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.

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In the Meantime…

This morning was my follow-up with the surgeon.  He took off my steri-strips, told me the incision and everything is looking good (though I personally think it looks kinda weird right now), and told me I have no restrictions.  He also said that the lightheaded feeling and a couple of other side effects may or may not be because of the anesthesia.  Some people are pretty sensitive to it, but that should go away. I also still have to play it safe, of course, and pay attention. For instance, I know because of the strain I feel at the main incision site that I have to be careful about lifting things.  And I still feel like I tire easily, but I think that will probably get better as I increase activity (lazy begets lazy) and still heal. Healing is tiring! My body is still probably looking for it’s gallbladder every now and then.

Today will be the third day this week that I’ve gone out walking.  I did a teeny tiny bit of jogging yesterday.  I mean teeny tiny and that was enough.  Hopefully today, I’ll get going a little bit more.  I am anxious to get my Couch-to-5k progress back on track. I know I still have a lot of work to do before I do the 5k in February.

 

So what would a beginning runner do with herself when she can’t train? Read.  Here’s what I’ve been getting into the past week and a half:

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Barefoot Running University :: specifically this

HuffPo Countdown to the NYC Marathon by Emily Faherty

Running with Your Cat, How Much Running Should I Do on Pavement?, Breaking All the Rules :: Runner’s World

Post-gallbladder surgery running discussion here.

 

Kitten-assisted reading.

The kitten loves a good running book.

 

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

Countdown to Surgery: 1 week

In one week at this time, I will (hopefully) be at home and in my bed having had a successful laparoscopic gallbladder removal.  Hopefully, the cats will be behaving themselves (and not jumping on my stomach), my mother will not be too uncomfortable in my apartment  (read: sleeping on my futon), while I am drugged up on pain medicine and passed out.

To start preparing for surgery, I had to stop taking all my supplements and vitamins today.  That means no more Alpha Brain or the vitamin D for my deficiency or any of the rest of it.  I also can’t take any medicine other than Tylenol.  Let me tell you something about me and Tylenol: we don’t work together. At all.  So here’s to a week of no headaches, please!

The only good part about having to quit everything is that I’ll get to actually see what the Alpha Brain is doing.  I know it has really, really helped my moods. I think it’s also helped in a number of other ways, but who is to say that isn’t some sort of placebo effect talking?  Well, I’m about to prove it one way or another.

Luckily, I really don’t have to to anything else awful for preparation.  I don’t have to drink anything nasty to clean myself out or anything like that.  I just can’t eat or drink anything from midnight the day of up until surgery. When my surgeon’s scheduler told me that good news, I told her that the relief of that moment was almost worth having to go through it all.  (Not true.)  The only other thing I really have to attend to is figuring out piercing removal. You’d think after having to bother with getting them taken out and put back in twice now (once for my last surgery and once for my MRI earlier this year), I would just give them up.  It’s only some/most of the ear piercings that are hard to remove myself and this time, I can’t just show back up to the shop on the same day and get them put back in. Time to invest in some tools, I guess.

With the thought of surgery on my mind, I am not taking any possible gym time for granted. I’ve gone in to run two days in a row and may head in tomorrow to do some weights. I will be out of commission for at least two weeks on that and it’s one of the things I am least looking forward to.  It’s going to set back my Couch-to-5k, no doubt.  I’m already improving on week 4 (the dreaded five minutes runs!) and I know I will have to backtrack when I get back into it.  Who knew a year ago that this would be the thing that bums me out the most? Crazy how things change.

Also, before you ask: Yes, I’m nervous.  Terribly nervous.  Sometimes I can’t fall sleep at night because all I can think about is the surgery and the recovery and what if things go wrong, etc, etc.  I worry about work.  I worry about having help if I end up needing it.  I worry about pain.  I’m trying really hard to focus on benefits, like no more gallstones or having a little time to myself to read, etc.  Hopefully I can keep looking at that and not the fear. Hopefully.