Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Gallbladder Story


Once upon a time...

Well, it all started with crazy abdominal pain at night. It would feel like someone blew a balloon up in my abdominal cavity and the pressure would cause me to vomit. I went to a G.I. specialist who, early on in the adventure, had no idea what was wrong with me. I had an endoscopy (came back normal), various blood tests, a HIDA scan (which said my gallbladder was completely blocked) and then finally...a recommendation for surgical removal of the gallbladder.

All was well with this. My mom actually came up for my HIDA scan. The internet said it was going to be long, painful, and uncomfortable. What was supposed to be pure agony was actually enjoyable! All I had to do was wear an intravenous port and hug a giant machine every 15 minutes while it took pictures of my insides. I even got to be fully clothed!

So I picked my surgeon and met with him to discuss my "options." He wanted an MRI to make sure my common bile duct wasn't blocked. Fair enough. We scheduled the surgery for May (this was sometime in early March....) because I REFUSED to have surgery during graduate school. I was in the middle of the semester from HELL and I didn't think it was possible to take time off for a surgery. I wanted to wait it out. He said I could as long as I could tolerate my pain. I have a somewhat decent pain threshold so I figured I could deal with a few more gallbladder attacks until mid-May.

Or so I thought....

I had taken off Friday, March 30th, to work on some stuff for school. I woke up at 6am with a sharp pain in my right upper abdomen. The pain got worse and before I knew it, I was having waves of sweating episodes, dizziness, and yes...vomiting. "This could be it" I thought. My worst fear was that my gallbladder ruptured or was about to. I tried to tough it out for a few more hours....make that about 6 more hours. I dozed off a little bit but for the most part I was in really dire pain. Nothing worked...pain meds didn't help, hot compresses didn't help...NOTHING was working.

Finally I called up work and asked if someone could take me to the hospital. I could walk to the nearest hospital but if I needed emergency surgery I wanted MY surgeon to do it. I wanted to go to MY hospital...which is about 40 minutes away in the suburbs. Fortunately I got a ride and as we wound through the streets of North East Philly, I tried to think happy thoughts. I packed an overnight bag because I did not know what to expect.

When I arrived in the ER, a nurse took down my info and asked me to have a seat. 25 minutes later I was called into triage. After taking some of my blood, peeing in a cup, and waiting forever (and freaking out because a patient came in vomiting in a coffee can and I was already feeling like vomiting myself) I was finally put in an ER room. It took, LITERALLY 10 hours, before I was pain free. A nurse gave me anti-nausea and anti-acid medication and then I finally felt relief. I was offered a "loopy" pain med as well but I declined. See, I live alone and my parents are in Virginia (worried sick about me...waiting for updates). I knew I had to be in my full senses to provide everyone the updates they needed AND to make an important decision regarding surgery.

Hours passed (I think about 6 more) and my surgeon tried hard not to say "what the hell, Mare I told you so." He scheduled me for a Monday surgery depending the results from an MRI. The catch? I had to admitted to the hospital FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND. I asked him how much it was going to cost me. He said "where do you work?" I said "I work for Holy Redeemer" and he replied "Oh, well don't worry about it then." I wanted to respond with "Says the man wearing the Rolex" but I decided to keep my quips to myself.

After that exchange I was sent away for an ultrasound. My technician was great and even printed a picture of my gallstones for me. I had 19 GALLSTONES. They were itty bitty but they were very visible. After this I happily showed everyone who would look the picture of my "19 kids." I have to admit, I was told I was the evening entertainment in the ER.

After another hour or so (and a few beloved visitors) I was put in my room. I had never stayed at a hospital before so this was a new experience. The best part (by best I mean worst) is that I had to be chained to an IV constantly AND was unable to eat or drink until after surgery. I could have ice chips...that’s it. I thought I was going to die. I told everyone that would listen that I wanted a cheeseburger and a margarita.

I had some homework with me, my Ipad which was dying, my Ipod which was also dying, my stuffed dog and a change of clothes. I had a room to myself which is one of the many benefits of Holy Redeemer Hospital. AND I had a TV. So it wasn't too bad. I didn't sleep much my first night.

Waking up in a hospital is just like it is on Grey's Anatomy. At 7am sharp a nurse comes in to take your blood. Then a guy comes in to empty your trash. Then housekeeping comes in and asks to clean your room. Then another nurse comes in. Oh, and someone at some point comes in to check your vital signs. By 9am I was up and really wanting a shower. My amazing RN found me some body wash/shampoo combination (they originally only had bar soap) so I could wash my hair. I was unchained from my IV but had to shower while wearing a rubber glove taped to my arm.

I spent the day walking around the floor with my IV, being entertained by a few visitors and I watched the second half of "The Passion." I was so grateful I had my phone and charger so I could keep tabs with the rest of the world. That afternoon I was denied ice chips for the first time. I actually cried when the nurse left. I was starving and felt fine, except for the fact I was starving. I was being kept alive by the IV but I wanted to eat some food. Also, I had to pee in a bucket so they could measure my urine output. By the third bathroom trip, my bathroom started to smell like a SEPTA tunnel on a hot summer day. :(

That evening my best friend came to visit me all the way from New Brunswick, NJ. He was amused that he could just walk in the hospital and hang out with me without showing ID or checking in. I told him the hospital was filled with a majority of elderly white people. David brought me coloring books, "Catching Fire" - the second book of the Hunger Games series (which became a conversation piece for everyone who came into my room until discharge when they noticed it on my bed) and crayons! I finally had entertainment! (Earlier that day my co-worker brought me trashy magazines and an activity book). David and I spent quality time releasing a trapped Snickers bar from the snack machine in the waiting room. Then David left and I fell asleep, sort of.

My wing was made up of short stay patients and oncology patients...that means not a day went by without my hearing someone retching and vomiting. It was not a good situation. In the meantime, I alerted family, friends, my classmates and my professors of my condition. Everyone was understanding. Its kind of funny, once I was admitted to the hospital I felt like it was a "Jesus take the wheel" moment. Everything, literally EVERYTHING was out of my control and I had to just ride with it. I had been under a great deal of stress at work and at school, which may have expedited my surgery as well, but I was relieved to just have to take care of business and let the chips fall where they may.

Sunday I was offered Holy Communion, which I politely declined since I was still denied food and drink. I had my MRI that morning (I hate MRIs...) I had to hold my breath a lot and it was really hard. I found out later my inability to hold my breath for long really jacked up the images. I was particularly amused when my technician asked me if I had any food or drink to which I responded, “Honey, I haven’t eaten for three days.” She was amused too. My surgeon came in later and said he couldn't read the MRI. He had to wait for a radiologist to read it for him. However, he gave me the best news in the entire world. I COULD EAT CLEAR LIQUIDS/FOODS until 12am. I was so excited. My nurse came in to check on my and I nearly yelled with joy "I CAN EAT CLEARS!!!!" She thought I was lying.

Then she checked with my dr. and found out that yes, I was telling the truth. I was a little stung. During my stay I was a model patient....not letting my ice melt so I could drink the water...moving around every so often, being polite to everyone that entered my room...etc. Although I did have a lot of fun when nurses would ask me if I had a bowel movement. I was like "no....you won't let me eat." Once my nurse found out I was telling the truth, she brought me some water ice. It was the best tasting water ice I ever had in my life. Then I got to eat a soup broth, jello and juice. The food service worker brought me my tray and I told him how excited I was. "Its just broth," he said. "No, NO...YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND...I HAVEN'T EATEN SINCE THURSDAY EVENING....ITS SUNDAY AFTERNOON," I replied. He smiled and let me enjoy my broth.

I spent the day happily eating jello and water ice and juice to my hearts content. My night nurse was more than happy to accommodate my intense hunger. She kept feeding me until 11:30pm when I called it quits. Sunday was a pretty good day. My friends Sarai and Anne came to visit. Anne brought much needed items such as gum, razors, socks, and some of her magazines. I'm not going to lie, I kind of got showered with gifts during my hospital stay. I got beautiful flowers from the Angelus Community of the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer, and all the reading material I could want. My mom stopped by my apartment to grab a much needed change of clothes and some chargers and things.

I had trouble sleeping again, but woke up around 4am to my nurse saying "You're surgery has been scheduled. I think you're going in at 1pm" That was confirmed later on during the day. My mom came over bright and early and I paced around waiting to go to the operating room. I hated that you have to go naked...I mean yes..you can wear your gown...but nothing else.

When I went to my initial appt with my surgeon, he told me he would take a photo of my gallbladder for me if I reminded him. I did...multiple times. So when it was finally time to wheel me away in my bed to the OR, I had my camera tucked away in my gown pocket. We were outside the operating room doors when I said "I have some contraband on me." The nurses looked alarmed. I whipped out my camera and explained the situation. One nurse thought it was genius the other thought I was crazy. Then the OR staff had a good laugh about it (in a good way). One scrub nurse took the photo above to test the camera out.

The next thing (and last thing) I remember was being given a sedative. I moved to the OR table and they gave me a drug that they said "would feel like I drank a case of Natural Light." To which I got excited about the reference and tried to contribute to the conversation until they said they were giving me my anesthesia. I said "catch you on the flip side" and the next thing I knew I was awake in the recovery room...crying.

"Does it hurt that badly, dear?" a nurse asked me. My brain quickly registered what had happened...I had surgery...my gallbladder was removed.... "No" I replied. "Do you even know that you are crying right now?" the nurse asked. "Noooo" I wailed. Then I realized I was crying my eyes out. I think it was part anesthesia, part relief, and part pain because I was a little sore. The nurse kept telling me I could go back to sleep but I didn't want to. The patient next to me apparently couldn't wake up. She kept going back to sleep and the nurses were worried about her. My surgeon popped in and whispered "everything went well, you did great." I vaguely remember that. A good friend, who is a Sister of the Holy Redeemer came in to say hi to me. I was so happy to see her. I think I started crying all over again.

The nurse gave me some ice chips to eat and I was eventually wheeled down the hall. I toasted my mother in the waiting room with my ice chips and said "its tequila!" Then I was put in my room and hooked up to oxygen. I was pale, tired, and the pain was starting up a bit but I had made it through. I dozed off a bit but when it was time for me to go to the bathroom for the first time that day it was a reality check. They had strapped pressure cuffs to my ankles which squeezed and released my legs on 15 second intervals. For me to go to the bathroom, I had to be unhooked from the cuffs, unhooked from the O2 and carefully guided into the bathroom.

I cried again. The pain was awful. I had no abdominal strength due to the surgery. The nurse pretty much stood in the bathroom with me and even though I really had to pee...I couldn't...at least not right away. I was so frustrated and upset. By the time I was ushered back to my bed, I was shaking and crying. I had to rely on everyone for the smallest little thing and it hurt so badly.

I learned my pain medication schedule quickly. I could be given pain meds every 4 hours. Honestly, my pain reminded me it was time for the next dose. I had a fitful night of sleep but by 4am, my nurse mercifully removed the pressure cuffs. I was able to sleep for a short period of time but it was a horrible night.

The next day I was told to get my ass out of bed and move around. I had to use a breathing exercise machine every hour and walk around every few hours. It would be considered good progress if I could a)move around b)eat and c) pass gas before the day was over. I was finally discharged at 7pm (after eating 3 whole meals with no ill effects!) My cute transporter (who ironically wheeled me to my room Friday night before ending his shift and spending the weekend in Penn State) wheeled me outside where I got into the car and headed to the Provincialate of the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer with my mom for two days before heading home to Virginia to continue recovery.

I was out of work and school for two weeks. However, I spent everyday of recovery doing assignments so by the time I went back to class, I was completely caught up on homework! I'm a pompass ass, I know. I lost some weight after surgery was good. Of course, I got my picture as well.

VIEW DISCRETION ADVISED: GRAPHIC CONTENT


Looks like a buffalo wing, right? That is my gallbladder after surgical removal. The best part was that my surgeon even took a picture with the laparoscopic tools and I got a pre-removal picture as well! :)

Recovery was a long process...learning what I can and can not eat was the worst. The first time I tried to do yoga was an epic fail and my belly button was sore for a long time. Now I'm pretty much back to normal...watching what I eat...staying away from buffets and enjoying being healthy and attack free again.

I learned a lot in the hospital...like how hard nurses jobs are an the different sounds of laundry carts, food carts, and hospital beds make while rolling down the hall. I learned you can be kept alive on nothing but a potassium mixture in an IV, and that you can sleep being chained to an IV without strangling yourself in your sleep or pulling out the IV while rolling over (two of my biggest fears). I learned the value you have in other people's lives based on their generosity and concern during the time of an emergency. I learned not to push myself so hard that it hurts and that sometimes Jesus just has to take the wheel.

Until next time...

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