What do I need to know about getting a colon resection?
January 26, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I've put it off until it can't be put off anymore, and now, due to diverticulitis/diverticulosis, I need to have my colon resectioned. Will you please tell me things you wish you knew before you or your loved ones did the surgery?

I've had diverticulitis several times in the last year. The last time landed me in the hospital with a perforated colon. After the first couple of bouts, my GI started making mutterings about getting surgery, but when I consulted with a surgeon, he said that as long as I was having uncomplicated diverticulitis (i.e. no perforation), the choice was mine whether to get cut or not. Now, it's really necessary, seeing as how each bout has been progressively more painful and the next one is likely to be even worse than this one.

So I'm looking for your knowledge about colon resection. I believe mine will be laparoscopic. I need to heal up completely before I can have it, so not for a few weeks. I'd like to know:
What do you wish you knew before you had the surgery?
What's the realistic healing time?
What do you wish you had at the hospital?
What sorts of things do you need at home afterwards?
What kinds of things are best to eat after?
What do I need to ask my surgeon about when I meet with him on Wednesday?
What am I forgetting to ask?

My gyn has offered to come in during the surgery to look for endometriosis adhesions to snip, since I've been encountering that pain for the last year or so as well. I sort of wonder if the two things might be related. My colorectal surgeon did not seem thrilled at the prospect, saying that he could look just as well as she could, but said that as long as everyone understood that the main point of the surgery was for colon resection, he would be okay with it. Is it a bad idea to add another surgeon to the mix?

Also, my surgeon plans to remove the part of my sigmoid colon that keeps getting infected, but my colonoscopy showed diverticulosis throughout my entire colon. He did not seem concerned with this, saying that most people had this, and removing the sigmoid colon would cure the problem. He said the only ones who continue to have diverticulitis after resection are those with Crohn's. Does this sound right?

Thanks very much. I'll try to respond via comment if anyone has something that can't be answered without clarification.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Talk with your doctors about what diet changes you may have afterwards as a result of missing a chunk of your colon, both temporary and long-term.
posted by curious nu at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2013

My husband had a resection for cancer a while back. Seriously, he didn't need anything at the hospital. They didn't let him eat or drink for several days until he passed gas. He was in for about 5-6 days afterward. Pretty groggy at first and couldn't tolerate long visits so if you have boisterous people tell them to cool it and keep it at a down low and minimum. Of course he had an IV for fluids and a pain pump.

At home, I had to help him out of bed a few times the first couple of days. Also, you might want one of those sock things to help you put socks on without bending over, and maybe a grabber tool. A special pillow to hold on your tummy when you're getting up and down? Slip on shoes.

Ask about what you can eat ahead of time so you can be stocked up at home. He didn't have any special dietary restrictions but he didn't have an ongoing condition either.

I think he was out of work 3-4 weeks including the hospital time and probably back to full normal-ness within 8 weeks.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:15 PM on January 26, 2013

I have not personally had the surgery, but I work in a hospital and often take care of patients who have had this surgery. It will be a few days before you are allowed to have anything to eat or drink... the length of time will depend on how quickly your digestive system bounces back. Patients are often quite frustrated by the fact that pain medicine gives you 'dry mouth' and they cannot have anything to drink. I suggest having gum, mints etc. Things that are very sour often trigger saliva production in the mouth. If the doctor allows, sucking on sour candy or a lemon could help with the feeling of dry mouth.

Definitely stock up on liquids at home... even if you can eat, liquids are going to be easier for awhile. I also agree with having slip on shoes and something like a grabber to help get things that you drop. Bending over will be a little challenging initially.

Good luck.
posted by makeshiftjoy at 12:26 PM on January 26, 2013

My mom had a resection a couple years ago to remove the sigmoid colon due to repeated diverticulitis episodes that put her in the hospital three times in as many months. She got tired of worrying about when the next attack would come. She was bout 70 at the time, and I think the recovery ended up taking longer than expected.

She was worried ahead of time about not being able to eat for a long time after surgery, but she ended up not having an appetite at all. IIRC, it was about a week before she got onto even a liquid diet. Much longer than we thought (I think the original prediction was 3-5 days). I'm not sure how much her age affected her recovery time. She felt very nauseated all the time from the antibiotics. Even once she was home and moved to soft foods, it took a while before she was very interested in eating more than a few spoonfuls of yogurt at a time. (She couldn't face jello after the hospital.)

Immediately post surgery, I think it was kind of shocking for us to see her, as she was bloated and pale and did not look herself for several days. But I think that is common with any surgery. The dry mouth and chapped lips bothered her the most. I bought her a fancy lip balm as a gift. She only had sharp pain when she laughed, so we had to try to be cheerful without being too funny. For several days she was hooked up with what seemed like dozens of wires and cables. IV, urine catheter, drainage pipe for the incision. Various monitors from time to time. She also wore electric leg braces that pump up and down to keep blood flow in her legs. It was a good thing for the catheter, because I don't think she could have gotten out of bed if she wanted to, with all the hooks and wires.

The other annoying thing was that on the mornings her surgeon dropped in, he did so around 5:30 or 6:00am, well before visiting hours. This meant that no one in the family ever got a chance to hear from him directly or ask questions. And since he was usually waking my mom up from a fitful sleep, she had trouble being alert enough to remember to ask questions. I ended up writing questions down on a pad by her bed, so she could remember. I think she also had trouble understanding some of his advice and information, and didn't feel confident enough to ask him to put it into plain english for her. So we spent most of the week having no idea how she was really doing and when she might be discharged. Since the nurses changed daily, there was no continuity of information. That was super-frustrating. You might have a conversations with your doc ahead of time about how to handle post-surgery communication, and whether you want him/her to communicate directly with another family member.

I was shocked by her liquid diet at the hospital, which was nearly all garbage, IMO. Either tasteless and salty artificial "broth", or extremely sweet jello, juices, and pudding. Everything had high fructose corn syrup, and it was hard to imagine that she was getting any nutrition at all. That the menu was "approved" by a nutritionist was all the more appalling. I tried bringing her some other non-HFCS juices from home, and was told by the nurse that she couldn't have them. But in general, I think she pretty much lost interest in food for a while, so she didn't really feel deprived.

Other than that, she was really fighting boredom at the hospital. Because of the pain meds, she had a really hard time focusing her eyes, and therefore found it really difficult to read or watch TV. If you had some books on tape to listen to, that might be a good alternative. It was hard to do anything with her hands because it bothered the IV. She also tended to be pretty tired, since there's a nurse waking you up for a check every couple of hours at night. You don't really get proper sleep. If you can get friends to visit you, I think that is a nice diversion. Most of my mom's friends were afraid to visit.

She has not had an attack of diverticulitis since the surgery, and she's been doing pretty great. However, she continues to have an acute sensitivity to nuts and seeds. She has occasional episodes of the runs, and she's been trying to establish what the triggers might be, but hasn't been able to isolate any casuse. Also, she's a lover of red wine, but for some reason, after the surgery, and for a good 6-8 months, she found she had an aversion to it. She only gradually found a taste for it again.

When she came home, she didn't feel like doing much besides sleep. It would be good for you to stock up now on a good variety of liquids and soft foods. After surgery, she didn't feel like making food decisions, and wasn't helpful in letting us know what to shop for. I think it would have been easier if she had chosen things for herself ahead of time. Also, if I recall, there were some discrepancies between what the doc said she would eat post-surgery and what the nutritionist at the hospital said she could eat. The nutritionist was much more restrictive.

One last funny thing, when they were prepping her for surgery, everyone who came in asked her what procedure she was having done. (I guess they do this as a test of her awareness and to make sure there aren't any mistakes.) She had a laughably hard time trying to remember what the procedure was called. All she could remember was that the doctor told her he was removing her sigmoid colon. Only she had trouble remembering that too, so she told one of the nurses that he was removing her Sigmund Freud. I thought it was hilarious, but the nurse was obviously not into puns. My partner added, sometimes a colon is only a colon.
posted by amusebuche at 8:07 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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