The precise term for the surgery I am going to talk about is Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy.
This is simply my experience with gallstones, gallbladder attacks, and the removal surgery. Please keep in mind that the symptoms of these conditions and the procedure can and will vary dramatically from person to person.
About a month or two after the birth of my second son in 2009, I started having terribly painful attacks. At first, I had no idea what was happening to me. For a while, I believed I was having severe back problems, as sometimes the pain seemed to be localizing in that area. But the more attacks I had, the more I realized the pain was starting in my upper abdomen and slowly spreading throughout the rest of my upper body.
The pain was thoroughly unbearable.
I could always feel the attack coming on……a warning so to speak. My upper abdomen would become tender, and my stomach would start to swell. It would appear as though my stomach suddenly filled with air, and bloated out to look quite abnormal. When this started to happen, I knew I was about to have an attack. Within minutes of the tender feeling and the severe bloating, the attack would be full force, and I would laying down, trying desperately to cope with the pain.
The best way that I have ever been able to describe the pain is like a contraction during childbirth (and actually, my doctor informed me that this is exactly the case). My entire abdominal region clenches, burns, and it is completely immobilizing. All I could do was lie stiffly in place, (movement made the pain worsen) and wait for the attack to pass. My back hurt, my shoulders hurt, even breathing was difficult. My chest and lungs felt weighed down, which made my breathing a bit shallow. If I tried to take a deep breath, the pain would intensify. (Tip: I always spread a heat pad across my abdomen during one of these attacks. It relaxes the constricted muscles. This doesn’t get rid of the attack, or even make it bearable, but you will notice, possibly, a slight decrease in the intensity of the pain.)
Generally these attacks would last from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Sleeping during them was utterly impossible. Immediately after the birth of my son, these attacks were happening often…about two to three times per week. It was miserable. My husband and I were scared to death that I would have one when he wasn’t home to help me with our kids, or when I was out and about running errands (during an attack I was unable to physically move because the pain was so severe).
My husband started to do some research, and we began to suspect that I may be having gallbladder attacks, though we still were not sure.
After a few months, the attacks started to occur less frequently (I credit this to becoming a vegetarian). I was experiencing them about twice a month.
The obvious question here is, “Why didn’t you just go to the doctor??? Why keep dealing with pain like that??”
That’s a really good question, and there isn’t any way for me to answer it and not look like an idiot, but I shall try.
When the attacks first started happening I was fresh out of the second c-section I’ve had in my life. For me, being pregnant and having a c-section really turns me off of hospitals and doctors for a good long while. Recovering from a major surgery makes you want to stay away from hospitals. So, there’s that, but also……an attack would happen, and then, suddenly, it would just pass. Yes, the pain during the attack was unfathomable, but once it was over I would simply get up and go about my business. So, I just dealt with it.
Also, I had a newborn baby. Understatement of the century would be to say that surgery was inconvenient at the time. There was other extreme circumstances occurring in my life at the time (and they were more personal than I care to mention ), so being incapacitated during recovery from surgery just wasn’t an option.
Fast forward about two years (August of 2011). I had a checkup with my doctor to discuss my hypothyroidism, and I told her about the attacks I was having. She asked a multitude of questions, and she told me that the situation very much sounded like gallstones. She scheduled an ultrasound.
A few days later I arrived at my ultrasound, and the tech confirmed it……My gallbaldder was crammed completely full of gallstones. Virtually no wiggle room was left inside. (I wish I would have asked for a printout of the ultrasound.)
The results were sent to my doctor, and I went back in to discuss them with her.
She told me that she highly recommended the surgery.Having gallstones is not a condition that can be treated. It will only get worse, and the best thing to do is to have it removed before the problem worsens. These are things that I already knew, however, my son was just turning two, and the “extreme life circumstances” were still a major obstacle, and thus, surgery at this point still was not doable.
So I told her I would wait. She prescribed me some acid-reducing meds, but I never filled the prescription. (I was not willing to pay $100 for a 30-day supply.) Instead, I bought over-the-counter acid reducing/controlling pills, and they really helped.
By this point, I was seriously monitoring the foods I ate. No spicy food, no overly fatty food. If I had foods like this, I paid for them with a gallbladder attack. And even though I became much more careful of what I was eating, I was still taking my over-the-counter pills virtually on a daily basis to help control the slight around-the-clock discomfort. (Side note: I firmly believe that being a vegetarian saved me from multiple gallbladder attacks. My doctor told me that eating meat is a big component is setting off a gallbladder attack.) The attacks were occurring far less frequently now. Only once or twice over the course of a few months.
One of the major annoyances of having gallstones became apparent when I started running in the summer of 2011. Every time I ran, every time, once I cleared about half a mile, the area in which my gallbladder resided would hurt. There was a few times when the pain became too intense, and I was forced to stop. There was several times in which I was certain that running caused me to have an all-out attack. But for the most part, there was always pain in that area and I simply tolerated it while I ran. It was very frustrating and annoying, but I tried very hard not to let it stop me from running.
Let’s fast forward again to May of 2012. Once again, I have to meet with my doctor to discuss and treat my hypothyroidism. While there, we begin talking about the gallstones issue, and this time, she was quite insistent that it come out. And this time, I’m ready. I’m more than ready. My youngest son is now nearing three years old, and the “extreme life circumstances” are no longer present. I am immensely tired of the pain. She schedules an appointment with a surgeon.
I meet with the surgeon a week later (he bears a striking resemblance to Greg Kinnear, whom I love…..just thought I ‘d throw that fun fact in), and we set the surgery date. I am not nervous whatsoever. My only reluctance stems from the fact that I’m about to have a piece of my body removed. I’m unsettled by this, but I know it can’t be helped.
With the surgery date fast approaching, I still do not feel any anxiety over the coming procedure. My reasons for not experiencing any nervousness are….
A.) This surgery is as routine to surgeons as stitches. It’s unfathomably common (a subject that I could talk about in great length, but I won’t.)
B.) Knowing that there is no way that the recovery will be anything like having a C-section. Compared to a c-section, it’s gotta be a walk in the park.
C.) Even if the surgery is not as breezy as I think it will be, I will not be having anymore gallbladder attacks ever again. Praise the Lord.
The morning arrives, and I head to the hospital feeling a-ok.
I make a very big deal about keeping my gallstones. I want my gallstones. The surgeon, the nurses, the janitorial staff, the anesthesiologist, the patients recovering in the next room….everybody is aware that saving my gallstones is of the upmost importance.
My IV is started, and soon I’m given the very first round of pain meds. I doze off soon after, and then I only have a brief memory of being wheeled away, into the operating room, and getting on the table. Then, lights out. Next I’m trying to join the world of the living, and I’m not doing it very successfully. I’m in and out, in and out, and not very perky. Not very perky at all.
The first thing I notice as I become more conscience is that my shoulders hurt. They hurt BAD.
At first, I simply thought that my shoulders were hurting because of my lupus condition (I tend to have some arthritic pain). But I started to realize that the pain was more severe than my usual lupus aches and pains. My husband told the nurse about my complaints, and she informed us that the surgeons pumped air into my abdominal region, and the pain was from the remaining air trapped inside my body. The air presses against nerve endings, which causes the pain in the shoulders.
Fact: The trapped air in my body was the worst part of the entire recovery. Sure, the incisions were sore, but the pain of the excess air was absolutely terrible. Please keep in mind though……it’s not like this for everyone. Some people only experience slight discomfort from this…..if any. I just so happened to be one of the “lucky” ones. For me, the oain caused by the excess was pretty freaking excruciating.
In order to lessen the pain in my shoulders and upper back, the nurse told me to lie down flat on my back, with a pillow under my bum (the purpose is to elevate the hips) to move the air inside my body to a more comfortable location. This worked wonders. I wanted to stay in this position all the time, because anytime I would move, the pain in my shoulders would be severe. However, in order to assist the air to absorb back into your body, it’s very important to walk around several times a day post surgery. Which I did. By day four post op, I felt considerably more comfortable, though, of course, I was still experiencing some soreness around my incisions.
So there’s my story. Next, I’m going to give you some basic facts about the surgery.
- If the laparoscopic procedure goes according to plan, the patient will generally leave the hospital the same day. In my case, once they got me awake, they dressed me and sent me out the door. When I came home, I was so fresh from surgery that I still could not walk on my own because I was still so heavily influenced by the anesthesia.
- You probably will NOT want to, but walking around frequently is the best medicine for you post surgery.
- No heavy lifting or physical exertion for 2 weeks post-op.
- Avoid fatty foods for several weeks after the surgery. You no longer have a gallbladder, and your body will struggle to process these foods. If you do consume very fatty food, you’ll notice that it, uh, goes right through you.
- In fact, you may experience a problem with diarrhea regardless of how careful you are about your food choices. This is generally a temporary problem, though some can experience this problem for a very long time, maybe even years. If you are experiencing a problem with diarrhea as a result of gallbladder removal, there is medication that can be prescribed for you.
- Here’s some TMI info for you……I had my gallbladder removed eight months ago, and I still battle diarrhea sometimes. Clearly, this isn’t fun, but this symptom is highly preferable to the conditions I was experiencing before the surgery. I keep over the counter drugs (Imodium) on hand to help me with this if it gets…out of hand.
I’m am inserting below some videos that I find very educational.
Let me say…….if you are squeamish, and you are about to have this surgery, I would encourage you to NOT watch the videos I have provided. I watched them ONE WEEK AFTER my surgery.
I was told in the hospital that the entire procedure takes about an hour to an hour and a half. The videos make it seem like it goes much faster than it really does.
And that’s all I have for you right now, though I may decide to update and slightly change around this information at another time.
Here are the links to a few posts I wrote before and after surgery, in case you’re interested.
Lastly, here is a pic of my little gallstone babies. This isn’t the whole loot, as my doctor didn’t want to clean the sludge from the other half of them. Clearly, he was no fun.
Everybody’s gallstones look different. Mine happen to be quite small, and almost jet black. There is a slight green tinge to the black color. They’re quite pretty really.
If you have your gallbladder removed, and you decide to keep your stones, do yourself a favor and never sniff them. Trust me.Tweet