Towards the end of 2018, I had to have gallbladder removal surgery.
It was a process that started in late August, 2018, when I had what I believe was my first gallbladder attack.
I don’t know for certain because I didn’t go to the doctor when it happened. DudeDad was away, I was home alone with two of the Dudes, so I just laid on the floor of my bathroom for four hours in the middle of the night and tried not to die.
I eventually decided that not dying wasn’t an option and called my mother to take me to the emergency room. Before I could catch my breath to explain to her that death was imminent and I wanted her to care for my children when I was gone, the pain subsided and Heaven’s guiding light blinked off again.
Were I not covered in sweat and curled into a ball of naked on my bathroom floor I may have thought I’d imagined the entire ordeal.
And, to prove it, the universe allowed me to experience repeat episodes of this twice more before one night, just days before Thanksgiving, it dragged me so hard I was forced to allow my husband to carry me into the emergency room at 4am.
And by carry I mean he literally had to carry me into the emergency room and deposit me in a wheelchair while I moaned and writhed and dry heaved into my own lap (wanted to barf but after 8 or so times of doing that, there wasn’t even air inside to come out).
A couple shots of morphine (sweet, sweet morphine), an IV, and a CT scan of the upper right quadrant of my abdomen later revealed that I was suffering biliary colic, an illness more commonly called a gallbladder attack.
They discovered several gallstones swimming about in my gallbladder and lots of inflammation. That’s just code for, yes, it hurts like a mofo and you could actually die, but most likely actually won’t.
They considered removing it on the spot (fortunately they were able to reduce the inflammation and NOT do emergency surgery), but wound up p’preferring me to a surgeon with a directive to make an appointment IMMEDIATELY regarding having gallbladder removal surgery.
I waited until after Thanksgiving where I enjoyed nothing more than a single serving of mashed potatoes and a roll.
I went to the surgeon, she confirmed I needed to have gallbladder removal surgery, and then encouraged me to schedule my procedure for the following Monday. Mom life (and work life) encouraged me to wait until December.
So, on Monday, December 17th, I went into the hospital and had my gallbladder removal surgery.
If you’ve been told you need to have your gallbladder removed, here are a few questions you probably have along with their answers.
So You’re Having Gallbladder Removal Surgery: A Q&A to Help You Prepare
What caused you to have a gallbladder attack in the first place?
They say gallbladder attacks, or biliary colic as it’s often called, is caused when gallstones form in your gallbladder and then block the bile ducts.
But why did you have gallstones in the first place?
There is some sciency answer for this one, but generally speaking, they are often caused by an imbalance of chemicals in your gallbladder that may result from eating fatty foods. So, cut back on the deep fried Oreos and you might be fine.
Personally, I don’t eat fatty foods often, though I did have ONE fried won-ton the night I went into the emergency room.
They also often occur in people who have lost a significant amount of weight.
This was me in early 2018…
And, this was me when I went into the hospital the end of the same year to have my gallbladder removed…
I lost 30 pounds in about eight months so I’m probably the second group of people.
So why did you have to have your gallbladder removed? Can’t they just take out your gallstones?
The most effective way to prevent another gallbladder attack is to have your gallbladder removed.
You can live without a gallbladder and will likely only need to adjust your eating habits once it’s gone.
Mine was filled with gallstones and in quite bad shape when they got it out.
What does a gallbladder attack feel like?
Like I was about to give birth to three babies right out of my right lung.
You can barely breathe. You can’t stand up. The pain radiates through your entire abdomen and straight out of your back like someone is driving a hot poker through you.
The pain makes you physically sick and you sweat like crazy.
Sometimes it will go away on its own and when it does, it’s usually sudden. Like one moment you are walking towards the light and the next you’re wondering why you’re laying around on the floor of your kitchen when you have to be at work in less than 20 minutes.
As least that’s how it was for me.
Why couldn’t they just get rid of your gallstones?
Sometimes they can, but it doesn’t always work and can take a long time. Plus, they usually come back anyway.
How big of an incision do you have?
Tiny. More like punctures.
The surgery to remove your gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy.
You might have to have an open surgery, but most often cholecystectomies are done laparoscopically.
That means that, instead of a big incision under your right boob (same place for guys, just less under the boob and more below it), you will have three holes poked across your abdomen (I call them my Orion’s Belt), and one in your belly button.
These will be used to insert the tools needed to suck your gall bladder out of your torso.
The incisions are tiny and wound care is pretty simple as a result. I, in fact, didn’t even have real stitches—they just used that tape stuff to close me up.
How long did it take?
The procedures is relatively quick and easy.
It’s a common procedure and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, you could be in and out of the operating room in under four hours.
How long were you in the hospital?
I went home the same day.
If you come out of anesthesia okay and don’t seem to be suffering any serious complications, expect to be dressed and sent packing shortly after you arouse from your medically induced naptime.
Personally, I am greatly affected by drugs of all kind (I would’ve made a horrible and short existing junky) so I am the kind of person who tends to take a bed for quite some time following any type of medical procedure. Also, I want to take this time to publicly apologize to any and every person who had to deal with me in recovery. Drugged me is not real me.
A few thank yous are also in order. To the lady who held my hair back while I barfed incessantly into a too-small kidney shaped bowl, and to the nice one who told me I would be okay even after the male nurse yelled at me for crying, and to whoever dragged me from my drugged stupor and put my shirt on for me, I appreciate you.
What was the hardest part?
Barfing. So much barfing.
If you’re lucky, they will send you home with a prescription for an anti-nausea medication (like Zofran). If you’re me they will just kick you out and say best of luck!
What was recovery like?
You will be really weird for about 24 hours thanks to the anesthesia.
Most people will regain consciousness better than I did, but pretty much everyone is tired, slow, and groggy following surgery as it takes some time for the medication they use to put you to sleep to completely leave your system.
So, enjoy it and just sleep.
When else will you have official orders from a medical professional to take a midday nap?
You may continue to throw up for many, many hours.
In fact, you may actually throw up every 30-45 minutes for the next 12-24 hours.
If you’re me.
For me, the persistent vomiting was just a negative reaction to the anesthesia.
But you should definitely call your doctor if this happens to you.
I am certain that I vomited more in the 24 hours post-surgery than I have across all of the years of my life—combined. I am one of those people who works really hard not to throw up. I can hold down a puke a remarkably long time, in the face of motion sickness, in the face of heat stroke, in the face of mean viruses and E.coli. But, I could not, for the life of me, hold down the 15 barfs I had to give after I had my gallbladder removed.
Pro Tip: If you’ve had a bad reaction to anesthesia in the past, TELL THEM. They can give you something to help alleviate this occurrence BEFORE they open you up. I am having DON’T PUT ME TO SLEEP, OR I WILL BARF FOR DAYS, tattooed to my face as I type this.
If you don’t have to suffer through this side effect, my best advice would be for you to just listen to your body and give it what it needs.
You will feel tired when you start doing things.
I don’t know why this happens, but I tell myself it’s because my body is using the energy it usually gives me to live my best life is being diverted to the task of knitting my insides back together.
It’s important to pace yourself so that you’re not overdoing it. Overdoing it just leads to a longer recovery period.
How do you know if something is actually wrong though?
If you have a negative reaction of any type, call your doctor.
Your pain medication should be working, you should not be barfing your brains out, there should be no icky stuff oozing out of your wounds, you shouldn’t be feeling crazy or seeing dead people.
You should mostly feel like an extremely tired version of yourself with discomfort when your pain medication expires.
How bad does this thing hurt? And for how long?
Laparascopic cholecystectomies are not extremely painful.
Like it hurt to touch my incisions (in fact, my surgery was four weeks ago and my belly button is still tender) and moving in certain ways was uncomfortable, but you’re not in severe pain, particularly if you take your pain medication.
In fact, I was able to significantly cut back my pain meds by day 3 (I took one in the evening) and could go without them entirely on day 4.
But, everyone’s pain tolerance is different, so do you.
Don’t feel like you need to be a martyr—if you need your pain pills, take them. If you need to rest more, do less, ice your belly for a week, or whatever, do it.
The better care you take of yourself post-surgery, the better and more quickly your recovery will be.
How long do you have to be off from work?
You could go back to work in a few days.
But, you can’t lift anything heavier than 10-15lbs for four weeks.
And yes, that includes your kids.
You’re susceptible to a hernia if you ignore this bit of advice. You don’t want a hernia.
What about eating? Can you eat fried won-tons safely again?
Probably not immediately, in fact, you’ll be on a liquid diet if you’re barfing. If you’re not, your doctor will probably recommend you start out slow. I moved to a soft diet once the vomiting passed. That means I ate like yogurt, and smoothies, and apple sauce, and mashed potatoes for a few days.
I’m still struggling to find my diet happy place, but I know it’s nowhere near the fried won-ton aisle.
But, I heard you can’t ever eat fatty foods again because they make you sick. Is that true?
For some people, sure. Many others are just fine no matter what they eat.
So far, I am not in the “just fine no matter what” group.