The Gall of Some People


Up to 25% of all people have gallstones, according to Wikipedia. And, I can attest, they can cause pain. A recent lull in my posting here is due to having surgery on Thursday to remove my gallbladder.

It all started several months ago with a few mild episodes. What I thought was gas or indigestion turned out to be pain associated with the constriction of my gallbladder with stones in it. The gallbladder stores bile created by the liver and helps in digestion. Bile contains water, cholesterol, salts, fats, proteins and such and work to break down fat in the intestine as digestion occurs.

Stones form in the gallbladder for a few reasons and, among them, is too much cholesterol. The stones then reside in the bladder and cause discomfort or pain when the gallbladder contracts as it secretes bile into the pancreatic duct. Extreme pain can occur (as I can also attest!) when a stone is being passed through the cystic duct. Lucky for me, the stones didn’t get any further than this. If one should have passed to the common or main bile duct, which is shared by the liver and gallbladder to secrete bile to the pancreas, then things could have been more complicated. Liver enzymes increase and bile flow is obstructed from the liver causing jaundice if the stones don’t pass successfully to the intestine.

The pain. I’ve experienced extreme pain several times in my life. Once, I cut my finger to the bone while I was on a field exercise in the U.S. Army. I didn’t have time to locate bandages so I wrapped my finger in duct tape and drove on with the mission. The pain was unbelievable but nothing compared with the pain I felt about two weeks ago at about 3:30 am. At 5:00 am, I finally drove to the hospital emergency room and checked myself in. By the time the doctor examined me and gave me morphine for the pain, I found a new appreciation for what pain means. If I had any state secrets, I would have talked. I would have made something up if the pain would stop! But the morphine was good.

I left the hospital (with my wife driving) and filled my prescription for Vicodin but never needed it. Per the doctor’s advice, I avoided fatty foods. In fact, I maintained an almost “no fat” diet for the entire week before my operation, so as to not cause the gallbladder to restrict. I was not about to go through that pain again.

Now, with gallbladder gone, I can eat fatty foods again, but I think I’m done with them. When I was in the Army, I was in good shape and ate pretty well. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve allowed myself to eat whatever. And working full-time and going to school almost full-time at age 40 makes it easy for me to skip opportunities for physical fitness. I don’t run any more or visit the gym.

In just one week of avoiding fatty foods, I found myself on the last notch in my belt. The last notch in the good direction. If I stick to low-fat and get some exercise, who knows? Maybe I’ll need to buy a new belt altogether. I’m not terribly overweight, but I’ve definitely been in better shape.

Now… where did I put those running shoes?