses on the head, even some nurses who teared up and a big round of applause. How special is that? Then, my buddy Yvonne ran out from the nurses station, calling out to me as I rolled into the elevator. She jumped in and gave me a big hug. It was a heartwarming experience and I hope very much that I get to visit the 5th floor every now and then and see some familiar faces. For now, a bouquet of flowers and a Christmas card would have to do.

So, that was my fourth experience with abdominal surgery. My lovely nurse, Yvonne, put it best when she said I had the GI tract of a 70 year old. Great, thanks Yvonne, I really wanted to hear that. But it’s okay, I accept it. I am here, I am here for my kids, I am here for my wife and all the people who love me for another length of time, however long God deems that to be. And I am eternally grateful. It’s been slow-going at home. Just walking around the house tires me out and I take a lot of naps. Fortunately, this is the time when I started writing this blog too. The personal reflections of the past few weeks were the impetus to share my story…my stories. I hope these posts touch some people who can benefit from them.

Until next time…

Ulcerative Colitis…the extreme cure – post 1/3 in a series

Surgery Number 4, eighteen years later – post 2/3 in a series

Surgery Number 4, eighteen years later – post 2/3 in a series

Surgery Number 4, eighteen years later – post 2/3 in a series

Surgery | J Pouch | Ulcertative Colitis | Colitis | Crohn's | Recovery | Hospital | Ileoanal Anastomosis | Colectomy | Colostomy | Trauma | Abdominal | Scars | Medical | healing | adhesions | bowel | obstruction | ileus | peristalsis

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PHOTOS OF SURGICAL INTERVENTIONS.

The first time I had surgery, when I was 21 years old, I had been smack dab in the middle of taking an EMT course. Fortunately, when my surgery was done and I had the chance to heal for a few months and gain some strength back, I was able to jump into a subsequent course, finish my training and go on to take the National Registry test and become certified. This was in late 1999. I was working, at the time, for a small local bank in Thomaston, CT and so I volunteered for the Thomaston Ambulance Association once or twice a week and was able to get a little bit of experience under my belt. Soon, life and school and work got in the way and after the first three years of my certification, it hadn’t made sense for me to renew it and it fell by the wayside. I had always missed it, however. I loved the adrenaline rush of an emergency call, the unpredictable nature of what you might be thrust into and of course, the ability to help and make a difference. And driving the ambulance was fun.

Fast forward eighteen years. I had been jumping from job to job, trying to find my lot in life. Trying to find a good employment fit after nine years of running my own business that had shut down. As I struggled, I thought, being an EMT has been in the back of my mind for eighteen years, I had always enjoyed it and though it would never pay very much, perhaps I should take another course, get re-certified, and then if all else failed, I could fall back on something I know I would enjoy and always be able to find employment. I made it more palatable in my mind by thinking that I could even go on, eventually, to become a Paramedic, be that much more trained and that much more employable at a higher rate. I’ve always enjoyed the medical field, ever since my first surgery. So, this is what I did. I enrolled in an EMT class this past September and was having a great time getting to know my new classmates as friends and eating up the knowledge that the course provided. I absolutely loved the idea of being able to help, not just as a member of an ambulance crew, but as an everyday citizen. In my excitement, I bought a jump bag to keep in the trunk of my truck, and loaded it up with every piece of trauma and medical equipment you would ever need…I turned my personal vehicle into an ambulance in itself. I had c-spine collars, trauma dressings, splinting materials, BP cuff and stethoscope, tourniquets, a bag valve mask and even an OB kit, in case I ever needed to deliver a baby! I loved the idea that if I ever came upon a scene, I knew I could help. I decorated my truck with a star of life and a bumper sticker that reads, “My other ride is an ambulance.” I was all in.

Well, again, God had different plans. Just as He had done during the first EMT class I had took, luck would have it that I wouldn’t finish this one either. I had been doing some ride time for my course at the local Winsted Ambulance Association on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving in 2016, the holiday which also happened to land on my birthday this year. I arrived at 6:00 pm and inhaled a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and some fries. At exactly 6:15, I started to experience what I thought was the most intense bout of indigestion and acid reflux than I had ever before. The pain started right below my sternum and stayed there throughout my shift. We had one call that night and drove in the snow up to Colebrook for a motor vehicle accident that was nothing serious. I was done by 9:00 and went right to bed when I got home.

By 11:00 pm, I was awoken by some serious pain that had radiated down into the lower quadrants of my abdomen. It was a pain that I was not used to and it immediately concerned me. I kept saying, “30 more minutes, 30 more minutes,” to see if it was going to get better. Well, when 1:00 am came around and it hadn’t, it was time to get to the hospital. Over the past 18 years of my condition, I had experienced periodic pain before, but it was generally much lower…down in my J-Pouch, which was referred to simply as pouchitis. An inflammation of my pouch, causing pain that was usually handled quite simply with some antibiotics and anti-inflammatory agents. I could tell, however, that this pain was almost certainly a blockage of some sort.

So, against the will of my wife, who wanted to wake up the two boys and package them up for a trip in the snow to the hospital, I demanded to drive myself. I explained to her that while it was painful, it was not the kind of pain that was going to drive me into a tree. I could handle it and let’s not disturb the boys. I’d call her as soon as I got there and again as soon as I knew something. So, I arrived and they got me right into CAT Scan rather quickly. It was confirmed by about 4:00 am or so that I indeed had a blockage. The scan showed a constricted area just South of a rather bloated area…a clear sign that something was not right. So, I was admitted and sent upstairs, luckily to a private room that turned out to be one of the best rooms in the hospital. Two windows and the quiet end of the hallway. I was scared, but content that they would figure out how to fix me up.

So, standard procedure ensued…IVs in, blood work like crazy, stool and urine samples, and constant vitals taking. Then, the dreaded GI tube! Uuuggghhh! That nasty tube up my nose and down into my stomach to suck all contents out. The idea here was to give my bowels a rest. It was explained by the doctors that almost 100% of folks who have had abdominal surgery in the past, will, at some point in their life, end up with abdominal adhesions that cause a small bowel blockage. So, that was the diagnosis. In my mind, I was thankful for what I considered a good run for eighteen years. Something to be thankful for. It was further explained that an abdominal adhesion is basically fibrous tissue that forms, often at the site of scar tissue, that binds together things that aren’t supposed to be bound together. At the same time, the hope was that with a little bowel rest, the blockage may work itself out. Apparently, the small bowel is a very mobile organ. It doesn’t just sit in one place, but moves around as it processes food – twists and molds and contorts like a small slithering snake might do if you held it in your hands. With this in mind, the hope was that it would “un-kink” itself. Because basically, the adhesion had connected two outside surfaces of small bowel, kinking itself into a loop that wasn’t allowing food to move through it. So, we waiting for a few days to see if it might naturally release. It didn’t.

I had another CAT Scan on Thanksgiving and it was confirmed that the blockage was still in place. When the surgeon, Dr. William McGeehin – a highly regarded local surgeon with an impeccable reputation – came to see me the day after Thanksgiving, it was about 8:00 am. “Well,” he said, “it looks like the blockage is still there, not getting any better and we’re going to need to go in and fix it.” I asked him what he thought about timing and he said, “how’s 10:00?” Okay, so that was a lot to digest all at once. We weren’t wasting any time and perhaps thankfully, I wouldn’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. I quickly reported the news to Sybil and she came right down.

I was comforted by the professionalism with which I was informed of the surgery and what was to take place. In contrast to my first surgery, I was fully informed of what to expect when I woke up and exactly what they were looking to do when they got a look inside. It would be somewhat exploratory, because it was impossible to predict exactly where this blockage was, which was a contraindication for laparoscopic surgery. So, yes, there would be another quite large incision, but they were going to take very good care of me. As an aside, it was a special experience to speak with one of the surgical nurses, who actually was there when I had been in that same hospital 18 years ago. Mark Dallavalle and I had a special connection the first time around and I had given him a book back in 1999, which he immediately brought up as he spoke with me and my wife before this surgery. He remembered me and how he appreciated the gift of that inspirational book I had shared with him all those years ago. He praised my strength to Sybil and I was happy he was on the team.

And so they did their thing. It was just under a three hour surgery…much easier to come out of than that eight hour one in Boston. Still the GI tube, and the big incision, but this time, no drain tube and certainly no colostomy bag. I felt some significant discomfort, but for the most part, I felt great. Happy it was over and thrilled with the report that everything had gone smashingly. And of course, my wife was soon right by my side as I recovered. The doc had actually even taken a picture of the surgery that he shared with my wife and I. I hope this doesn’t gross you out, but I’ll share it with you.

blockage

As I understand it, the section that the surgeon is holding with his three fingers at the right, was the “kinked” section of the bowel. The two holes that you see at the left, top and bottom, are the sections of the bowel that were stuck together by the adhesion. So, the surgeon had to snip the adhesion itself and then sew up the resulting holes in the bowel.

What I loved about what they were able to do, was basically give me a thorough check-up from the inside out. You would never willingly go into major surgery just to check around and see how things were going in there. But, because they had to go in to fix the blockage, the added benefit was a full review of how everything else in there was doing. Were there any places where things were festering that could leave to problems down the line? In fact, the connection of my J-Pouch to the anal sphincter got a bit of a repair job while they were in there, which cleared up some minor bleeding that I had been experiencing for a few years prior. So, a fixed blockage and an internal check-up…I was happy as a clam. For a couple days or so.

…to be continued.

Ulcerative Colitis…the extreme cure – post 1/3 in a series

Surgery 4 Recovery; post 3/3 in a series

Ulcerative Colitis…the extreme cure – post 1/3 in a series

Ulcerative Colitis…the extreme cure – post 1/3 in a series

Surgery | J Pouch | Ulcertative Colitis | Colitis | Crohn's | Recovery | Hospital | Ileoanal Anastomosis | Colectomy | Colostomy | Trauma | Abdominal | Scars | Medical | healing | adhesions | bowel | obstruction | ileus | peristalsis

When I was about 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Not a fun disease. It was characterized by lots of cramping pain and lots of rectal bleeding. For a few years, we treated it with medication – mostly steroids – giving me that stereotypical bloated face look…sickly to say the least. It kept me from going on trips of any length, and certainly kept me from any place where a toilet was not readily available. It was embarrassing and debilitating. Finally, on my 21st birthday, a couple days before Thanksgiving, I called my doctor one more time with unbearable symptoms and he told me to go to the hospital and that they’d be expecting me.

For the next 30 days, I was on IV fluids, TPN (IV nutrition), steroids, antibiotics and yes, they stuck that GI tube up my nose and down into my stomach to keep everything out of my bowels in order for them to rest and hopefully, heal. If you’ve ever had a GI tube inserted, you know the agony. It’s so unnatural to stick a tube up your nose and all the way down your esophagus while you’re awake…horrible. I had colonoscopies that certainly showed polyps and bleeding ulcers and the whole nine yards. I spent so much time in that Torrington hospital just waiting for things to ‘turn around’ naturally…or at least…on a bunch of medication, but it was beyond me why the plan was just to ‘wait and see.’

Finally, my parents were contacted by my cousin, Heather, whose sister-in-law had had a then somewhat revolutionary surgery to cure her colitis, and it was performed in Boston by Dr. James Becker. It was a quick, easy decision to consider this avenue between my parents and I. I was getting no better sitting there at the local hospital, and nobody had any idea if and when I would get better along this track. So, shortly after spending Christmas in the hospital, after already having spent Thanksgiving there, I took an ambulance ride up to Boston Medical Center, the training facility for Tufts University. The very day I arrived, Dr. Becker got me into colonoscopy immediately. Following this, he rearranged his entire surgery schedule for the following day to get me into surgery immediately. I was that sick.

So, as slow – or non-existent – as my progress was in Torrington, all the while I retained a hugely positive attitude. Call it the narcotics I was on, but I like to think that I had been brought up to remain optimistic. I knew I was there to get better…I was treated well and I knew eventually that I would be better, and that kept me going positively. Getting to Boston was the final step in getting better and I was elated to be in a place that could take my care to the next level. I was so excited about surgery. Little did I know what surgery was going to be like. In my naive mind, I would go to sleep and wake up cured, back to my old self, ready to take on the world. Well, let me tell you what threw that off course.

Perhaps it was the rush of the emergency surgery, or just an oversight on the part of the surgery team, but whomever was supposed to explain the surgery to me and what to expect upon waking, did not do their job. Now, yes, I was on heavy narcotics for more than a month and perhaps I just forgot the orientation, but I don’t think so. I think to me at the time, that “surgery” was almost an abstract term. But in reality, exactly what they were about to do was absolutely nowhere in my realm of understanding or expectation. It wasn’t until a week after surgery that someone finally explained exactly what had been done to my insides, and they did so on the back of a napkin.

That being said, after an almost eight-hour surgery, I slowly began to come out of anesthesia. I can remember yelling at nurses walking by and being so frustrated that nobody was responding to me. I had come to learn later, that this experience is a common occurrence – thinking you are speaking, but nothing is actually being verbalized. That was just the beginning of my frustration, as I started yelling obscenities – or so I thought – at all these people who continued ignoring me. Then, I had heard someone say that the morphine didn’t work for me. Now, in my state of mind, I thought that meant that I had just endured a long major surgery without any pain medication, which was why I was now basically on my death bed. Of course, they would have simply found another medication that did work, but I didn’t know that. As I said, I was not prepped for what to expect when I woke up, so the tube in my nose, the oxygen mask, the almost 12 inch incision, the drainage tube, the – oh my God – colostomy bag! I had no idea any of this was part of the plan and I was devastated and scared…extremely scared.

Yes, come to find out, I had endured a total abdominal colectomy with ileoanal anastomosis J-pouch surgery. Ileoanal anastomosis surgery (commonly called simply J-pouch surgery or IPAA, for Ileal Pouch-Anal Anostomosis) allows you to eliminate waste normally after removal of the upper and lowest parts of the large intestine (colon and rectum). J-pouch surgery avoids the need for a permanent opening in the abdomen (stoma) for passing bowel movements. However, in order for the organs and new artificial connections inside to heal from the trauma of surgery, I would need a stoma and colostomy bag temporarily. Can you imagine waking up from surgery to find a huge incision and a colostomy bag without ever expecting it? I was in rough shape, physically and emotionally.

But the healing ensued. After a week of recovery in the hospital, I was on the way home. Weak and slight and in pain, but going home. Unfortunately, after only a few days at home, I was vomiting and nothing was getting through…another blockage. I would have to make the two and a half hour trip back up to Boston for an exploratory surgery through the exact same incision, to find the source of the blockage creating the problem. Not fun, but certainly necessary. Finally, I was able to heal at home for the next few months. And after a frustrating run of pooping out my abdomen and dealing with emptying colostomy bags, it was time to put me back together. Thus, a third surgery was performed, called a “take down surgery,” to removed the stoma and colostomy, sew my remaining small bowel back together and let the J-pouch start doing its job. It was a long road, but essentially, this series of procedures cured my ulcerative colitis.

No more pain, no more bleeding. Much more frequent bowel movements, since I’d never have the storage capacity that I used to have, but I was cured. And I had a great run for 18 years. I owe my life…the quality of my life…to the surgeons in Boston who worked their magic. I thank God every day for the second chance at life I had because somewhere, doctors figured out how to remove a major organ (the large intestine) and believed that we could live without it with a little mechanical and medical ingenuity. I am forever grateful to Dr. James Becker and his surgical team at Boston Medical Center.

Surgery Number 4, eighteen years later – post 2/3 in a series

Surgery 4 Recovery; post 3/3 in a series