Tag Archives: cholecystitis

Sacrificing an Organ ….

21 Mar

I’m convinced, due to my own experience, that we don’t really appreciate food. We probably really enjoy a special meal when we’re out for an evening but even then I don’t think we REALLY appreciate food.

Food – the flavor, the satisfaction of the taste on our tongues, the different textures PLUS the time for social interaction with good friends around a wonderful meal are so important to our emotional well-being … just as sitting down to a rather normal evening meal after a difficult day at work is. When those things suddenly are missing in our lives we are impacted in a variety of ways; not the least of which is a tremendous sense of loss.

I’d been having digestive issues perhaps 1 to 3 times a year since way back in 2009 when I was having chemotherapy for breast cancer. At the time of the first several attacks I simply associated them with the chemo. When they continued the years following the end of that treatment, they were infrequent enough not to cause unusual concern.

For anywhere from 1 to 3 days I was incapacitated several times a year with nausea, vomiting & the associated inconveniences. I could never pinpoint an association to a specific food. When a couple of attacks interfered with something very special I had planned, I finally saw a gastroenterologist.

Diagnosed with acid reflux, I was subjected to all the “purple pills” in the available arsenal of medicines that were known to treat that illness. And I had a gastroscopy that revealed an esophageal condition called eosinophilic esophagitis; an esophageal reaction to an allergen, most likely food. Since I had no symptoms (swallowing difficulties), I wasn’t treated for that. But my attacks of nausea, vomiting & that other stuff persisted, still on a 1 to 3 attacks per year basis. In between attacks I ate what I wanted. It was weird.

Suddenly the last of November in 2016 everything changed. The attack episodes kicked up a notch & I began having an attack every-other-week through December. Now, December is a very important month to me as it probably is to most of us. The food is pretty spectacular at Christmas & throughout the holidays & my birthday is December 31. Not only did I miss most of that because I was AFRAID to eat after a while, I missed the entire winter season while trying to find a reason for the attacks & began a medical odyssey the likes of which I could never have imagined.

Because I woke up first thing in the morning with the attacks, I became afraid to go to sleep.  The GI guy had me sleeping almost sitting straight up because of the acid reflux thing & one of my medicines gives me insomnia. A good night’s sleep became an impossibility.  And I was afraid to eat anything that wasn’t on my increasingly brief list of tolerated foods. I was a psychological mess in addition to all the physical problems.

Our lives changed drastically.

Through January & February I had every kind of “scope” known to man & the medical community. If I had an unfilled orifice someone found a way to stick a scope in it. Everything was negative except for the eosinophilic esophagitis that was asymptomatic. It was frustrating.

I put myself on a very bland diet. Afraid to eat anything other than bland … meaning “good,” … I started losing weight. I figured a little weight loss was a good thing but by the time I made some definite decisions about what to do about the attacks,  I had lost 15 pounds, most of which I didn’t need to lose. My list of tolerable foods was short, my dessert was Jell-O only & my snacks consisted of oyster & Animal Crackers. All crackers & Jell-O & no real enjoyable snack foods made me a very dull girl. I was use to cookies.

To make a long story a little less long, nurse that I am, I started thinking my symptoms sounded a lot like gallbladder attacks so I asked my GI guy to please do a gallbladder ultrasound. He agreed & ordered it but said he didn’t think that was the problem. The results came back “abnormal.” While I didn’t have gallstones, I DID have “sludge.”

It became evident that if you don’t have gallstones the size of Cleveland, very few medical professionals take you seriously. BUT … I was an OR nurse for more than half my life & I KNOW “sludge” can make you very ill. So I pursued it.

Throughout January & February I saw no less than 5 doctors & had enough bloodwork to justify a zipper in a vein if there were such a thing. 3 agreed with me & believed my “sludgy” gallbladder was causing my suddenly very frequent & unpleasant attacks. One said he didn’t think it could possibly be the cause & the 5th. doctor became a fence sitter.

After being an OR nurse for so many years, the last thing I wanted to consider was surgery so I did everything within my power & what medical expertise I possessed to avoid a cholecystectomy (surgical gallbladder removal). The last physician I saw before making my decision was an allergist about the esophageal thing. He tested me for 70 food allergies, all of which were negative & said he believed my problem was digestive & not esophageal or due to an allergen.

So I made the decision to have the gallbladder surgery. Suddenly sacrificing an organ became a small thing in the grand scheme of getting my life back & enjoying food again.

Cascading events …………..

As so often happens, especially if you happen to be a nurse, I ran into a set of cascading events. As I was beginning to lose significant amounts of hair, was very cold & tired – most of which I attributed to the GI attacks, my medical doctor discovered my thyroid levels were extremely low & she began treating me for that; promising I would feel better soon. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

For months I had had my annual mammogram scheduled & that came just 3 days before my posted gallbladder surgery. Because of my previous breast cancer, the annual mammogram always fills me with anxiety … anxiety I didn’t need while preparing for surgery & dealing with significantly lower thyroid levels but I’m a tough old girl & made it through … stressed to the max but very glad the mammogram, at least, was negative.

The Dominoes continued to fall. Once those darned things get started, you just can’t stop them & I still had some unpleasant cascading events ahead. I could not have imagined ….

Surgery, thankfully, went without problems. When I was dressing to leave the hospital I realized I had a terrible sore throat so I asked the nurse to take a look. With flashlight in hand, she reported that my uvula (that little hang-down thing in the back of our throats) was red & very swollen. The injury was due to intubation prior to surgery. She spoke to the anesthesiologist about it & they sent me home sucking ice chips. The post-op discharge pain medicine seemed to decrease the throat pain as well.

Saturday morning, back home, after breakfast I noticed something in the back of my very sore throat … coughed it up & found out it was the tip of my uvula, so traumatized that it simply sloughed off. This would ONLY happen to a nurse … sigh.

I just realized there’s no way I can make this a short story so my apologies to those struggling along with me.

Day 2 post op …

After lunch, which was difficult because of the uvula discomfort, I attempted to “keep things moving” & did quite a lot of straining. This resulted in a colon bleed of fairly significant proportions. My doctor sent me to the ER on Sunday evening. After being examined & seeing 2 doctors I was admitted to the hospital.

It occurred to me that I am older … not as resilient … & that I didn’t really want to die. I had the gallbladder surgery in an honest attempt to be able to do nothing more than eat again. Mortality due to a colon bleed seemed anticlimactic, yet absolutely possible & my stress level went up to “arc weld.”

I was hospitalized for almost 3 full days, none of which I was fed anything but IVs because the looming possibility of surgery was always right there with me. I saw 4 doctors (one was my original surgeon, thankfully), 2 nurse practitioners who were wonderful & one surgeon “on call” who suggested I might have to have my colon removed as a last resort. I told the nurse in no uncertain terms that he would not TOUCH me.

I had blood work no less than 2 times a day & a full assortment of x-rays. If I don’t glow in the dark it’s a miracle.

My original surgeon … the voice of reason in that cataclysmic void … assured me that even though no one could find the source of the bleeding, it would resolve itself. I was counting on him knowing exactly what he was talking about. Around mid-day on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened & I was discharged from the hospital … given a clear liquid diet & 5 more pounds lighter.

So now I’ve been home a week & the gallbladder surgery was 11 days ago. My husband took a week of vacation to stay home with me but he is back at work now. This week has not been without its difficulties but I believe we may have finally turned the corner sometime on Sunday night.

I’m better …

I’m still taking special care about my diet, mainly because of the colon bleed & not wanting to eat something that would kick off an episode of nausea & vomiting. Heaving is not on my dance card until my gallbladder has healed a bit longer.

Was it all worth sacrificing an organ? Yes … if everything works eventually & I can eat like a normal person again, it was.

As I’m slowly introducing different foods into my diet, I’m looking forward to the day when I can eat a full meal filled with diversity & shared with friends.  Someone gave me a case of Cadbury Crème Eggs, which is the light at the end of my tunnel & my goal for full recovery.

Gallbladder surgery is a simple thing these days. They use a scope through buttonhole incisions & most people are back at work in just a matter of days. But I DO caution you no matter what you’re undertaking medically or surgically if you happen to be a nurse. Dominoes & cascading events follow us around like flies on a pile of very ugly stuff. Do your research & make sure whatever course you’ve decided to follow, you are prepared for events that seldom happen to “normal” people. We usually survive because being a nurse has made us not only tough, but REALLY tough. Just be prepared … this can happen to you.

20 pounds slimmer as of Sunday, today I’ve finally gained a pound. My butt is gone & I miss those curves in my jeans & in the mirror. 6 months ago I couldn’t have imagined hoping to gain weight. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it’s all relative.