Saturday, February 13, 2010

I've got some gall!

I remember waking up, not falling asleep, but as soon as I heard the doctor say, "give her as much morphine as she wants" it all came back to me.  The way I was feeling, I expected to see House standing over me trying to pry an 8 inch needle from Cameron who was trying to prevent him from sticking it through my heart saying, "if she lives I'm right, if she dies you're right."  I'd been getting attacks for almost two years now, but never knew why.  Lesson #1: when someone says they want to take you to the hospital, you should let them.  The first time I felt the pain I thought I was having a heart attack.  I was doubled over for about an hour before Wayne came to drive me to the hospital, but on the way there the pain miraculously disappeared.  No pain, no hospital.  The second time was right before a staff meeting, my only daytime attack.   I got stuck in the nurse's room trying to wait out my "acid reflux".  Again, the pain left in almost an instant after about 30 minutes of breathless contractions.  The attacks happened every few months since then and lasted around 30 minutes to about 4 hours.  I blamed them on everything from heartburn to anxiety, but early Friday morning we finally found out who the real culprit was.
I woke up at midnight with moderate pain around my chest and back.  Wayne and I drove to the store to get some antacids, but they didn't work at all.  In two hours the pain became what's the word, excruciating!  I was doubled over, sweaty, cursing and once the tears started rolling down my cheeks that was indication this was bad.  We were in the car on the way to the ER, no excuses.  One ultrasound later and I had an IV in my arm with morphine on its way to my brain, diagnosis gall stones.  Two more doses of morphine and a shot of something I can't pronounce and I was in and out of lala land.  This is the prettiest picture of a gallbladder I could find, google it if you don't believe me.  It is now my enemy and after some medical consultation it shall be eradicated.  Gall, kidney and sometimes liver stone attacks have been likened to child birthing pains.  The sucker hurt like a motherflower, but after having gone through about ten attacks in the last couple of years and four natural childbirths, I can tell you that I'd rather have a gallstone attack than go through labor again any day. That's not to say I don't tremble with fear thinking of the next time I get one.  There's a reason why you can have as much morphine as you want.  For those of you who are curious, I've prepared a very short FAQ on gallstones.  You know, just in case you're foolish like me and rely on your limited medical knowledge to self-diagnose instead of getting real medical help.  
Who gets gallstones? Women are more prone, but it can also run in your family.  A high salt diet helps create the stones, a high fat diet helps cause an attack.  Being overweight or going through rapid weight loss can trigger an attack.  There are many other factors such as ethnicity and pregnancy.  I haven't quite figured out mine yet, but I've pretty much figured out I won't be enjoying mangoes and salt this season.  Sigh.
What does an attack feel like?  Everything I've read tells you it feels like intense pain in your right side, near your ribs and your back side under your right shoulder blade.  In my own vast experience I can tell you the sensation rates anywhere from extreme heartburn (like once I actually said outloud "why the hell does acid reflux hurt so freaking badly??) to feeling like you're getting shot by a semi-automatic in your chest.  My most recent attack lasted four hours and by the second hour I was begging for the pain to knock me out.  That's about the time when Wayne put me in the car. 

 What the heck is a gallbladder anyway? Your gallbladder sits right below your liver.  Your liver makes bile and then stores it in your gallbladder.  Bile helps your body digest fat.  Stones form from bile in your gallbladder too, when they contain too much cholesterol and other yucky stuff.  When you eat something high in fat, your gallbladder goes to work sending the bile to do it's job. My gallbladder has enough stones to make a friendship bracelet.   If there are stones in your gallbladder, they block the bile from going to work and get stuck in the bile duct, thus creating a sensation akin to getting stabbed with a kitchen knife over and over again except you don't die, you just keep getting stabbed.  Fun stuff.
How does one get rid of gallstones? These are not like kidney stones, you don't just wait for them to pass.  They stick around and make your life hell.  There are some non-invasive treatments like dissolution and shock wave therapy to get the stones to dissolve, but usually if you're having frequent painful attacks you need to get your whole gallbladder removed.  That means surgery.  Who needs a gallbladder anyway? Surprisingly, your body can do without one, but there have been cases of people experiencing attacks even after a cholecystectomy.  Those people are just glutton for punishment. 
In the meantime and after surgery, what? Well, that's pretty easy.  Unless you want to relive another episode of that dream where you're walking through a minefield with your guts hanging out your side screaming, "help me, help me!" you need to make a total lifestyle change.  Eliminate the enemy: salt, fat, high cholesterol foods.  Not a lot of vegetarians get gallstones, but you don't have to go that far.  Eat whole foods and for me this means no more carb free diet.  Exercise and eating right will pretty much cure anything and this is no exception.  
Well, thanks for joining me through this journey through my digestive system.  I hadn''t been to CHC in several years.  As a matter of fact, I was just telling someone how I never want to go there forever, but I have to hand it to the nurses and doctor on call that morning because they were awesome.  They were so gentle and kind that I was ashamed to curse out loud even though I was hanging on to Wayne for dear life.  I usually get the roll of the eyes when checking in at the ER, but I guess the I'm gonna pass out any minute now look did the trick.  Despite the fact that it was coooold and they had to play hide and seek with my vein for the IV, everyone had good bedside manners and hey, what can I say, I had as much morphine as I wanted.  "Nurse! Another round for this table please!"


Anonymous said...

oh boni, sorry to hear about this! can't imagine how the attacks feel like.. :(

Irene said...

Oh Boni, I've been there with your pain and now am on my surgery schedule to have it take it out.

Every word you've said, its all true. It took me during Holiday session in the hospital for the sake of the pain and not spending every moment with my husband and my kidos with the special occasion and their vacation to celebrate, instead they had it all alone with me in the hospital.Until then, my surgeon decided to give me time to think about it, but then, going through ER in and out every week and taking off half day from work cause of the pain got me realize that am just waisting my time and hurting my family for not being able to be a mother and a wife whenever they need me.

Boni, you and I have related situation, so now am on my way for a surgical on March to finally have it take it out.

Thank you for sharing this....but to let you guys know, that every moment of the pain you had is like hurting your family.