Last Wednesday I had my gallbladder operation: they removed my gallbladder with keyhole surgery or laparoscopic cholecystectomy, as my notes said.
My gallbladder had given me years of pain, flaring up at the most inappropriate times. I got used to it and learnt to manage it, but it had to go: You see, 15 years ago I nearly lost my father due to undiagnosed gallstones. He had a sudden attack, a stone blocked the bile duct and bile started to ingest his pancreas, leading to near-fatal pancreatitis. It was only due to the luck of circumstances that he is alive. He subsequently developed diabetes because a large portion of his pancreas (which produces insulin) was removed.
I wasn’t going to risk any of this!
When my initial sand turned to well- formed stones on the ultrasound I asked for my gallbladder to be removed. From consultations to operation it took about 6 months.
It was going to be keyhole surgery under general anesthesia, unless there were complications, in which case they’d cut me open. All the risks were well explained, my consent was sought multiple times.
It was to be a day surgery, meaning if all went well I was out that evening, as long as I had a responsible adult giving me a lift home and staying with me for the following 24 hours.
There went my plan to cycle to the hospital and cycle home after the surgery!
… Oh how naïve I was!
The day before the operation
On the day before the operation I had to use some nasal cream three times and take an extra thorough shower washing myself with surgical wash provided by the hospital. Both stuff was vial, but helps prevent the spread of MRSA (a very resistant bacterium that causes a lot of problems in the health service).
I had to call in to find out whether I was on the morning or afternoon rota. The admissions nurse called me before I got around to calling:
I was to report in by 7 am the following morning.
Nill by mouth from midnight, except maybe a glass of water 2 hours before in the morning.
I’d had a busy day in London. Arriving home I had dinner and then a later snack at 10pm.
All evening I forgot to drink.
This was a mistake!
Nervous, I only fell asleep quite late. During the evening I was grateful for the reassurance from friends, who’ve had the procedure. This helped me actually get some sleep.
The day of the gallbladder surgery
I woke up to my alarm at 6 am, after a disturbed night of strange dreams.
I showered, scrubbed well with the surgical wash, washed my hair with it, as instructed. Resisted any hair conditioner, face cream or deodorant. I was literally squeaky clean…and felt naked.
On the advice of my friend Ruth, I wore a tight cami instead of a bra and pants with a soft stretchy waist.
I packed a dressing gown for the hospital and wore flip flops into hospital already. In my bag was my phone, a charger and some magazines.
Dad dropped me off at the entrance and then dashed home to get kids out of bed and ready for school.
I headed to the day surgery unit where I sat nervously with others. I didn’t have to wait long before a nurse came to fetch me and take me to my cubicle with comfy arm chair.
There was free WiFi (a special thank you to the NHS for this!) so I spent the time between final checks by the nurse, the anesthesiologist and the surgeons on social media and catching up with the Great British Bake Off.
I was talked through the procedure again, made sure I understood what was to come, what they expected. They double-checked my medical and family medical history. I was second in row on the day, which meant I was to be taken up at about 10am.
The hospital staff gave me a gown to put on and some sexy knee-high compression socks. I could leave my knickers on. The gown was open from the back and had a convoluted tie-up system. I managed to tie it somehow and then put my bathrobe over.
At just after 10, when the Great British bake off was at it’s most exciting part, the nurse came around to walk me over to the operating theaters. Bathrobe off, flip-flops off and into a bag with my name on it; I lay down on the bed, after loosening the ties of the gown.
It was chilly in the room and they gave me a blanket. The anesthesiologist, such a lovely, cheerful lady, started looking for veins. I normally have really good ones. None were appearing!
Alas, my mistake of not drinking the night before, nor taking my allowed drink that morning and the nervous runs to the toilet earlier meant I was rather dehydrated. Combine that with the natural fear and the chilly room and finding vein for a line took some time, lots of hand slapping, pumping and then finally a rather painful prick.
If you are reading this before your operation: Drink loads of water the day before!
As soon as the line was in I got two shots of something. That already made me slow and fuzzy. Only a couple of whiffs of the gas and I was out. This was at about 10:30am.
I think I first came to at about 1:30, but quickly dropped back to sleep. I was extremely nauseous. Nurses and doctors spoke to me, I don’t actually remember what they said though I felt conscious and awake at the time. I was given a couple of iv injections of anti sickness meds.
I felt short of breath, eventhough I was on oxygen.
It was another hour and half till I was ready to be taken back to the day surgery unit. By this time the lady in the cubicle next to me, who had the same op just an hour before me was ready to leave. …just goes to show how different we all react to interventions.
On the recovery ward I was offered a tea or coffee. I belched at the thought and asked for some warmed up juice. I craved something warm and sweet. My throat hurt where I’d been intubated (something to do with the surgeons being to so breathing so they can cut away the gallbladder while the diaphragm isn’t moving up and down- or something I vaguely recall being told before the surgery). The nurse found me some pineapple juice and warmed it up. It was lovely!
It took me till near 4 pm to get out of bed. I was too wobbly to make it the short distance to the toilet, so a commode was called for. All I can say: No wonder my bladder was bursting! 🙂
An hour and a half, one more commode and a shuffle to the toilet later, maxed on paracetamol and codeine, still drowsy and not feeling totally with it I asked to go home. I changed slowly, asked for a sandwich and scoffed it down.
Now that last bit was a mistake!
The wholemeal meal bread with turkey filling felt like a lump that was ready to wrench my innards open. I rolled around in agony, asked for more pain meds. A junior doctor saw me and said it was normal, just my stomach and innards reacting from the surgery. I was maxed out on the two types painkillers I could take, without eliciting an allergic reaction. All I could do is grit my teeth and bare it.
In the meantime, my discharge notes were filled in and Dad arrived.
As I was ready to leave I was offered a heparin injection ( this stops blood clots and hence embolism). At first I rejected it, knowing my period was due next day and this would make the heavy, extremely heavy. Then I remembered that my grandmother had died of embolism, so weighed up the immediate risk versus the consequences in a day or so and had the injection.
A kind nurse walked me to the entrance and I shuffled into the car under the protection of the entrance with driving rain spatter around. The five minute car journey home felt an eternity and I had the window slightly ajar despite the rain, cursing myself for not asking for a sick pan. I was holding my tummy at each bump and brake, the middle hole by my bellybutton.
I was home just as the kids were ready for bed. I gave them cuddles and decided to sleep on the sofa in the living room. I felt drowsy and totally not with it; I was still short of breath and had visions of having to call a doctor in the night and getting down two flights of stairs from our attic bedroom.
No dinner for me, but I made sure I drank a pint of water.
My husband tried to call and talk to me, but I wasn’t with it, my brain was just misfiring; after I feel asleep quickly. My night was disturbed. I woke several times, each time to the painkillers wearing off and being thirsty.
The days after the operation
In the morning, I was thirsty, but not hungry. I had some dried prunes and made a large jug of rooibos tea with milk and plenty of sugar. Through the morning I gradually drank this. Throughout the day I drifted in and out of sleep and kept taking the pain meds.
A late lunch of chicken soup and then the same for dinner, snacking on prunes in between, that was my day.
On day 2 , I felt a rather large lump just above the incision made at my belly button. I visited the GP and though he didn’t think it was infected he prescribed antibiotics. I’ve ended up not taking the antibiotics as there really seems to be no evidence of an infection. The lump – like little tennis ball- persists to be there above the wound and is probably the most painful if anything.
As I write this, I’m now on day 5 post op. Over the past few days I have gradually reduced the amount of medicines I’m taking. The first one I dropped was the codeine, as besides making me feel queasy it’s known side effect is constipation.
My mission for day 3 and 4 was to try to open my bowels. The prunes, eating lots of fibre and drinking lots of water wasn’t enough. We ended up picking up some lactulose from the pharmacy. It finally worked.
Personally, I have really been knocked back by the surgery. I feel, it is as much to do with the general anesthesia as the removal of my gallbladder.
Taking painkillers makes me feel weak and queasy.
I can only eat small portions, which is in line with recommendations.
The scars are healing nicely externally. I currently have a bright yellow circle of c 10cm diameter around my belly button. The belly button scar is the only one that is tender and causes any sort of pain. Having a flabby tummy that housed 3 huge babies is a definite disadvantage for recovery. Gravity hurts, after I’ve been up longer than half an hour.
When I was discharged, the nurse said to expect a 10-14 day recovery and to return to work in 3 weeks’ time. I was not to make any important decisions, sign any important papers for 24 hours nor drive for at least a week. Even with how rough I was feeling at time, I didn’t take her seriously.
… I do now!
To quote my friend:
It might be keyhole surgery, but you have had an organ removed! Take it easy!
As the external scares heal beautifully, I have resigned to the fact that my body really needs to adjust and heal. It needs time with lots of rest, however frustrating that is.
I’m grateful to have my parents staying with us and helping with the children. There is no way I could do it myself!
Remember, these are my personal experiences and we all react so differently. I’ve shared my journey to help those awaiting surgery formulate an idea of what’s ahead. A gallbladder removal may be one of the most common surgeries, it might be done through little holes, but it is a major intervention. Plan time to recover.
Have you had your gallbladder removed?
I’d love to hear your story and any tips and hints to help recovery.
Update- 3 years post operation
In 2015, it took a good 3 weeks to get back to a sort of normal after my operation. once the scars had healed externally, I was still feeling sluggish for a couple of weeks.
Feeling sluggish and slightly off natural, afterall, there is a big interference with your digestive system, the biggest organ in the body, producing the most hormones.
Slowly my stools and my digestion returned to normal. I can now eat as i did pre-operation, but without the fear of a gallstone getting stuck anytime I have something greasy to eat. Digesting fatty food is a bit slower and tends to be a gassy affair. All in all though, my digestion is ok.
However, a couple of weeks ago I had an abdominal scan and to everyone’s shock and horror the scan showed up a 2- 2.5 cm length of catheter that had been left inside me after my gallbladder operation.
With hindsight, this foreign body may have slowed my recovery and maybe even doubled the recovery time.
After the time elapsed, the catheter piece has been nicely packed by my body and will likely stay with me till the end of my days and beyond.