2001: A Gall Bladder Removal

This is the tale of my gall bladder removal. What led to it, how it was done, and how it affected my life. There are some photos down near the end that are graphic, so don't scroll down to the end if you are sensitive. And now, I have a new page about my research into the gall bladder. It's a work in progress.

started March 2001

updated 19th April 2001

updated 30th May 2004

added new page 28th June 2004

added an index 31st October 2005

Small Attacks of Pain

December 2000

Late December 2000, I experienced a few problems with my digestive system. My system manages to consume vast quantities of all sorts of material, mostly edible, without ever giving me any problems. However, it finally started to complain. I had a couple of small attacks of what seemed to be indigestion. They came and they went and I didn't bother going to see a doctor about them. I rarely go see doctors.

The Big Pain Attack

6th January 2001

Had a really bad night. I went to bed with a small pain in my back. After two hours I was having nightmares, real geek nightmares with Quake games and the pains in my back got real bad. From 2:00am to 5:00am, I staggered about the house moaning and groaning. Basically, I had a blockage in the stomach. Wedged tight. So major stomach pains, major shooting pains in the back muscles and up and down the spine. My bodily reactions are really stuffed. Shooting pains in my back usually means acid indigestion. I don't think it was food poisoning like Anne at Christmas time, but the symptoms were very similar. Around 5:00am, I was pacing around moaning and groaning and half asleep when I got huge pains in the stomach and it felt like this huge blocked mass turn around and disappeared into my bowels. Disgusting feeling. I felt awful, broke into a huge sweat, and then it was all over. That was a hell of a night. My 46th birthday is coming, so maybe this is a warning that I should turn my health around.

More Painful Bouts

21st January 2001

I didn't do anything about the big attack two weeks earlier. Since then, I have been going through a great deal of pain. It hurts to eat, it burns, I feel awful. I have pretty much stopped eating and have lost about 16 pounds. Lots of people tell me that I have a stomach ulcer. I suspect that I have a stomach ulcer. It feels like it. I couldn't sleep Friday night, just lay abed moaning all night. Saturday night, I discovered Tums, an antacid. So Tums and aspirin all night gave me some relief so I got some sleep. Milk soothes the pain for a little bit too.

The Clinic

21st January 2001

Finally, on Sunday, I went to the medical clinic. I spent Sunday afternoon there. They did tests. They took blood. A brutal young doctor just about ruptured me when he did a "rectal examination" that felt like he used a bloody two-by-four. That was so painful. The end result is that they suspect I have a stomach ulcer, but they are sending me to a specialist who will give me more detailed tests.

The Specialist

25th January 2001

Went to the specialist. He's a young surgeon, very friendly, very nice, great bedside manner, with the arms and chest of a weightlifter. He was quiet and confident and very friendly, and he was calming and reassuring. He listened to the symptoms and something I said triggered a rectal examination again. Damn. I'll have to work out what I said so I can avoid saying it in future. So I'm lying on my side and he's probing away, and he says "It's alright as long as neither of us are enjoying this." A bit of humour goes a long way. He probed my belly. Found it very sore on the right side in one place. He didn't think it was a stomach ulcer, and he thought it might have something to do with my gall bladder or with gall stones, so he organised an ultrasound.

Ultrasound

28th January 2001

Anne and I went to hospital on Friday night for an ultrasound. Half an hour of lying there, and being asked "Take a deep breath then hold it please sir" about a hundred times. Lots of images taken. The woman doing the ultrasound wouldn't tell us anything.

Diagnosis

30th January 2001

Spoke to the surgeon's assistant. She gave me the word. I have gall stones that have blocked the ducts in the gall bladder, the gall bladder has become infected, and infected matter is being dripped into my stomach. This causes major irritation and pain. Yes, this I know. They can't tell how long it's been going on. It's too far gone for any of the fancy treatments like crushing the gall stones with sound waves. No, the gall bladder has to come out.

There is apparently a natural progression with gall stones. First, you get gall stones. Then they get stuck in the ducts. Then they irritate the ducts. Then you get an infection. Then you get gangrene. Then you die. If you can catch it when you just have gall stones, then crushing them with sound might be appropriate. Past that stage, you have to remove the gall bladder. And it's best not to leave it till you reach the later stages.

His assistant tentatively scheduled me to be operated on next Tuesday afternoon. I have to do some preliminaries on Friday night, like X-rays, bloodworks (whatever that is). Then on Tuesday afternoon they will cut. It's a laparascopic surgery, so they make small holes and rip out my gall bladder. I'll be off work almost two weeks, so they say.

So that's the plan. The surgeon himself will phone me tomorrow and if it's all okay, the schedule will be firmed and final bookings made.

I don't like losing organs, but if it has to be done, it has to be done. I'll be glad to get rid of this constant pain.

What's a Gall Bladder?

This was going to be my very first intrusive surgery. I've survived to 46 with all my organs. Now I have to lose one. A gall bladder? What the hell does a gall bladder do? It just sits there and you never hear a peep from it until one day someone says "It's got to come out."

I did a little research. The first fact I found was that the gall bladder is an organ we can live without. Well that's a relief. Not essential for survival. Then I found the gall bladder's purpose in life: storing and releasing bile. Okay, bile is a figure of a speech, I knew that much. More research required. Bile does the first part of the job of breaking up fat so it can be digested. After that, it got confusing. Some people said that I would have to eat a low-fat diet after the removal of my gallbladder. Some said it made no difference. I met people who had no gall bladder. Some said no fat, and some said they have lard sandwiches daily and it has no effect. The surgeon said I would not have to change my diet at all. I don't think he quite knew the range of foods that I actually eat, or he might not have said that.

Minor dealings with the Surgeon's Assistant

31st January 2001

The assistant phoned me several times to confirm that I would go ahead with the surgery. The first time she phoned, she jollily asked if I was happy to go ahead with it, and I calmly told her that the pain had abated a bit and I had changed my mind and didn't want the operation. Silence for a few seconds. Then "You're kidding?" in an awe-struck voice. "Yes" I said. "You're kidding?" she said again, in a higher pitch. "Yes." I said. "You're kidding?" came again, much higher. She wasn't understanding my answers, so I spelt it out. "Yes, I am kidding. I will have the operation." A few more seconds silence, then she laughed and had a small dig at me, and then she got down to business. I spoke to her after the operation, and she laughed about the incident.

The Surgeon Speaks

31st January 2001

Yes, I got to speak to the surgeon again. He confirmed the gall stones, and confirmed that I wanted to go ahead with the operation. He was very calming, and said that all the pain would just go away.

And by the way, he told me, my liver is like that of a Strasbourg goose. It's enlarged and soft and fatty. If I lose weight, it will return to normal. This bears thinking about.

So the booking was finalised and an operation was scheduled. I was booked into hospital on Tuesday 6th February 2001. 1:30 in the afternoon. No food or water after midnight. That's a bit rough but if it has to be, it has to be.

Change of Plan

2nd February 2001

Slight change of plan. Someone chickened out of an early morning operation, and I was bumped up to 9:00am. That's okay then. I normally don't eat till about 10:00am anyway, so it would be business as usual.

Preparations

4th February 2001

We went to the hospital in the morning and registered for surgery. Lots of sitting down and waiting. Did the administration bit first. They had already done the credit check, and I had passed, so the operation could go ahead. I had a $50 co-pay, which is like the excess on car insurance. I signed forms and waivers and all sorts of stuff. Then I was shuffled over to the physical side of the preliminaries, the bloodworks. A strange man in a Hawaiian shirt took several samples of blood. And that was it. I'm ready for the surgery.

The pain is worse. I'll be glad when the gall bladder is out, if that means a reduction in pain.

The Day of Surgery

6th February 2001

[My hospital strap]

We rose at the ungodly hour of 6:00am, and headed to the hospital. We sat in the waiting room making rude remarks quietly to ourselves while watching this enormous man try and drink coffee. I was dragged away to the preparation room, and Anne waited. I stripped and put the flimsy gown on and had my blood pressure and temperature taken every few minutes. Anne was brought in to see me and we started the Anne and Henry Comedy Routine and got the staff laughing. The main nurse told us about her gall bladder removal and how good it was, and then told us about relations with her husband and the comparison between young models, and then she told us quietly that there were doctors that she wouldn't want to operate on her, but mine was a good surgeon and I should relax. Now that's a truly fabulous thing to hear just before the guy is about to start carving holes in me. I have no idea what I would do if she had whispered that he would probably remove my leg instead.

Anne and I continued to clown around and I started playing with the blood pressure. I can make mine go up and I can make it go down, so one time I would send it high and the next I would send it low. I hope they didn't give me extra drugs because of the fooling around. Finally, they fixed a damned IVR drip in the back of my hand and that was my biggest problem over the next few days. They slipped me something about 9:15 and wheeled me away. I was a bit out of it and can't remember saying goodbye to Anne. I remember being wheeled around the hospital for a few hours, over about 600 miles of bumps. Finally, the bumping and wheeling stopped and I was wheeled into a huge room with a huge domed ceiling, like a Doctor Frankenstein's laboratory. And then I don't remember any more.

Then I remember being wheeled again. It felt like I was being wheeled around and around forever again, in and out of lifts, and over bumps and down corridors and in and out of rooms. Finally they wheeled me beside a bed and asked me to slide over onto the bed. I did. I don't remember this, but Anne says that when I arrived, I weakly smiled and waved at her. Then I rested. I woke up and Anne was there. I got given pain killers and they made me really groggy and dizzy and I slid in and out of consciousness and each time I came out, I could see Anne, sitting at the end of the bed knitting, like Madame LaFarge beside the guillotine.

It was the afternoon. The operation was supposed to have taken an hour but it took about 2 hours. I found out later that there were adhesions that had to be removed and cleaned up. The gall bladder has been causing me problems for quite a while, even if I didn't know about it. On the way out, the surgeon fixed the hernia in my belly button.

Chunks of my belly had been shaved and had dressings over them. There was a blood bag hanging out, supposed to drain the fluids from the abdomen. I was on a drip. I had oxygen flowing in through something stuck up my nose. I was dry and thirsty and groggy. Around 6, Anne showed me my pager and I looked at the messages. One business one so I returned the phone call and put on my business voice and left a voicemail and asked the guy to phone work and talk to Doug. Got a page back within half an hour to say that the problem was fixed and that I should get better soon. Very nice of him. (Years later, I realise that I shouldn't have used the cell phone inside the hospital.)

I was in a room with one other guy. He had the TV on and was watching all sorts of horrible cop show/forensic scientist stuff and it looked too much like what I had just gone through so I tried to tune it out. Gave me weird dreams though. I sipped water. I faded in and out. I spoke to Anne. They brought me dinner at 5 in the afternoon. All clear liquid. Clear soup, jelly, water, ginger ale. I sipped more water. The nurse came and asked if I need to go to the toilet. That reminded me. I was bursting. She wanted to know if I was going to walk to the toilet, or do it in bed. We had a discussion. Bedpan type arrangements aren't very good for me because I can't reach them very well and inevitably pee all over the bed. I wanted to walk to the toilet. She wanted to give me a jar because they wanted to measure it. Something about matching what went in via the drip and what came out. I opted for the dignified approach and wanted to get up. Oh dear. Pain, pain, pain. Standing up was fine but turning sideways was not. I grabbed the IVR drip stand. The nurse was on one side and Anne was on the other and they steered me towards the toilet. At first I thought I had to go down the corridor, but they showed me that the room had its own little toilet so I didn't have far to go. The nurse stayed out and Anne came in. I filled that receptacle. On the way out I started clowning and the nurse was in stitches. She was laughing so hard that when they lowered me back on to the bed, she held on to me and put her head on my shoulder while she laughed and laughed. She then went and got me a Hug Me pillow. This was a flat blanket that had been folded and then strapped and had the words Hug Me written over it. I was supposed to hold this over my belly and press down when I wanted to cough. Sounded funny, but it sure worked. I was very grateful for it during the night. That was for the hernia, although I didn't know then that the hernia had been fixed.

Anne stayed with me a while longer and I lay there and sipped more water, even though I knew it would cause me grief later. Anne finally left. I settled down for the night. The nurse came round at 10, wanting to know if I wanted more painkillers. I hesitated but finally opted to have them. I lay there and listened to my room-mate.

My room-mate had a few problems, including a shadow on the lungs, and he popped out for a quick fag every now and then. He was sleeping on plastic, so every time he moved or rolled over, it crackled. He kept the TV on till midnight. He played patience and would snap and flick the cards and tap them down and make as much noise as he could. I read for a half hour, but gave up and just lay there and waited. At midnight, he turned the TV off and turned the lights off and I settled down hoping for sleep.

The First Night

7th February 2001

He snored and coughed and choked and his lungs burbled and bubbled, and he tossed and turned and his bed crackled all night long. I looked at my watch. 12:30. I waited. The room was brightly lit because it was right opposite the nurses station and the door had been left open. 12:45. The nurses stayed busy. Every time someone wanted something, they would press the button and outside my door it would beep until someone answered it and I could listen to the entire conversation. 1:00. Things got busy at 1, and the nurses opened and shut drawers and cupboards. They didn't shut cupboards quietly, just let them bang shut. 1:30. The patients quieted down and the nurses whooped it up. I listened to complaints about husbands and boyfriends, and money problems, and problems with Windows 98. 2:00. A nurse came around and took my blood pressure and temperature. She pulled the door shut. That cut the noise and the light way down and I thought I would get some sleep. Within 5 minutes, another nurse came and opened it up again. Bugger. Time for a bit of excitement, so I staggered up. Had a bit of a stumble and did something to my drip and to my blood bag. Adjusted what I could and got my drip and dragged it behind me to the toilet. Got inside and looked at the measuring jug and said Bugger it! Had a long satisfying pee, and went back to bed. 2:30. Lay and thought about things. Like snoring. Why people snore. How Anne doesn't snore much since she lost all her weight. Like what I wanted to do my snoring room-mate. 2:45. Some emergency and the nurses ran down the corridor and ran back and whooped it up. 3:00. I wondered when breakfast would be. Drank some water. Tried to turn on the reading light but it wouldn't work. Raised and lowered bits of the bed. 3:15. Miraculously dozed off for a while. 3:45. Lay and felt my belly. Hadn't had pain killers since 10, and I was feeling fine. Every time I moved, I could feel myself getting better. It was funny, but I could feel myself healing hour by hour. Felt great. 3:30. Raised my legs. Wondered why the left thigh was so sore. Right thigh was sore too but not as bad as the left. Explored them for puncture marks. None. 3:45. Looked at the lights outside the window. Listened to the nurses. Tossed around a bit. 4:00. Thought that maybe breakfast would be at 5 and I only had a short while to wait for some excitement. Nurse came in to take my blood pressure and temperature. Asked her when breakfast was. She said 7:30. That's a long wait from 5 in the afternoon to 7:30 in the morning. The blood pressure kept me occupied for a few minutes. Another nurse came in and asked if I wanted pain killers. I said no. She seemed surprised. I hadn't had any since 10 and she said I probably needed them. I said no. Decided to go for another pee. It was much easier to get up this time and drag the IVR with me. Came back and lay down and rethought the no-drug policy. Pressed the button. Someone answered but then ignored me. Waited. Tried again. Nurse came and I asked her for one tablet. She came back with one. I took it. 5:00. Still dark outside. The hospital started to come awake. My drip hurt with a strong burning sensation and my hand had started to swell. I had done something to it when I stumbled earlier. I called the nurse and she said they would take the drip out soon and I could wait till then. I would be going home soon, as soon as I had breakfast which was going to be solid food. 5:15. I lay there and watched the wall and the ceiling. The tablet I took eased the burning in my drip. The drip was hurting more than the rest and my hand was swelling up really big. Something was wrong. 5:30. I lay and listened. 6:00. Still dark outside. Thought dark thoughts. Compared the day nurses to the night nurses. Day nurses were much better. Had blood pressure taken again. Large black nurse cracking jokes about me tearing off to the 7:11 during the night. That passed some time. Room got cleaned. 6:30. My room-mate woke up and started doing stuff. He hared off here and he rushed over there and he was busy as a beaver. 7:00. The day dawned. Breakfast was only a few minutes away, so I waited patiently. 7:30 came and went. No breakfast. Okay, maybe it's a bit late. Waited. 8:00. No breakfast. 8:05. Breakfast. Yay. What's this? All clear liquid again? Bugger. Soup and jelly and iced tea and an ice-block. Oh well. At least it passed the time.

The Day After Surgery

7th February 2001

Staggered off for another pee. Nurse came through and asked me about measuring the outflow. I looked innocent and said I had been but did not use the measuring jar. She got cross. I took a good guess and said it was 1 x 500ml, and then 3 x 330 ml and she seemed happy at that and went away. My hand was really irritated now and very puffy. I must have stuffed it during the night the first time went to the toilet and now the fluid was not dripping into my veins, but into the flesh of my hand.

I hadn't seen my surgeon and I was a bit irritated by this. I wanted to know what happened. A surgeon appeared and shook my hand. He said he was my surgeon's partner. That's good enough for me. He looked at my belly, grunted and started to walk away. Oh no, that's not good enough. I started asking questions. He was irritated and really wanted to get away, but I wanted answers. They took the gall bladder out, but there were adhesions that they had to clear up. Why were there adhesions? He said it was from previous attacks. What? Did the gall bladder have attacks and glue itself to other organs? What's going on? I didn't really get an answer to that one. I asked how long the gall bladder had been bad and he said they couldn't say. And by the way, when they finished up, they fixed my hernia in my bellybutton. That's good. I didn't fancy another operation. This gets it all over and done with in one hit. When could I leave? After lunch. Can I have the bloody drip out? Yes, anytime I want. He rushed away as soon as I ran out of sensible questions to ask him. Busy man.

So I had to stay till after lunch. The nurse came back and I mentioned I had a liquid breakfast and she got cross and went and made sure that a solid lunch was forthcoming. And then I wanted the drip out. She was reluctant even though I showed her my swollen hand and said that it had seriously gone wrong and I would like the drip out before my hand exploded. Okay, she took it out. The relief was instant. My hand stayed swollen but it started going down very slowly. The pain in my hand abated. So then the pain centre switched from my hand back to my belly-button.

Anne arrived and we started the Comedy Duo again. She got talking with my room-mate who had lived in Australia as a boy. Anne kept knitting her lace coathangers. The large black woman who took the blood pressure came back for another go at me, saw the coathangers and grabbed the bag of finished ones off Anne and rushed away with it. We watched nurses rushing back and forth outside the room carrying Anne's coathangers. The blood pressure lady bought one from Anne, but the others didn't have money and it wasn't a pay week so the others all came back. That caused some excitement in the ward for a while. I think everyone else was as bored as me.

Lunch came. Yucko. Pulled barbecue pork hamburger plus boiled to death veges. I wanted to leave the hamburger part behind, but I had to eat it all before they would let me go home. It went down, but it was way too much food. I felt bloated. Anne said it was probably the fault of the air they pumped into my abdomen so they could get a good look at my organs. After lunch, I took the gown off and put track suit pants on and stood up for a while to get some exercise. The nurses didn't like the clear view of the wounds and the drain. I think they like all the nasty bits covered up here. There was a problem with the drain. Hardly any fluid was draining into the bag. Instead it was dribbling out the hole in my side and all over my gown. They ignored that. By this stage the dressing over it was sodden and I asked for it to be changed. The nurse didn't change it, just put another layer of absorbent stuff on top. It really seemed like she didn't want to get close to the gruesome bits. Oh well, we could clean it up later.

I signed the release form, got printed instructions, put on a sloppy joe and the nurse brought a wheelchair. There was no way I could lean down to do stuff with shoes, so I was barefoot. The nurse was scandalised. It was a warm day outside, I only had a few feet between wheelchair and car, what was the problem? She gave in and wheeled me out. Anne drove me home. It was really good to get home. I sat down and had a nice cup of tea. It felt great. Then we addressed the drainage problem. Anne stripped the bandages off around the drain and redressed it. We took the opportunity to take some photos. Redressing it was a good thing.

Anne made a bed for me upstairs. Getting in and out of the waterbed would have been way too much pain so I was sleeping on the bunk bed. It was great because there were bars above me so I could help lower myself onto the bed. I did some email, pottered about the house and then had a nap for a few hours. Got up and watched a bit of TV. I had a prescription for painkillers but now that the drip was out and my hand was starting to get back to normal size, I didn't need painkillers. So we didn't bother filling the prescription. A couple of aspirin was adequate, even though I didn't need them.

First Day Home

8th February 2001

Watched some TV, and then went to bed. Slept well. The cats came and slept with me. I woke up at about 3, with Redrum lying beside me, cuddling the blood bag. No doubt she was dreaming about snacks of black pudding. I went to the loo at about 4, then slept again. Got up at 8 and felt great. I felt really great. Hardly any pain, even when getting out of bed. Headed for the loo again. Got to the doorway and screamed and stopped. The tubing from my side to the blood bag had looped and gone around the doorhandle. It pulled out about a half inch. There was a small stitch around the tube and into my flesh, and this was to hold the tube in place. Well looping the tube around the doorhandle pulled the stitch through my flesh. Pain, pain, pain. I removed it from the doorhandle, poked it back in and went to the loo. Came downstairs and pottered around. When Anne got up, we started the major improvement for the day. I was allowed to remove the bandages and have a shower. We peeled all the bandages off and had a look. Wow. I've got a real navel now. I used to have a loop of my intestine poking through my bellybutton, and would sometimes have to poke it back in if it got rambunctious and wanted to come out further and have a look at the world. All that's solved now. Took the opportunity for more photos. Time for a shower. But what to do with the blood bag? Anne came up with the idea. You know soap-on-a-rope, well we had blood-bag-on-a-rope. Loop of rope around the neck and the blood bag attached. I had a good hot shower and cleaned myself up. The wounds all felt fine. Dried off and then Anne re-bandaged the drain. It was still sticking out after being pulled on when I got out of bed, so she pushed it back in and stuck it down and then packed it to absorb the fluid that was still leaking out.

Recuperating At Home

12th February 2001

So my days became blurs. I sleep at night for a few hours, then get up and potter about. I have a nap during the day, walk around and do stuff. Every day I felt better and better. The incisions for the gall bladder never hurt, even from the moment I woke up after the op. The hernia gave me the most grief. I wasn't expecting it. By the following Monday, the pain from the hernia had muted to a dull ache. I could cough and laugh and not have to double over in pain. The real grief came from the tube in my side. What a pain in the side it was. Popping out, leaking, tearing the stitch. On Sunday, I ventured out to the shops. Came back absolutely knackered.

Each day, Anne would remove the bandages holding the tube in place, I would shower, and then she would re-bandage it. This was necessary, because in the day I would leak out the hole in my side. At night, the leaking fluid would collect in the bag. Gross. Anne used the sticky stuff the hospital had supplied when she re-bandaged me. This had strong adhesive qualities. She did a great job bandaging me up the first time. Better than the nurses at the hospital. She did a really good job of bandaging me up. The second time she removed it, chunks of my flesh came with it. Boy, did I bellow and do a song-and-dance routine. After I showered and washed away the fresh blood, I wouldn't let Anne touch it. I let it dry out, let the tube swing free, and it hurt. It hurt like buggery. I had to let her re-bandage it. This time she used older sticky stuff that had very weak adhesive qualities. It held it in place sort of. What I needed was to have the tube immobilised. When it swung free, it pulled at the stitch and I got a bad burning sensation.

In the end, I submitted again, and Anne used less of the super-sticky stuff. We survived to the end, using less and less bandaging each day. At the end I was desperate to get that bloody tube out of my side.

Last Day with Blood Bag

13th February 2001

The leaking and draining slowed right down. After all those years of gall bladders, the surgeons must have adequate statistics about the process. "Drainage reduces after 7.5 days, so the stump has healed. Stitches can be removed after 8 days." I am due to see the surgeon on Thursday and get the tube removed. With the leaking stopped, it's a dead cert to have the tube out and the bag removed.

Final Visit to the Surgeon

14th February 2001

We went to the surgeon for the check up and to see if the tube could be removed. It's all healing nicely and there's no complications at all. He told me that the gall bladder had been sent off for analysis and showed no signs of cancer. Well that's nice to know. It's something I had never considered. I'm glad I didn't spend any time worrying about it.

The stitches are dissolvable and they will disappear sometime soon. He wanted to know how much fluid the drainage bag was collecting. I was a bit worried because it was still collecting about 10 ml a day. My fear was that the stump wasn't healing and I would have to keep the bloody tube in my side. He laughed. He said that the insides of the abdomen secrete about a pint or two a day, so collecting 5 ml a day in the bag was perfectly normal. He'd be worried if I wasn't collecting anything. More relief on my part. I lay down and he caused me great anguish by pulling on the stitch to cut it. When that was done, he pulled the tube out and I can tell you that it was a very unpleasant sensation, not painful just very unpleasant. I still have a hole in my side, but that will close over during the night and I should be fine tomorrow.

The hernia was healing very nicely. He gave me some literature about the hernia, and it's gross. He said that I didn't notice it because I'm so fat, and if I wasn't fat, the intestinal loop would have been sticking out of my bellybutton about a inch. He had to really shove it aside to get at the gall bladder, and that was when he realised how bad it was and decided on the spot to fix it. He hadn't intended to fix it until he opened me up.

I haven't been feeling the greatest in the last few days. Good, but not great. There's been a nagging feeling that something is still wrong, something isn't quite right. A lot of it is psychosomatic. There's all these worries that I had - what happened with the hernia, why am I still draining, is it healing okay, why does this hole in me look like that, why has that bit turned green, is there something wrong with me? And when the doctor checks you over and declares you well, the relief translates immediately to an enhanced sense of well being.

I am supposed to not lift things and to take it easy for about 4 weeks while the hernia heals completely. That's fine by me. I've had two lectures today. One by Anne and one by the doctor. Both tell me to go and see a doctor when something goes wrong, not leave it till it's really serious. Okay, maybe.

There are good parts to my situation now. The tube in my side is gone. No more balancing the bag when I shower, hiding it when I go out in public, trying not to accidentally sit on it, only able to lie on my back. God forbid I ever need a colostomy bag. And now that I don't have the tube in my side, I can now get back into my own bed. Back to the waterbed. The bliss of being able to roll onto my side. You don't realise how nice it is until you can't do it.

That was my gall bladder. Now I have to wait and see what's the next bit of me that needs to be removed.

Day After The Visit to the Surgeon

15th February 2001

I have no idea how the removal of the gall bladder is going to affect my digestive system. When I work this out, I'll write notes here. At the post-op consultation, I was told to cut down on fatty foods and spicy foods. Fatty foods will slip straight through me, apparently. This is certainly a worry. Do I get notice that it's rushing through? Can I control it? Will there be nasty accidents in public? Perhaps I better not give anything a chance to happen. Goodbye to ice cream. Goodbye to chocolate. Goodbye to the nice things in life.

What was it they said in Casablanca? The good things in life are illegal, immoral or fattening. Perhaps in my case now, the good things in life are illegal, immoral or cause rapid nasty accidents. Time will tell.

After First Week Back at Work

22nd February 2001

I feel fine. I get tired at work, I get tired when we go out shopping. In the mornings, I feel better than I have felt in years, happy, energetic, full of spirit. Late afternoon, I feel exhausted. I hope this changes as time goes by. I get a burning sensation in my midriff at the end of the day, but I think this is the hair regrowth. My attention span is shorter. I hope this improves, otherwise work gets difficult. Sometimes, my mind sort of fogs over and I find it hard to concentrate. I suspect this is the effect of the anesthetic, and will wear off in time. I have found that my normal diet causes no problems. I have been experimenting with foods to see what I can and can't eat. So far, I have had only one incident. Harris Teeter started carrying my favouritest cheese in the world - Blue Castello. This is a triple-cream soft blue vein cheese. It's about 80% fat. I ate a small block in one sitting, something I often did before. 3 hours later, I was very glad that I was near the amenities. It sought urgent egress. Okay, I get the message. If I eat a solid block of fat, I better stay close to home for the next few hours. Better still, I should avoid such items completely. It does appear that fatty foods are best avoided.

After Second Week Back at Work

29th February 2001

I am avoiding fatty foods. Too many urgent rushes to cope with and it's just not worth it. So what fat I do eat just rushes through me, and I'm not eating much fat anyway, so you know what's happening to me. The weight is slowly coming off. I've lost 20 pounds since the attacks started, and it's still coming off. I now have a neck. You can actually see my adam's apple now. And the belly is shrinking. If I stand straight, don't suck in the belly, and just jiggle up and down slightly, my trousers and belt slide over my hips and fall completely down. I need another two notches in my belt. And one day soon, I'll need a new wardrobe.

Two Months After the Operation

19th April 2001

Since the operation, I have learned a lot about how my body adjusts to the loss of the gall bladder. It seems to be a very individual thing, with everyone responding differently. The good news is that my life is pretty the same as before, with just a few minor sacrifices. I never worry about rectal leakage or explosions. I rarely even think about any of it anymore.

Alcohol leaves me with very, very nasty hangovers now. I used to be able to enjoy a bottle of red, or 4 full strength beers and feel good next day. Those days are over. The same quantity of alcohol, and even lesser quantities of alcohol, will give me bad hangovers. Not blinding ones, but enough to feel miserable and seedy most of next day. However, the effect on the bowels is pretty much what it always was. Nothing different there.

If I eat too much at one time, I get sharp pains horizontally across my belly. I have no idea what causes this. It seems to be my body saying "Stop eating NOW".

If I eat something like a 90% pure fat block of cheese, it will go through me within 3 hours, and require urgent access to a toilet. The result is extremely unpleasant. The same applies to ice cream, large gulps of full cream milk, cream, and any full fat dairy product. I have to avoid this stuff now. If I have the occasional slice of cheese with other food, it has no effect. 0% fat milk is fine. Small amounts of fatty stuff, when taken with other foods, cause no effects at all. Chips (French fries) are a no-no. They contain so much fat that I have to avoid them. Really fatty foods like Kentucky Fried Chicken are also on the avoid list.

I have lost 20 pounds. That weight loss occurred in the first few weeks after the operation when I wasn't feeling like eating. Since then I have been experimenting with food, and at times I have been overeating. The weight has not gone back on. If I eat normally, the weight starts to come off again. If I binge eat, it stays on. I think that long-term, I will lose a lot more weight.

Farting has been severely reduced. Unless I eat something specific like beans, the joys of farting are no more.

So nowadays, I eat pretty much the same as I ate before, except for fatty foods. In the first few weeks, the effects of food on me was much more pronounced than it is now. I think my body has adjusted a fair bit. I rarely think about the operation, and I rarely think about my dietary habits. If I avoid the obviously fatty stuff, my life is the same as before. I don't have to plan my trips around bathrooms, I don't have to avoid restaurants. I eat out, I go to dinner parties, I go to barbecues, I drink alcohol. Same as before. Life is back to normal.

Three Years Later

30th May 2004

So here I am three years after losing my gall bladder. I feel fine. I am full of joie de vivre. I have no pain. I am doing great.

I get a lot of email about this web page, from people about to have the operation, and people who have just had the operation, and their loved ones trying to understand the situation. Everyone is looking for information. What's about to happen, what just happened, what does the future hold for me? And what can I eat? Doctors do inform their patients, but they put it so drily and clinically that it's hard to translate that to "what's going to happen to ME?". When you read the blow-by-blow account above, you get a good idea of what's going to happen at a very personal level. I do get complaints, mostly from people who find my tale after they have had their operation, and they laugh and it hurts.

First of all, I'm sorry you have to lose your gall bladder. But once you do, you're going to feel fine again. The pain goes away and you will feel good again. You will forget about the pain and the misery and you will have fun again. You do have to adjust what you eat and drink, and there are a few problems, but you adjust. Life goes on.

You will not be going back to your old eating habits.

Your gall bladder is being removed most probably because of dietary habits. What you have eaten over a long period of time has caused your gall bladder to have problems, and to be removed. You can't keep eating what you thought was normal, because that will cause more problems. But you don't have to think hard about it. If you eat bad stuff, your body is going to let you know and you WILL be listening to your body and you WILL be adjusting your eating habits.

If you do some reading, you will find that the gall bladder helps the breakdown of fat. Without the gall bladder, you don't get to breakdown fat so easily. If you eat fat, then it will go through you rapidly and be ejected loudly and messily. You will reduce the fat in your diet willingly once you realise what the result is. Believe me, you will want to reduce the amount of fat you eat. Me, personally, I don't like to have sudden rushes to the bathroom, and then noisy, smelly, violent eruptions. And I like clean underwear. It won't take long for you to get the pattern - eat fat = bad things happen.

So drastically reduce fatty foods. This means dairy products - milk, cheese, butter. Margarine, things that pretend to be butter. Oil, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil. Fatty meat, chicken skin, fries, wedges - all fatty. Salad dressings. Fast foods. Most fast foods are just chock-full of fat. Cut back on all this stuff. Do your underwear a favour.

The gall bladder also has something to do with spicy foods. Hot, spicy foods cause a burning sensation. For the first year, I had to eat bland. As the years went by, I found I could eat more spicy foods. But if I eat too much, I get a strange burning sensation inside where the gall bladder used to be. So cut back on excessive spices and hot stuff like kim chi, tabasco, chili sauce, chilis, jalapenos. You can still eat them, but nowhere as much as before. Stop when you get the burning sensation, and next time stop early so you avoid the burning sensation.

I don't know what the gall bladder does with alcohol, but it does affect consumption. If you drink too much, you will get burning sensations inside where your gall bladder used to be. And in the first few years, you will get horrendous hangovers. This goes away when you drink less. I never drink spirits so I don't know what the effect is with spirits. But beer and wine, I had to reduce what I drank. Initially, I had to cut right back. As the years went by, I developed more tolerance. But now I know when to stop to avoid the burning sensations.

And there's one final problem. Not everyone has this problem. But a lot of people do have this problem. I have this problem. You should be warned about it. I am going to be blunt. This is not going to be nice. If you are delicate, stop reading now.

If you dine out, particularly at lunchtime, always make sure you know where the bathroom is. Stay close. Because straight after the meal, you will need to go. Don't leave without going. Don't make the mistake of saying "I can make it home. I can make it back to work. I don't need to go now." Believe me, that's a mistake. Do you know what the most humiliating thing in the world is? It's filling your pants as an adult, in public. I am exceedingly grateful that I have not had this happen, but it's been so close that I still break into a sweat thinking about it. So heed my warning. Do not leave a lunchtime restaurant without going.

I don't quite know why this happens. It doesn't happen at other meals. Not even in the evening. It's always lunchtime, and it's only when I go to restaurants. Maybe it's the fat in the food? This is what happens. You eat something, or smell something, or there's something in the ambience of the restaurant. Your body decides something has to happen. I don't know what. But it sends a chemical signal to the gall bladder to do something. But the gall bladder isn't there. That chemical signal zings around the body and something else gets it. The bowel gets the signal and misinterprets it. It thinks the signal means "evacuate now, now, now, urgently, dump everything" and you better pay attention when this happens. It's not the meal you are currently eating, it's previous meals. And it's not at the right time for those meals. That signal interrupts the normal process and does an emergency evacuation. And when it happens and you go to the toilet, you better pray that the stalls are soundproof. Oh my god, it's noisy and messy and it's the most embarrassing thing that you've ever had happen to you. But what the hell, it happens and you adjust and you keep going to lunches and you learn to handle it and after a few years it's just part of your routine.

Not everyone suffers from this. I hope you're one of those who don't. But if you are one of us, then at least you have been warned and have some idea of what's coming.

But don't panic. None of this is dramatic. You adapt. You learn simple rules of living. Most of the time you don't even notice. Life goes on and your life goes back to normal - almost. It can't go back to before because you've lost an organ. That organ had a purpose. That organ is not there any more, serving its purpose. Your body has permanently changed with the loss of that organ. You can't grow a new one. You have to adapt to the loss of that organ, your body has to adapt to dealing without that organ. You have to adapt by modifying your diet.

Like most things, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that you are alive, and the pain goes away, and you feel great again. The bad news is that you have to adapt to the changes caused by losing the gall bladder. You'll adapt.

For those about to lose their gall bladder, and those who have lost it, I wish you all the best.

Medical Notes

28th June 2004

I have written a few notes about my research into the gall bladder and what it does, and what happens when it's no longer there. And I have links to a number of other web pages about the gall bladder.

Photos

Here's some of the photos we took. At this point, I have to say Danger, Danger, Danger and warn you against looking at the photos. Beware. These are photos of an old, hairy, fat man with very few clothes on and bloody holes in him. If this sort of thing is likely to trigger your already weakened stomach, then do not go further and view these photographs. I missed the opportunity to get photos when the bruises were in full glory. You should have seen it - bright yellow bruises over most of belly. Now they have faded.

This is when we first returned home. All we have done is remove the sodden and bloody bandage over the hole for the tube and clean that wound up. Notice the large bandage over the bellybutton. That's where the hernia got fixed. All in all, there were 5 holes in me. They came in through the bellybutton, and then there are 4 other holes under that arc of bandages, including where the drainage tube is. [Home after the op]

This is the reverse of the first photo. The rest of the bandages have been removed, and Anne has re-bandaged the drainage hole. Let me warn you, when you go to hospital for an operation, always wear your best underwear. Save the daggy worn ones for when you get home.

And look at the bellybutton. See! I have a real bellybutton now, a real indentation. Once again, I shall be able to collect lint in it.

They also shaved parts of my belly. That didn't prove a problem. It's growing back nicely, and promises to be even thicker and hairier when it's done.

[bandages removed]

Here we have a closeup of the drainage hole. See that little black stitch? That's looped around the tube and attached to my flesh. The tube wants to pop out. That stitch holds it in place. After my first sleep at home, I got up and went through the doorway. You can see the loop that the tube makes. That loop went around the doorhandle, and the tube stayed there while I went forward. That hurt. And it tore the stitch though my flesh. Right up to the end, this bloody drainage tube was a real irritation, a thorn in my side. [The pain in my side]

Back in the 70s, there was a surge of popularity for "soap on a rope". We're both from the 70s, so when it came time to have a shower, the "soap on a rope" concept came in handy for what to do with the drainage bag. Normally I kept it pinned to whatever clothing was handy. In the shower, we draped a loop of rope round my neck and hung the bag from that. Very efficient.

Note how my flesh is well puckered from the removal of the super-sticky bandage. This is when we first removed the bandages and cleaned things up. The next time it happened, chunks of my flesh came off with the bandage because it was so strongly adhesive.

[Blood bag on a rope]

My navel. A week after the operation. See that? I have a navel now. An innie, even if of giant proportions. I haven't had a navel for 8 years. I vaguely remember collecting lint in it, but then my intestines decided to poke through and I lost it. Now I have it back. The slice doesn't hurt at all, but that red blob to the bottom right does hurt still. There's a chunk of fishing line poking up through that and it's really irritating. As more of it pokes through, I trim it back with scissors. [The navel]

No more drainage bag. I've been to see the surgeon and he's removed it. That bloody little bandage covers the hole. I was so relieved to get that tube out of my side. The hair is growing back and irritating the hell out of me. But after this, it's all mending rapidly. In a month, you won't see anything at all, once the hair regains it natural growth. Scars? Who cares about scars? You can't see anything through the fur.

See the scab just above and to the right of the bandage over the hole? And the scab hidden under the right end of the bandage? They're not from the operation. They're from the second removal of the bandage, when my flesh was ripped off with the bandage. That hurt.

See the little bruise there? That's nothing. A few days earlier, the whole area was yellow and brown from the bruises. I heal quickly so most of the bruises are gone by the time we took this photo.

[After the
    drainage bag]