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The gallbladder ordeal

3 months ago I didn’t know where or what what a gallbladder was.

Turns out it’s a little thing that helps out the liver by storing some bile (gall). It also turns out to be not strictly required in most people, luckily for me.


“Blausen 0428 Gallbladder-Liver-Pancreas Location” by BruceBlaus – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Way back in April I came down with what I thought was a stomach bug. It was very painful and lasted 3 days before I went to an urgent care clinic to make sure nothing major was wrong. They took some blood samples and sent me on my way, calling it a stomach bug. When blood results came in I was showing elevated liver enzymes and was told to steer clear of red meat, alcohol and fatty foods.

The active “stomach bug” went away pretty quickly and after a couple weeks of boring diet the pain went away too. Hooray!

2 weeks later the pain and “stomach bug” came back. This time I ended up in the emergency room, dehydrated and in severe pain. They did some blood work and a CT scan to confirm my appendix wasn’t swollen and sent me home after a few hours. At this point we’re in early May and I had to cancel attending the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta because of the pain. That sucked.

May and June saw 3 major diagnostic tests to figure out what was wrong. I continued avoiding alcohol and fatty foods since they did make it worse, but the constant, dull pain persisted. I stopped exercising, switched to small meals which would hurt less and was quite tired and miserable. Finally, in July they came to the conclusion that I had gallbladder “sludge” and that my gallbladder should probably be removed.

Sign me up!

In preparation for my surgery I read a lot, talked with lots of people who had theirs out and found experiences landed into two categories:

  1. Best thing I ever did, no residual problems and the $%$# pain is gone!
  2. Wish I had tried managing it first, I now have trouble digesting fatty/fried foods and alcohol

This was a little worrying, but given the constant pain I’d been in for 3 months I was willing to deal with the potential side effects. Fortunately feedback was pretty consistent regarding immediate recovery: the surgery is easy and recovery is quick.

My surgery was on July 24th.

They offered it as either outpatient or a single night in the hospital, and I opted for outpatient. I arrived at 8AM and sent home without a gallbladder and nibbling on animal crackers and water by 1PM. Easy!

Actually, the first 3 days were a bit tough. It was a laparoscopic surgery that only required 4 small incisions, so I had pain in my belly and at the incision sites. Activity is based on the individual, but loosely estimated a week for basic recovery, and 2-3 weeks before you’re fully recovered. They recommend both a lot of rest and walking as you can so that you can rid your body of stiffness and bloating from the surgery, leading to a quicker recovery. MJ was able to take time off of work Thursday and Friday and spend the weekend taking care of me.

As the weekend progressed sitting up was still a bit painful, so that limited TV watching. I could only sleep on my back which started causing some neck and back soreness. I did a lot of reading! Books, magazines, caught up on RSS feeds that I fed to my phone. Sunday evening I was able to take the bandages off the incision sites, leaving the wound closure strips in place (in lieu of stitches, and they said they should fall off in 10-14 days). I got dizzy and became nauseated while removing the bandages, which was very unusual for me because blood and stuff doesn’t tend to bother me. I think I was just nervous about finding an infection or pulling on one of the closure strips too hard, but it all went well.

By Monday I was doing a bit better, was able to go outside to pick up some breakfast, walk a block down to the pharmacy (both in my pajamas – haha!). The rest of the week went like this, each day I felt a little better, but still taking the pain medication. Tuesday I spent some time at my desk on email triage so I could respond to anything urgent and have a clearer idea of my task list when I was feeling better. Sitting up got easier, so I added some binge TV watching into the mix and also finally had the opportunity to watch some videos from the OpenStack Summit I missed – awesome!

On Wednesday afternoon I started easing back into work with a couple of patch fix-ups and starting to more actively follow up with email. I even made it out to an OpenStack 4th birthday party for a little while on Wednesday night, which was fortuitously held at a gallery on my block so I was able to go home quickly as soon as I started feeling tired. I’m also happy to say that I wore an elastic waist cotton skirt to this, not my pajamas! Thursday and Friday I still took a lot of breaks from my desk, but was able to start getting caught up with work.

I’m still taking it easy this weekend and on Tuesday I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon to confirm that everything is healing well. I am hopeful that I’ll be feeling much better by Monday, and certainly by the time I’m boarding a plane to Philly on Thursday. Fortunately MJ is coming with me and has offered to handle the luggage, which is great because aside from wanting him to join me on this trip anyway, I probably won’t be ready to haul around anything heavy yet.

So far I haven’t had trouble eating anything, even when I took a risk and had pizza (fatty!) and egg rolls (fried!) this week. And while I still have surgical pain lurking around and some more healing to do, the constant pain I was having left with my gallbladder. I am so happy! This has truly been a terrible few months for me, I’m looking forward to having energy again so I can get back to my usual productive self and to getting back on track with my diet and exercise routine.

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