Gallbladder Removal: The Beginning and End of Being Pain Free
First, I'll fill you in on my pre-surgery story...
One day, when I was 23-years-old, I was sitting in my bedroom and had a sudden onset of excruciating cramping under the right side of my rib cage. I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain and all I could do was crawl onto the floor on my hands and knees and scream. Yes, scream. I started crying, was breathing really heavy, and was hoping for this pain to go away. During this period, I picked up my phone and managed to call my friend. I told her that I was pretty sure I needed to go to the emergency room. By the time she arrived at my house, the pain had begun to subside. This was about 20 minutes later. With the pain beginning to go away and me not having the slightest clue as to what just happened, I figured I would just let it go and hope for the best.
After the initial attack, I would say it took about a month or so for me to feel that cramping again. For months, each attack was never as bad as it was that first time. It would come and go and would be mild enough for me to stand it. Knowing my parents would probably just brush it off, I didn't tell them about it.
Then, about 6 months after that first attack, I got it bad. I was in my house and all-of-a-sudden, it started. OUCH! It came on strong and it came on fast. I remember it being around 9:00 at night when it began. I figured it would pass again since it had before. I waited, and waited, and it only continued to get worse. It felt like my muscles were squeezing so tight underneath my right rib cage that they were choking each other. I don't even know if that explains it, but it's hard to put into words just how bad it felt. This time, it continued long past 20 minutes and the pain began to shoot straight through to my back. I was feeling a horrible cramping, burning sensation in the front and a stabbing pain in the back. I was living in Florida at the time, with my family in New York, so I called them around 11:00 p.m. and said I was going to the emergency room. I tried to explain what was going on, but it's really hard to give details about something you don't have a clue about. I was hysterically crying and knew I needed help.
When I got to the emergency room, the lady sitting at the front desk immediately thought that it was my gallbladder causing the pain. She asked me to come around the back and lay on the cot behind her. There was not a single position that I could sit or lay in that would make the pain any better. Every time she told me to lay on the bed, I kept going back onto the floor and hovering over it on my hands and knees. I was crying and screaming the entire time. I was waiting there for 2 hours before I was given a room inside. It took another hour for the doctor to come in and see me. At this point my face and eyes were so swollen that when I looked in the mirror it looked as though my eyes were almost swollen shut. After he came in to see me, he finally gave me something to help with the pain (3 hours later). I had been in pain now for 5 hours and the attack never got any better until he gave me something to take. He told me that the ultrasound techs had gone home for the night and if I wanted to wait until 7 a.m. to get an ultrasound to confirm gallstones, I could. I figured that I had been there for so long already that I might as well wait to get confirmation.
When 7 a.m. rolled around, I was finally able to get the ultrasound done. Lo and behold, they confirmed gallstones. I was told that I should visit a gastroenterologist for a follow up appointment and discuss with him/her what should be done next. I didn't run to the doctor because I had a lot going on at the time with my college graduation coming up.
It was about a week later (the night before my college graduation and my parents were down from New York) when I got another attack. I didn't think there could be any worse of a time for this to happen. I did not want to have a bad night's sleep the night before my graduation ceremony. Thankfully, my mother had the idea of running to the store to pick up a heating pad. I definitely think that it helped a lot with the pain. This attack lasted about 2 hours, but the pain wasn't any easier to bare than the last time.
The day after my graduation I flew up to New York. The very next day I went to see the gastroenterologist and he told me that because I was only 23-years-old and having such bad, frequent attacks, that I should have my gallbladder removed. He told me that there were other options that required me to drink some kind of liquid to dissolve them but that they would always return. He figured that if my gallbladder was this bad off already, that things would only get worse and I could end up with other problems. He sounded so sure that this is what I should do, that I thought he was right and I listened. I went in for surgery a week later.
No one told me what I would be in for after having my gallbladder removed.
Before going in for surgery, everyone was telling me that gallbladder surgery was nothing. It is done so often and to so many people, that it wasn't a big deal. No one ever told me how much pain I would be in when I woke up. I wish they had warned me.
When I woke up from surgery, my entire abdomen was killing me. I've been told that during the surgery, they have to blow air into you to move your organs around, and after the surgery is over, some of that air gets trapped inside of you. I'm not sure if that was the sole cause of the pain that I was in, but it was bad. I remember it took the nurse a while to come and give me anything. I think that was because I still needed some of the anesthesia to wear off. I remember that when I got up to use the rest room, I could barely stand up straight and everything hurt. Even while laying in the bed, there was no position I could lie in that eased the pain, even a tiny bit. I was also feeling a lot of pressure in my chest. It's so hard to describe the actual feeling I had in my abdomen, but trust me when I tell you that was something I was not expecting one bit and it is not something I would ever want to feel again.
After arriving back home, I was bedridden for a week. The doctor said I should move around a bit each day to help the air travel around and not get trapped in one place (which would cause more pain). I would get up to go to the kitchen or to the rest room, but other than that, I really didn't want to get out of bed. That is the first time in my life that I've ever been prescribed pain killers and actually took them as prescribed (every 4 hours). I would sit and watch the time wondering how much longer it would be until I could take another pill. Even while on Vicodin, I was still in a lot of pain for the first few days.
I was told to eat a bland, low fat diet for the next 6 months. Of course I didn't stick to that as well as I should have. It's really hard to just change your diet just like that. I would say for the first 3 or 4 months I felt fine, even while eating fatty foods. After the first couple of months, I started getting a burning, cramping sensation under my rib cage in the same place that my gallbladder used to be. Sometimes the burning would go straight through to my back. The feeling would usually last about an hour or so. I never figured out what caused them to come on. This cramping and burning would happen almost every day for about a year. I thought taking the gallbladder out would've resolved any pain I had in that area...I was wrong. Sometimes the burning and the discomfort along with it would get so bad that I wouldn't want to do anything other than sit down and wait for it to pass. After those phantom attacks stopped coming on daily, I thought all of my issues were gone, but they weren't.
After those attacks stopped being so regular, I started noticing that I would have to run to the bathroom after eating certain foods (something I had never had to do in the past). Sometimes it would be so bad that I didn't think I would make it to the rest room. The next side effect I started noticing was gas. Sometimes I would feel gas come on almost immediately after eating (another issue I never had before). So now, with my gallbladder out, I was having issues that I never had before, and these weren't just small problems, they were embarrassing and frequent. When the gas and urgency seemed to go away, I thought I was in the clear, again.
A couple of months later it flared up again. I would eat and immediately begin feeling gas build up in my abdomen. I could feel it moving around and very often I could even hear it. Talk about uncomfortable and embarrassing! It had gotten so bad that I began to have a sharp stabbing pain in my lower back. This time I went to a gastroenterologist to discuss what was going on and he told me that my organs were "distended". I looked it up and it means that your organs are so full of gas that they are enlarged. He even asked me if I was having back pain, which I was. He said it was because of my organs. He gave me some medication and told me I couldn't eat fatty foods or drink cold fluids for a week. I did as he said and I started to feel better. Unfortunately though, it never went away. The medicine dialed it down a bit, but it didn't cure me.
I have gas every single day, especially in the morning. Every couple of months I go through a flare-up where the gas is 10x worse and literally happening all day long. I still get a feeling of urgency on occasion. I feel like I am having more problems now than I ever had. And these side effects I'm having are so embarrassing and debilitating at times, that I wish I would have never had my gallbladder taken out. I would much rather have to take medicine or drink some sort of fluid to dissolve the stones than go through life without my gallbladder. I wish someone would have told me the possible side effects.