The gall of it!

Remember when this blog used to be about fun stuff? Travel. Photography. Parenting a toddler. The occasional political rant. 

Yeah, me too. Recently it seems to have turned into a catalogue of our various medical ailments instead. And we’re stuck on the letter C. Cancer, covid, canine total hip replacement…

The latest addition to the list is cholecystectomy. That’s the fancy and unpronounceable word that means having your gallbladder removed. I was relieved when even the nurses stumbled over it, and after eavesdropping on their chatter I learned that they abbreviate it to LapChol – or laparoscopic cholecystectomy. 

I also learned that they don’t think it should be done as day surgery, because even done as keyhole it can feel pretty rough afterwards. And I learned what they think of some of the surgeons. And I learned about the covid outbreak on the floor below. But those are all other stories, not for today.  

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Until this year my gallbladder had only bothered me once in my life, and that was when we’d been out for lunch and I’d eaten an ENTIRE WHEEL OF BRIE – so to be honest it was well deserved and not unexpected. 

But in the last few months I’ve had three or four flareups, and they’ve been getting worse not better. If you know it, you’ll know it’s not a pain that can be mistaken for anything else. It starts as a dull ache under your right ribcage, usually at night, often after a high fat meal. 

(My two worst episodes were after cassoulet, which had duck in it, and fried chicken wings with blue cheese sauce. So delicious. So terrible for that poor gallbladder.)

For me, the pain then spreads up into my right shoulder, which apparently is from the inflamed gallbladder pressing on a nerve, and absolutely nothing brings relief. Not heatpads, not movement, not pain medication… I even dipped into DorkyDog’s post-surgery codeine and it didn’t touch it. 

After one episode that lasted all night and well into the next day, I figured I couldn’t ignore it anymore and scuttled off to the GP, who sent me for a scan. After poking and prodding at my ribcage for a moment or two, the radiologist raised her eyebrows and suggested that I see a specialist ‘as soon as possible’. 

Back at the GP, I was told I had a sizeable gallstone of 5mm, that it would likely need to come out, and that I had a referral letter to see a surgeon. 

At the surgeon’s, I found out that there had been a typo in the report, and it was actually a 25mm gallstone, and that it would very definitely need to come out. The whole kit and caboodle. Apparently it’s not possible to just remove the stone, as you would with a kidney stone; instead you have to take out the entire organ. 

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I’ve been very lucky to make it to 39 without ever needing surgery. My only nights in hospital were after having DorkySon. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect – which perhaps made it easier? I didn’t feel any sense of nerves beforehand. I guessed that I would be cared for by people who did this every single day, and that all I could really do was give myself over to the system. 

I was a little surprised that it was being done as day surgery – especially given that I only had an admittance time of noon. When DorkyDad had his appendix out a month or two ago, it took several hours just to get his release papers signed, so I didn’t see how I could go through prep, surgery, recovery and release in an afternoon. But that’s what the paper said, so I guess that was what going to happen.

At noon on the big day, I made my way to the fifth floor of the hospital, wearing my daggy, baggy-waisted tracksuit bottoms and clutching a copy of Helen Garner’s Diaries under my arm in case it was a long wait. It was a real education watching the nurse who did the admittance interviews with people. She had a welcoming comment for every patient to help them feel at ease – complimenting a pretty cloth facemask, asking someone where they got their scarf, admiring a lady’s colourful earrings… 

I didn’t give her much to work with, but she did her best even with me, saying I must be nice and comfy-cosy in my Ugg boots. 

An hour after arriving, I was shuttled through for the first meeting, which was with an anaesthetist, then a second meeting with a nurse to take my blood pressure, and shortly after that was shown to a cubicle to change into the stylish surgical gown. By this time it was almost 2pm, and I was really starting to doubt their ability to get me in and out the same afternoon… but on we went. 

A little after 2 I got wheeled through to the surgical waiting area, alongside an old fella waiting for a knee replacement who was chummy as anything with his male surgeon and rude as hell to the female nurses and anaesthetist. I silently wished him nausea on waking. 

I was very nicely tucked up under a heated blanket (truly the best bit of the whole experience), and closed my eyes for a few minutes imagining that I was actually in a fancy spa and not a hospital. But then the nurse realised she’d forgotten to put my surgical stockings on and had to untuck the warm blanket to wrestle with my legs for ten minutes, which kinda ruined that fantasy. 

After so much waiting around, everything then started moving very quickly. The surgeon was ready, so I was whisked away down the corridor to the theatre and there was an incredible focused buzz from people getting ready to do their jobs. I was vaguely aware of a couple of people off to one side counting out instruments. The anaesthetist inserted a cannula, completely painlessly. Someone else was sticking little monitoring pads across my forehead and chest. Then couple of tubes were placed over my face and I was asked to start counting. 1, 2, out. 

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Okay. Hands up if you knew that it is an actual recognised thing to wake up from a general anaestetic WEEPING LIKE A BABY. 

Not this girl! I didn’t know it! But there I am, suddenly awake in recovery and heaving great painful sobs about… something? Nothing? Wow. 

I’m slightly confused, and ask the nurse over and over if she’s just told me I have covid again. She reassures me that I don’t. Eventually I believe her and calm down. The IV pain medication is not doing it’s job quite well enough for my liking, so she cranks that up a notch and adds something else to the mix. My shoulders still hurt from all the gas that was pumped in to inflate my abdomen, so she sticks a couple of heat pads onto my shoulders and it is glorious. I am sleepy and warm, and open my eyes every so often to look at the clock hanging on the wall in front of me, which ticks from 5pm to 5.20pm. Surely they’re not going to kick me out tonight?

Apparently the answer is still yes. Once I’m out of recovery, I’m told it will be 1-2 hours back in my cubicle, with my blood pressure taken every half hour, and then home. Wild.

My phone tells me I texted DorkyDad at 6pm to say I was back on the day surgery ward. He replies saying that my surgeon had phoned him directly to let him know I was okay and emphasise again that it was a big stone! I am strangely proud of this! 

I text him again at 7.15pm to say I have eaten a biscuit and walked to the toilet and back, and that they are changing the dressing on one of the incisions. I’ll be given a script for heavy duty pain medication, but the hospital pharmacy is closed, so we will need to find a chemist that is open in the evening and stop off on the way home. By 8pm, I’m outta there.

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All that was just over a week ago. And it has been a week of readjusting expectations. Back to normal in 2-3 days may be the case for folk hardier than me… but so far I’ve only made it out of the house once, and have mainly been moving between bed, sofa, shower and kitchen table. 

The first two days post-surgery were particularly grim. The remnants of the anaesthetic and the new heavy duty pain medication made me throw up – which is no fun at the best of times, but especially not with four abdominal incisions. I dropped that very quickly, deciding I’d rather get by on paracetamol. 

Since then it has improved a bit every day. I’m still knackered and sore, but no longer feel quite so much like I’ve been hit by a truck. 

Food is going to be an adventure for a while, as I work out what I can eat and what I can’t. Speaking to friends who have been through this before, and reading the experiences of people in a Gallbladder Removal Facebook Group (!!) it feels like there is a full spectrum of possibilities. Some people have to overhaul their entire diet, sticking with low fat options, vegan meals and lots of probiotics. Others seem to be back on the chicken nuggets and burgers within a week or two. Others still are nearly normal but discover they have to drop one or two unexpected things – coffee, capsicum, blueberries or yoghurt, for example. 

For now I’m keeping things pretty simple. I haven’t had coffee, cheese or meat this week; instead it has been lots of broth, crackers, and apple slices. My first ‘real meal’ was chicken and mashed potato, which was DELICIOUS, and last night I had pumpkin ravioli and wanted to eat three bowls not one. This morning I risked a quarter of an apple pastry from Jackman and McRoss, and so far it seems to be sitting okay… we will play it by ear, and there will undoubtedly be mistakes. Meantime I have been back to re-read this blog about delicious meals DorkyDad and I have shared, which has whetted my appetite and made me hopeful of a return to tasty things before too long. 

The DorkyBoys have stepped up like you wouldn’t believe, this week. It is poor DorkySon’s first week of school holidays, and I don’t think he imagined he would spend it doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher and walking the dog. But the two of them have taken on my share of the household jobs with reasonably good humour, and any grumbling has been done away from my ears. I reckon they’re as eager as I am for a return to normal though. 

Nurse Luna has also been a champ, and has taken every opportunity to join me in a sofa nap. 

Thank you so much to all my lovely kind pals who have sent flowers and messages, and to the people who have gone through this before and shared their tips with me. 

This time – I really, truly, can’t tell you how much I mean this – this time I really hope we are done with medical stuff for the year. That’s enough, thank you. I’d like something a bit more interesting to blog about. 

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Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

13 responses

  1. You are a trooper my friend. Take care and take things one baby step at a time. Recovery is a marathon not a sprint! Patience and know you are loved!

  2. Hope you continue to improve. My daughter had hers out in her late teens, and she doe snot have a problem with eating any sorts of food. Healing wishes.

    • That’s great news to hear your daughter can eat what she likes. I’ll be keeping fingers crossed that I’m as lucky. Thanks so much for the good wishes.

  3. Day surgery?! Good grief, no. The nurses are right. Glad to hear the men have stepped up – they sound like good souls.
    I had a hysterectomy nearly 2 years ago and it took me the full 6 weeks recovery time before I felt anything like myself. My friend had it and it took her 3 weeks. Everyone’s recovery time is different and the important thing is not to rush back to ‘normal’.
    Good recovery wishes to you.

  4. My hand is right up! I howl every time and they always say it’s normal. It took me a full month to feel anything like normal – my surgeon when I complained at my 4 week checkup said, well you have had major surgery. I think keyhole makes it sound deceptively simple. But I do eat whatever I want these days, which is a bonus.

    • Oh that’s a big bonus not having to be mindful of what you eat all the time. I’m glad I’m not the only howler – a friend just commented on my Facebook page saying that she wakes up from it laughing hysterically, which I reckon would be weird in its own way too!

  5. I’m happy you are now on the mend. Mine surgery and recovery were easy for me, but everyone is different. I had three very large gallstones, and lucky for me I knew someone who was able to obtain the stones, though I have no idea what to do with them! My adult children were very grossed out.

    • I’m so glad you had an easy recovery after yours – it’s been a real eye-opener for me seeing the full spectrum of experiences people have. Not to disappointed that I didn’t get to bring my stone home though – I’m pleased to wave it goodbye!

  6. I’m pleased you have had sufficient energy to write this instruction blog on how to never experience and avoid Gall Bladder Surgery! I’d rather drop dead than endure the same. Thank goodness for your boys and your fluffy nurse. Wishing you many happy healthy days ahead.

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