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May 10, 2012 / angelavbolton

2. What happened in the beginning…

Robert getting his Masters degree

Robert with his Masters degree

Robert had an operation (October 3) on his esophagus for a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus. They remove some of the esophagus and reattach it to the stomach. There were cancerous cells there and his surgeon said he really didn’t have any choice but surgery.

He was expected to be in hospital for two weeks: High Dependency (HD) ward for three or four days and then moved to a general ward. He would need feeding through a tube for that time and likely after he got home too. They gave us a DVD which explained the procedure and, although he was not happy about having to have it done, he felt it was necessary.

The surgery went very well. His surgeon phoned me that evening while I was in the hospital to say Bob was in recovery, they got everything, and he’d be moved to the HD ward later that night and I could see him the next day. Myself and his sister Ritamary were sitting waiting to hear this and headed home, delighted that he’d done so well.

The next day we were told he was sitting out, groggy but well. I went in for visiting time – being very law-abiding – and was waiting outside HD to see him. They let me in for a minute at 2.30: he was wearing an oxygen mask and groaning in pain while a nurse was bustling around him saying they were working on getting his pain medication right, etc. They asked me to leave so I did.

I continued to wait, asking could I go in to him. They sent me off for a coffee at one stage as they said they were x-raying his chest and there was no point in sitting there, so off I went, got the paper and came back. At about 4.30 or 5pm I saw nurses and staff, five or six of them, running in to the HD unit, and then my phone rang. It was a HD nurse who came out to me to tell me his heart had stopped.

About ten minutes later they told me they’d gotten his heart started again, he was going for a scan and then into ICU. His surgeon came out to talk to me and just then Ritamary arrived. He said they didn’t know why his heart had stopped: it could have been a clot, a heart attack or something they didn’t know about yet. Hence the scan.

Later he said his working theory was that Bob got a sudden build-up of mucus on the lungs which deprived his heart of oxygen and caused a cardiac arrest. Pneumonia is an expected risk, apparently, when working on the esophagus as they have to go around the lungs.

Bob was heavily sedated for five/six days while they let his heart rest, etc., but when they pulled the sedation he didn’t wake up. Initially they believed that he’d suffered minor or reversible/treatable brain damage from oxygen deprivation as he hadn’t been without oxygen all that long. However, when he didn’t wake up 48 hours after the sedation was pulled they did an MRI and said there was extensive damage to his brain.

He was in ICU for about three or four weeks as he had drains on both lungs and on the site of the original surgery, and pneumonia. Once the drains were removed – and he was healing really well from the surgery and his heart was fine – they moved him to a room off a ward where he’s getting round the clock care.

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