Alice through the keyhole, and what happened afterwards

Before the operation, it was straightforward. They were just going to make a little hole, pop a camera and a scalpel in while I was otherwise engaged, then revive me and send me home. I asked several people, and they smiled and reassured me. But no-one mentioned that there were in fact four keyholes, and in fact it’s major surgery.

So I sort of expected I might be OK to go to a celebration meal (nothing to do with the operation) three days later. I was booked to lead a retreat the following weekend. I thought that might be all right too. No-one seemed to recall – or at least mention – that recovery time for this kind of operation is at least 5-6 weeks.

I did not make the meal. My temperature was up and down, and I felt lousy. I had no appetite. It’s hard to explain how bad you can feel without actually having much pain. Four days in, my wife rang the surgery – a desperate measure. I spoke to a receptionist, who spoke to a doctor. The doctor didn’t speak to me. Instead he decided I should go to A&E immediately. Obviously I was not keen to do this: I’ve heard about A&E. Indeed, I’ve been there. It is not a fun day out.

But then a miracle happened. My wife dropped me at A&E, where I was greeted by a standard notice saying they were busy, and could I go somewhere else, please. I persisted and encountered a very pleasant triage nurse who booked me in quickly and arranged for me to see a doctor who was within shouting distance. He examined me and said he didn’t think the wounds were infected. On the other hand, they might be. He prescribed me some antibiotics. My wife hadn’t finished her coffee.

She drove me to the chemists’s, where they at first refused to believe that the hospital could have prescribed anything electronically. “Never been known,” they said. However, I pointed out that I had watched the doctor do it, and so they looked. He had. I had my pills. We went home.

You probably think I’m in need of care and attention by now. But what happened next went beyond that. I had my antibiotics; so all must be well, I thought. Despite still feeling lousy, I went to the Retreat. I even managed to lead a couple of sessions, eat some stuff and walk down to the river. I was totally exhausted. All the time. And I couldn’t sleep.

Meanwhile, the temperature was rising. Not mine – Norfolk’s. Normally I quite like being warm, but this was hell. Warmed up. It was an actual personalised climate crisis. A real one. I felt very ill. What was wrong with my appetite? Why wasn’t I getting better? Why wasn’t the air moving?

Ok, you’re off the hook. Not much else happened. I carried on feeling ill, had no appetite and was very, very tired. I got diarrhoea. Time seemed to get slower and slower. Perhaps it was normal.

Reader, it is. It’s normal to be told that your operation is straightforward, and they just have to make a little hole. It’s normal to be sent home with no warning about how you might feel, or how long it might go on. It’s normal not to have a follow-up appointment. It’s normal for no-one medical to look at your body afterwards.

I have just entered my third week of convalescence. Today I saw a nurse accidentally (annual blood check), and she explained how major the surgery was, and everything else. It was a pleasure to hear her describe exactly what was going on. She even looked at my scars. One to one. In person.

That’s it really. Hopefully I shall gradually feel better and less tired. I just thought it might be worth putting down what actually happens after an operation. It may be that no-one else will tell you.