Not all stones are worth keeping. Especially if they’re gallstones.
When you hear the word “gallstone,” you probably think it is a problem only senior citizens deal with. But gallstones can afflict anyone regardless of age. And no matter who you are, a gallstone attack is painful.
When I was 23 years old, I began waking up with sharp pain behind my shoulder blades. I blamed it on indigestion, took some Tums, hunkered down on the couch, and tried to get back to sleep. And it worked for quite some time.
In 2007, I started having lower-right abdominal pain and nausea serious enough that my husband and I thought it was appendicitis. My mother had her appendix out in her 20s so I wasted no time getting in to see the doctor. The doctor ordered a computed tomography, or CT, scan; after waiting anxiously, the results showed I had a sizeable gallstone. The prescription: go on a low-fat, high-fiber diet and work on losing some weight. The doctors felt that the stone wasn’t large enough to be concerned with surgery.
Relieved, I set about adjusting my diet and exercising. For two years I managed the problem successfully, with an occasional attack. But in February 2009, I began experiencing chronic abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea. I was busy and put off seeing the doctor until the symptoms were so chronic that I was miserable. When I ate, my belly bloated and I looked pregnant, and my side hurt. The location of my pain was lower than most typical gallbladder pain. To be safe, my nurse practitioner ordered an ultrasound.
The ultrasound showed one large gallstone in the gallbladder, but I was told no surgery would be scheduled. But, I thought, if this stone were causing all these problems, shouldn’t it be taken out? I wasn’t ecstatic about the prospect of surgery, but was unhappy with constant nausea, bloating, heartburn, and pain. Weeks later, a referral to a surgeon came in the mail. I was relieved.
In April 2009, I saw Dr. Kimberly Leiber, a surgeon who had done many gallbladder surgeries. After reviewing my record and consulting with me, I found out I was a candidate for laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. The potential side effects were minimal compared with the complications resulting from not removing my gallbladder: continued pain, nausea, and bloating, and potentially jaundice, infection, and serious pain. The side effects from surgery could include pain, diarrhea, and damage to the common bile duct. Together, we decided surgery would be appropriate and set the date for May 18, 2009.
I arrived at the hospital early in the morning with an empty stomach. They took a blood sample prior to admitting me to check my liver enzymes, and then I changed into hospital garb and settled into my gurney. An hour later, I was escorted into the operating room and the anesthesiologist sent me off to twilight. My surgery started (I’m told) at 12:30 p.m.; I was back in recovery by 1:30 p.m., awake by 2 p.m., and home by 4:30 p.m.
Dr. Leiber told my family that I had come through surgery well. They removed the gallbladder and its stone with no complications, and even moved my colon back in place saving me a surgery down the line. From the surgery I have four small scars which have healed and are barely visible. It took about a week before I was able to easily get around without pain.
Since my surgery, I have been pain free. Some foods trigger a quick visit to the bathroom (good-bye McDonald’s and really fatty foods). I enjoy eating again. I enjoy living pain-free. I enjoy my life again. I do not regret having the surgery. It’s given me my life back.