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Gallbladder Pain, Surgery & Recovery Tips

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Well, if pain isn’t an effective teacher, I don’t know what is!  It’ll make a believer out of you, that’s for sure.

Abdominal pain sent me to the ER on January 20th and subsequent, persistent pain led me to have a HIDA scan, which confirmed my gallbladder was only functioning at 36%.  Big surprise there.  I was in pain and I knew something was amiss!  Thankfully at my follow up appointment with my primary care doctor, he suggested I immediately make an appointment for a consultation with a good surgeon.  He gave me the name of the same surgeon who performed my daughter’s appendectomy this time last year, so I felt like I was in good hands there.  His office was able to schedule my laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder surgery) within days and I am happy to report that just a week post-op, I feel like I have a new lease on life!

Because surgery is such a big deal to those who are generally in good health and because knowing some useful tips can aid in the recovery process, I decided to post a few ideas that helped me.

So, here we go:

  1. Be your own health advocate!  Research the best doctors and hospitals in your area.  No one has your best interest at heart more than you.
  2. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, do not delay seeking medical treatment.
  3. Communicate effectively with all involved in your health care.  I prefer to type up my own “Medical History” information sheet, which includes herbal supplements I routinely take, thorough surgical history, allergies, etc.  I give this to each and every specialist I visit to ensure we are all on the same page.  I have found my efforts to be appreciated by the providers.
  4. Research but don’t over-research!  Searching medical advice out online can be a catch 22 situation.  First of all, everyone is unique in their symptoms, previous medical history and surgical outcomes.  Just because someone else has a horrible reaction to a particular drug, doesn’t mean you will.  And just because someone else has pervasive digestive issues post-op, doesn’t mean you will either.  Take everything you read with a grain of salt and discuss any concerns with your doctor.  This will temper science fiction with reality.
  5. Once your surgery date is scheduled, try to occupy your mind with useful tasks in the meantime.  Don’t spend your days worrying yourself into an ulcer.  Trust that the hospital and surgeon will do what they do every day – and that is, care for you in the best possible way.  And don’t forget to pray.  Ask God to give you peace.  He will.
  6. One thought that helped me a great deal leading up to my surgery was the fact that I would go in at 6:00 a.m. on that Monday, surgery would commence at 7:30 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. it would all be over!  What a comforting thought!  Within hours, I would be on the recovery side of things and on my way to feeling better!  This thought process helped me tremendously!  This way, I didn’t solely focus on how scary the looming surgery seemed to me, but instead, on the positive side of things.
  7. Ice chips!  I have never in my life (well, outside of giving birth) loved ice chips more than post-op!  They soothed my throat, which was a little sore due to the breathing tube during surgery.  I was on ice chips only for the whole day post-op and they helped me so much.
  8. If given the option, stay overnight post-op!  My surgeon left it up to me and I really needed to stay based on my pain level and the fact that I had been also battling a raging UTI.  The nurse gave me a shot that helped to counteract the occurrence of blood clots, plus they attached these inflatable wraps on your legs to promote adequate circulation.  Both gave me a lot of peace.  Blood clots post-op are serious and can be fatal.  I wound up staying in the hospital for a day and a half.  Although I didn’t get much sleep, I did receive wonderful care.  It was a blessing to have my husband stay the night with me as well.  I think he slept better than I did.
  9. Pain meds … If you experience any unusual side effects at all, call your doctor.  You are not bothering them.  This is the job they signed up for.  I actually felt like I couldn’t catch my full breath on the first pain medicine they gave me after taking it for a little over a day.  Thanks to my brother-in-law, I finally called my surgeon to see if they could prescribe something else.  Don’t just live with the problem.  It could be serious.  Thankfully, I got a different pain medicine and only needed to be on that for a day or so longer before switching to Advil.   —   Going into the surgery, I thought I’d need to be on the prescription pain meds longer, but by Day 5, I was off of them.  I don’t like how they make you feel anyway and was overjoyed to be done with them!  (I plan on letting my primary care doctor know about the side effects of the initial pain med for future reference.)
  10. Bloating & Fluid Build up.  Because they fill your abdomen with carbon dioxide and the after affects from the surgery in general, your middle will be very swollen.  Expect this.  Plan on wearing the loosest clothing you can find post-op!  The first few days I definitely preferred wearing a gown.  It seemed to me that I appeared 9 months pregnant!  Ah!  I weighed myself once I got home from the hospital and I was up 12 lbs.  This is Day 7 and has gone down to only being up 1.5 lbs.  I expect to be at my pre-op weight very soon, if not below, based on my current diet.  The bloating will pass.  Give yourself time.
  11. Get up and walk around!  This seems like cruel and unusual punishment initially post-op, but it is crucial to recovery.  My husband and I did a couple laps around the hospital floor, pulling the i.v. cart and all that first night post-op.  I was glad to have my husband there with me since they didn’t want me to walk alone.  Even once I was at home, I continued to get up and walk to the living room and kitchen a couple times a day.  Do as much as you can tolerate…and proceed slowly.  Stop when you feel tired to rest for a moment.
  12. Sleeping.  Ah, this is the tricky part post-op!  At least it was for me!  I slept propped up in a sitting position for the first five days!  This felt best for me.  I also had a pillow under my knees for comfort.  While the pain medicine made me sleepy, it also had this undesirable side effect of making me feel “on edge”.  So, my sleep was really broken up (even more than usual) for the first several days.
  13. Burping and Carbon Dioxide.  Surgeries kind of throw proper etiquette to the way side.  I have never burped so frequently in all my life as I have post-op!  This is one of the ways your body expels the carbon dioxide they fill your abdomen with during surgery.  Of course, air exudes out of both ends naturally.  Many people experience intense shoulder pain post-op due to the carbon dioxide getting trapped.  A heating pad can help ease this.  I only had a little of this pain, thankfully.  I did, however, keep the heating pad close by to use on my rib cage.
  14. Bowel Functions.  Resuming normal bodily functions post-op is top priority, for sure.  Apparently, general anesthesia temporarily halts bowel function, in addition to the pain medicine’s common side effect of constipation.  (Of course, prior to gallbladder surgery, I had constipation due to it not functioning properly so the stage was really set for me.)  I was so glad the surgeon suggested Miralax as it is GENTLE on the stomach and will not cause further pain as it works.  I mentioned that I had Senna at home and was going to take that and he noted that it tends to cause cramping.  So glad we had that conversation because I didn’t need to add insult to injury!  Miralax worked like a charm and the best thing about it is, it does not contain gritty granules that are hard to swallow.  It is flavorless and can be mixed with water or juice.  I chose to mix mine with apple juice and I honestly couldn’t tell there was anything in my juice!  Be patient with yourself.  I am accustomed to my body working like “clock work” and begin to worry when it doesn’t.  But it is important to allow your body time to adjust.  Obviously if things do not begin to resume normal function in several days to a week, it’s time to put in a call to the doctor.  Allow common sense to prevail.
  15. Diet.  My post-op dietary instructions were to resume a “normal diet”.  I can eat whatever I like.  Stop.  Wait.  However, because the previous pain I experienced when my gallbladder issues were raging placed me on a chicken noodle soup, crackers and fruit diet, I hesitate to deviate far from that so soon.  I prefer to err on the side of caution and delay eating fatty foods, meats in any real quantity and any processed foods.  This is simply my preference.  I also have recently learned that I have a (non-alcoholic) fatty liver, so that is a factor for me.  Of course, we know that fatty  and processed foods place more of a demand on the digestive tract, so I’d like to ease my system back into optimum health.  Obviously this is a personal choice but I am choosing to eat bland foods, soups, fruits and vegetables and generally, as healthy as I can.
  16. Stay hydrated!  I keep two cups of water on my nightstand at all times right now.  This way when I empty one, my husband or kids do not have to go racing to refill my cup.  Plus, it encourages me to drink more.  The prescription pain meds dry out your mouth so much, you will want to drink anyway.  But, because our bodies are primarily made up of water, it is imperative to the healing process.  I do drink a cup of coffee in the morning, several cups of apple or cranberry juice throughout the day but primarily water otherwise.
  17. Shower as soon as you can.  My instructions were that I could shower pretty much right away.  This makes a world of difference in how you feel.  Even if you are still in pain, it helps to make you feel human again.
  18. Moods.  Your post-op moods may vary from euphoric to feeling a little sad.  I think this has to be normal in most cases, based on the medications and the surgical experience.  You will likely feel back to your normal self very soon.  Give yourself grace and focus on better days ahead as your body heals.  Obviously if low moods drag on, consult your doctor.  Again, common sense.
  19. When friends, neighbors, family want to help … Let them!!  Now is not the time for pride.  If someone asks if they can drop off a meal, graciously allow them to and thank them from the bottom of your heart!  Your family will thank you.  Be sure to write out thank you notes once you recover for all the thoughtfulness others have shown.
  20. Schedule your follow-up appt!  My surgeon wants to see me two weeks’ post-op, which means I will see him next Monday.  At that time, he will ensure my four incisions are healing nicely and offer the surgery pathology results.
  21. Primary Care Physician follow-up … Because my white blood cell counts were elevated upon discharge, I will follow up with lab work with my primary care doctor in a few weeks.  This is probably a good idea after any surgery just to ensure that your body is healing properly.

{Note:  These tips and ideas are based solely on my experience and my health history.  I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on T.V.  I offer this advice as considerations if you or a loved one has to undergo a similar procedure.}

I hope this list is helpful.  If you’d care to add anything, please do so in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!  Here’s wishing all of us good health!  God bless!

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Surgery in T-4 Days…

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The next four days cannot pass soon enough!  I’m focusing on my recovery period more so than the upcoming gall bladder surgery.  (at least that’s what I keep telling myself)  The truth is, no one wants to have surgery, but, in this case, I so want it behind me so I can move toward better health!  I’ve been on bed rest for the last three weeks since my ER visit and this is entirely contrary to my normal routine.  I’m usually very busy, so this little “vacation” of sorts, a miserable one at that, has been very strange.

The nurse called from the hospital yesterday to review my medical history, etc. and really put my mind at ease when we discussed my past vasovagal response.  She noted on my file for them not to place the i.v. in my hand, but in my arm rather.  What a huge answer to prayer this was!!  I really did not want to pass out again in pre-op, like I did previously with another surgery.  This offers a great deal of peace of mind for me and is so comforting to know they will respect my wishes.  Of course, I may have to remind the pre-op nurse of this on the morning of my surgery, but now I feel comfortable making my preference known and knowing they can accommodate it.

It is never a good feeling being out of control and that is exactly what a vasovagal response is.  It’s an involuntary reaction to pain or a situation that your physical body wants to escape.  And so, you pass out – sort of a self-preservation response.  So, I’m very glad to remove this scenario from possibly reoccurring altogether.

I’m so looking forward to feeling better!  I’ve been trying to reassure my kids (16 & 18) that this is a very routine surgery and I may be home the same day, etc.  They’ve been so concerned about me but I think they’re relaxing a little now.  I hope so.  I don’t want them to worry.  First of all, I know ultimately I’m in God’s hands and there is a great peace knowing that!  Secondly, I believe the surgeon is highly skilled and the hospital is very competent.  So, I believe my surgery should go smoothly and I’ll be on the mend very shortly.  This time next week, my body will be in the healing phase! Praise the Lord for that!

Then, I will recover for a couple months and have a hysterectomy.  (glutton for punishment, huh?)  Again, while I’m not looking forward to the surgery itself, I am excited about my recovery.  2016 will be a humdinger of a year but I know that God is walking beside me each step of the way and that gives me great peace!  I also am confident that He is working ALL things together for my good and His glory!  (Romans 8:28)

My husband and kids have been wonderful caretakers of me and I’m grateful for that.  I am, however, looking forward to resuming my normal responsibilities once I recover.

Last night our Bible study leader brought chicken, rice, salad and cupcakes for dinner, which was very thoughtful.  The kids were very excited.  And a couple neighbors have offered to bring dinner post-surgery too.  And our Bible study leader will bring dinner again next week.  We appreciate their kindness so much.  I think the last time we had someone bring us dinner was when our daughter was born – 18 years ago!  We are so accustomed to blessing others that sometimes it’s a little strange being on the receiving end.  Although if there ever was a time when someone needs a blessing – it’s when they’re going to have surgery, I have to say.

If you would, please say a prayer regarding my surgery and for peace for our family.  Thanks so much!  Blessings!

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…Be still and know that I am God.”  ~ Psalm 46:1,10

 

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Waiting for Surgery

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Surgery is such a common occurrence these days that it is possible you or someone you know will have surgery in the near future.  As I find myself in that category, I thought I’d offer some useful tips for both the patient and friends and family.

To the patient first – 

  •  My best advice is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible regarding the type of surgery you will undergo.  The more you know, the less you will worry.  The fear of the unknown is a terrible thing.
  • Discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor.
  • Prepare your household (stock up on groceries, make sure things are taken care of in advance that usually rely on your efforts.)
  • Pay all bills and make sure spouse knows where important papers are.
  • Pamper yourself a little.
  • Pray and leave the surgery in God’s hands.
  • Relax.  Before you know it, the surgery will be history and you’ll be on the road to recovery!

To friends & family –

  • Ask your friend or family member how you can best offer assistance.
  • Plan to prepare a simple meal to drop off after surgery. (Don’t linger.  They need rest and are likely in pain.)
  • Offer to do light grocery shopping.
  • Write a thoughtful get well card.  (Everyone loves to be thought of, especially when they’re not feeling up to par.)
  • Give a little thinking of you gift. (lip balm, lotion, word search puzzle book, etc.)
  • Pray for their healing, comfort and peace during this time.

 

I hope this was helpful.  If you’d like to add any tips, please leave a comment.

Here’s wishing all of us a healthy year!

 

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Physical Therapy & Recovery

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Photo Credit: My Darling & Talented Daughter

Today was Day #Umpteen of physical therapy since our auto accident three weeks ago.  It was a good day overall, one where we didn’t feel like we were totally falling apart, so life is improving all the time!  The chiropractor had me do exercises on a large exercise ball to kind of work the knots and kinks out of my lower back.  It’s a precarious thing balancing on that ball, but not bad once you get used to it.  As always, the electrotherapy and heat feel so good on my neck, shoulders and back, as does the ice on my elbow.  I’m just a mess!  😉  But today was a relatively good one.  I’ve developed headaches over the last few days but hopefully that passes soon.  Hubby begins physical therapy this week.  Can’t wait to hear his fun tales.

The chiropractor tickles me.  He has a French last name, so I assume he has some French lineage; but he has this affinity for style (of sorts).  For instance, today he was sporting a pair of white slacks with some sort of dress shirt (I can’t recall).  But, his shoes…those I remember.  They were snazzy … well, when they were in their prime, that is.  Who knows?  Maybe they’re new and are a throw-back style.  They had the Italian flag on them and were brown loafer type of shoes.  Definitely very European looking.  And, as my daughter so keenly pointed out, he always dons this brown, braided leather belt.  So, he’s stylin’.  He marches to his own drummer, let’s just say.  He looks very dignified and nice, just a little unique is all.  I noticed he had his shirt cuff turned over once and it had some snazzy design on the underside to complement the shirt pattern.  Interesting.  Can’t say I’ve seen a shirt with that design before.  But, his wardrobe makes our visits interesting if nothing else.  Haha!  … That said, since we do have to see a Dr. three times a week, he is a very nice person to deal with, thankfully.

The kids did their neck rotations on the occipital float (like a bean bag of sorts) and then had their electrotherapy as well on their necks, shoulders and backs.  After a painful weekend, today was one of my daughter’s better days also, which was a blessing.  Some days it feels like we take one step forward and two steps backward.

We had my dad over for lunch yesterday and it probably was too soon to do as much as we did, but it was good to see him after being away.  He has two Dr. appointments this week that I’ll be working into my schedule.  If they weren’t so necessary, I’d definitely postpone them.  His equilibrium seems to be way off and I want to get him in to see his regular Dr. to see about this.

The kids and I have a Dr. appointment next week and we’ll assess how much more physical therapy we require at that point.  I really don’t know what he’ll suggest, but I know we’re a long way from normal at this point.  We can be going along okay and then we try to do regular things and it flares up the injuries.  Just to do grocery shopping and laundry is a herculean effort.  Such as today … My darling daughter is attending a co-worker’s baby shower this weekend and needed to buy a gift.  It was all we could do to select diapers, wipes, and some onesies, along with our groceries without being totally exhausted and in major pain.  She will likely only stay at the baby shower for a little while as sitting too long is painful.  She’s also invited to her bff’s birthday party this weekend and will only stay a short while there also.  She was in so much pain on Saturday that she almost contemplated not even attending, which to a 16 year old is a huge deal!  I know she wants to see her friends, though.  The party is scheduled from 4-9p.m.!  That’s one long party!  There’s no way she’d make it that long.  She needs to pin a little sign to her shirt, “Please no hugs.  Air hugs only!”

I made a tuna casserole and peas for our lunch with dad yesterday.  And today I made meatloaf and my darling daughter made home fries.  We usually have a vegetable with dinner, but at this point, we’re doing well to prepare something that resembles dinner.  Two nights in a row!  We are making progress.  And, today I bought some chicken breasts and sour cream to make a Mexican casserole tomorrow night.  (I already had the tortillas, beans, cheese, salsa and corn on hand.)  Tic-tac-toe … three in a row!  Life is improving all the time!  One thing I know is that we can’t keep eating carry out and rotisserie chicken from the grocery store!

I finally took an inventory of our freezer and organized it last night.  You wouldn’t believe how much frozen fruit we have!  Three bags of strawberries, three bags of peaches, and some other fruit in a bag.  Darling daughter loves making fruit smoothies in the blender, but has been slacking off of late.  So, our stash has really accumulated and I guess I kept buying more not realizing how many we had!  We have one package of turkey burgers, four trays of ground beef, one box of shrimp that is begging to be eaten, some veggies, and a bag of mussels that is pleading to be tossed!  I nearly threw them away for the hundredth time, but my husband promises me that he’ll cook and eat them!  (Eww!)  At least now I know exactly what lives in our freezer (which usually is very hard to determine!) so I can plan meals to use it up.  We have a side-by-side refrigerator and the freezer space is very limited!  You might think there’s quite a bit of space, but if food comes in boxes of any sort, it consumes way too much valuable real estate!

And so it seems life is slowly but surely returning to somewhat normal.  We just have to bear in mind to be good to ourselves, take naps when possible, and take things slow.  It’s really difficult sometimes to not get ahead of ourselves and exercise patience with our rate of healing.  We’ve come so far since three weeks ago and are convinced our progress up to this point is a direct result of an incredible amount of believers interceding on our behalf!!  God is so faithful!

I am constantly reminded that as bad as our injuries are, they could be so much worse.  The four of us are true testimonies of God’s mercy and grace.  We will praise Him, even through the pain, because He’s so worthy!  He spared our lives and as far as we know, all of the others involved were spared also.  Mercy.

During times of great tests and trials, we often see God’s hand at work the most.  It is during these times that God’s power is on display and His presence evident.  In our weakness, He is strong.

I’d like to think of myself as pretty compassionate toward others, but after our car accident, I think my empathy toward others in pain has increased.  I’ve learned an important lesson through my pain.  I’ve been reminded that folks can look okay on the outside, but you have no idea of the battles that are raging on the inside.  They may be physical.  They may be mental.  Emotional.  Or otherwise.  The fact is, don’t judge a book by its cover.  Masks are everywhere and sometimes … many times … folks are fighting a war we may know nothing about.  People need love, no matter their appearance.  They may seem to have it all together or they may look like they’re falling apart.  Both may be in dire need of hope, grace, patience, and most of all Christ’s love.

And the greatest of these is love.  (I Corinthians 13)

Prayer – “Dear God, empty us of ourselves and fill us up with You so we can offer hope to a lost and dying world.  Help us to see others through the lens of your love.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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A Little Perspective

…is all it takes sometimes.  We’ve had a rough few days around here with all our aches and pains.  What am I saying?  We’ve had a painful two weeks.  But it has reached the point where we’re tired of it!  Frustrated that we’re still in pain, tired of taking pain meds, Epsom baths, applying Biofreeze gel … and don’t get me started about the seemingly endless Dr. and physical therapy appointments!! … And, then she walked past us on her way out of the physical therapy office today…

She had some sort of brace around her rib cage and a cast on her arm as she spoke in a raspy voice.  Clearly she was in a worse accident than we were and her pain has got to be more severe.  I knew from the beginning of our ordeal how blessed we were not to have sustained far greater injuries and we are infinitely grateful to God for that!  But, today was an especially painful day for me where it hurts to sit.  It doesn’t feel a whole lot better standing.  And I didn’t sleep well and I have a lot of issues on my mind at the moment… And, and, and… Blah, blah, blah, blah… Well, you get the idea.  Not a stellar day for me.

But, when I saw this poor woman today, I couldn’t help but thank God once more for His grace and mercy over our lives!  Yes, we are all in pain from the accident still, but the good news is that we will recover in time.  Pain does crazy things to you.  Not only does it make one grumpy, but it also blurs the reality that the pain will pass in time.

I was sharing my accident story with the dermatologist this morning at my follow up appointment and she concurred how fortunate we all are that it was no worse.  That fact alone fills my heart with immense gratitute.  From the outside, we all appear to be just fine, but on the inside, not only are we still in a great deal of pain, we are also still processing the trauma of the accident.  That takes time too.  Since this was the first real accident I’ve ever been in, I never realized the anxiety that can follow a major accident.  I’ve gotten better each time I’ve driven or been a passenger since the accident, but I’m definitely uber cautious and aware that anything can happen.

My husband went to the orthopedic Dr. this morning and will begin his physical therapy routine this week.  He mentioned how much time all of these appointments are consuming and the fact that we have to get back to living our normal lives!  I couldn’t agree more.  I got to thinking how the actions of one person affected ten other people that night!  Because one man decided to consume entirely too much alcohol and get behind the wheel, he and his passenger were flown by helicopter to a shock and trauma unit.  The remaining nine of us were taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.  He even still had alcohol in his vehicle, which I’m sure is one reason he attempted to flee the scene of the accident.  He received five citations.

This week alone I will have had six medical appointments, two on Mon. and Wed. and will have two more on Fri.  There have been no quiet moments since the accident.  The phrase, “No rest for the weary” comes to mind.  We just want normal life to resume.  Now.  Isn’t that our way?  We want everything instantly.  Apparently part of the reason for much of my pain is inflammation.  The Dr. advised to limit wheat and take fish oil (which I already do) to help.  I also came home and researched this a little and found out green tea, spices, almonds and many fruits can also help.

And, so my pep talk to myself today is that I will continue to take this healing journey one day at a time.  I will resist the urge to complain (too much anyway!).  I will count my blessings every day!  I will look to the hills from whence comes my help.  My help comes from the Lord!  I will do my part to help the healing process and trust God to do the rest.  And I will continually seek out the good that will come from this accident.  I know there’s more good that hasn’t been revealed just yet.  I don’t believe God wastes pain, so I believe there’s a purpose even in this.  And I will yet praise Him!

Signed,

Just Me Being Real

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