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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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Being a Healthcare Advocate

An advocate is one who stands in place for another, who fights for another.

I am Sarah’s greatest health advocate.  Sarah is my 18 year old daughter who was recently diagnosed with POTS.  (I wrote a lengthy post on this that you can check out if you’d like.)

I suppose being a mother predisposes one to being an advocate.  After all, no one wants what’s best for their child more than their mother.  I have become a “Mama Grisly Bear” when it comes to my daughter.  My further training in this regard came in recent years, caring for my aging father.  He particularly has needed an advocate during doctor visits and his hospitalization several years ago when he survived sepsis.  I told him then that I would always be his best advocate and I meant it.  I still am.

In recent months my role as “Health advocate” has expanded to include my teenage daughter, Sarah, who has seen more specialists than one can imagine over the last year.

Last October I became convinced that my daughter’s symptoms matched those of patients with Lyme disease.  In fact, I was pretty sure she had it.  Of course, I have no formal medical training (unless you count being a nurse’s daughter).  🙂  I read articles online and really researched this.  I spoke with friends about it and they, too, were fairly convinced.

So, when we met with Sarah’s new primary care doctor, we strongly requested her being tested for Lyme.  And not just any old test.  We had read that the Western Blot test was the most accurate and that was what we wanted.

Not only did her PC order the Western Blot test, but also ordered another Leukemia round of blood tests as well as any markers in her blood indicating other diseases.  We were glad she was so proactive in ordering these tests but were sent on another emotional roller coaster while we awaited the results once more.  Thankfully, all results were negative!

Because Sarah has seen so many specialists, we always type up a “Medical History” information sheet, which is typically several pages long and includes all recent MRI’s and CAT scans and other diagnostic testing.  I also photocopy all recent lab work results so they know instantly what she’s already been tested for at a glance.

I’m sure some smile at this and perhaps think my efforts are “over the top”, but most thank me wholeheartedly for doing this.  It eliminates many questions and saves their time so they can concentrate on the bigger picture.  It also means we do not have to answer the same questions over and over again, specialist to specialist visit.

Part of being a patient advocate is steering the treatment in the direction you are most comfortable.  Example: Our family tries to eat very healthy and veers toward a more holistic path when possible.  We’re not opposed to medications, but only when necessary and if a supplement couldn’t work just as well.  I am reminded of this because several doctors have suggested birth control for Sarah as a treatment for a couple different issues (that have nothing to do with birth control itself actually).  Sarah has done some research into this drug and is adamantly opposed to using it.  I have to say that I am not a fan either and wouldn’t want that necessarily for her.  My mother died at age 53 of breast cancer and studies have shown increased estrogen levels lead to breast cancer.

Each time we have politely declined using it, both doctors were certainly understanding, which we appreciated.  (I had a doctor years ago discharge me as his patient because I refused to go on a steroid because we were trying to conceive at the time.  So some doctors believe it is their way or the highway, apparently.)

Side note:  Sarah wanted to be a midwife for a while and during that time, educated herself greatly in every aspect.  She even was able to attend a home birth, which was a memorable experience for her.

So, you might say I am a Captain of the Healthcare Sea on my daughter’s behalf, in a way.  Obviously, my daughter’s care is ultimately up to her doctors, but if I believe a leaf needs turned over, I will advocate for it.  Steering is definitely a part of being a good advocate.  So is educating yourself on the symptoms and known diagnosis.  Don’t be afraid to speak up.  In this case, it’s my daughter’s body that we are dealing with.  She may be a stranger to the specialist, but to me, she is a huge part of my world!  And my heart.

At the end of the day, I must know within myself that I’ve exhausted every avenue in an attempt to restore my daughter’s health.  I feel like I’m fighting a battle for her wellness and recovery.   One on one time with each doctor is very limited, so having medical history documented and any questions written down is vital for a successful visit.  It also eliminates “brain fog” during the visit.  It’s an amazing thing that happens when you’re finally face to face with the doctor, often after months of waiting to get in, and then all pertinent questions fly out the window.  Another thing that happens is, whatever the doctor says during the visit winds up becoming a “brain blur” afterward.  I recommend writing notes, asking questions and later documenting the visit for clarity.

I am present during every doctor visit my daughter has, even now that she has turned 18.  She’ll say that sometimes I answer the doctor’s questions and that she wished I would allow her time to do that.  So, I’ve scaled back and attempted to allow her to do most of the talking when possible.  Often what happens is that she experiences POTS “brain fog” and goes on bunny trails in response to the doctor’s questions, which can be confusing and time consuming.  And each visit is so key to Sarah’s recovery that I feel like much is at stake and we must make the most of our time.  So, I speak up when I think it’s useful to the doctor’s understanding of her symptoms.  Sarah thanks me.  Most of the time.  😉

Follow up is another major component of advocacy.  It has been amazing to me the degree that I have had to involve myself and relentless messages to doctor’s offices in order to obtain lab or other diagnostic testing results.  It matters to no one more than you and your family.  Why wouldn’t you follow up?  If the doctor says the lab results should be ready in three days.  Guess who’s calling in three days?  Me!  The sooner we have the results, the sooner treatment and recovery can begin.

Have you ever had to be a staunch advocate for a loved one who is ill?  If so, can you offer any sage words of advice?

 

{Medical Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor.  I don’t even play one on t.v.  I am a mom.  A very loving and dedicated one at that.  The information contained in this blog and any other article on my page are based on our experiences, what we’ve read and our opinions or understanding of POTS.  Please consult a licensed physician for advice and conduct extensive research on your own.}

 

 

 

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P.O.T.S. & Our Struggle

You may ask, “What is POTS?”  It’s an acronym for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system.  This medical term was coined in 1993, however has been around for hundreds of years under other names.

Our world changed last August when our daughter, Sarah, (17 at the time) began experiencing seemingly random, debilitating symptoms.  Her symptoms began as daily migraines, feeling like she’d pass out, severe fatigue, sleep disturbances, joint pain, muscle twitches and g.i. issues.  They have now evolved into cardiac symptoms, such as heart palpitations and heart racing even when at rest, brain fog, memory issues, slower speech and being primarily home bound.

Before I go any further, let me back up the train to state what I think were contributing factors to our daughter contracting POTS.  If you’ve read my blog, you may recall our family was hit by a drunk driver back in May 2014.  We were involved in a traumatic 4 car accident at a red light and rear ended at about 70 mph.  We all endured four months of physical therapy subsequently.

Sarah had an appendectomy in February 2015 and then had all four wisdom teeth extracted in August 2015.  We also moved five states away and Sarah was under pressure to perform well on her ACT test.  It has been said that surgery and major stress on the body can be triggers.  I definitely believe this to be true.

She’d been seeing her primary care doctor regularly post appendectomy, primarily to address her raised white blood cell counts, who referred us to a hematologist to further investigate.  We saw the hematologist a number of times, who referred us to a neurologist concerning Sarah’s massive headaches.  During this time, she was tested for Leukemia, Lymphoma and other markers in the blood that may indicate disease.  I cannot tell you the intense stress our family endured waiting for the blood results when a hematologist is concerned about potentially deadly diseases for your child.  Our stress level was off the charts.  We are strong believers in God’s healing power and the fact that He walks beside us, but our faith was greatly tested and tried during these hours.  It wouldn’t be the last time either.

Praise the Lord, those tests came back negative!!  While we were greatly relieved, it still remained a mystery as to why Sarah’s white blood cell counts and lymphocytes were elevated beyond a normal range.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the parents whose children are battling cancer and other diseases.  It is the worst feeling in the world for your child to be sick and you can’t do anything to make him/her better.  But pray.  And pray we did.  Sarah is on so many prayer lists at so many churches.  Our friends and family have remained faithful in prayer on her behalf and for that, we are ever grateful.  We are convinced that it is due to their prayers that we were sustained during the darkest of hours.

In September 2015, the neurologist diagnosed Sarah with POTS and prescribed Florinef.  As with any new diagnosis, we were overwhelmed with questions.  So, we studied.  Between Sarah and I, I’m pretty sure we could write a small book.  Sarah is a bright girl and curious by nature, so she immersed herself in articles online.

The Florinef helped a great deal in the beginning, but by November and December, Sarah’s symptoms were worsening by the day it seemed.   I felt like I’d lost my baby girl.  Sarah turned 18 in November and could hardly make it out of bed for dinner.  This was our new reality.

She would have begun attending the community college in September 2015 but was not well enough to do so.  She wants to become a nurse, which I think suits her personality and gifts very well.  We’re looking forward to the day she can begin classes.

We switched primary care doctors after we received news that her former doctor was no longer participating with any insurance.  She saw the new PC in early November, who referred us to a GI doctor for her stomach issues as well as a cardiologist for the racing heart symptoms.  By now, our heads are just spinning because we’ve seen more doctors in 2015 than imaginable!

We saw the GI doctor who recommended a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, so she had that done at the end of November.  The results were very good.

Side note:  Sarah eats a very clean diet and is very disciplined.  She’ll be the first to say not to applaud her too much on that note because she does so more so out of necessity than discipline.  She knows what upsets her stomach and which foods sit well and has learned over the years to adjust accordingly.  Sarah primarily drinks water and occasionally herbal tea.

We finally saw the cardiologist (took a while to get in with this pediatric cardiologist) last week.  I finally feel like we are on a good path!!  Praise the Lord for that!  Because Sarah’s symptoms revolve greatly around the tachycardia, I believe the cardiologist is in the best position to treat her at the moment.  He prescribed Atenolol (which, ironically, my father also takes…for other reasons, of course) to regulate her heart and after being on that for 6 days now, I have to say, it has helped greatly!  She is able to get out of the bed more and I feel like we’re getting our Sarah back.  It isn’t a miracle drug, however.  She still feels the extreme fatigue and other symptoms, but it has helped the tachycardia (rapid heart rate).

Sarah is still unable to do much of anything, aside from lay around and fix her meals.  Part of the treatment for POTS is to increase salt intake and water consumption.  So, she does that.  Even prior to the diagnosis, she drank a lot of water.  She drinks probably 2-3 times the amount she used to.  The reason for the larger salt intake is it helps to increase blood volume and blood pressure, which aids in treating the symptoms.  The underlying issue with POTS is lack of blood flow, which is why she often feels like she will pass out.  (lack of blood flow to the brain)  This is also why she feels so poorly after eating.  Apparently, after you eat, your system is hard at work digesting and diverts extra blood flow to the digestive system.  This is terrible for POTS patients as they need all the blood flow they can get under normal circumstances.  Sarah would have to promptly lay down after eating and fight not to pass out.  As if the symptoms could not worsen, a woman’s monthly cycle exacerbates  the situation.  Again, it all goes back to blood flow and its affects on the entire body.

Because POTS is a disease of the autonomic nervous system, it affects all the body’s systems one cannot control, such as: sleep, heart rate, digestion, respiratory, etc.  In the beginning, we questioned how Sarah could be experiencing the myriad of symptoms she was.  I must admit, I often thought she was a hypochondriac and we tired of hearing about all of her woes.  What a blessing it was to receive the diagnosis, so then we could work toward treatment and hopefully her full recovery one day.  We have heard that others with this illness go undiagnosed for years and that is heartbreaking.

Where are we now?

The cardiologist referred Sarah for physical therapy, which was a godsend!  Physical exercise is very useful.  Strengthening of abdominal and leg muscles is beneficial to the POTS patient because it helps the body effectively and efficiently pump blood upward toward the brain.

Sarah begins meeting with a sports therapist this week and we will keep you posted.  Sadly, she strained her wrist while exercising last week and has it wrapped in an ace bandage, applies Arnicare gel regularly and soaks it in Epsom salt.  Hopefully, she’ll be okay to do the therapy.

One of Sarah’s POTS’ symptoms is “exercise intolerance” and that means that if she exercises, it can wipe her out for days afterward.  It’s awful.  Even a short walk exhausts her for days.  So, the idea with the therapy is to build her tolerance slowly.

I plan on writing further about POTS and how Sarah is doing, so check back for updates if you’d like.  Do you know anyone with POTS?  They say over 500,000 Americans have it.  Not sure how accurate that really is since often it goes undiagnosed.  Many doctors have no clue as to what it is.  How can one expect a diagnosis if they have no knowledge of it?

We covet your prayers for Sarah – that the Lord will touch her body and restore her health.

We know God has great, big plans for her!

 

{Medical Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor.  I don’t even play one on t.v.  I am a mom.  A very loving and dedicated one at that.  The information contained in this blog and any other article on my page are based on our experiences, what we’ve read and our opinions or understanding of POTS.  Please consult a licensed physician for advice and conduct extensive research on your own.}

 

 

 

 

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