Saturday, 2 September 2017

Notes on gallbladder surgery

A slight departure from the usual Foodie Fare and probably not of interest to many.  But, you are more likely to have a dicky gallbladder if you are overweight, and if you starting reading this blog because it was supposed to be about dieting (hollow laugh) then this is something that may one day apply to you.  If not, no sweat, I'll be back with a cute cat picture shortly.

I really wanted to write this because I was so scared before having my gallbladder removed that I can't even begin to tell you.  I have issues with anxiety generally, particularly when it comes to matters of health, and the prospect of surgery terrified me.  So if this helps anyone else out there who is even half as frightened, then it will have done its job.

I first went to see the doctor in December over persistent, nagging abdominal pain - some generalised but some concentrated in the upper right quadrant.  It was never agonising, which is how gallstones can and often do present, but it was annoying. An abdominal CT scan showed some stones and that the organ itself was inflamed.  At this point, when surgery was mentioned, I must admit I didn't particularly feel that the severity of the symptoms warranted it; the advice of the experts, though, was that once you start having gallbladder problems they are likely to get worse and can end up very nasty indeed so, really, you're best off getting rid.

The process, in retrospect, all happened very quickly.  I saw the consultant within about a month of referral and then another month or so later was given an appointment for a pre-op assessment and then was put on the waiting list.  In my area, the average wait time from going on the list to procedure is 20 weeks, but I was given a date after around three months.  I should add, though, that I was offered a cancellation spot that I was able to take up which brought the operation forward.  It certainly seems to help if you can be flexible in these circumstances.

Unless they have a particular reason not to, gallbladders are removed using keyhole surgery which means that you can be in and out of hospital in a single day.  Apparently, the average procedure takes 45 minutes, although they can take anything from 20 minutes to 3 hours.  I had four little incisions, one of which was inside my belly button.  They inflate your abdomen to make it easier to manoeuvre, which means that you might (I did!) feel a bit bloated and gassy afterwards.  However, it is not an invasive procedure - I can't believe how small the marks are.

The thing that scared the bejeesus out of me was the anaesthetic.  Up until this point, I had never had a general anaesthetic.  I hope that I never have to have another one (the stress!) but it was fine.  And if you are reading this and are worried because, like me, you have a too high BMI and know that this makes you higher risk all I can say is I had no problems whatsoever.  There were two doctors taking care of the anaesthetic side of things and, I am told, they are present the entire time to make sure that you are OK.  If you are slightly overweight, they will raise your head slightly to make it easier for you to breathe.  If you are so overweight that it is going to cause a serious problem then you are unlikely to get through the pre-op assessment - i.e. if you're there and they're happy to go ahead then someone more qualified than you has decided it's not too much of a risk.

It sounds a cliche, but one moment I was in the operating theatre feeling a bit tingly, wondering if it was actually going to work, and the next minute I was coming round in the recovery room and the nurses were reading out horoscopes.  I expected nausea and disorientation but, for me, it wasn't much worse than waking up from a really heavy sleep.  I was slightly woozy and slightly dizzy, but within minutes was able to sit up and sip water and, as soon as they got me to the ward I was ready for a cup of tea.

In terms of general recovery: I was told differing things about the amount of time required off work.  At my first appointment, the consultant said 2-3 weeks.  The doctor that I spoke to on the morning of the operation said 3, the nurse in the recovery ward said 4.  My GP gave me a Fit Note for 4 weeks in the end but, to be honest, I probably could have gone back a bit sooner.  I am still ever so slightly sore, but not so much that it distracts from day to day life.  Immediately afterwards, other than the slight wind issue, the best way to describe the sensation is that it felt as though all my innards were bruised.  I was uncomfortable and a bit battered, but it was nothing that normal, over the counter, painkillers couldn't deal with and certainly nothing to be concerned about.  I had very little appetite for the first week or so.  I have also noticed that my digestive system seems slightly more...delicate subsequently.  I don't know if this is a long-term thing or just a question of things settling down over a period of time.  I am trying to listen to what my body is telling me in terms of quantity of food (I generally seem to want less) and not going overboard on anything with a particularly high fat content.

One thing that might well be TMI but no one mentioned to me beforehand.  One morning, I woke up to find that the largest incision site, in my belly button, had...well, ejected a rather large amount of blood-tinged, clear fluid.  I, of course, panicked, ringing NHS Direct at 5am and turning up at my GP's surgery first thing for an emergency appointment.  But apparently it is quite common to get a build up that all comes out at once, and it is nothing to get too concerned about, especially if the wound is not showing any other signs of infection.

The main thing that I have really taken away from this is how wonderful is our poor, beleaguered NHS.  I know you hear some horror stories but I can't praise the staff with whom I came into contact highly enough, from my GP right through to the nurse who gave me a hug before I got taken down to the theatre, to the lovely anaesthetist's assistant who chatted to me about his Mum as he was wheeling me in.  They do a bloody hard job day in and day out and I am very grateful to all of them.  They all said that it is natural and normal to feel nervous.  I mean, they probably could have done without me weeping on them at every opportunity but they were very patient and kind.

If anyone is about to go through this and has happened across this blog post and wants to get in touch then please do in the comments or to the blog's email address.  As I said above, I am more than happy to answer any questions about my own experience especially if it could help to alleviate someone's fears.

Normal service - i.e. food related witterings - will resume tomorrow.


  1. Hi I've just had my gallbladder our yesterday and feel fine. I was so nervous and almost backed out.
    I can take the plasters off tomorrow and have a shower or bath, can't wait. Had minimal pain. Only taken a few mild painkillers so hoping this carries on.

    1. Belinda that's great to hear! Thanks for sharing. Hope your recovery continues smoothly. xxx