Last Monday I was scared. I was in horrible pain and lying in a very uncomfortable hospital bed when my doctor told me that I would have to undergo a laparoscopic cholecystectomy first thing in the morning. Aside from having my wisdom teeth removed (which, admittedly sucked and I do not mention lightly), I have never had a “real” surgery. Full anesthesia and having someone (especially a robot someone) remove an organ is scary enough, not to mention all of the conflicting articles and anecdotes you find online when you’re googling your upcoming surgery at 1 o’clock in the morning.
Now that it has been about a week and a half, I wanted to write about my own personal experience to add my own voice to that online conversation. Everyone’s body is different, so of course everyone’s surgery and recovery will be a bit different, but I wanted to let you in on what this process looked like and continues to look like for me.
The Lead Up
My stomach and I have never gotten along. Since I was a kid, my stomach has been extremely sensitive. I’ve tried going gluten-free, cutting out processed food, probiotics and prebiotics, exercise, you-name-it. I’ve seen numerous doctors and specialists, but no matter what I do, my stomach is rarely happy. So when I started experiencing severe pain intermittently throughout the day in early September, I thought of my body as the boy who cried wolf. I waited to visit my GP until I had been in extreme discomfort for two weeks, at which point I was told by my doctor that it was likely just heartburn and to take an antacid.
This is when I should have dug in my heels. I know my body, and after having undiagnosed Lyme Disease for years (despite multiple visits to doctors and specialists) I know that you have to advocate for yourself in the doctor’s office. Sometimes doctors just get it wrong, so you cannot be afraid to speak up when you don’t feel like they have it right. But that day, after a lifetime of stomach non-issues, I let it go.
Two weeks later I was back in her office in even worse pain, demanding tests and another opinion. In those weeks I had become afraid of food, since I ended up doubled over in pain just after eating no matter what I ate. I had stopped going to movies, seeing friends, or doing anything other than curling up in a ball in bed after work. My quality of life was rapidly degrading. Unfortunately, none of the tests that she ran came back with an answer, so I decided to give up and make an appointment with my Gastroenterologist for mid-October (the soonest they could see me). I did not make it to that appointment.
Monday of last week I was sitting in a meeting in Midtown Manhattan when I felt the most horrible pain, as if someone was twisting a knife into my abdomen. I called an Uber (I’m not calling an ambulance unless I’ve lost a limb, I’m not a billionaire) and went directly to the ER. After a day of tests, I had my answer. I had biliary dyskinesia and my gallbladder would have to be removed. Luckily, they were able to perform the surgery laparoscopically, meaning that basically robots would take out my gallbladder and my recovery would be much shorter than it would have been otherwise.
Waking up from surgery, I remember thinking that I was wearing a pair of pants that were way too tight around my stomach. It was the strangest thing, but that was the only real pain I experienced waking up. I had just four small incisions, one located in my belly button. These hurt intermittently, but the worst pain came later, when I would try to move and discovered a side effect that I had not been prepared for.
None of the articles or anecdotes that I found online had mentioned the posibility of extreme pain resulting from trapped Co2 in the body after laproscopic surgery. During a procedure like this, your abdomen is inflated with Co2 gas, in order to give the surgeon a better perspective and area to work during the operation. Normally, this gas is quickly absorbed into the fat of the body, resulting in, at most, some slight pain in the chest and shoulders (as the gas pushes against the diaphragm) shortly after surgery. However, for some lucky contestants, this gas is not quickly absorbed into the body. This is largely dependent upon the body fat of the patient and their mobility shortly after the procedure. The pain associated with this side effect is severe. I have never felt anything like it, and only experienced relief 4 days after my operation. If you have a reaction like mine, the most important thing you can do is move around. Walking is the only way to break up the trapped Co2, so as much as it hurts, you just have to get up and move.
After a cholecystectomy, the most conflicting advice I had received was what to expect recovery-wise, especially in regard to food. Some websites and loved ones who had undergone the procedure were able to return to normal activities and eating almost immediately afterwards. Other sites and friends advocated 2 weeks of bed-rest and claimed that without a gallbladder, I could never eat fats or consume caffeine ever again. I decided to take the middle of the road and basically just listen to my body. I have been slowly reintroducing foods and light activity, though I have been entirely confined to the house since my surgery (yes, I am going absolutely stir crazy.)
So here’s where I am now. I’ve been living off of mostly chicken noodle soup, green Jell-O (the superior Jell-O flavor), tea, and oyster crackers while watching Charmed. I’ve been dipping my toe into other food groups, like dry cereal and plain oatmeal, and that has gone pretty well so far.
Andy, my parents, and the dogs have done a wonderful job taking care of me, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.
I miss the city, the gym, and my normal life overall, but I am going entirely against my nature and trying to take it slow. I look forward to sharing how my recovery has gone and what this means for my fitness and diet over the next few months.