The Great Gallbladder Break-up: 6 months later

Six months ago, I broke up with my gallbladder. I’ve written a few updates since then. The first month was a little rough. I spent a lot of time pretty uncomfortable in a number of ways. Three months in, things were starting to improve. So what about six months later?

A month or so ago, I started to realize that I was having fewer and fewer side effects. Sometimes there are still strange tummy issues, which I suspect will never fully go away. I am still 100% nervous about drinking any alcohol. I have stayed clear of tomatoes in a lot of their forms, but that might be unnecessary at this point. There is no mystery organ pain anymore or weird anesthesia symptoms. I still have scars, of course, but those are even starting to improve.

I was pretty nervous after the first couple of months that I would always be running for the bathroom or might always have little ghost pains. I’m pretty confident that those days are behind me. Of course, I don’t eat a lot of greasy foods very often, as that seems to be what most horror stories I read seem to be about.

All in all, I’d say I feel pretty good about the surgery now. It was something that had to be done whether I liked it or not, but I’m glad that I can be okay with it. I know some people are not as fortunate as I am post-surgery. I have pretty much lived my life normally, even when I was having problems. I’m grateful that things have settled down and my body has adjusted well. Way to go, body. You did something right!

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The Great Gallbladder Break-Up: 1 Month Later

A month ago today, I broke up with my gallbladder.

Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about it and he put it a really good way: It’s like when you’re short-staffed at work. You still do the same job that you had to do anyway, but it’s a little harder and you can tell something is missing.

That pretty much sums it up.  After the follow-up with my surgeon, I was still having problems.  Incidentally, my GP had gotten all the reports from the hospital about my surgery and her office called to see if I wanted a follow-up with her.  I did.  I like my surgeon a lot.  This is the second surgery I’ve been through with him and I trust him to do a good job and take care of things.  He will answer any questions I have and address any concerns, but he is very straight-forward and a little short when he talks. I needed a little bit more than that.

When I went to see my GP on the 31st (about 3 weeks after the surgery), I was still having pain at the main incision sites (one on my upper stomach, one below my bellybutton). I was also still feeling lightheaded and I had a very scary experience where I no longer felt able to talk right.  It happened at work one morning and I felt like I was slurring my speech, unable to get my tongue to do what I needed it to do to make words happen. I was also concerned about my digestion and stomach problems.  My surgeon had told me everything was normal under the circumstances and my GP said about the same thing.

What they don’t seem to tell you when you undergo anesthesia (or at least what they didn’t tell me), is that your cells suck that stuff up and hold onto it.  Your cells then decide to randomly release some of that medicine.  She said it happens for most people in the afternoon and they get really tired.  For me, it seems to happen about 10 in the morning or so and that’s also when the speech problems happen.  Like clockwork, every time I’ve had the problem, it has been the same time of day. This is normal for about two months after surgery.  It also helped explain not being able to stop myself from sleeping 11-12 hours at a time.  I am doing that less, but I can tell you that I’m still tired  A LOT. Normal post-surgery, but a pain nevertheless.  The lightheaded feeling is probably also connected to the anesthesia, so hopefully that goes away within the month also.

As far as pain from the incision sites: 1 year.  The doctor said it can take up to a year for that to go away.  Really?!?  No one told me that either! She took a look at my scars and said that I was having some hypertrophic scarring.  Luckily, I am not developing keloids, but in order to help the scarring stay more minimal, she recommended applying something like Bio-Oil to them with as much massaging as I could handle.  I have already been able to tell a difference.  The worst scar is below my bellybutton and it has the most raised scar tissue.  I’m not sure if it’s shrinking exactly, but it looks like it’s healing better. (A side note: I had a dream that the Bio-Oil worked so well that it started to make my bellybutton disappear. Not reality, thankfully.)

My stomach problems have been the worst part, really.  Here is also where we get into TMI territory, so consider yourself warned and feel free to skip this paragraph. After I eat, I almost always feel stomach pain of some sort. It’s not constantly awful and sometimes it’s just a minor annoyance, but it is a marked difference. I also have noticed an increase in gas.  I have discovered that eating spaghetti with tomato sauce is a giant NO. The acid is just too much and I end up laying on the couch wishing I hated pasta.  I also think that I can’t drink a lot of alcohol anymore.  I had a couple of glasses of wine one night and everything seemed fine. At a friend’s wedding, I consumed about 3 rum and cokes over a several hour period.  The next day, I almost shit myself.  I can’t trace any food I ate that night to that sort of reaction again, so I can only assume it was the alcohol. I haven’t drank since.  Everything in general seems to move through my system a little faster now than it used to and I have had to become more comfortable with public bathrooms than I ever expected.  Overall, I seem to be able to eat most things without much problem, which is a relief.  The doctor did suggest that I start on a probiotic in order to get myself a little more regulated and a little less uncomfortable.  We’ll see how that goes as I haven’t noticed a difference yet.

All in all, things are generally manageable.  I will be really happy if the probiotic helps my stomach and I will be especially happy if I can get these tired feelings under control as well.  I am still cautious about some foods, which I think is probably a good thing anyway.

I was talking the other day about how there are some things you can never undo.  Taking out your gallbladder is one of those things. I don’t regret doing it, especially since it apparently needed to happen, but I wish I had been better educated about exactly what I was getting into afterwards.  Nothing is unmanageable by any stretch and things can always be worse, but I didn’t sit down and think “Well, you could always have more stomach problems after” or “Be prepared to want to sleep for half the day.”  I think I probably should have planned to take some more time off of work or at least plan for an extra day off here or there so that I didn’t/don’t feel so drained all the time.  Whenever I get bummed about how something feels, I try to remind myself that it’s only been ___ amount of time. It’s only been a month.  I’m allowed to still feel tired or have stomach trouble or whatever it is after losing an organ only a month ago. Figuring out what things work (smaller meals, teas for digestion, etc) and what things don’t (alcohol, etc) is part of this process.  I have to give myself time to do that also.

The Great Gallbladder Break-Up Part 2: Recovery

The day after my surgery, I was in a pretty good mood and ready to go home. I had been able to walk down to the nurses’ station sometime very early that morning. I had been able to eat dinner the night before, so breakfast wasn’t a problem.  I just felt like I needed to walk more.  By the time my mom showed up, I was ready to do just that.

Hospital breakfast

Hospital breakfast of champions!

We did a couple laps around, slow and steady. Ever since the first time I got out of bed, the nurse had me holding a folded up blanket against my stomach.  This was advice I’d been given by several different people, including my mom. She had brought my designated pillow from home that morning, so there I was, shuffling along the hallways with my Jack Skellington pillow and my IV stand.  I can’t tell you how helpful that pillow has been. I’m not sure what it is about it that helps, maybe just the bracing effect.

The surgeon arrived one more time and asked again what I was still doing there. I said I was ready to go, so eventually those orders came again.  I don’t think I was officially discharged until about 11am. They gave me instructions, a prescription for painkillers, and wheeled me on out.

Most of that first day home I remember eating and sleeping. I had a little bit of a scare that night with feeling lightheaded when I was walking around again. Luckily, my mom was right there.  I can’t begin to tell you what a help she was. I had tried to deter her from coming up for my surgery, but I see now that there is no way I could have done it without her. From helping me out of bed to making sure I was eating okay to cleaning my kitchen, she was beyond helpful. I spent most of the next couple of days back and forth between the couch and my bed. It was also just nice to have the company. We walked down the street one night, which felt good. We watched some Netflix. I was grateful to be able to relax.

My mom left on Thursday night. I was pretty nervous about being alone, though I was perfectly capable of handling things by that point. Every day I was getting better, it seemed. Noticing progress was nice. The pain from the gas they used to pump up my stomach with was pretty intense at times, so when that started to dwindle and when the gas itself started to disappear (normal pants!), those were all good things. I had been feeling pretty good most of the weekend.  I wasn’t 100% comfortable and felt tired pretty easily, but still a lot better than earlier in the week.  My boyfriend was nice enough to come and stay with me and force some Indiana Jones movie-watching upon me.

By Sunday, though, I had started to feel kind of gross. I have been eating pretty normally since I left the hospital.  By normally, I mean that I haven’t seemed to have any bad reactions to things.  I even ate pizza on Saturday, something I had been dying to do since I was told I needed to stick with low-fat because of the gallstones.  My surgeon had told me there were no more restrictions on what I ate, though it was obviously wise to eat healthy and low-fat, etc.  Sunday came along and my stomach started to ache. It’s ached on and off since.

Aside from my stomach, I have also had more problems with feeling lightheaded.  Even while sitting down at times, I won’t feel quite right. This caused a bit of a problem yesterday when I went to Target for a few items and ended up feeling like I was going to pass out waiting in line to check out. I didn’t and made it to the car and off to get something to eat, thinking that maybe my blood sugar was low. I still haven’t figured out what is causing this feeling, but I do know that eating often and in small quantities has been helpful. This seems to curb some of the lightheaded feelings, though not all. I have been trying to stay well-hydrated also in case the problem lies in dehydration. Hopefully I can either figure out the cause of the problem or it can mend itself on its own soon.

I have also still been using the pillow for different things.  I haven’t driven much since the surgery, but feel best when I have the pillow against me when I do.  I’m sure that it looks strange to passersby, but it’s definitely helpful. I also use it at night. I still can’t sleep on my favored side (as I have 2 invasion points there), but sleeping on my back or other side require the pillow against my stomach for the most part. I keep it there partially to stop the cats from getting on my stomach.

Cat Naps

The cats teaching me how to nap by example.

After Sunday and yesterday being kind of a bummer as far as feeling goes, I woke up this morning with the intention of getting out to walk to hopefully feel better. It seemed to work pretty well, but that’s for another post. I am hoping that today is the start of more steady improvement to feeling normal again.

Overall, the experience so far could have been far worse. I am really grateful to everyone who has been so helpful or sent a card or a gift. My mom, friends, family, and boyfriend have all been really wonderful to me.  I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Flowers

One of several get-well items that have helped brighten things up.

I still have a few days before I need to go back to work.  I’m hoping to get to walking more, resting more, and hopefully be good to go once I have to be back in the normal swing.  I have my follow-up with the surgeon on Friday, and I am hoping he clears me for all the fun things like working out too.

The Great Gallbladder Break-Up Part 1: Surgery

Well, it’s officially been one week since I came home from the hospital.  Last Monday (October 10th), I broke-up with my gallbladder.  I first talked about my gallbladder problems here when I ended up in the ER and discovered I had gallstones. For those still wondering about what exactly your gallbladder does, WebMD gives a short summary:

“The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver… In response to signals, the gallbladder squeezes stored bile into the small intestine through a series of tubes called ducts. Bile helps digest fats, but the gallbladder itself is not essential.”

That whole “not essential” part is what I was personally banking on last Monday.  We arrived at the hospital at about 5:45 in the morning with surgery scheduled for 7:30. I didn’t sleep much the night before and spent some time on the phone with my sister who had a kidney removed a couple of years ago. I like knowing what to expect, so talking to her helped a little bit in that department. I was also put at ease that my boyfriend, R, was the one taking me to the hospital. I knew that he had one of the best chances of keeping me calm and the atmosphere light.

Parts and Tools

Most of the body jewelry and necessary tools used for removal the night before.

After getting checked in, we didn’t wait very long before being taken up to surgery prep. The nurse was pretty nice overall and asked all the necessary questions. I got changed into my gown and those weird tractioned socks they give you. My surgeon came by to check in.  He made everything seem really casual and pretty in-and-out.  I knew it was supposed to be outpatient, but he surprised me with how fast it sounded like I would be at home.

One of the best parts of pre-op was the anesthesiologist. He reminded me of my brother-in-law in a strange way.  He made jokes about learning how to start IVs on YouTube and was the most gentle person I’ve ever had set up an IV on me.  I couldn’t be in bad hands if the guy reminded me of my brother-in-law, right?

A little bit before 7:30, they said it was time. I said goodbye to R at the point where he couldn’t go any farther walking with us and that was when I started to get scared and things started to sink in.  By the time they had wheeled me to the OR doors, I was starting to lose it. Very nice nurses took me into the room, got me on the table, and just talked to me.  Then there was the anesthesiologist again! He and one of the nurses bantered back and forth a little with me and I told him again how much I appreciated him. The last thing I remember was having a mask over my face for breathing.

If you are interested in details of what the surgery entails you can find things here, here, and here. A short summary: there are four entrance points for the tools.  They blow up your stomach with gas so they can manuever, cut out your gallbladder, and stitch you back up. I have two small invasion points on my side, one on my upper stomach, and one just below my belly button (which is the worst one and has the most stitches).

I woke up in recovery however many hours later.  I was disorientated and remember that I kept asking the nurse what time it was.  I don’t remember what her response was, but I remember being alarmed with the idea that R had been waiting a long time.  I pretty much forced myself to wake up at that point. I was fed ice chips and they ended up removing my oxygen because I was complaining about how my nose was irritated. I don’t think it was too long before the nurse decided that I could go to my room. I think I was still kind of in and out while they were moving me. I remember seeing R in the hall as we passed and saying something about how that was the face I wanted to see, maybe?  Most of that time is pretty blurry.  I remember my mom and friends showing up kind of vaguely. I remember how nice it was to have everyone there, but some of the conversation (aside from comparing my gallbladder to a jeweled purse of some sort) is fuzzy.

Once I got to the room is when the disconnect started between what the doctor had said and what everyone else thought.  The nurses seemed to think I was in the for the day and I was under the impression that I was going home.  I didn’t start to have problems until I started to have to get up and go to the bathroom.  I didn’t seem to have a lot of pain at first, but that changed pretty quickly. I was getting lightheaded when I tried to stand up and there was an instance that I couldn’t get up until they gave me pain medicine via my IV. The surgeon came by at some point and asked why I was still there and told us how full of stones my gallbladder was. This was something that R had told us about earlier: “tons of stones” was the description he was given after surgery. I suddenly felt much more relieved and like I had made the right decision to have surgery.

Even after the surgeon had come by, none of the nurses were big on me leaving until about 8:00 that night. The night nurse came on and said “We have your discharge orders from the doctor. Are you ready to go home?” At that point, my mom had already gone back to my apartment for the night thinking that I was staying. One of my friends was still there and stayed until the nurse figured out that I probably wasn’t going home. I still couldn’t get out of bed on my own and the patient assistant had to talk me through the pain of getting up.   The whole night, I was up every two hours to go to the bathroom and needed help every time.  My blood pressure and heart rate were both low for reasons no one seemed to be able to explain. The nurse was trying to get me to walk the hall because it would help the pain, but what she didn’t seem to understand is the level of pain!  By the time the night was over and I’d been up and down a few times, I was feeling better and sure I’d be good to go in the morning.

Look how excited I am to be staying the night...

Continued in part two

Gallstone Glory, or My Trip to the ER and beyond.

The picture above is basically what I got to see in my abdominal ultrasound on Saturday (9/17).  I woke up at 3:30am with intense pain from about the bottom of my ribcage to my bellybutton.  I had never had pain in that area of my stomach before, at least not like the pain I was having.  I waited it out, called a friend and my mom, and decided that it had been going on too long. The friend came to pick me up and we went to the ER.

We were taken back to a room right away.  My friend hypothesized that it’s amazing how fast they see you when they think you might have appendicitis. I had pretty much ruled that out as I knew people who had it out and the pain was not in the right place. They did their usual blood and urine samples. I was set up with an IV to hydrate me. The doctor eventually came in and started pushing around on my stomach, then ordered an ultrasound.

Whenever I have any sort of imaging done, I try to see it.  I had my kidneys looked at earlier in the year via ultrasound and watched those.  I also recently had an MRI done on my back and asked to see the images. After all the reading I had done, I could pretty well tell which disc was herniated if any of them were. With the ultrasound on my gallbladder, I saw an approximation of the above.  It seems to me that you never want to see other things inside of an organ. My gallbladder had a lot of other things inside of it.  After I was wheeled back to my room, I looked up pictures of gallbladder ultrasounds and had a hunch before the doctor told me that I had stones.

We seemed to wait forever to get the ultrasound results.  My friend’s mom, who was visiting from out of town, came and sat with us as we waited.  There was no shortage of conversation, which was nice. There was an incident where the IV almost made me pee myself, which was sort of funny afterward.

The first thing we were told was that I had a really bad bladder infection. This didn’t make much sense since I had no symptoms. I know a thing or two about urinary tract infections and the like and I had not been having problems.  So after awhile, the doctor came back and said, “guess what? It’s gallstones!” Ok. Maybe he didn’t say it quite that way, but that was the news. He explained that fatty foods can cause your gallbladder to squeeze harder than normal and if you have stones, this can be painful. That’s maybe what happened. I was told that I didn’t need it out right then, but they were referring me to a surgeon to follow up. I might not have to have my gallbladder removed any time soon, but it might be necessary eventually.

They wrote up my official diagnosis as biliary colic: “Biliary pain is most frequently caused by obstruction of the common bile duct or the cystic duct by a gallstone.”  Sounds painful? It was.  They gave me a prescription for Vicodin and told me to return if symptoms didn’t improve, the pain came back, etc.

Fast forward to Tuesday when I had the follow-up with the surgeon.  I had called the surgeon’s office and gave them the name of the doctor that I was referred to.  They came back with “you’re already a patient of so-and-so.” I had kind of forgot about two years ago when I had had surgery to remove sebaceous cysts and a “tumor.” So I ended up with the same surgeon. My surgeon. It’s a strange phrase.  At any rate, he’s a pretty upfront doctor.  He said that if I didn’t have the gallbladder removed now, it would only be a matter of time before it really needed to happen.  It could be just because of more attacks or it could become an emergency situation.  All the reading I had done (like the threads at Ask MetaFilter, multiple medical websites, etc) about it seemed to say the same thing.  There was a small chance I could be fine, but a bigger chance that I wouldn’t be.

It was a pretty short visit with the surgeon. He answered questions, told me about the procedure, etc.  The estimated healing time is 5-10 days, though they give you a work excuse for 14 in case. He said I could get back to my C25k two weeks after unless he had to open me up. On that subject, he was pretty clear: laparoscopic was the best way and the intended way.  If something didn’t seem right when he got there, he would open me and take it out that way to be safe.  “And that’s going to hurt,” he said. Healing time is a lot longer under those circumstances and complications have a greater probability.  So let’s all think positively for a laparoscopic procedure to be quick and easy.

My surgery is set for the 10th. I am grateful I don’t have to do any awful pre-surgery prep. The worst part is going to be giving up my vitamins and Alpha Brain for a week beforehand. I am also grateful I have a lot of friends around who are willing to help. My mom might come up for it, but that hasn’t quite been decided yet.

I’m ready to get it over with. I hear stories that it’s pretty easy and the best decision you could make.  I hope it is.