Elated to have survived high-risk surgery

A Virginia man weathers aging with a strong, positive spirit



Growing old is not for sissies. If I have heard that once from people older than me, I have heard it a hundred times. The young learn lessons from the aged, in little short bursts of language, not to put too fine a point on it, but to elucidate friends who will surely grow old one fine day.

When I was young, I sang wonderful old folk songs… classical masterpieces, spirituals… you name it, I sang it. A couple of my favorite old musical lines come back to me: “No use complainin’” from Porgy and Bess and “You got to cross that lonesome valley, You got to cross it by yourself, Oh nobody else can cross it for you, You got to cross it by yourself” from a classic old spiritual, referring to the valley of the shadow of death.

You will get to a point where you eventually have to admit that by several definitions, you are old. It is a wonderful time. All my old antagonists are dead. All the people who threatened me are dead. They served their purpose. They reminded me that I had to hew to certain standards of humanity… that I must behave.

I have just endured an ordeal, an experience from which I learned a lot. I had a colonoscopy, not just one procedure, but two, where a doctor in a surgery room inserted a surgical device up my rectum and examined the inside of my large intestine, which he called my gut.

I told the doctor that he could “go up there where no man had ever gone before.” In the process of these investigations, he discovered a mass the size of a meatball attached to the inside of my gut, my ascending colon, my large intestine, and about two inches up from my appendix, which lies at the lower end of my gut where it is joined by my small intestine.

The great and wonderful physician took a pinch of the tissue with the endoscope, the surgical tool, and sent it to the pathology laboratory in the hospital for further examination under microscope. In both colonoscopy procedures, the pathologist found the tissue samples benign, meaning not malignant (not cancerous).

My gastroenterologist said that was all well and good, but he didn’t believe it would remain benign. If the mass was precancerous, it could erupt into malignant (cancerous) tissue and, if left alone, could metastasize (travel into other parts of my body).

Metastasis is the operant bad word. It means the cancerous tissue is growing, and it has sent parts of the cancerous mass traveling into other parts of my body, where the cancer gets established and grows into another cancerous tumor.

When that happens, your time in this world is severely limited, and it is time to arrange your affairs, because you will expire…die. A poet once wrote, “Any day was a good day to be born, and any day is a good day to die.” It’s pretty permanent: If you die today, you will be dead tomorrow.

So I did what any rightthinking boy who has grown old would do. I authorized a surgery to whomp the intestinal mass and about a six-inch length of my gut out of my body, which had supported my wonderful life for lo, these 76 years. That meant connecting the end of my small intestine to what was left of my large intestine.

This was a high-risk surgery. The greatest risk was that, in cutting out that piece of gut and stitching together the end of my small intestine to my remaining large intestine, fecal material (partly digested food traveling down my alimentary canal from my mouth to my rectum) could escape from my gut and poison my peritoneum (the inside of my insides) and kill me.

Luckily for me, I survived the surgery. After I was released from the hospital on Monday, September 14, I went to the Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth, a 114-year-old oak-paneled place famous for good food and good service, with my ride home, a good and faithful friend who drove a 100 miles down to Duluth to get me and bring me home. We traveled across the country roads that I know well, to my home in Virginia, Minnesota. The autumn leaves were just now starting to change, and it was an excruciatingly lovely day to return home, after the ordeal of surgery.

I am elated to have survived the surgery and to be alive. Life just gets better.

After a major surgery, there is pain. I was extremely brave and refused all opioid medicines, derived from opium, a terribly, horribly addicting and enslaving drug. I managed to live through the five days subsequent to the surgery on two 500 milligram Tylenol, three times per day. It hurt when I laughed, sneezed, hiccuped, and moved around. I tolerated the discomfort and concentrated on being happily alive.

All the wonderful professional nursing staff said I did well in recovery. My now-departed mom and dad imbued me with a strong, positive spirit, which continues to serve me well. The hospital staff were all great people who live in the high-threat environment of a hospital daily. Again, thanks to all of you.

The first two days of clear liquids foods were nonstarters. When I graduated to solid foods, I discovered that St. Luke’s Hospital had a high-class restaurant inside it. They told me to eat like a high school boy, and I did. I quickly got used to all the handholding and babysitting, threatening to spoil me rotten in only a few days.

They sure know how to give a patient tender loving care (TLC). They made recuperation as easy as it could be. I teased and told them I wanted to stay for the food and the care, but they smiled and reminded me that I had to go home and feed and care for myself.

At the time of writing this article, I haven’t seen or heard the pathology reports yet, and I still haven’t had a good, healthy bowel movement. I am patiently waiting to poop and I am sure, one fine day, it will happen.

I have related to you the specifics of my little ordeal in order to let you know how I am at present. I also wanted to brief you on how you, too, can weather the ordeals of age.

Before I left the hospital, I sang the nursing staff a little song titled “I Can See Clearly Now” from Bob Marley, a Jamaican folk singer. It is one of my favorite affirmations of a positive designer life, designed by my favorite guy— me, with a little help from my friends.

I am fine, and I hope you are too. Now that you are briefed on how I am doing, can I get a big Amen on that?

Rand Sturdy lives in Virginia.

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