Archives for posts with tag: gallstones

Today I saw my surgeon for my 1 week follow-up.  Everything is healing well, except the incision at my belly button is a little red and oozy.  The doc said just put some Neosporin on it and keep it covered with a bandage for now.  I’m actually a little excited about that, since it means I get to use my collection of odd bandaids I’ve received as stocking stuffers over the years.  (Bandages that look like pickles, lipstick kisses, Disney characters, etc).  The doctor also cleared me to start exercising again, which I was very happy about.  The only caveat is that I need to refrain from doing any “core” work like sit-ups or plank moves for a few weeks.  Since the muscles of my abdomen were breached for the surgery in four places, they are weak and doing abdominal exercises could cause a hernia which would require more surgery.

Since the last post, I’ve had two normal bowel movements.  I only took stool softners for three days, and after my first normal BM I stopped.  I’ve been drinking a glass of prune juice every day, as well as eating an “Activia” yogurt every day to help my system run smoothly.  It seems to be working, and I’m no longer concerned about constipation.

Yesterday I felt daring and had half of a snack sized cheese stick for lunch.  It was pepper jack, one of my favorites!  Most of the complaints I’ve read have said that cheese is a no-no, as is spicy food, so I thought I’d knock two birds out with the same stone.  I wanted to try out the plumbing, so to speak, with something small but with a bit of a kick to it.  I ate a bowl of soup with crackers, a glass of “green machine” veggie juice, and the half stick of cheese.  I nervously waited for some sort of “explosion” or unhappy gurgling from my innards, but there was nothing.  I had no troubles at all.  For dinner I had pretty much the same thing, and again with no troubles.  Maybe because it was just a small amount of fat as part of the meal which is why I didn’t have any problems.  I plan to slowly up the fat content in meals until I’m brave enough to try eating a cheeseburger.   I’m thinking of this as reintroducing fat to my body, to train it how to deal with it without my gallbladder.  In the meantime I’m still eating simply, and sticking to low fat food.

Today for lunch I made myself my favorite salad: blue cheese crumbles, onion crisps, chicken, with a blue cheese yogurt dressing (Boathouse Farms, if you’re curious).  With it I had a glass of carrot juice, and a “Good Belly” probiotic shot.  They’re sold at Whole Foods and are supposed to help with digestive health, like Activia yogurt.  Again I waited to see if my insides would rebel against this, since this was the most fat I’d eaten in one meal since the surgery (12 grams).  And again, I had absolutely no troubles.

After being cleared to exercise today I did my usual aerobic workout, and in the evening jogged on my treadmill for 25 minutes.  Aside from some soreness at my belly button incision, everything felt like normal.

I weighed myself the other day and was stunned to see I’d lost 5 lbs since surgery.  I’m eating the same amount of calories, yet my physical activity is less than it was before the surgery so to see that on the scale was a surprise.  I think it’s just a reaction to the surgery itself, since it is a trauma to the body.  I expect that once my body settles down a bit it may try to put the weight back on.  But with continued diet and exercise I hope to prevent that!

Getting up from bed doesn’t hurt anymore, so I no longer have to brace my belly and roll out carefully.  Aside from the issues at the belly button incision site, everything is healing well and I feel pretty much back to normal.  I’m so grateful that I haven’t had any problems, and am hopeful I will turn out to be one of the lucky ones whose life isn’t really affected by having their gallbladder out.

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Everything continues to go well.

I have stopped taking the pain meds prescribed for me and have been using only Tylenol now for a little over 24 hours.  Quite honestly I don’t feel like I really need it at this point, but I’ll take one more pill before going to bed tonight to make sure my sleep is as restful as possible.

I have stuck to eating simple things like soups, crackers, eggs, toast, jello, and ginger ale.  Today I also had some strawberries, and yogurt (Activia).  I haven’t had any problems with anything I’ve eaten so far, although sometimes my stomach seems to feel a little unhappy.  It could be from my system being a little out of whack from the surgery and all the medication.  I really don’t know, but don’t feel like it’s a problem.  I don’t feel sick or like anything is disagreeing with me — it’s more of a faint feeling of “hmmmm.  I don’t know about this…” from my tummy.  It usually fades after a little while.

I was becoming concerned that I hadn’t had any bowel movements yet at all, since I had been expecting one since the surgery.  I don’t normally “go” every day, but the last time I did was the day before surgery.  I was getting anxious that maybe things were getting backed up in there, so I drank some prune juice last night before going to bed and again mid-morning today.  I finally “went” this afternoon, although it wasn’t an easy one so I took some stool softners with lunch.  I’m sure that the pain meds and anesthesia are at least partially to blame for my difficulty, so now that I’m not taking the meds anymore I’m hoping things will get easier as everything is flushed out of my system (pun intended).

I’ve been napping every day, sometimes for an hour or two at a time, and taking easy walks outside a few times a day around my apartment building.  I’m still doing knee lifts, although I’ve increased the amount that I do slowly to 20.  I’ve started doing ballet-type squats with my feet wide apart.  I started yesterday doing 5, and today have been doing 7 every hour.  The breathing exercises and shoulder rolls also continue every hour, and I also do easy arm exercises (like raising my hands over my head in a slow sweep, or “rowing” my arms gently).  I am restless to do more, but remind myself to take it easy lest I overdo things and suffer a setback.

Today I was successfully able to turn and lay on my side to sleep, although I had to do it gingerly or risk pulling at my incisions and the whopper of a deep bruise under my belly button.

On Sunday I’m planning to meet a friend for breakfast at a restaurant (CoCo’s).  I will be eating from the “diet” portion of the menu, since I am not at all tempted to eat fatty foods yet.  I am content to stick with eating low fat/healthy fare for the time being, which means soups, crackers, and the like.  I feel that maybe in a few weeks I will try my system out with something fatty (like a tuna sandwich from Subway), but not just yet.

So far, so good.  Last night after going to bed I had some pain where my gallbladder was that felt sort of like a phantom gallbladder attack.  It was the muscles in the area clenching a bit, but it wasn’t anything horrible and nowhere near as bad as a real attack.  It went away after about 10 minutes, and I figured it was just my muscles getting adjusted to the new arrangements down there.

Breakfast this morning was an egg and piece of wheat toast, with three squirts of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”  It was the first real, solid food I’d eaten since surgery, aside from the saltine crackers.  I didn’t have any problems with it at all, which was a great relief to me.

I’ve been keeping to taking my pain meds every four hours like clockwork, which means my friend got me up at 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. with some crackers to eat before having the pills (to avoid an upset stomach).  After taking my pill with breakfast I felt tired, so took a nap.  I tried to turn onto my side to sleep while napping.  Big mistake!  I felt the stitches at my belly button pull, and it’s been a bit sore since then.  I mostly feel it when I’m laying down or levering myself out of a chair, though, but it’s not really bad pain.  So, I’ll continue to sleep on my back for a little while.  While sleeping I also keep an ice pack over my belly, which I think helps.  Funny enough, I actually feel best when I’m sitting up and walking around:  I hardly feel any pain at all.

I told my friend it’s very hard to believe I had surgery only yesterday!  I’ve been walking around my apartment every hour, and doing my little exercises (3 knee lifts on each leg, shoulder rolls, and raising myself onto the balls of my feet 5 times) and the breathing exercises into the plastic device they gave me.  I felt like having some fresh air, so my friend came with me for a slow walk around the outside of my apartment building.  It was nice to be outside in the brisk air and sunshine for a few minutes.

For lunch my friend made me some homemade vegetable beef barley soup, which I had with some crackers and ginger ale.  Again, no problems at all, which I continue to be grateful for.  At lunch I cut down my pain pill in half, and again felt sleepy not too long after it hit my system so I took a nap for about an hour and a half.  I don’t normally sleep so much, but I know my body is recovering from a trauma and that sleep can help with healing.

I took another slow stroll around the building this afternoon, and it was again refreshing to be outside.  I think the fresh air can only help both physically and mentally.

For snacks today I’ve had a popcicle (morning snack), and saltine crackers with an 8 ounce glass of almond milk (afternoon snack).  I really love almond milk!  It tastes better than regular milk, has less calories than fat-free milk, and more vitamin D!  Again, I had no problems with any of this, and was very pleased that my system is doing well as I slowly reintroduce normal food.  For my evening snack I  had a small cup of low-fat cottage cheese along with some saltine crackers, and it seems as though I did okay with that too.

Dinner was another homemade soup with  saltine crackers (again!) and ginger ale.  This time it was ham and potato soup with corn, onions, celery, and a little bit of tomato thrown in for taste.  My friend didn’t add any salt to it (I also have hypertension), and it was a little bit on the bland side but it was perfect for me right now.  It was tasty and filling, and didn’t send me running to the bathroom later!

Again, I feel so incredibly grateful that my recovery seems to be going so well.  After reading so many horror stories I was more scared of what would happen to me after the surgery than the surgery itself!  I continue to wait for something “bad” to happen, though, since it just seems like it’s supposed to!  I told my friend I should stop saying stuff like that so I don’t jinx myself.

I haven’t had a bowel movement yet, which for me isn’t unusual.  I tend to go every few days, so this is normal for me.  I’m a little concerned that between the anesthesia and the pain meds that I might be constipated, but I won’t know until it’s time.  If I do have issues with it, I have some stool softners I can take to help out.  I’m hoping it isn’t necessary.  But if that’s the only problem I have, then I will still feel grateful.

I made up my mind to go through with the surgery.  I had to be at the surgery center at 6:30 a.m.  My best friend drove me down, then I signed in and sat in the surprisingly full waiting room for about 20 minutes until I was called up and handed a clip board of paperwork to fill out.  I was a little annoyed they didn’t give that to me when I got there, instead of after I’d been sitting there doing nothing for 20 minutes.

After turning the paperwork back in I waited for a little while longer until a nurse called my name and I followed her down a hallway to the pre-op area.  It looked a little like a mini-emergency room, with beds curtained off and a nurses station.  I went to the bathroom first before changing into my hospital gown (it was a real one made of cloth, not paper!).  I kept my socks on to stay warm, and was given three warm blankets to stay under.  They gave me a blue cap to put my hair up in, and put some braces on my lower legs which alternately inflated and deflated like blood pressure cuffs.  I was told it was to help keep my blood moving and to avoid clots.  Then they put a heart rate clip on one finger.

My friend kept me distracted by talking to me, since she knew I was nervous.  I said some really “blonde” things since I was anxious and my brain was scattered.  At some point I was disconnected from the leg balloon things, and walked down the hall to use the bathroom again.  Even though the back of the gown was tied shut to the side, and my fanny wasn’t visible, I still walked with one hand holding the back closed.  I didn’t want to flash my derriere to all and sundry!  I didn’t pee very much.  It was more of a nervous tinkle.  I had this fear that once they gave me the medicine to put me out, that all my bodily functions would lose control and I’d pee and fart all over the place.

After  I came back to my bed and had my leg things hooked back up we were there for awhile until one of the nurses told me that my doctor wasn’t there yet because his car had broken down while he was on his way in.  She said he might have to cancel the surgery depending on how long it would take him to get there, since there were other surgeries scheduled after mine that would need the operating room.

While I was pondering all of this the person who was scheduled to have surgery after me called and cancelled.  That meant that my doctor could be pretty late without it affecting the surgery scheduled after mine booked for the same room.  But since they didn’t know what my surgeon’s schedule was like, or if he had other appointments to keep after my surgery had been scheduled to end, the fact that there was some leeway in the use of the surgery room may not have helped.

I found it kind of ironic that the doctor might be the one to cancel, especially after all the angst I had about going through with the surgery at all!  I really thought they would tell me I had to reschedule, but about 20 minutes after the scheduled start of my surgery the nurses told me it was a “go” and hooked me up to an I.V.  That actually hurt!  It wasn’t like the needle sticks I’ve had to have blood taken or when they give shots — it hurt a lot more than that.

The anesthesiologist came around and had me sign a form.  Other nurses and people on the team, including the anesthesiologist, kept asking me the same questions.  “What’s your name?”  “What’s your birthday?”  “What are you here for today?”  “Who is your doctor?”  I was told it was to make sure the wrist band and paperwork all matched, so mistakes wouldn’t be made.

The anesthesiologist asked if I would like something to help me not be nervous, and I asked my friend if I should do it.  She was like, “Oh, yeah.”  She was right.  I didn’t feel like I was going to have some kind of crying jag or anything, but I was nervous and had been wound up tight about the surgery for a week.  So the anesthesiologist put 3 different meds into my IV line.  After about 10 seconds it hit me.  It was like being suddenly drunk!  I turned to look at my friend and told her, “Oh, I feel it!”  I know I had a goofy look on my face because I could feel it.  She started laughing and said my pupils were blown wide.  I seriously felt like I was drunk, and even giggled!

Shortly after that they wheeled me away and into the operating room.  I was transfered onto the surgery bed, then my arms were put on their own padded arm rests.  It reminded me of the beds I’ve seen pictures of in death row, to be honest.  Not a pleasant thought to be having at that time!  They set up my IV stand, put the blood pressure cuff and pulse rate monitor on, and maybe some other stuff.  I don’t really remember.  Then the anesthesiologist said she was putting in the medication to make me go to sleep.  The nurse asked me to think of something pleasant, and I mentioned to them a recent trip to Egypt in October, and another to Russia in June (I’m not wealthy — they were budget trips and I used every last penny of my income tax returns to go!).  I remember I looked straight up towards the lights and ceiling, then after that I don’t remember anything.

The next thing I was aware of I was trying to get out of bed.  I felt like I had to pee, so I kept trying to get up.  It was kind of like when you wake up out of a dead sleep to stagger half-asleep to the bathroom and then back to bed again without ever being really awake.  They kept pushing me back (gently) and one asked me, “Where are you going?”  I think they were maybe amused by it.  Once I was aware of my surroundings I stopped trying to get up and relaxed.  I asked the nurses if I’d said anything funny, but they said I hadn’t.  I was feeling pretty groggy and had  pain in my mid section from the surgery, so they gave me something in my IV that made it fade away to nearly nothing.

I remember fuzzy bits about this period in time.  The anesthesiologist came around and asked how I was doing, then showed me a plastic jar with a bloody liquid inside which had my gallstones and gallbladder floating around in it.  The stones were yellow and looked to be a little bigger than peas, and the gallbladder itself looked small!  Like maybe the size of a flattened egg.  I thought it would be bigger, and remember wondering if that was the whole thing.  I may have asked that too, but I think she said that was pretty much it.  I guess I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more stones, and that they weren’t bigger.  I think if they had been then the surgery would have been more justified in my mind, although I suppose the stones I did see might be considered kind of big.  They looked like maybe they were the size of peas, or a tiny bit bigger.  I had kind of been expecting them to pull out something bigger.  Maybe one that was the size of a quarter would have left me with that justified feeling.  I asked if those size stones were considered the “dangerous” kind because they were small enough to get caught in the bile duct, and if having bigger ones would have been “safer” for that reason.  I think she said “yes,” the stones were the dangerous size for that reason, but maybe she was saying that because the doctors (the anesthesiologist was a doctor) think ALL stones are dangerous.  (Or maybe I wasn’t as coherent as I believe I was at the time!)  I’ll be sure to ask at my post-op check-up with my doctor next week.

She then gave me pictures which showed what it looked like inside me during the surgery.  I could see my healthy, pink liver in there under the canopy of my inflated skin.  I was relieved that my liver didn’t look marbled and “fatty,” which had been a mild concern prior to surgery.  Then there was a pic or two of my gallbladder as they were working on it, and what it looked like after it came out and they’d cut it open to have the stones tumble out.  I counted about 10 stones, but it’s hard to judge size in the pics because there’s nothing to compare them to.  The pictures were mine to keep, but they aren’t something I’ll be posting on Facebook!

I was given some saltine crackers and a choice of drinks, and chose the ginger ale.  I know it’s better for settling nausea, and it sounded better than the other choices (which I don’t remember).  I wasn’t feeling sick to my stomach, and didn’t have a headache or anything, but I thought the ginger ale was the wisest choice in case the crackers disagreed with me.  I was able to munch down 6 crackers, with two little cans of ginger ale.  I tolerated them just fine, and didn’t feel sick or like I had to run to the bathroom.

My muscles, especially in my legs, started shaking as if I was shivering from being cold, but I wasn’t cold at all.  I mentioned it to the nurse and they said it was an aftereffect from the anesthesia, and I was given something in my IV that stopped it shortly after.  After I finished the second can of ginger ale I asked to use the bathroom.    The nurse asked if I wanted to get into my own clothes, then go home if I was feeling up to it, or stay in my gown and relax in the bed for a little while longer.  I chose to get dressed, then head home after using the bathroom.

I was shuffling real slow to the bathroom.  On one side was my best friend, and on the other was the nurse helping me in case I stumbled or fell.  I said I felt like an old woman because of how slow I was walking.  I wasn’t in pain, but I was light headed and really couldn’t have walked fast or at a normal pace if I’d wanted.  I used the bathroom to pee without any problems sitting down or getting up (thanks to doing leg lunges and jogging for the last few months, maybe!)  I sat in a chair by the exit while I waited for my friend to get my pain medication from the pharmacy next door, then she pulled her car up right outside the door so I could get in.  Again I walked real slow, and both she and the nurse kept light holds on me to make sure I didn’t trip or anything.  I sat down okay in her little car, although I could “feel” it in my belly.  But since I was high on pain medication it didn’t really hurt at all.

Once I got home my friend helped me into my bed with my pillows fluffed and stacked behind me, then the made me a light lunch.  My surgeon said to stay on a liquid diet for the first day, then to eat low fat after that.  Thankfully I’d already done my homework on this, so I had stuff for a “clear liquid diet” waiting at home: broth, sugar free jello, popcicle sticks (with fruit juice but no fruit bits or anything like chocolate or nuts), and ginger ale.  I had also bought some soups (nothing creamy or chunky), but decided it would probably be best to start off with the broth and see how I tolerated it.  My lunch consisted of 2 saltine crackers, a bowl of vegetable flavored broth, a sugar free jello cup, and some more ginger ale.  I took one of my vicodin pills, since the nurse recommended I stay “drugged up” today.  She said it would be bad to wait until I felt like I needed it, since by then the pain would be pretty intense and would last until the medication kicked in.

I didn’t have any problems eating at all, and no adverse affects after either. I’m very grateful for that, as it’s one of my main concerns.

After eating I took a slow lap around my apartment, as recommended by my nurse.  They said that walking around once an hour or so is good to help prevent pneumonia and help move the air inside me from the surgery out.  I then used my little breathing device, which I’m supposed to do every hour.  It’s a plastic thing with a central tube marked with numbers, and an attached hose to breathe in and out of.  When I inhale there’s something in the central tube which rises.  On the side of the tube with the numbers is a slidable marker, and they set it at about the middle.  My goal is to get the thing in the tube to rise to the marker when I inhale.  This ensures I’m taking deep breaths, instead of shallow breaths trying to avoid pain, and will help me avoid pneumonia too.  I’m supposed to do 8 deep breaths an hour.

I then tried to take a nap, but wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep right away.  Instead I laid awake for about an hour before drifting off for a short nap.  I got out of bed and and took TWO laps around my apartment.  I wasn’t feeling light headed any longer, so it went a little easier.  Then I treated myself to a popcicle, reasoning that even though I wasn’t hungry it probably wouldn’t be good to let my stomach get empty.  I typically eat 5-6 times a day anyway between snack and meals, so my body is used to eating every few hours.  I also reasoned that it might help my body recover if I keep it fueled.  Fuel = energy for healing!  Plus, some people have said they get the trots when they go too long without eating, and I really want to avoid that!

I’m feeling more alert than I was after surgery, too.  I feel almost normal except for some dull pain in my mid section which I know is being kept at bay by the pain meds.

Anyway, so far, so good!

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.