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Whipple Surgery: What to Expect the Day of Your Procedure

A cancer patient in post op before a Whipple surgery procedure

Expect to Wake Up Early

We woke up around 4am the morning of surgery. I showered with the special soap I had been given. I stood in the shower, warm water running, but I felt nothing. Nothing but dread. Wishing that everything that I had been through for the last six months and everything that was about to happen was all just a dream.

Expect Company

I hadn't thought about the logistics of organizing surgeries at the hospital. And looking back on it now it was a little funny. Multiple surgeries were taking place and so there were half a dozen other patients shuffling in and getting prepped. I was led to a space with a hospital bed and a curtain. My husband and mom were allowed to be with me. I changed into a gown and was wrapped in a warm bubble of air. My surgeon and her assistant stopped by.

And the last thing I remember before being taken into the operating room was this chorus of patients being wheeled out of their spaces and down a hall. It was something out of a movie.

Expect Music

Very shortly after arriving in the OR, a woman asked me what kind of music I would like to listen to. I had been wondering if they would ask me that and I had been thinking of what I would want to hear. I have one song that I love to hear when I feel like things are out of control. But my mind went completely blank and I couldn't think of the name of it. So I blurted out "Enya" and I feel that may be a popular choice because she didn't say, "who?," or follow up with "how do you spell that?" I think "Only Time" was the song that began playing. A mask was placed over my nose and mouth and I was out 10 seconds later.

Expect to Be Incredibly Thirsty

I woke up in post-op seven and a half hours later. Several nurses were bustling around. I remember my surgeon coming over and I said, "Is it out?," referring to the tumor. She replied with a chuckle to me and the other nurses saying, "I knew she would ask that!"

"Yes, we got it out."

I felt relieved and then I felt everything else. Discomfort and extreme thirst. At first they said I couldn't have any water, but my surgeon said it was okay for me to have sips. I'm pretty sure I gulped it before they took it away. I've never been so thirsty in my life. I think I passed out shortly thereafter.

Expect to Have an NG Tube

I woke up again, this time in a regular hospital room. It was a pretty spacious one with a bed for my husband. I must've been on some good drugs at the time because I was cracking jokes. I was happy to have the tumor out and to be alive. That wore off over time as I began noticing the discomfort and pain, the tube that was placed in my nose, down my esophagus and into my stomach. An NG tube in this situation is used to suction out anything that has gathered in the stomach so it can heal. A small portion of my stomach had been removed during surgery - this is not uncommon. I believe my NG tube was pulled out on day 2 or 3, when there was nothing left to pump out. It's not painful at all. Just a very weird feeling.

Expect to Experience a Rollercoaster of Emotions

Pain meds and anesthesia do their jobs pretty well, thank goodness! I recall the first couple of days after surgery being the most pleasant of my hospital stay. I believe that was partly due to the meds and me knowing that my tumor was removed. I had a joy that I hadn't felt since my diagnosis. Unfortunately, that didn't stick with me, and as the pain set in and my mind realized my situation, my mood darkened, with both my husband and mom noting that I wasn't joking around like I had been.

Expect to Walk

Within 24 hours of surgery, you'll be "forced" to get up and take a lap or two around the halls. Because I was still in a good mood at that time, I was up for it. After that I was pretty grumpy about having to get up and walk every couple of hours. But I can't stress this enough: Just do it.

While the day of Whipple surgery encompasses a range of traumatic experiences, each moment is the start of your healing. Know that this too shall pass and there is life after the pain and discomfort.


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