Bowel obstructions & the joy of an NG tube (the aftermath of abdominal surgery due to ulcerative colitis)

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Posted on August 27, 2014 by

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Bowel Obstructions… just the thought of them inspires giggles of joy and uncontrollable maniacal fits of smiling!! To quote the eloquent Cher Horowitz “As if!!!”

I have had two bowel obstructions during the past ten months: a full bowel obstruction (miserable experience) and a partial bowel obstruction (not terrible experience). Let me begin by saying I have had four abdominal surgeries in the form of two ileostomies and two ileostomy reversals due to ulcerative colitis. Abdominal surgeries increase ones risk of bowel obstructions and since I have had four surgeries… well, I’m a great candidate.

My first bowel obstruction was last August when I still had an ostomy bag. I was a month out of surgery and was still getting used to interpreting the signals my body was telling me. I woke up one morning and my stomach felt funny. I translated this “funny” feeling to “I must be hungry” so I ate some toast. The strange feeling rapidly ramped up and became pain, so I took some oxycodone. An hour later I was in a ball crying and telling my husband I had to go to hospital. I googled my symptoms: abdominal pain, hard tummy, nausea, hadn’t gone to the bathroom (hadn’t gone “bag”) for a while… and I realized I had a bowel obstruction. I called my doctor and she called ahead to the hospital so a bed was waiting for me. I highly recommend calling your doctor so they can tell the hospital what’s going on before you get there.

On the way to the hospital I started throwing up and by the time we arrived I was a miserable, retching, crying, nutcase. They hooked me up to an IV, took an x-ray, gave me a CT scan, and took me up to my room. The whole time I was in pathetic mode, i.e. crying and throwing up. When I got to my room a nice nurse came in and said she was going to insert an NG (naso gastric) tube into my nose. To insert the tube the nurse had me put my chin to my chest and swallow as she fed it through my nose. The tube goes down your nose and into your stomach. The tube is attached to a pump and canister, which suck out the contents of your stomach. The bowel obstruction was preventing anything from moving down through my body, which it why it was coming back up and I was vomiting. Once the NG tube was inserted and the pumping began, I stopped throwing up. It didn’t stop the pain and nausea however. Thankfully, there are drugs for that.

As it turns out, the insertion of the tube was the easy part. I’ve been in hospital many (many, many) times and, thanks to the NG tube, this was the most demoralizing, soul-crushing hospital visit I had. There is something about that tube, attached to your nose with a giant sticker and making the back of your throat raw, that makes a hospital stay miserable. Not to mention, whenever the nurses unhook the tube from the suction there never fails to be a little spillage on your pillow. So you feel like your surroundings are gross, you look like crap, you feel like crap thanks to being unable to wash your face for fear that the sticker on your nose will become unstuck, you’re nauseated, you’re starving, waves of abdominal pain regularly sear through your body making you whimper and clutch the bed railings as you beg for more drugs, and your throat hurts more and more each day. God help you if you start to cry from the shear misery of it all because the tube will make you retch.

The upside to an NG tube (yay, there’s an upside!!) is that it sucks out what’s ailin’ ya, if you are lucky. As it turns out, this time, I was lucky. The obstruction cleared over a four day period and I was able to go home. By the time my hospital incarceration was over however, I was extremely weak. Apparently, not eating and having the contents of your stomach sucked out for four days, does that to a gal.

If you are admitted to hospital for a complete bowel obstruction please know that, with any luck the NG tube will clear the blockage and you will be on your merry way home relatively soon (4-5 days). While in the clink remember:
1) Your surroundings may get splattered with nasty gut stuff, but they change the bedding when you ask. So ask them.
2) You may feel gross, but don’t despair. Just remind yourself that you’ll be able to take a shower and rinse it all down the drain when you get home.
3) Do not eat unless specifically permitted by your doctor or nurse. I know you are crazy cat-lady starving, but if you sneak even a tiny morsel of food it could get hung up on your obstruction and make everything worse.
4) Do not get so depressed that you start to cry. Your throat spasms when you cry and when it closes on the tube you will start to retch, and it feels like you can’t breathe… trust me. Don’t do it.

BOP tip: When life hands you lemons, ask for tequila and some salt

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