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What to Expect with Gallbladder Surgery

Disclaimer: I am no doctor, although my student loan balance should just about make me one. Take nothing I say as medical advice. This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.

Since about Thanksgiving I’ve had searing back and leg pain. Usually this comes once a year, I go on bed rest and it goes away. Not in 2020, helllll no, why would it?!

After trying physical therapy, 3 chiropractors, muscle relaxants, and steroids – they ordered an MRI. They found I have a pinched nerve along with degenerative disc disease already in full bloom. I’m not super shocked, my poor mom has lived with this for as long as I can remember, I should have know I would be #blessed.

Woman Having Pain

Best Advice: don’t Google right side rib pain.

While getting the MRI, they also threw in a freebie (not actually free, still waiting for the bill) – some sort of mass appearing in my Gallbladder. A few days later I was in for an ultrasound and it was confirmed I have a “big ol’ stone” that’s not coming out on it’s own.

I’d been having right side pain for the last few months as well, no one could figure out what it was and it wouldn’t go away so, I thought I was going crazy. I could, and did draw on my skin where it hurt. It was a burning pain under my right rib. I couldn’t find any connection with foods I ate, exercise, alcohol, nothing to be a factor to contribute to it going away for some days, but back the next.

What does the Gallbladder do?

It’s kind of the middle child of digestive organs. The Gallbladder is like that under the stairs closet we all have and store junk in and forget about it. Handy, does the job, but we could live without it. Literally in this case.

It’s just a storage area for bile produced by the liver before it’s passed to the small intestine to help break down fats. A gallstone can be produced over the course of years from unknown things that are in that bile. In my case the gallstone started to get a bit too big for it’s closet it was supposed to stay in.

Many people have vicious attacks of stomach pain, fullness, diarrhea even apparently losing bowel function. From stories of friends and family, most people just end up in the ER – it’s a bad enough attack and they take out the Gallbladder. That was basically my Appendix storyline.

Surgery was put out a few weeks because of the queue filling up from COVID-19, and hospitals not wanting to do surgeries unless VERY medically necessary. I met with a surgeon over video conference, we talked about what would happen and recovery time.

Surgery Prep

Surgery prep for me consisted of getting a drive-thru COVID-19 test. I aced that, thankfully. They didn’t do the typical in-person visit to hear your heart and lungs to clear you for anesthesia – trying to cut down on exposure. I was told not to eat or drink anything after 11pm the night before surgery, and not to take any medications or drink any water if possible in the morning.

The Big Day

I am the first case of the morning, I had to go solo into the surgical center. Only minors or anyone needing a guardian was allowed to have another person with them. The staff was really great about getting my parent’s contact info and informing them of what stage I was at since they would be the ones picking me up.

I change into this gorgeous hospital robe along with some sockies. They allow me to have some snazzy mesh underwear. Don’t judge me, I feel weird without underwear. They also had this amazing blanket, it’s connected to basically a blowdryer and inflates the pockets in the blanket with warm air to keep you cosy. Super smart, probably wasteful environmentally, but less laundry to do.

At that stage I was thirsty and hungry, but warm with my space blanket. Next, the anesthesiologist came in along with the surgeon to listen to my heart and lungs. The nurses also ask a ton of questions and to my surprise gave me a pregnancy test. I guess with abdominal surgery that makes sense.

They give me a few pain meds ahead of time (with blessed water!) and a Scopolamine patch for behind my ear.

Apparently the two greatest factors for if you experience extreme nausea after surgery are 1. being female and 2. having any type of abdominal surgery. So, I thank them for the patch.

Trippin’ on a gurney

They start an IV and flushed some saline. It was then time to wheel me to the surgical suite. These people knew what they were doing. They spiked my IV before leaving the room – riding down the hallway was way more trippy than anything I’ve ever felt. There might have been some giggling.

They put the gas mask over my mouth and I am out in like 2 seconds flat. I think I asked if I could keep the stone for a necklace, but that was shot down.

It felt like 2 seconds later and I was awake again in a recovery suite along with a super sweet nurse. She had the hookup to the ice machine and we became fast friends.

After chillin’ in there for about 15 minutes of consistent awake-ness, it seems to convince her I’m not going to lose my non-existent breakfast on her.

Going Home

I return to my little room to sit and am observed a bit longer. They call my parents to update them that I was awake and sassy. They give them a time to expect me to be released. Then they gave me apple juice, some pudding cups and Cheezits, – I am so happy.

They go over discharge instructions including the medications I would have, no lifting, when to take off my steri-strips and worst — NO BATHS for two whole weeks, jerks.

I have 4 incisions, one above my belly button, two on the side of my stomach and one a little lower right between my breasts. That one hurts the most as it’s the biggest and where they pulled out the actual Gallbladder.

Day Zero and One

I feel goooood. A little stiff, but on top of the world from whatever meds they gave me and the anesthesia. I take my pain meds on time and try to eat some soft food (taters). I even sit up in the car on the long drive home. The hardest part is keeping dogs off of me.

Day one: Uffdah. I feel like I got hit by a truck. 10x worse than any power ab day you’ve ever done. I sleep most of the day, taking my pain meds religiously. I sit at the counter and help chop some veggies for dinner, my appetite has definitely returned.

Day Two – Five

Gradually getting better everyday. Nothing food-wise is staying in me. The doctor said I could eat and drink whatever I wanted but I haven’t found anything that helps.

Something they don’t tell you is that reaching backwards with your arms or twisting in general will be hell. Like, it just will. Get a mini bidet, (my brother suggests this one) you’ll thank me later.

Getting up from bed or adjusting your pillow will about send you to the moon in pain. I mean, they just went through your abdomen muscles and fat in a few places with knives and scopes – it’s gonna bleepin’ hurt.

They also tell you not to lift anything over 5-10 lbs. Don’t do it. Don’t be brave or stupid. It will just make you feel miserable and achey.

On day three, four and five, I’m getting stir crazy. My pain meds are gone. I don’t really….relax and do nothing well. Coworkers lovingly yell at me for checking Slack. I should be more stealthy.

Day Six and Seven

I twisted and stretched (like a normal human reaction) while waking up in the morning and about died. I had to lay flat on my back and breathe for a few minutes to get through the pain.

Pro tip: Having a Great Dane laying on your bed also helps with getting up. She’s on the bed sheets and I use them as a pull-up aid so I don’t have to engage my core muscles.

Day Seven: I might have ice-burned my skin. I’ve been using an icepack at night, it feels good on the incisions but this morning I woke up with a bright red patch over where my gallbladder kind of was. I’ll keep an eye on that.

Overall…

It was a positive experience. I’m thankful I could get in so fast with COVID restrictions. I know my case was not as severe as it can get for some people.

My top advice is to have some easy to eat meals ready to warm up, have lots of pillows in bed so you are propped up or can use them to get up. Maybe Amazon that travel bidet, and have something you can do to keep you busy – like tv, not saying the bidet should keep you busy. I didn’t have enough shows in queue to watch, or even enough yarn to keep me busy.

Recovery time is a luxury, and it is boring, but I’m so thankful I had it.

I’m super lucky to have recovered at my parent’s house, with my pup and them helping me to take care of her. I got to reconnect a bit more with them, any time with family makes you lucky. I was also very lucky to have a great work family who can handle all the things so I didn’t have to worry.

If you’re having your gallbladder out, good luck and don’t engage your core muscles.

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Nicole J

Monday 6th of July 2020

I had my gallbladder out in January of 2016, and holy. I was in the hospital for a few days and they ended up having to do an endoscopy to break up some sludge or something like that. I was on a morphine drip and it was my friend. After that it was a good 6 weeks until I could do normal-ish things again.

Thankfully I haven't had too many ill effects from not having that little bugger, but once in a while. . . . . . . . . . . watch out.

Glad you are on the other side of that particular issue! <3

trista

Friday 10th of July 2020

@Nicole J, Holy, that sounds like the gallbladder surgery from hell! I'm so sorry you went through that. Mine seems so tame :)