Down Another Organ, and what I learned from its loss.

There’s one less organ in my body these days, my gallbladder, one I can live without, like my uterus. My uterus attempted to exit my body all on its own, one day 28 year ago while jumping on the trampoline, and then was surgically removed. My gallbladder, on the other hand, had to be yanked out. I hadn’t been in the hospital since.

You don’t need all the gory details of rolling on the floor in agony while puking violently, doing transition breathing techniques from baby delivery days, until I made Todd take me to the ER. It happened once before, actually 28 years ago, shortly after I delivered my son, Bryce. A pregnant body does not always clear out cholesterol as efficiently as normal, and so shortly after delivery, a gallbladder attack can occur more times than you’d think, even in young women. So young in fact, that my one nurse told me that she suffered an attack shortly after she delivered at the ripe age of 16 and had to have her gallstone-filled-gallbladder removed shortly afterwards. This is not necessarily a condition of the aged (although my 65th b-day is tomorrow), nor was my husband’s recent double hernia surgery a condition of the aged, as young men and women deal with this condition at almost any age.

My Grandmom Ross always commented that she had a “lazy” gallbladder. It wouldn’t allow her to eat certain foods, she claimed, i.e. chocolate, and so I would make her carob bunnies at Easter time in our antique chocolate bunny molds. I now recall that my mother had gallstones too, but got rid of them a natural way by ingesting a formula of oil and apple cider vinegar. I healed myself 28 years ago (at least temporarily) by putting myself on a strict no-fat diet and taking a tincture of dandelion root, which acts as a tonic for your gallbladder and liver. Must run in the family.

Weak uterine muscles must also run in our family as my grandmother’s uterus fell out when she pushed up a window, my sister’s during aerobics class, and my own mother died too young before hers could make a quick exit.

I remember feeling a bit nostalgic when they took my uterus. After all, it did provide a safe and secure haven for growing my two wonderful children. My gallbladder, on the other hand, was a different story. I was very happy to see the little fucker go and I looked at its removal as the best birthday present I ever had.

I alerted both my children, “If you ever feel a slight ache below your ribs after you eat a particularly rich meal, pay attention, little gallstones could be rolling around in there unhappy. You don’t want to get to the stage that I was in.” They both said, “OMG. I do sometimes.”

I went into the ER two times, two nights apart, as my gallbladder somehow became infected and sick in that short time span. Over the phone, the surgeon’s receptionist said, they might decide to NOT take it out, (before they knew it got infected) or not until later in the week, when they had an opening in their schedule. This thing was going. The thought of it happening in the Himalayas or on a remote backpacking trip in the wilderness, meaning I could die, was never going to happen. I knew if I went into the ER, it would go and go quickly.

But I have to tell you, there was no room in the inn. I got my own ER room at first, but couldn’t get onto a floor once they knew I was staying the night (and the next day) and would be waiting to go into surgery. The hospital was packed with covid patients. Soon after my surgeon visited and read the CAT scan results, a nurse came in and said, “We are doing some room rearranging,” and pulled me out into the main hall. At first, I thought a room had opened up, and I was being held there temporarily, but no, I was just removed from my room to make way for some ambulances coming in. Covid patients.

I laid there in the hall for about 8 hours altogether, aside of the nurse’s station, under the bright lights, beeping machines, and lots of traffic, watching the nurses and the patients on gurneys come and go. I’d get hot and throw off my covers, with no privacy. I listened to nurses whispering behind the desk about a doctor they didn’t like who was coming in, trying to not let me hear, as I strained to listen for some entertainment. I listened to the nurses announce there were donuts in the lunch room across from me and I’d watch them come and go with steaming delicious coffee and a donut in a napkin. I hadn’t had food or even a single sip of water for 20 hours and I was dying. I tried to get them to share and a nurse behind the desk would intercede, “She’s NPO!” (This is an acronym for nil per os ( npo or NPO ), a Latin phrase that translates literally to English as “nothing through the mouth.”) Problem was that no one knew when I would get into the OR – 4 pm- 6pm- midnight? The bright lights and noise wouldn’t let me get any sleep, all night long, and then all day long.

After several hours of discomfort, I asked for a pillow to cover my head. After awhile, another nurse offered a towel. Then a few hours later, one thought enough to get me ear plugs and an eye mask. A few hours later, a nice nurse finally turned off a few of the bright overhead lights. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, I was feeling sorry for them. A few walked around in these inflated space helmets that had a ribbed hose like on a shop vac running down their backs to a little box that cleaned and filtered their air. They were the covid nurses, I assumed. When I finally asked a nurse why I had been selected to pass my day and night out in the bright hall with everyone coming and going, she said because “I did not need to be isolated.” In other words, I was not a covid patient and I was grateful it was just an infected, distended gallbladder that I was dealing with. Yes, our red county of Schuylkill did not really believe in the virus and many enter public spaces with no masks, like at our local minute mart, the post office etc., despite strict signs on the doors. These poor nurses have to take the brunt of it.

The nurses were really angels, as well as the two women surgeons our county is graced with. It’s a good thing more women are going into medicine. They have the right empathetic, motherly characteristics to shine (as well as the brains, of course).  

I went into surgery a bit freaked, thinking about yanking this enlarged, infected gallbladder through this small keyhole incision. What if the fucker bursts, spewing poisons and germs throughout my body, making me far sicker, and my hospital stay far longer? I was warned of the possibility of having to slice me open if there were complications and I wanted that to happen before bursting the thing. Thankfully, that never occurred. And I was surprised to learn afterwards, that they first insert a transparent bag, plop the organ inside it and seal it off. If it won’t get through the hole, they can open it slightly and stab the thing so it deflates and yank it safely through. I would have liked to have known that going in. And of course, this operation is done laparoscopically, after they blow up your stomach with carbon dioxide gas so they can move around better and see with the camera.

One thing that was definitely not impressed upon me was the lingering gas pains. You and I both know what intestinal gas pains are all about so when this strange sharp pain occurred in my neck in my clavicle area, I thought, what is this? When it seemed to move down to my diaphragm, I simply could not breathe. I could not take a sip of air without feeling as if I were being squeezed in pain. I made it to the bed and laid there moaning, trying to take incredibly small, shallow breaths, making plans to get an ambulance up our hill to take me back in. Was I having a heart attack? I made myself calm down by breathing shallow and it finally passed. Is that what covid patients feel like? I never want to get that virus. The gas must have wormed its way up around my organs and got trapped around my lungs. Why don’t they warn you of this side effect? It passed relatively quickly compared to days in a ventilator for a covid patient so once again I was very glad it was only a gallbladder.

Now that I am home and I am healing, I think of my veterans who had limbs blown off- what they had to endure in the hospital with multiple surgeries and sometimes years of hospital stays. And I think what those nurses go through watching those those poor soldiers suffer as they fill with fear and hopelessness. I will not be a baby. It is only a little gallbladder.

In retrospect, I have learned to take covid more seriously. I will do a better job to isolate as much as possible during these soaring holiday times, and not feel sorry for myself if I can’t see my friends and family. The hospitals do not want you in there and you don’t want to be in there either. I will pray harder for the nurse angels and the doctors. I will be grateful for the amazing technology to do less invasive surgery. And of course, grateful that I have such wonderful loved ones to help me heal- my family, who is here by my side, and all my friends who sent their loving healing thoughts and prayers. Gratitude is the name of the game. Gratitude that the organ is gone and I didn’t have to die as a result. Had I lived in another era that might have been the case.

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10 thoughts on “Down Another Organ, and what I learned from its loss. Leave a comment

  1. Geez, Cindy!  No, I’m not going to tell you to get a grip.  TAKE A DEEP BREATH…..  NOW EXHALE.  repeat.  Ask for what you want.  mouth the words….. p.s.  If that doesn’t work, text Alicia Keys.   RS

    Joanne & Richard

  2. Oh my gosh. What an ordeal! So glad you are on the mend. Did they tell you about the possible loose stools for a while? My mom had her gallbladder out and was surprised to find that a problem for a bit. She’s better now. Just want you to be warned of the possibility! Health issues are no fun but glad you weren’t on the trail somewhere or out of the country like you said. Have a very merry Christmas!

    Sue Baumann

  3. As your readers have come to expect, this is a beautifully written story of your ordeal. And a reminder that during this unprecedented and challenging year, it’s still all about gratitude. Get well and all our best for a peaceful holiday season and a healthy new year!

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