As a 20 year old woman with a healthy body weight and balanced diet, even the radiographer was surprised when, during an ultrasound scan at the local hospital, my gall bladder took on the appearance of the asteroid field scene in Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. I had been suffering periods intense pain just below my diaphragm for about a week, making it difficult to breathe, and blood tests revealed that one of my liver enzymes was almost ten times the concentration it should have been. Anyone with medical knowledge will now be shouting at the screen “gall stones”, and they are not incorrect. My gall bladder was crammed full of the blighters, and was so inflamed, that they were worried it would burst.
24 hours after the ultrasound scan, which I suppose I ought to be grateful found gall stones and not a baby, I was being prepared for emergency surgery. The surgeon visited me on the ward shortly before my operation, and she perched on the bed to explain what was wrong with me, and what the procedure was. As a nutritionist, with a lecturer who specialised in liver disease which encompasses gall bladder disease, I was well aware that the gall bladder “was a bag of bile that helped digest lipids”, and what exactly was entailed in an emergency laparoscopic cholestectomy (emergency key-hole gall bladder removal), and took great delight in informing the surgeon as much. Fortunately, she saw the funny side of this, as I only realised after I had said this that it probably wasn’t sensible to annoy someone who would shortly be digging around inside my abdomen while I was unconscious.
I was wheeled down to theatre on a rickety trolley, and was surprised at how calm I was feeling considering that this was the first time I had ever had surgery. In the preparation room, the surgeon asked me how I was feeling, and in response I did perhaps the most British thing anyone has ever done, and said;
“I’m good,” while giving a thumbs up.
I woke up just under two hours later very dazed and confused, particularly because the cannula had moved from my right elbow to my left hand. I was also rather disconcerted to find that I was still in theatre; thankfully the operation had been completed, and they were simply injecting the last lot of morphine prior to transferring me to the recovery room, but it scared me nonetheless. The morphine must have knocked me out again, because I woke up about an hour after this in recovery, and after a few minutes a porter came to return me to the ward.
A few hours after coming out of surgery, I realised that I needed to pee. There was, however, one small issue. Trying to get to a toilet while attached to a drip and oxygen tube, with a drain hanging out of my right side, and still feeling woozy from the anaesthetic, is like trying to ride a bicycle backwards up Mount Everest in a blizzard. I resorted to the use of a commode, which was made far more awkward by the presence of my parents who sat outside the cubicle. Perhaps most embarrassingly of all, I had to get Jarred, who was also visiting me, to pull my kickers down for me, as I was so tangled and confused that it was simply impossible on my own. Fortunately, the effects of the anaesthetic seemed to wear off overnight while I slept, and by the morning I was feeling significantly better.
I was discharged later that afternoon, with some strong pain killers and anti-sickness tablets to help me cope with the after-effects of someone repeatedly prodding me with metal sticks. I was only sad that I wasn’t allowed to keep my gall stones, which I still hold would have made a very interesting artefact to display on my shelf of interesting things. However, my galling experience was far from over…