This blog is to chronicle my gallbladder story.  This first post will be a long one, since I’ll be giving my background information and what led up to me starting this.  Basically, if I do go through with the surgery, which is scheduled in 3 days (I probably will), I want to document it for others seeking answers.  During my own research I read many blogs and posts, but only one covered anything that happened beyond the first week or so.  The stuff I read was usually like, “Okay, surgery was great (or not) and everything is fine,” and so on.    There may be one or two updates soon after surgery, but then nothing.

I always wanted to know “Yeah, but what about a year later? Or two years?”

So, my intention is to blog about my experiences, especially the surgery and immediate post-op experiences (if I have them!), and then update every once in a while so others will know what life is like months or years later.

 

On to the story thus far….

 

I am scared to death to have the surgery.  I know others have said that the surgery itself will be a piece of cake.  It’s the after-effects which have me panicking.  Ever since I found out I’d need the surgery I’ve been desperately googling everything I can about gallbladder surgery, and most of what I’ve found is making me very, very afraid.  So many people are complaining that they have ongoing problems like loose bowels, pain, acid reflux, and even uncontrollable weight gain.  Reading through their experiences has given me huge doubts about going through with this!

A little background about me:  I’m 39 years old and have battled with my weight since high school.  As a child I was pretty thin and very active, so my weight was never something I thought about.  Then puberty hit and my body changed.  Somehow I went from being an athletic child to being a chubby teen by the time I graduated high school.  My senior year is when I really started packing on the pounds.  Prior to that I’d been on the volleyball team, and would ride my bike around town.  I wouldn’t say I was “slim” but I was an average, sports playing teen.

The summer before my senior year my best friend got pregnant and moved away when she was kicked out of her home.  Looking back, I must have gone into a sort of depression about it.  After all, not only was she my best friend, but she was also pretty much my only friend!  I didn’t join any sports teams that year, and simply went straight home after school where I sat on the couch all day watching TV and eating junk.

This habit continued for years: go to school (or work), come home, eat, and watch TV.  And since I was eating snack foods and fast food most of the time, along with my mother’s yummy dinners, it’s no wonder I gained weight.  When I was about 22 I went on the Richard Simmons “Deal A Meal” program.  I lost about 50 pounds in 4 months doing it, and doing some exercise (although I can’t remember what exactly I did back then). I was looking good and feeling good!  But I was only able to keep it off for maybe 6 months to a year before I found myself raiding the cabinets for junk food.  I remember standing there and screaming inside my head, “Stop!  What are you doing?  Stop!”  But like a zombie going after brains, I felt uncontrollably compelled to eat stuff I knew I shouldn’t.  So, I packed the weight back on.

I remained chubby for a few more years until I went on a new eating plan:  “Fit for Life.”  It was recommended to me by someone who said it worked for her and she’d been able to keep the weight off for years by continuing to adhere to its principles.  Fit for Life advocates food combining: basically, it says to only eat fruit and fruit juice for breakfast (although don’t combine bananas with other fruits), and not to have a starch (like potatoes or rice) with a protein (like meat or cheese).  Also, don’t combine different kinds of meat.  Pretty simple, right?  It really was easy to stick to, and along with that I started running and I lost about 50 pounds (again), in about 5-6 months.  At the same time, I was using a product called “Ripped Fuel,” which contained ephedra (which is now banned).  That stuff worked great!  This time I was able to keep the weight off for 2 years!  But then I got complacent, started eating junk food here and there (and then more and more), and before I knew it I wasn’t working out or eating right anymore and the weight was back on.

A few years after that I tried calorie counting.  Got down to within 20 lbs of my goal, and stopped working out and eating right, then gained the weight back.  It was just laziness.  I have nothing to blame but that.  A year or two later, I did the same thing again except this time I was within 8 lbs of my goal.   I gained the weight back pretty quick.

Well, once again I’m calorie counting and have dropped weight.  44 lbs so far, but I have more to go!

It was about a year and a half ago, in June of 2010, when my gallbladder troubles began.  When I am “dieting” (I hate using that word since it implies something temporary, and eating healthy shouldn’t be) I allow myself one day as my “junk day.”  This means I can have whatever I want, all day long.  This approach works well for me, although I know it doesn’t for everyone.  After my junk day I am able to get back on track and eat healthy again.  I look forward to my junk days, especially since they help me to control my food lusts!   For instance, if I am really wanting a cheeseburger, I know I only have to wait for a few days until my junk day rolls around and I can have it without restrictions or guilt.

But, I digress:  on one such junk day, where I went really overboard, I started feeling the pain of what I now know was a gallbladder attack beginning.  I felt sick to my stomach, and had the instinct that if I could just throw up I’d feel better.  So, I forced myself to vomit.  Not pretty, but I thought it would help settle my tummy.  And I did feel a little better but it wasn’t long after that, that the attack hit me full force.

I have been in a car accident where I had a compressed fracture in my vertebrae, which caused me to scream in pain for the first and only time in my adult life, and the pain from my gallbladder attack was nearly as bad.  On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being unbearable and the worst pain in my life, the car accident was a 10, and the gallbladder attack was a 9.  The one thing that actually may have made the gallbladder attack worse was how long it lasted: hours, versus maybe 30 minutes of intense pain from the accident.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but thought maybe it was something to do with my stomach.  I had the thought that maybe the lining of my stomach had ruptured somehow!  So, I showered and drove myself to the nearest emergency room.  God was smiling on me because the ER was empty (it was about midnight) and I was ushered inside within minutes.  They did some tests on me, and while I was there the pain ebbed away.  I thought they’d given me something for the pain although they reassured me they hadn’t.  (I didn’t know at the time that it probably meant I’d passed a stone, so the spasms and pain stopped).

They did a sonogram on me and that’s when I learned I had gallstones.  They never told me how many, or how big, and I still don’t know.  It was never put into any of the reports (I’ve had two sonograms, and they just say I have stones).  I have no idea why I wasn’t wheeled in for surgery right then and there, but I wasn’t.  Instead the doctor just told me that if I had another attack I’d probably have to have it out, and that I should go see my regular doctor as soon as possible for a follow-up.

When this happened it was right after I’d dropped about 35 lbs, on the way to losing about 50 total.  So I was eating right and working out, yet my junk day obviously led to my gallbladder attack.  Also, I’ve been on high-estrogen birth control pills for a few years.  Between the yo-yo weight loss, lots of estrogen in my system, and a junky diet for much of my life I suppose it’s no wonder I developed gallstones.

So, I started my google research on the web, and that’s where I first encountered all these horror stories from people who’ve had their gallbladder out.  Those tales scared the bejeezus out of me!  All these people with these horrible problems!  It was scary!

Anyway, I was scared to eat junk food after that first attack, although I still had my junk days.  I simply reduced the junk food a whole lot.

Flash forward nearly a year later.  I’d packed on the weight again, and had just started to take it right back off.  Another junk day, and another gallbladder attack.  Now, by this point I’ve eaten plenty of junk food since the last attack.  After all, I packed 50 lbs back on within 8 months and that’s not from eating the right kinds of foods.  So, maybe starting to lose weight again triggered something.  I don’t know.  But once again I had a full-blown gallbladder attack, felt queasy, and made myself throw up.  Once again it helped a little, but not enough to keep me from driving myself to the emergency room.  This time I knew what was going on, but the pain was so intense (a 10 this time) I couldn’t stand it anymore and went to the emergency room seeking relief.  This time my attack seemed worse, because the pain spread into my chest too.  I was shaking, sweating, felt like puking, and was a wreck.  But this time the emergency room was busy, so I had to take a number and sit in the waiting room.  As I sat there I kept wandering to the nearby bathroom, feeling like I was going to vomit, although I didn’t.  I was curled up in my seat practically in the fetal position when I wasn’t shuffling to the bathroom thinking I was about to hurl.

After sitting there for about 45 minutes the pain ebbed away.  I became aware that the pain was gone and it felt like I was coming out of a fog.  I knew the doctors couldn’t do anything for me at that point since the episode was over, so I left.  I saw my primary care physician soon after and was referred to a surgeon since I was told that my gallbladder now had to come out.

When the doctor told me it had to come out, I nearly cried.  The idea of submitting to surgery was, and is, scary to me.  I know people say it’s easy, blah blah blah.  I’ve been “out” before for dental work, so it wouldn’t be the first time, but this time they would be cutting into my body!  That’s a frightening thought to me.

I spoke to a cousin and a friend who’ve both had theirs out, and they let me know about their experiences.  Both have had issues with loose stools after eating the wrong things, and warned me that I’ll have to learn what my body will and will not tolerate after the surgery.   Then I started looking for success stories, instead of “oh my God this is the worst thing ever” stories that had scared me so much.   I was looking for some hope!  I also finally went to see the surgeon after months of putting it off, and asked about the problems I’d read about.  He told me that less than 3% of his patients get “dumping syndrome” or other issues, and that the vast majority of people undergoing this surgery have no problems whatsoever.

I got some reassurance from doing all this. I also realized that the people posting all the negative stuff are a minority, but since that’s pretty much all you see it seems like a huge problem!  I have to remind myself that something like 650k to 750k of these surgeries are done every year, so in a decade that’s millions of people who’ve had this done.  If these problems were affecting millions of people, then I think there would be a lot more documentation about it on reputable medical sites instead of alternative health forums and such.  (Yes, I’ve read the arguments about the evil medical world not wanting us to use cheap flushes to cure ourselves, or not listening to patients complaining that removing their gallbladders has created chronic health issues, etc).  As I read somewhere else, most of the people posting about it are those having problems and who are seeking help or just venting about it.  Those who didn’t have problems just go on with their lives and have no reason to google gallbladder forums or post on them so naturally there won’t be a counterbalance to the negative stuff.

This Monday (December 5th, 2011), just over week before my surgery, I had my pre-op appointment.  They took some blood, made me pee in a cup, did an EKG on my heart, and took chest X-rays.  I went home and did some more googling.  This time my goal was to find out about how soon I could resume my exercise program.  As you may recall me mentioning, I’ve dropped 44 pounds and I fully intend to continue with that after my surgery.  So I wanted to know when I could resume doing some weight lifting  in addition to walking (or jogging).   This was the google search that led me to the scariest posts: people complaining they’ve gained weight uncontrollably after having their gallbladders out.  People who say they were fit, were vegans, ate healthy, and didn’t change their healthy diets were saying they started to pack on weight and nothing they did would take it off.  And not just 5 or 10 pounds either — people were saying they gained like 60-80 pounds in many cases, or were suddenly apple-shaped when they weren’t before!  There were 68 pages on one forum of people complaining about this problem.  Sixty.  Eight.  Pages.

Mother of God.

It sent me into a panic.  I nearly cried.  I thought, “No, no, no!  I can’t do that!  I can’t live like that!”  It’s one thing to gain weight because of your own negligence to your health, but it’s another thing not to have any control over it or to be unable to lose the weight!  I was on the verge of just canceling the surgery right then.

I started to revisit those sites where people talk about gallbladder flushes curing them (I’m skeptical of those, and the doctors said they could be dangerous because it could flush a stone into the bile duct and get stuck and could be fatal).  I felt desperate to find a way to avoid surgery.  I was reacting out of vain fear, and know that.  I told myself to be rational, and think logically!

Before calling it off, I wanted to know some things: why did I have to have surgery now?  I’ve only had two gallbladder attacks, and they were 1 year apart.  I eat junk food aplenty, but haven’t had attacks or problems frequently like other people with a symptomatic gallbladder do.  (Or do I?  Some people talk about how much better they feel after the surgery, and how they didn’t realize how sick they were.  What does this mean?!  Were they always having pain?  Or was it something else?)   Could I live with the gallstones?  I also wanted to know how many stones I had and how big they were, but that information isn’t in the radiologist’s report and they said they don’t count or measure them since “even one stone is enough.”   I also wanted to know just how common is it to gain weight after the surgery?

I called my doctor, a friend who is a doctor, a friend who is a nurse, and the people I know who had their gallbladders out.  I talked to anyone and everyone who had it done, or knew someone who did.  And all of them pretty much told me that no, they didn’t gain weight uncontrollably or know of it being a common problem, or know of it being a problem at all.  Two people who’ve had their gallbladders out said that yes, they did gain weight, but it wasn’t from that.  Both said the weight gain came slowly, and they felt they could take it off if they applied themselves to the task.  One said it was only about 10 lbs, while the other said it was more (but she has a host of other medical issues, like a hysterectomy and she’s quit smoking).  Others said that people they knew had lost weight after having their gallbladder removed.

The doctors (and nurses) I spoke to all pretty much said I could live with gallstones, but I was running the risk of unpleasant things happening in the future especially since I have a symptomatic gallbladder. Since I travel out of the country here and there to various places, one concern is that I could have an attack or need emergency surgery for it while I’m overseas.  And since my travels sometimes take me to 3rd world countries or areas far from hospitals, that could be very bad indeed.

My doctor was very sympathetic to my fears, and said if I have any doubts I shouldn’t have the surgery.  I felt such relief hearing that!  I really didn’t expect that at all, and was bracing myself for the “hard sell” for surgery.  So when she said I didn’t have to have it I suddenly felt like I had a choice again, and I think that helped ease my mind a bit.   My friend who is a doctor also said the same thing, so I again felt a happy relief.

After discussing it a bit more with my doctor, she re-ordered liver function tests for me and told me that if the levels were high it meant that it was affecting my liver and she would recommend that my gallbladder come out.  In 2010 after my first attack, my liver enzymes were high, and if they were high again then it was a sign that the gallbladder needed to go.

My best friend and I talked at length about it and went over my options.  We both felt that if my liver wasn’t being affected then I should just keep the gallbladder and accept the risks.  We think maybe it could be manageable without surgery.  Since my last gallbladder attack I’ve been religiously taking digestive enzymes to help take the strain off the gallbladder, so I could hopefully avoid another attack.  (I’m taking Lypo Gold, Digest Gold, papaya enzymes, and milk thistle).  It seems to be helping, so we think maybe if I continue on with that then maybe surgery really isn’t necessary.

I went in and had my blood taken again yesterday for the liver function tests, although I felt resigned that the results would be high and I’d have to have surgery.  I was coming to be at peace with it after a whole week of panic and stress.  Today I called and spoke with the on-call doctor about my results.  Imagine my surprise when he said my results were perfectly normal!  I was so relieved, since that seems to mean all is well with my liver and maybe the supplements I’ve been taking all these months really have been helping.

I really thought that if the results were favorable I’d call the whole thing off, but now I’m having second thoughts about that.  I hate that I’m flip-flopping on this, but it’s such a huge decision with so many things to consider:  I don’t want to go through the pain of another gallbladder attack since they were uniquely awful.  I feel like the next one will be off the charts bad, since the second one was even worse than the first one was.  There’s a good likelihood I will have another in the future, although maybe the supplements will prevent that.  I don’t know.  I run the risk of all these other complications, but the chances I’ll have one of those things happen are small.  I run the risk of getting cancer by leaving it in.  I run the risk of cancer by having it out, too!  I run the risk of developing chronic diarrhea, or digestive problems by having it out.  But I risk dying if I leave it in and a stone moves into the wrong duct and gets stuck there.

In the end, it’s really all a bunch of “what if’s” and “this could happen’s.”

At this point I’m actually leaning back towards just having the surgery.  “Better safe than sorry” and all that.  I have a lot of thinking and soul searching to do.  And I think I need to stay away form google — I kinda wish I’d never searched out any information about this since almost everything I’ve read has scared me to death!

I will make a decision by tomorrow night.

 

 

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