When Things Just Need To Mesh Again
By Phil Biebl
Life takes you to unexpected places sometimes. On New Years Eve this past December, did I ever think I would be having surgery at Door County Medical Center (DCMC) in the new year? Nope. But as John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Here’s the story.
While taking a shower sometime in January, I noticed something that sure didn’t seem right. On my lower abdomen on my left side, I could plainly see that there was a small bulge. I didn’t really think too much about it, just wondering if perhaps I had somehow pulled a muscle. I pretty much put it out of my mind.
And it did seem to go away. But when I noticed it appeared every time I showered, I grew concerned. The interesting thing was that when I was sitting, reclining or lying down, there did not to be any sign of the mysterious bulge. But if I was on my feet for a long time, there it would be.
I began to worry that it was some kind of tumor and knew I needed to find out what might be going on. Like many of us do these days when we have a question, I first turned to Google! Everything I found online all said the same thing: Hernia. —Time to get a second opinion.
I made an appointment to meet with my DCMC primary care physician, Dr. Tomasz Michalski. At my Jan. 25 appointment, within seconds of examining me, Tom stated without hesitation, “Inguinal hernia.” He explained to me that a hernia is a weakening in the abdominal muscle wall which allows internal organs to protrude out. Although hernias do not just go away, they can be easily surgically treated. He further explained that DCMC had three excellent hernia surgery specialists and, with my consent, he told me that he would arrange an appointment with General Surgery for me to meet with one of the surgeons there.
I didn’t have to do a thing. Within a day, I received a phone call from General Surgery and arranged an appointment with Dr. Michael St. Jean on Feb. 11.
The General Surgery Center is at 1843 W. Michigan Street, very near the hospital. I had never been there before and got there a little early before my 8:50 AM appointment in case I needed to fill out any preliminary forms. Patti was the friendly receptionist who greeted me. She asked if I was familiar with DCMC’s Patient Health Portal. (I wasn’t.) She explained that this ‘portal’ was an online tool that would help me manage my health. She shared some print materials that listed all the benefits of signing up for this free resource—the ability to easily communicate with my doctor(s); fast access to all my medical lab test results; the ability to request an appointment, etc. It didn’t take me long to say to Patti, “Sign me up!” (For more info and FAQ about the Patient Health Portal, go here.)
I was only in the waiting room a very short time before a really nice woman named Denise came over and accompanied me to the room where I would be examined by Dr. St. Jean. Denise immediately put me at ease, and had me laughing, as she proceeded to take my vitals (weight, pulse, temperature, blood pressure).
A few minutes later, Dr. St. Jean came in and introduced himself. He also put me at ease. After verifying that I did indeed have an inguinal hernia he calmly explained his recommendation: Surgical repair. He said that it was a relatively simple, minimally-invasive procedure that would take under an hour to perform. I was fascinated to learn that the surgery would be done robotically and consist of three, tiny, abdominal incisions, each only about a half-inch long. A flexible mesh would be used to patch the weakness where the bulge was occurring in my groin and I would not even feel that mesh once it had been implanted.
Dr. St. Jean went on to explain that this would be outpatient surgery and that I should expect minimal pain. They would send me home with a prescription for a few pain pills that I could take if needed. I was informed that full recovery would take about a month but that I could expect to resume most of my regular activities well before that. Just no heavy lifting! He even said that I would (and should) be walking right away after the surgery.
Dr. St. Jean was thorough, to the point, and answered all my questions and concerns. The next thing I knew, I had a surgery appointment! I left the building knowing that I would be in very good hands.
Because I was going to be away from Door County for several weeks in March, the decision was made for me to have the surgery on April 10. I was sent home with a page of simple instructions about how to prepare for that day—things like not to take any aspirin for 7 days prior to the procedure, some showering/bathing instructions, and how I would need to have someone drive me home following the surgery. I was also told that several days before the procedure, DCMC would be phoning me and go over everything to make sure I understood and was prepared. And that was it!
Sure enough, I did receive the anticipated phone call and was reassured once again how I had nothing to fear. I was given a time to check-in at the hospital on the morning of April 10.
After fasting from midnight on the night before and showering the next morning, I was driven to the hospital bright and early. Before I knew it, I was checked in and escorted up to the surgical floor. After having my vitals taken, I was given a hospital gown, some booties, and a head covering as well as some antiseptic cloths which I was told to use before putting on the hospital garb. Wendy, the pre-op nurse who attended to me, even took my order for what I would like to eat and drink following the surgery. (I opted for water, coffee and a banana!)
When I was dressed in my hospital garb, a respiratory therapist, Chelsea, came in and checked my lungs and breathing capacity. She gave me a small, disposable, apparatus called an incentive spirometer which I would take home with me. I was told to breathe into it often during the two days following my surgery in order to keep my lungs fully open and to prevent pneumonia. She showed me how easy it was to use.
Next, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Brian Matysiak, stopped by and told me what to expect. I was hooked up to an IV which would keep me hydrated as well as which would be used to administer the anesthesia. Brian basically said that I would remember being wheeled into the operating room and then not remember anything until the surgery was all over. (He was right!)
Dr. St. Jean also came in and explained everything again to me. The actual full description of the procedure was robotic-assisted, left-inguinal hernia repair with mesh. His ‘assistant’ would be CHIP—the robot! (CHIP stands for Creative High-tech Innovative Processes.)
I did not remember anything at all about the surgery. When I came to, there were a couple smiling faces around me in the operating room, surgical nurse Moriah and surgical techs Sadie and Julie. I was told that everything went well and according to plan. I didn’t feel any discomfort or pain. Within a short time, I was back in the recovery room with my post-op nurse, Terri, sipping my first cup of coffee of the day!
I was still hungry though—remember I hadn’t eaten anything since midnight the night before!—so a cup of soup and a sandwich was brought to me from the hospital cafe: delicious!
My discharge nurse, Cindy, was at my side at this point. She had me stand up and try a few steps. No problem. She went over my discharge instructions telling me what I could expect and what not to expect once I got home. I was told there could be some swelling, bruising and/or spot bleeding at the three abdominal incision sites. She gave me a few ice packs to take home to use on my abdomen to control any pain and swelling. Also, I was told the prescription for a few pain pills was already ready to be picked up at the local pharmacy. No driving for at least 24 hours. No showering for two days. I was encouraged to walk frequently, to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and to just rest and take it easy for the first few days. And with that, I was ready to go home.
My entire time at the hospital was under four hours.
That first night back at home, I did take a pain pill before going to bed. I was unsure of which way I should turn or not turn and if there was a right or wrong way to be lying. But surprisingly, I did not have too much discomfort and was able to get some sleep.
The very next day, I received a nice phone call from DCMC checking in to see how I was doing and if I had any questions. After two days, I did remove the adhesive and gauze that had covered my incisions and was able to shower. I marveled at how small the incisions were and although there was indeed some bruising, everything looked better than I thought it would look.
My follow-up appointment with Dr. St. Jean was on April 22, less than two weeks after the surgery. It was back at the General Surgery Center building, the place where this journey had begun, I got to see Patti and Denise again as well as meeting a new team member named Jody who took my vitals before Dr. St. Jean met with me.
He checked over my incisions as well as the area where the hernia had been repaired. All good. There was some significant bruising around one of my incisions but I was told not to be concerned, that the bruising would fade in a week or two. He let me know that I should still refrain from heavy lifting (anything over 20 pounds) until at least May 10, a full month after the surgery. I did have a few questions such as if I could begin exercising including light weight-lifting after May 10 (yes); could I do yard work again, such as raking (yes); and will I have to be cautious for the rest of my life about doing any heavy lifting ever again (no!). Dr. St. Jean said I would be able to go back to doing everything I had done before developing the hernia.
I also asked him if he could write a note to say I should not do any shoveling for five years! He laughed.
At this point, I feel great (relieved!) and grateful for the amazing team of DCMC caregivers that I encountered throughout this entire journey. Everything is meshing again!