Amy Lynn Di Cristo is my next guest for the Chronic Illness Support Guest Blog! You can find information Amy has provided about having surgery during a pandemic as well as some of her journey. We hope you find this information helpful in your journey with having a surgery during COVID-19.
Topic: Having surgery during Covid-19 pandemic
Tell us about yourself:
I’m from Northern New jersey.
What type of surgery did you have?
Hernia surgery for multiple hernias.
I am no stranger to surgery. My surgery in July of 2020 was not my first rodeo. As someone with endometriosis, I have had too many surgeries. I have endured multiple excisions. I have had my gallbladder out. I’ve had a D&C for a retained placenta and a miscarriage. I have even had hip surgery. However, nothing prepared me for this experience. This surgery was vastly different from the others, because I had surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It all started with a hernia that I had been successfully ignoring for a long time. It was discovered when I had recurrent pelvic pain and underwent an MRI. I had planned to leave it be since it was not bothering me. Or rather, it did not bother me enough to do something about it. Even when undergoing hip surgery and my excision surgery, the hernia, since it was not bothering me, was suggested by both the hip surgeon and my excision surgeon to let it be.
In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It turned our world upside down. Living in New Jersey, we were hit hard. On a somber note, my grandmother-in-law, whom I was close with, died of COVID-19 in April. My husband, a teacher, worked from home and my kids were doing school remotely. I was set to start a job, and my job offer was retracted. As a result, I spent a lot of time at home.
Like most people when in quarantine, I realized my house was ugly. I started, along with my husband, repainting rooms, we did some construction, cleaned out our basement, you know, normal quarantine stuff. I was painting a mural in my daughter’s room when suddenly, I felt a nagging, twisting pain. It didn’t go away. And then there was a lump in my groin. I couldn’t ignore the pain any more.
I consulted with the hernia surgeon I had seen a few years earlier. Rather than trekking to his office, this time it was done as a phone consult. “That lump is pretty damning evidence that the hernia has to be addressed,” said my surgeon. He recommended having it addressed before it became a medical emergency. We discussed the basics of how the surgery would go. I felt pretty at ease, having surgery, thinking we could do it at a surgery center. However, because of my significant medical history, especially having had a vascular issue, it needed to be done at a hospital in New York City.
The stress began to rise. I worried, what would surgery be like during a pandemic? Because of my experience, I want to share what it was like, at least for me. Obviously, as we all know in the chronic illness world, things will vary, on a lot of different scenarios. With the state of the world, you may be trying to schedule surgery but can’t due to limitations on space in the hospitals. You might be worried to even try. You might be dreading the COVID test. You might be worrying how you stay safe in a hospital.
For me, my experience with surgery during a pandemic went like this. My date was contingent on the numbers of COVID-19 cases and if elective surgeries were happening. Lucky for me, I was able to get in when the numbers were lower. My surgery was rescheduled at one point, because the numbers had gone up and they wanted to wait on elective cases again. When the first reschedule came through, I was frustrated, upset, and sad. I wanted to just get it over with and move on with my life! However, I recognize that my safety was being considered and so was my surgeon’s! While at the time I was frustrated, I understand now the importance of why rescheduling and cancellations happen during COVID-19.
Prior to my surgery, I had to go for medical clearance. For those who have never gone through that, it is basically like a physical, right before surgery to make sure that you are healthy. That went right as rain: everything checked out. Once I was cleared medically, I was prescribed to go for a COVID test, AKA the brain tickler.
The brain tickler consists of a q-tip going so far up your nose that you’re SURE it’s going to touch your brain! You have such an awful tickling sensation that your eyes will water and you will feel the world’s most epic sneeze coming on! Prior to surgery, most hospitals will want you to go right before your surgery and become a hermit after to ensure that you will not get COVID before your surgery. Unfortunately for me, my results were delayed significantly. I ended up needing to do the test three times prior to my surgery. It was not a pleasant experience, but it is necessary to help keep both you and your surgeon, as well as the hospital staff safe.
Once I had my brain tickler test done, I became a hermit and none of us left the house. We remained at home and binge watched Disney movies and played Animal Crossing. Finally, it was surgery day. To prepare for surgery, I did some online shopping for new pajamas and groceries. A huge perk right now of the pandemic is being able to shop in pajamas! I added lots of fruits and veggies into my Stop and Shop order and when my food arrived, I cooked some meals ahead of time. I knew that this time, I would not have other people around to help afterwards. There would be more responsibilities on me. I arranged for some new puzzles and activities for my kids. I also made sure the house was really clean before my surgery, since it made me feel better to be able to have something within my control.
Surgery day was typical and strange, at the same time. A lot of the normal typical things happened on the day of my hernia surgery; many people asked me my name, my date of birth, what I was having done. I also had the surgeon come by, obtain consent and then make sure I didn’t have any last minute questions. It was strange this time around because per the hospital’s policy, I could not have anyone go with me this time. Some hospitals may allow one support person to go with you. Some may allow one to two visitors once you go to your room. This time around for me, I was not allowed anyone, for the duration of my stay at the hospital.
I was nervous because of this. Usually, my husband would spend the pre-op time cracking jokes, talking with nurses, and trying to keep me calm. This time, my husband dropped me off at the front of the hospital and I walked in, navigating the winding halls of the hospital myself. Even with being “alone” I did not truly feel alone though. The staff in the hospital understand that many of us are going into this alone. All the staff involved in my care for my surgery seemed extra attentive and very patient. I’m sure they could see it in my eyes that I was scared.
The hospital during COVID times is again odd and familiar at the same time. There were arrows in blue painter’s tape on the floor, signaling one way traffic. There were designated elevators and whole floors for COVID patients.
When I put my hospital gown on, they had me remove my own mask and put on a medical grade mask. My surgeons, anesthesiologist, and nurses all came on with masks. Finally, it was my turn to go to the operating room (OR). This time there was no kiss goodbye from my husband. I took a few deep breaths and was escorted into the OR.
Like so many times before, the OR staff did what they could to get me comfortable; an extra blanket, a joke, holding my hand, and playing a Bon Jovi song as I was going under. I felt less scared, because by this point, it was a part of the surgery journey I was well acquainted with. The anesthesiologist removed my surgical mask and replaced it with an oxygen mask. Suddenly the song became fuzzy and my vision went black.
The next thing I knew I was out of surgery, and hurting. I had an oxygen mask on. Pain medication was administered and I fell asleep again. When I was awake enough to no longer have an oxygen mask, I was given another medical grade face mask to put on again. Ice chips and crackers were offered and in between bites and sips, I was able to take off my mask, and I quickly replaced it. Eventually I made my way to my room and lucky for me, I was alone. I was able to remove my mask while in the room by myself. However, when any staff came in, whether it be a nurse to check my vitals, or someone bringing food, my mask had to be put back on, not only for my safety, but theirs as well.
While it was scary to be alone, I had the ability to really rest without distraction. There was a greater responsibility on me to make sure I advocated for myself, when I needed more medication, or if I was having any sorts of difficulty. It was a more restful experience, without having a stream of visitors. Being well planned for my recovery at home helped a lot as well. I made sure that prior to surgery, we had groceries and easy to grab food for me. I made sure there were things to keep my kids entertained, since this time around there would be no ability to have a babysitter. All in all, we survived this experience of having surgery during a pandemic.
The take away from my experience is that safety is paramount right now. Truth be told, I felt incredibly safe having surgery, even during a pandemic. Protocols were followed. Everyone was incredibly aware and vigilant. While it was a lonely experience to have surgery during a pandemic, it was a more restful one. There was less distraction and I was able to truly focus on healing.
If you are planning on having surgery or have a surgery scheduled for during the pandemic, take deep breaths and take heart. This will be ok. It may be a completely different experience from what you are used to, but having things well planned out and going in knowing that things will be different will help ease the pre-surgery jitters.
How can readers connect with you?
Facebook: Amy Lynn Di Cristo
Guest Chronic Illness Blog coming soon! Guests will be asked to provide information about their illness and must haves while experiencing pain and other symptoms.
Samantha Bowick, MPH is the author of "Living with Endometriosis: The Complete Guide to Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment Options" and "Living with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency" as well as a fellow sufferer of multiple chronic illnesses and patient advocate.Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.