Photo of David Mcguire

My First Surgery for Crohn’s Disease: My Life Changed Forever

David McGuire, SMART Fitness

Written by: David McGuire, SMART Fitness

Updated: December 1st, 2022

*Important: This is an opinion piece submitted by David of SMART Fitness. This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your physician. There may be variations in recommendations and treatments that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

September 15, 2019, 2:30 p.m.

That was the date that will forever change my life. That was the date and time of my surgery. It finally happened.

3 years ago at my leanest

Crohn’s disease had fought back.

I was having such a bad flare that it needed to be removed from my body. I had lost 30 lbs in about three weeks and was in constant pain. As a result, I underwent a pretty standard procedure.

The procedure was called a right-hemicolectomy. I had 8 centimetres of my ileum (small intestine), my appendix, and about 10 centimetres of my colon removed from my body. The surgery itself took a little over 3 hours. However, the worst was yet to come.

Following the surgery, I was required to rest and recover. On Sunday, August 16th, my nurse entered my room and said, “you look as a stiff as a board, are you okay? When was the last time you walked?”. I looked at her and said, “yesterday before the surgery. I don’t plan on moving until this catheter is removed.” It was a painful experience to say the least.

So, being the baby I am, she removed it for me a few hours later and re-asked when I was going to get out of bed and move. The first step out of bed was the worst. I have never felt so weak and pathetic in my life. It definitely took a hit on not only my ego but also my physical well-being. Imagine, a man who could deadlift 415 pounds, squat 355 pounds and bench 230 pounds needed a nurse’s aid and a walker to get out of bed.

It was devastating and extremely painful.

I managed to walk to the bathroom (about 1.5 meters away) before basically collapsing and needing help back into bed. By the end of day one, I eventually did walk through the hospital’s hallway while dragging my feet with the nurse’s assistance, and a chair rolled behind me. After 10 meters I had to rest.

Post Surgery with the stitches/bandages

On day two, family started to visit, which was great, it brought up my spirit and made me feel more human.

I was able to walk a little bit further without any assistive aids. I was still exceptionally weak and in quite a bit of pain. At this point, I started to decrease the amount of painkillers I was taking (hydromorphone was the drug of choice, which might help with pain but made it hard to go to the bathroom, so it was a double-edged sword).

Day three was more of the same, but this time I was able to travel outside. This really helped with my psychological well-being. Being locked in a hospital feels gloomy, depressing and as if no end is in sight. Being able to go outdoors changed that: my appetite started to improve, and I started to feel psychologically better.

This leads us to day four: release day. At 10 am, I proved to my nurse and surgeon that I was no longer having fever spikes (which I did everyday prior, which is quite common with this form of surgery). I was eating and was able to go to the bathroom and pass gas from the bottom (this sounds weird, but think about it logically: the surgery’s purpose is to bring two points of the intestine together. If I wasn’t able to pass gas and use the washroom, that would mean something was not working or working incorrectly).

From day five to now (I write this on day eight of the recovery process), everyday I have been able to eat a little bit more, move a little bit further, do a little bit more with my day and have less pain overall.

Some foods cause an increase in gas, which is uncomfortable so that is a process to learn, but overall, in a week’s time I’ve made substantial improvements. By far the worst side effect still to date is the CO2 gas provided during the surgery, which is only removed from passing gas from the bum. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it travels through the body. My shoulders and neck have never experienced such a harsh burning pain before. On my eighth day of recovery, the amount of pain is far less and is much more manageable.

Additionally, this surgery could not have come at a worse time.

I had just begun a master’s program a month prior. My supervisor knew everything that was going on about my health, which was hard to divulge since I barely knew this woman. When I informed her about the surgery, I was promptly forced to withdraw. This was devastating at the time. But now, looking back, it may be for the better. I have been able to grow as an individual and to try other avenues. In previous blogs, I’ve made it evident that I work in exercise, nutrition, and the health sphere. Potentially, by not pursuing this master’s program, I can work to spread more practical applications with the lay and IBD community. I look forward to what my future holds.

At the beginning of this article, I wrote how Crohn’s had fought back. Well, this is me fighting back. I haven’t given up. This surgery has put my life into perspective and has given me a chance to lead a more normal life, whatever that means. In a weeks time, I’ll be able to begin back with light activity in the gym, some light resistance training, and cardio. I can’t wait to get back to what I love.

I wrote this blog with the intent of sharing my experience with the surgery, recovery and my mental well-being. Crohn’s and IBD is a large part of my life, for many years I let the disease dictate what I do and how I do it, I felt helpless. With this surgery, I feel as though I am leveling the playing field (I use the term leveling since I am still recovering as I write this).

If you are struggling with IBD, don’t be hesitant to reach out, I would love to help at any capacity I can.

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