How a pear-shaped organ in my body ruined my entire week

My gall bladder – a pear-shaped organ underneath your liver, apparently – isn’t an organ in my body that I’ve thought much about over my 45+ years on planet Earth.

At least not until two weeks ago when I got a searing pain just underneath the right side of my ribs. I thought I was dying (looking back it seems melodramatic but at the time I really did think I was dying).

The pain started as a dull ache at first but soon radiated across my entire rib cage. If you can imagine someone wrapping a belt around your chest – then putting a foot on your rib cage and cinching it tight. That’s what it felt like. A constant pain that makes you think, initially, you’re having a heart attack. I actually thought I was having a heart attack at first but an ECG showed otherwise: My heart rate was sitting at 54bpm at rest, so it wasn’t my ticker.

After pacing the house from 3am to 7am, I convinced my wife to take me to an after hours doctor and he diagnosed gall stones fairly early on. An ultrasound that day confirmed what he had suspected: Gall stones.

The gall bladder. An organ in my body that I had taken for granted – until last week.

The gall bladder filters fat using bile produced from your liver and many people have gall stones and they don’t cause them any issues, but for me, it appears those ducts in my gall bladder were blocked, causing searing pain. Apparently, the butter chicken curry I’d had the night before had aggravated things. No more butter chicken from now on.

I went home, prescribed pain killers, and rested up for the weekend. I saw my GP on Monday who said he’d start discussions with surgeons to get the gall bladder removed. I also had to have a CT scan as ultrasound had indicated an “indeterminate mass”on a juncture with my right kidney, which, thankfully, turned out to be nothing but had me panicking for a few days (the woman doing the ultrasound had also told me that she’d had no end of trouble getting good pictures of my kidney, though).

The pain seemed to have settled down so I didn’t think about things much. Until Thursday, that was, when I went home early from work – something that is highly unusual for me – with the same pain again.

Later that evening, I got my wife to take me to Christchurch hospital’s emergency department – part of me kept telling myself to harden up and just live with it – but after blood tests, I was admitted. It was definitely gall stones and the gall bladder which was going to come out at some point was likely to come out in the next few days.

Admitted to a surgery assessment ward, I was in so much pain I had to “try”and sleep on my back, not something that is easy to do. I say try to sleep: Anyone who has been to hospital will know that getting  a good night’s sleep in a hospital is near impossible as nurses have to take two-hourly observations. It was a rough night.

Friday rolled around, my eyes bleary though lack of sleep, a collection of doctors visited to assess my condition and said, yes, I would be having surgery to remove my gall bladder but, as was to be expected, as it wasn’t life threatening there was potential to be bumped from the list if a more serious case presented itself. At 5pm, when the surgeon came to see me again,  I knew it wasn’t happening today. I remember turning to my wife and saying, “I feel like I’m going to die.” Perhaps in the scheme of things a tad melodramatic but that was how I felt.

On Saturday morning things looked more promising and while the surgeon told me there were no guarantees that surgery would happen on the weekend, he was hopeful. He was right.

At midday, I was wheeled off to surgery. The last thing I remember is the anaethetist telling me he was going to give me something that would make me feel like I’d have “a couple of beers”. My next recollection is waking up in recovery, groggy and bleary eyed with an oxygen hose in my nose, being asked if I’d like a lemonade iceblock. Yes, please, I said.

The surgery was done via keyhole surgery, which means four small cuts are made in your abdomen – one of them in your bellybutton – then a camera is inserted and the gall bladder removed. It’s all very clever. My daughter wanted me to request the gall bladder for us to keep. I don’t know why but she did. I was pretty rotten, according to the surgeon, but I guess we’ll see when we get it back. She suggested I could put it on my desk as a reminder. I won’t be.

I’ve spent the last week at home, recovering with a sore belly that throbs one minute and is OK the next. I’m still on painkillers but have discovered great shows on Netflix like The Expanse and watched Batman vs Superman again. It was better second time around, although still an hour too long.

I’m back at work tomorrow – a desk job so I should be OK – and easing back into things. If I have one piece of advice, it’s this: If you get pains under your ribs, get them checked out. It might be your gall bladder. A pear-shaped organ that can cause you no end of bother.

Believe me, I know.

*The blog will now return to its normal programming. Thanks for reading.


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