It was a Friday night three months ago. I’d just put my kids, Hunter, four, and Autumn, two, to bed and poured myself a glass of Prosecco, as I waited for my husband Andy to get home.
I was looking forward to a nice evening having a few drinks with him when suddenly I got a stabbing pain in my side.
I had no idea what it was, so I decided to go and have a shower to freshen up and make myself better, but by the end of the shower, I was on all fours in terrible pain.
Andy came home to the sight of me having crawled downstairs in my dressing gown, calling an ambulance.
He thought I was being melodramatic at first, but I couldn’t breathe because of the pain, it was so horrible.
999 said they were prioritising chest pains and it would be a 40-minute wait.
There was no way I could wait that long, so Andy ran round our neighbours to get someone to sit with the kids and he drove me to A&E where they admitted me straight away.
They gave me morphine, but it wasn’t touching the sides, and I had no idea what was happening to me.
I wondered if my appendix had burst, or I was having an ectopic pregnancy, but when you’re in that much pain you really can’t think of anything other than not being in pain any more.
I started vomiting and I said to one of the nurses, “I feel like I’m dying,” and she laughed and said, “Of course you’re not.” But, actually, it turns out I was. They just didn’t know that at the time.
At 2am, I was taken for an ultrasound. The radiographer’s face fell. He told me I had a massive obstruction, and I thought, “I’ve got a tumour.” He shouted at the nurse to get the registrar and
I realised, “This is serious.”
Andy had gone home to relieve the babysitter, so I was alone and it felt terrifying. They shoved me on a pre-surgical ward where I moaned and vomited until the surgeon examined me, and he could see my guts undulating and said, “Prep her for surgery immediately.”
Twelve hours ago I’d been feeling fine and now I was having a major operation.
Andy and the kids arrived as I was being wheeled down at 8.30am, so I barely spoke to them, but getting into the operating theatre and being given the anaesthetic was the best thing ever, as finally I was out of pain.
I woke up on the high-dependency ward – there were four surgeons around my bed who told me if they hadn’t operated on me when they did, I would have died. It was all so dramatic.
The operation I’d had was a bowel resection. The problem had been something technically called an ‘obstruction caused by an adhesion’.
Basically, I’d had Caesareans with both of my children and my bowel got stuck on my c-section scar – scars can get sticky on the inside of your body, and your organs can get stuck to them.
What happened to me was very uncommon, and it’s extremely rare for it to get so catastrophic, but my bowel had twisted round on itself, cut off its own blood supply and gone gangrenous.
I then had sepsis, which is why I nearly died. They pulled out 1.3 metres of dead bowel. Luckily, you have 6 metres in total.
The recovery from a bowel resection is repulsive. You’re gassy, you have the runs all the time, and it’s painful.
I was very emotional about it at first and I rang my dad, who is a surgeon, in tears – he said it was because, after the euphoria of surviving, I have to go through the boring bit of getting better, which is very true.
I was in hospital for a week and I had to wear a nappy, because when your bowels are handled, they go to sleep, a bit like a snail going into its shell, and it takes a few days for them to come back to life.
It was pretty upsetting, but I was on the colorectal ward, so we were all in the same boat.
Once my bowel started working again, after a couple of days, I was in the toilet the whole day. It was exhausting. But after a week, I was allowed to come home, and I’m recovering well.
There are long-standing effects, like I lost the part of my bowel that absorbs vitamin B12, and that’s incredibly important, so
I have to have shots every three months for the rest of my life, but I’ve been told I should make a full recovery within a year.
I’ve had to change the way I eat – it’s like weaning a baby, because my bowel is having to learn all over again how to digest food.
I can’t have wholemeal bread or brown pasta or brown rice, and salads make me really gassy, as does anything greasy or creamy. And my hangovers are five times worse than they used to be.
I also get anxious about being away from home for long. I did a pilot for a TV show recently, and it was exciting to be asked, but I was really nervous.
I had to go up to London for the day from Essex, plus not only did I think I’d be rusty, as I haven’t done much TV recently, I was worried about my tummy, so I took loads of Imodium and I was careful about what I ate. If I’ve got something important to do, I just don’t eat much.
I have also worried about how unattractive all this is, and I thank God I’m married and have a husband who loves me regardless (and who also said he would never call me a drama queen ever again!).
I did say to him, “Do I repulse you?” because I repulse myself a bit sometimes.
Nobody wants to embrace a new them that involves having diarrhoea and being quite windy. But it’s a small price to pay for being alive.
Spreading the word
What’s happened to me is really unpleasant, but I want to be up front and real about it, an antidote to celebrities who just put a picture of a canula in their hand when they’re in hospital, and I’m like, “I want to see you looking sh*t in a hospital bed!”
I did a hospital selfie every day, which I put up on social media, although I did draw the line at a picture of me in a nappy!
I just wanted to make people laugh, I didn’t want to be embarrassed – we all poo, we all have things go wrong with our poo – and I wanted to make light of what was a dire situation.
And I was quite enjoying the attention, I can’t lie – everyone was saying “you’re so brave”. But I’m not brave, I’m just doing what I have to do to get through it.
And if this is the thing that happens in my lifetime that’s really bad, then I’ll take it. I didn’t lose a limb, and I’ll make a full recovery. I actually feel quite lucky, really.
Sarah’s new website and blog #sarahcawoodhasnofilter is launching soon:Sarahcawood.co.uk
How did it happen?
An adhesion is scar tissue that can make your tissues or organs inside your body stick together.
They often form after you have an operation on your tummy or pelvis, such as an appendectomy or a Caesarean section. Most of the time adhesions don’t cause problems, so you may not even know you have them.
The tissues and organs inside your body normally have slippery surfaces, which prevent them from sticking together.
If the tissues inside your body are irritated, for example during surgery or following an infection, your body’s healing process triggers a response.
Scars are a natural part of the healing process and the scar tissue that forms changes over many months. All types of surgery result in some scar tissue.
A bowel resection is a surgical procedure in which a part of an intestine is removed, from either the small intestine or large intestine.
Bowel resection may be performed to treat gastrointestinal cancer, bowel necrosis, severe enteritis, diverticular disease, Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, ulcerative colitis, or, like Sarah, bowel obstruction due to scar tissue.