My husband was suffering from a hiatus hernia. Finally he went to see a doctor who offered surgery as a solution. He was told he would be in hospital one day and possibly out the next or the following and then all his problems would be over. What happened was far different from a simple solution and started a series of events that became a nightmare I still dream about.
The operation that was suggested to him was a Nissen Fundoplication. The surgeon would use laparoscopic surgery to shrink his stomach and the opening to it, the place he had the problem, by wrapping some of his stomach around the opening. This is the operation that many overweight people have to shrink their stomach and thus lose weight.
He went into the hospital on a Tuesday and I visited him on the Wednesday to see if he was coming home, but they wouldn't let him home without a bowel movement and his bowels hadn't opened by then. The following day, a Thursday, when I went to see him he was much worse. He couldn't go to the bathroom and was crying out in so much pain that they administered morphine. I was told that as soon as his bowels opened the pain would go and he would be fine. But the worrying thing that I noticed was that he looked 9 months pregnant. The doctors didn't seem very concerned about that.
I left him on Thursday hoping I could come back on Friday and bring him home, but it was not to be. At 10pm that night I got a call saying he had been moved to critical care (which used to be called intensive care). His heart rate had started beating at double its usual speed. I was told this was nothing to worry about as he just needed a little more medical help and he was in the right place to get that medical care. I slept with the phone under my pillow and not for the last time.
On Friday the doctor didn't know what the problem was, although I suspect he really did know, he just told me he didn't. So Friday evening my husband went for an exploratory laparoscopic operation so the surgeon could see what the problem was. He discovered that while doing the first laparoscopic operation some of his small intestine had been cut and the contents were leaking into his bloodstream. For three days he was slowly being poisoned as the waste products from his small intestine leaked into his bloodstream.
The doctor stopped operating laparoscopically and made a vertical cut from the breastbone to the pubic bone and fixed the problem by traditional surgery. He phoned me when he finished and said that everything was fixed and he would be fine in a day or two. But the nightmare had only just begun.
My husband's bowels had not worked for a while. The body can continue for a few days with the bowels not working, but one by one his major organs also shut down. His blood pressure became at its lowest 50/20 (normal is 120/80), his heart rate reached 250 (normal is under 100) and then his lungs shut down. In an effort to save his life he was put on a breathing machine.
He was in ICU for another week while his body got back to normal and then another week before he finally came home. It was a scary thought that I nearly became a young widow in charge of four small children.
After 2 weeks in hospital he returned home, but he was still not well. The Nissen Fundoplication was too tight and he had to have another surgery to loosen it, and the huge scar wouldn't heal. Eventually he had another surgery on that and the surgeon discovered a stitch left in that was preventing it from healing. It was two months before he returned to work and even then I thought it was too soon. For the next two years he was working but still sick as the effects of the surgery took a while for his body to return to a new normal.
The doctor assured me that what happened to my husband was very rare, but the more I used the internet for research, the more I realized that it was more common than he would have us believe. There had been no warning before the surgery that there was any risk to life and we were assured it was a simple surgery, but I had discovered the hard way that no surgery is ever risk free.
The sad part was that as I was searching the Internet I found a number of things that should be tried before surgery. There are a many possible non surgical cures that may work and surgery should be the last option, not the first. But it was the only option he was offered.
I refer to what happened as "the nightmare I lived through". I'm writing the article to warn other people that complications with laparoscopic surgery are more common than doctors will let you believe. All options should be explored and surgery used as a last resort, not a first choice.