I’ve had stomach pain before. I’ve had cramps, heartburn, stomach aches, food poisoning and more. Believe me when I tell you that there is no pain that compares to gallbladder pain. I woke up that night with a sharp, shooting pain in my lower right side. It felt like all my insides were twisting and pulling at the same time. It was painful all day long, like a balloon that kept expanding with no where else to go.
I knew something was wrong. I thought it was gas and feared it was my appendix about to burst. It still took me two days to get to the doctor and another before I got an official diagnosis–gallstones and an inflamed gallbladder. It had to go! Every night in between I’d wake up with the same pain in the middle of the night and suffered with it throughout the day. A week later I met with a surgeon and scheduled my removal surgery for the following week.
IMPORTANT side note: Thank God for my family. Shout out to my siblings. My brother called all the way from Texas to check in on me after surgery and throughout my recovery. My sister, a nurse, came to my surgery and stayed with me afterward. She also kept me completely informed about what to expect from the check-in all the way through my recovery, which kept me calm and ready for whatever came. Shout out to my dad who slept on the tiny chaise for almost a week–even though he was also feeling sick–so that I could sleep in their room when I couldn’t get myself in and out of bed post-surgery. And of course, shout out to my mom who not only juggled all of the cooking, chores, and her job but also carried me in and out of bed multiple times a day, kept track of my meds to keep me comfy, and tended to my every need while I recovered. I LOVE YOU ALL.
Now back to it…
I lived with the pain for about two weeks before my surgery, and then I lived with a different kind of pain during recovery. It wasn’t just when the anesthesia wore off, which was horrible by the way. I could barely walk or move for a few days after surgery. I slept only on my back for about a month because it was the only way I could dull the pain. After surgery it was the only way I could sleep without opening the incisions and stitches. And then there was the diet…
Once I found out it was my gallbladder I got put on a very strict low-fat diet. In the words of my brother-in-law, the list of things I wasn’t allowed to eat was “just food.” I couldn’t have any fats–even healthy ones. Eating fatty foods could further inflame my gallbladder and would force me to go into emergency surgery.
The good news was the diet helped manage the pain better. The bad news was that I basically lived on soup, bland skinless chicken, crackers, and Jell-O for over a month. After the surgery and during recovery, I had to slowly re-introduce regular food to my diet, so for about two weeks I continued the diet. And I practically lived on ginger ale–it settled my stomach.
So, here we are three months later. I have four scars on my stomach where my incisions used to be. I can sleep on my sides and my stomach again. I’m back in the gym three times a week doing cardio (begrudgingly) and lifting (light) weights. My diet has normalized, for the most part. I still can’t eat dairy products and I had to give up coffee. Either way, things are different now.
I’m gallbladder-less. I lost the extra reservoir for my fats to digest. I can live normally and function fine without it. But more than the physical stuff I considered this experience a wake-up call. I’ve never been super unhealthy. I just didn’t really watch what I ate. Now, I have to. I can eat fatty and fried foods, but not too many because my body lost a little part that digests fats. I can’t digest everything as well as I used to because my body is still adjusting to being gallbladder-less. So, occasionally eating becomes a guessing game: Is this going to upset me? Is this going to be fine? Let’s find out!
My doctor told me that most people have gallstones but that they’re usually not symptomatic (read: feeling the enormous pain). Once they are they need surgery. I know that there’s a reason every single doctor and nurse I met on my surgery day kept saying you’re too young to get your gallbladder removed! I know poor diet is a cause for gallstones. So now, I am more conscious about what I’m doing to live a healthier life. I do think about how what I eat will affect my body or digestion for that matter. I should have done it sooner, but it took surgery to change my ways. Bonus: at least I’m losing weight! Three months later, I’m feeling great but things are different, and things are a little more complicated. And that’s both good and bad…but at least it’s mostly good.