Where did we leave off? I was being wheeled to ICU and gave J a thumbs up. This time, I’ll cover ICU and other hospital recovery experiences. Here is how it all went down.
20 Hours in ICU
At 1:20 PM I was taken to ICU. Things were blurry in the distance but I was alert and responsive. My nurse took my vitals every hour on the hour.
I was thoroughly strapped into the matrix:
- Oxygen monitor taped to my finger
- Blood pressure cuff stayed wrapped around my arm
- Urinary catheter, with tubes adhered to my left thigh
- Nasal cannula for oxygen, wrapping over my ears
- Powered air compression sleeves wrapping my calves
- 3 IV ports on my forearms
- 1 for a sodium phosphate drip (liver food)
- 1 for self-administering my meds
- 1 for blood draws
- 6 or so EKG pads around my abdomen, with all the cords bundling over my right shoulder
I’ll say this. By the time I left ICU, I was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic.
What was the pain like?
Ever get big gas bubbles trapped up high in your stomach? It hurt like that. Because it WAS that. Apparently, pumping air into your abdomen helps them navigate around.
That is what I felt most. Not the incision. Not some inner awareness that piece of my living was missing. No. Gas pains like crazy. And a surprising pain in the inner aspect of my right elbow – so much so that I didn’t want to bend or lift my arm. Weird.
A heat pack helped with the gas pain. I was able to push my drug button every 15 minutes or so. Which I did at first. Then slowly started waiting longer and longer.
Was I able to rest?
Yes and no. Between vitals begin taken every hour, blood draws every 4, and doctors visiting me, I was in and out. Sometimes when I was nearly asleep, I’d hear my oxygen monitor beeping because I hadn’t taken a breath in maybe a bit too long?
They have to come one at a time. Jason was able to see me around 2:30 pm; about an hour after I got there.
I remember when Dr. Roberts, my cousin’s surgeon, came in. My first thought was, “Randy is done already?!” Dr. Roberts said that his new liver was already starting to work. He said they usually have to do some things to the liver to make sure it fits in the recipient, but barely had to do anything with mine. It was a perfect fit!
Mom came later, as did some surgeons, specialists and an anesthesiologist to check up on me. Everyone remarked on how alert and positive I was.
Day 1 (Saturday)
Around 10 am the day after surgery, I was walking from ICU to the Transplant Unit on 9 Long. My belly felt bloated and heavy, like being 2 months postpartum again. Vitals switched to every 4 hours and blood draws every 12. They removed everything except the catheter, IV ports and the nasal cannula. It felt like freedom!
I got a few laps in and once my cousin was moved to 9 Long, I gave him a visit. He was looking SO good and already feeling so much better. It was crazy how quickly his body responded to a healthy liver.
Around 8 PM I was moved from a shared room into a private room (because I had asked politely). The nurse said that Dr. Ascher likes her donors to have a private room anyway and good thing they moved me before she came to visit.
Day 2 (Sunday)
I got to meet my donor mentor! We’d talked on the phone and emailed several times leading up to the surgery. It was more helpful than I can say.
My vision was still crazy blurry. It was a nightmare, making me feel sick and keeping me from really seeing anyone or using my phone. I was seen by an opthamologist who confirmed nothing looked bad with my eyes. So it was probably the drugs. Leaving ICU, I’d been switched off IV meds and onto oral Oxycodone with Tylenol. I started relying on the Tylenol alone.
Day 3 (Monday)
I CAN SEE AGAIN! It was heaven. I also got one of the 3 IV ports removed and took a shower. Showering involved some plastic arm covers and letting water fall over my incision. No scrubbing. Pat dry.
All throughout my stay I was intermittently visited by doctors, nurses and specialists. A PT and an OT came to talk about how I to move while protecting my abdomen and incision. A Registered Dietician talked about eating in recovery, being mindful that I don’t have a gallbladder anymore. Again, everyone would remark on how well and how fast I was recovering. They talked about me going home Tuesday or Wednesday.
Day 4 (Tuesday)
That morning they asked if I’d like to go home. I said, Heck Yes! So long as I can be sure my plumbing was working. You see, your intestines go to sleep during surgery and it can take a few days for things to start working again. And when they do, they may or may not work properly. I’ll spare you the details and just say things weren’t yet as I’d like them to be. So, with a little intervention, we got that taken care of Tuesday morning.
A pharmacist came by to give me meds to take home. Then I finished up my last few laps. By the time that last IV port was removed, I was so over jello and chicken broth and all the hospital smells and gowns and wheeling around my IV pole. I still feel a little ick if I smell something that reminds of me of the hand soap. I’m glad I left when I did.
Highlights of my Hospital Stay
- Having really stellar nurses. They literally do everything.
- Getting flowers from family and friends. They were the only good smelling thing anywhere.
- Visiting with my cousin and seeing how good he looked!
- Meeting my donor mentor and his wife.
- Realizing that I can now start thinking about what’s next and making plans for the future again.
It’s not over yet.
Now that the transplant is complete, please don’t forget us. My cousin and I have a long road of recovery ahead. We both have to go back to UCSF several times for check-ups. If you haven’t yet, you can still:
- Pray for my cousin and I and our families.
- Donate a little toward his family’s travel costs.
- Buy a t-shirt to help with my family’s costs.
I’ll share about my first check-up, seeing my kiddo again for the first time in days and the initial healing process.