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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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