Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recovery - My Gallbladder Removal (Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy)

Today marks exactly one month since my gallbladder was removed. While my surgeon and doctors originally told me I'd be feeling back to normal and able to eat, "whatever I wanted" 4-5 days after the surgery, I have to say that is definitely not the case.

The first week was the worst. For the first night I had problems urinating. (SCARY.) I found out later that the nurses should have waited until I peed before they discharged me. While, they didn't... and after a very stressful night of sticking my hand under warm water, running the tap in the bathroom, and praying to God that even a -tiny- amount come out... I finally did pee the next morning. Phew. I did NOT want to return to the hospital in order to have a catheter placed inside me. One crisis averted!

The rest of the week consisted of me sleeping sitting upright on a couch in the living room, while my friends and family members aided me by helping me stand up and holding my hand while I hobbled to and from the bathroom. Fun times.

Walking around the house was necessary during that first week, to get rid of the carbon dioxide gas they pumped me up with during surgery. Thankfully, I never had the horrible shoulder and back pain that usually accompanies this, but my stomach was definitely bloated and hobbling around helped a lot.

To keep busy I caught up on the entire last season of Game of Thrones, and played a crap load of Final Fantasy 6, Katamari, and the Sims 2 on my Playstation Vita.

I was extremely sore all over, and I awoke many times during the night exclaiming "OUCH!" and then falling back to sleep. In honesty, I really didn't get any good sleep sitting there on that couch. My butt would become numb, and my back eventually started hurting. After a few days I started laying down on another couch, and that was a bit more comfy. I HATED having to sleep on my back every night (my sides were way too painful.) I'm still dealing with this, and I can't wait until I can sleep on my left or right side with comfort again.

The painkillers I was prescribed (tramadol/acetaminophen combo) really didn't help with my pain, so I eventually gave up on them around the four day mark. I decided to just ride it out, and eventually the pain became more of a soreness/ache, and I started to feel better.

As for food, the first week I had zero appetite. I knew I had to get my strength and energy up though, so I did eat a lot of plain toast (no butter), light veggie soup, crackers, fruits, apple juice, jello, fat-free pudding, and apple sauce. Nothing really substantial for the first week, but I was still feeling nauseous anyway, so I just tried my best.

Week 1 also brought about pretty brutal diarrhea (gross, I know... but all part of the process.) Running to the toilet after any meal was not a highlight of this whole recovery process. Thankfully, as week 2 rolled around, this greatly subsided.

At the one week mark I received a surprise in the mail from the company, I Heart Guts. It was my very own stuffed gallbladder to make up for the one I lost! Hurray! This definitely putting a much needed smile on my face. :)

Much cuter than the one I lost! <3

Around the one week mark, I definitely started to feel better, but I also developed sharp pains on my left side under my ribs. Not too happy about this development!

Week two I became stronger and was able to walk around without much help. My appetite increased, and I added lean turkey and chicken with brown rice and veggies to my diet. I wasn't able to go see the fireworks on Canada Day with my friends, but I was able to get into the car and drive around to see them from a distance. 

Week three I started feeling up to going out more, and even went to the mall and for a walk around the block. This was probably a mistake, because my right side (where my GB had been) started aching and forming sharp pains that would literally stop me in my tracks. Did I just push myself too much that day? I'm still not sure.

Fast forward to today - one month after surgery. I've met with my surgeon who said all my incision areas are healing very nicely. He wrote off my left and right sided aches and pains as, "part of the healing process." I also found out that my gallbladder was, "chronically inflamed" at the time of removal, and if it had been inside me any longer it could have potentially ruptured and become life threatening. It was a good thing I got it out when I did.

The problem remains though, that I still have pretty painful stabbing and aching sensations both on the right side under my ribs, as well as the left. I visited my doctor yesterday, who seems to think I might have IBS related problems. I'm not too convinced of this, so I was sent for a full blood work and other tests. Reading patient stories online make me worry about Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction (where the sphincter leading into the pancreas goes into a "spasm", causing temporary back-up of biliary and pancreatic juices resulting in attacks of abdominal pain.

I'm also concerned about having pancreatitis, stomach ulcers, hernias... and, well, basically all the horrible things Dr. Web MD says I might have based on my symptoms. Hopefully my blood work will reveal SOMETHING, and there's a simple fix for these ongoing issues I'm having. 

My diet continues to be low-fat to non-fat everything. Sure, it's bland... but I have lost 30 pounds and I feel healthier. I don't want to develop more stones in the future, so I think it's better to be safe and sorry (at least for now.) 

Do I regret having the surgery? No. My gallbladder was in a BAD state, and needed to come out. I really just wish the pain I'm feeling would go away. I was led to believe that this surgery would eradicate the pains I've been having since January completely, but, this isn't the case. I'm crossing my fingers that the next few months find me pain free, so I can forget about this whole ordeal and move forward with my life. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Surgery Day - My Gallbladder Removal (Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy)

On the morning of my surgery, I awoke happy. I had a good nights sleep (I have no idea how!) and I woke up early to take a long shower and bath. No breakfast (I had to start fasting at midnight, because my surgery was scheduled for 2:30pm.) I had some stabbing pains in my upper abdomen, and if anything, they made me MORE anxious to have this surgery so this pain would just GO AWAY ALREADY. 

My parents drove me to the hospital. I wasn't allowed to wear any make-up (guh, I hated going out in public without my mascara!) and I could only wear loose-fitting clothing. Basically, I looked a hot mess, but so did everyone else who was having surgery that day, so I wasn't -too- concerned.

Credit Valley Hospital - the last stop for my gallbladder

I registered, got my nifty green hospital wrist-band, went to the 2nd floor, and the waiting game began. It was about 40 minutes until I was told to undress and put on the most STYLISH blue hospital gown and booties. More waiting in another area with similarly dressed people, while Judge Judy blared on the TV in the background. No one seemed to pay attention to it - everyone (including myself) seemed stuck in their own little world, most likely praying our surgeries would go without incident. Man, nerves were getting the best of me at this point.

I was given this pager while waiting to be called in for surgery. It was like I was at a really crappy restaurant!

I was finally called in by a nurse, where I was weighed. Hey! I've lost 20 pounds! Not too shabby. She gave me various pills to take with only a teensy tiny bit of water. My vitals were taken. I was asked a bazillion questions about my health. Then, I was given this needle in the back of my arm that would prevent blood clots during the surgery. MY GOD THIS NEEDLE HURT. This was no ordinary needle - it literally felt like a bee was stinging me for a good 15 minutes after she stuck it in me. I actually had to ask to make sure the needle wasn't still stuck in there. Yowza. I never expected that!

Back to the waiting room. More waiting. Then, out of no where, I was told my surgery was bumped up an hour! I said goodbye to my mom, gave her a hug, and was escorted behind a huge set of sliding doors into the "surgery wing." A nice lady led me to a large chair, which I sat in. She went and got me a hot blanket to put over me while I... take a guess.... waited some more!

Various nurses, including my anesthesiologist and surgeon, came to visit and discuss the procedure with me. No turning back now! I kept telling them all how nervous I was, and I was reassured over and over again that I was in good hands. 

A new nurse came to fetch me to tell me it was time for my surgery. I quickly made a stop at the bathroom first, where I said a quick little prayer. I took a deep breath, walked out, met up with that nurse, and she walked me into a room that looked like a scene out of the X-Files.

First off, let me just say I did not think I would have to walk into the surgery room on my own. I figured someone would give me an IV, and then I'd be wheeled in.  This was not the case - I walked in on my own with nothing hooked to me. For someone who is afraid of surgery, this was tough. The room was large and clinical, with about 6 people in it, all dressed with surgical masks. Lots of white with silver metal instruments all over the place. Chilly. Huge, incredibly daunting lights and tiny TV screens filled the area. Smack dab in the middle, was the table I was to lie on.

I was instructed to take off my hospital gown (thus, exposing my bum.) I did this, and quickly scooted onto the table. It was embarrassing, but hey... these people were going to see my insides soon, anyway. A warm blanket was placed on me, my vitals were once again checked, and one particularly friendly nurse started making small talk with me.

The friendly nurse was my, "beside manner" person. She tried to calm me down as much as possible, and reassured me that blankets would cover all my private parts, and that only my abdomen would be exposed. She asked about my University experience and she talked to me about her daughter who also attended the same University. She inquired about my work and my family - the basic small talk that was intended to get my mind off of the fact that I was in a very scary room, about to undergo a very scary (in my mind) procedure.

A nurse put the IV in my hand (no big deal, didn't really hurt) and a gas mask was placed on my face. I hated this thing - the gas tasted horrible, and I really wanted them to take it off. I was asked if I was feeling dizzy, and eventually I said, yes I was. I assume they started the process of knocking my ass out, because the last thing I remember was the very friendly nurse telling me that I was going to go to sleep now. 

Aaaaand then I woke up. In a panic. I couldn't breathe. Why couldn't I breathe?! Was I dying?! My lungs were struggling for breath, but I felt like they just were not working. I was in another room and there was a nurse by my side. I quickly squeaked out the words, "I can't breathe!" She looked at me with these super concerned eyes, then immediately another nurse was at my side. They talked to each other in concerned tones. An oxygen mask was placed on my face. I was instructed to breathe in and out of my nose (and not my mouth.) I eventually was able to start taking some shallow breaths. Phew.

I'm not sure what happened to cause this. I think maybe the breathing tube was removed, and my lungs just didn't adapt to breathing on their own again as quickly as they should. For the next little while (although it could have been an hour, I'm not sure) I drifted in and out of consciousness. A nurse came by and asked what my pain level was from 1-10. I was definitely hurting, so I told her an 8. I was given morphine into my IV and I remember opening my eyes every once in awhile and then closing them just as fast. I was aware I was in a large room with many nurses, and even more patients who had also just undergone surgery. It was noisy, and there was a lot going on, but I was in my own little world.

I vaguely remember waking up at one point to a nurse washing my face with a very damp cloth. I also recall her commenting on how, "pale" I looked.  I quickly fell back asleep.

Eventually, I was wheeled into another recovery room that was less busy and had a large skylight with the sun shining in. Things were more tranquil here. I had to get up and sit in a big comfy chair. I noticed that there was blood staining my hospital gown, and the nurse came to examine my stitches. She put some more gauze on them to stop the bleeding. My chest felt heavy and my throat was killing. I asked the nurse if this was normal, and I received the same super concerned eyes as before. My collar bone also hurt. Honestly, I was just a big ball of hurt. 

Apparently, during the time I was in recovery, the surgeon had paged my parents and told them my surgery was complete. No complications. I had to go see him in three weeks to talk about the surgery and the results of the biopsy on my gallbladder, but for now he deemed everything a success.

My parents eventually came in and sat beside me. I was asked if I wanted some apple juice or ginger ale. I chose apple juice, but could only get a bit of it down. I was still very out of it, and still in quite a bit of pain. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the nurses had other ideas. One nurse asked my mom is I was normally, "this pale." My mom said I'm pale, but my skin tone was taking a greyish hue. My vitals were checked, my IV was removed, and I was told it was time to go home. But my chest ached! But I still couldn't take deep breaths! But I just need a bit more time to close my eyes! They weren't having any of it. I had to leave now. 

A wheelchair was called for me, and my mom wheeled me downstairs where we waited for my dad to pick up my pain meds (tramadol/acetaminophen) and then to bring the car around to the front entrance. I felt SO tired. I just wanted to sleep. When the car came, my parents helped me into the front seat and I pleaded with my dad to avoid the potholes on the way home. I'm not even sure I put on my seatbelt (horrible, I know... but it was the last thing on my mind.) 

I got home, laid down on the couch and my recovery began...

Monday, June 16, 2014

My First Real Surgery - Gallbladder Removal (Cholecystectomy)

My last post discussed my experience with my first ever colonoscopy. Now, a few months later, I'm about to undergo an even scarier procedure - a cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal.)

After my colonoscopy, my digestive issues never really got any better. To top it all off, I started getting a throbbing ache in my upper right abdomen. It hurt to stand up, it hurt to bend, it hurt to eat... heck, everything just hurt! 

I went to my doctor, who initially just wrote off my pains as possible, "fatty liver disease" or "IBS." Well, nope. I definitely knew it was neither of those causing the aches and pains I was feeling. After some prodding on my part, a blood test and ultrasound were done. The blood test showed slightly elevated liver enzymes. My ultrasound ended up revealing 3 gallstones (one was 2.6cm!) 

I am CLEARLY not impressed that my gallbladder "maked these" stones!

Back to my doctor I went, who suggested I see a surgeon and get out my gallbladder as soon as possible. Fast forward a few weeks, and my surgeon also agreed my gallbladder pains would only get worse, rather than improve as time went on. A surgery date was set! (and changed THREE times, but that's a whole other story.) 

There are two types of gallbladder removal. Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy (also known as "keyhole" surgery), and the traditional open surgery. The laparoscopic approach is where they make 4 very small incisions in your abdomen, and use small equipment to remove your gallbladder. Open surgery is where they instead slice you open in the abdomen with a large 8-12" incision and do the work in the old-fashioned manner.

Laparoscopic requires no cutting into stomach muscles, and is much less invasive. The healing time is much much shorter, and you can usually leave the hospital that very same day and be back on your feet in 3-7 days. The open method is more hardcore and may leave you down and out for 3-7 weeks, and potentially longer. Some people have such a bad attack they do not have time for the laparoscopic approach. There are also some cases where your laparoscopic surgery has to be converted to an open surgery, based on your anatomy or some other unexpected complication that may arise. In these cases, you wont even know until you wake up from your surgery, so there is nothing to decide on in that regard.

I'm scheduled to have things done laparoscopically, so I've got my fingers crossed everything works out in that regard.

In terms of pain, I've been dealing with the strangest this month and last. Everything from debilitating and extremely painful right back pain (it felt like all the nerves in my back were pinched simultaneously for over an entire day) to sharp and dull aches in both my left and right upper abdomen. I've even been getting weird fluttery and pulsating sensations in my abdomen (mostly the right) where it feels like a nerve is jumping around all out-of-control. 

The pain in my left (a sharp, shooting pain that comes and goes, which I'm currently dealing with at this very moment) scares me the most. Why do I have pain on my left side, if my gallbladder is on my right? A little over a week ago, I found myself in the ER because the pain was just SO severe. I thought my pancreas or my spleen might erupt! Of course, after an 8 hour stay in the ER, my blood work turned out fine and another ultrasound showed nothing new. I went home and the pain eventually wore off (and they didn't even give me any medication! Guh!) 

Doctors seem to think the left-sided pain in unrelated to my gallbladder issues, but I've read some other stories online from stone-sufferers who have experienced the same thing. I hope it's nothing worse, and simply pain radiating from a failing gallbladder. 

Have I mentioned that I've lost 20 pounds since all this gallbladder diagnosis came about? I'm happy about this (what girl doesn't want to lose weight?) but it's been tough. I've adopted a super low fat diet (eating any greasy or fatty foods seem to trigger even worse pain). It's been hard watching my friends and family eat steak, Chinese take-out, drink some beers, etc. while I'm in the corner munching on a plain piece of bread and eating light veggie soup. I'm HUNGRY! *grumble* 

Anyway, tomorrow is the date of my surgery. I've never had a full-on surgery before. I've never been seriously put out, or carved open. Thankfully, my surgeon told me if everything goes according to plan, I'll be back home the same night. It's only a day surgery, and since they are doing everything laparoscopically to remove my gallbladder, my healing time should also be cut in half. 

That doesn't stop me from being TERRIFIED though. I've read such horrible stories about gallbladder removal online. I'm scared of the pain, I'm scared of complications during surgery, I'm scared I won't even wake up, or that I'll end up with even worse side effects than I had going in! 

I know recovery will be rough, but right now I'm thinking it's worth it if this horrible sharp pain would just go away. My surgeon seems like a super knowledgeable guy, so I know I'll be in good hands. 

Wish me luck, Internet peeps! I'm super scared, but I'm praying everything works out for the best. :) I'll update as much as I can during the recovery period!

I won't miss you, you little green monster! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Colonoscopy - The Day Of

So guess what? I'm back already! When people said that the actual colonoscopy procedure itself is easy peasy, they weren't lying.

This morning, the last litre of prep I had to drink was God awful. I won't lie about that. It was a struggle drinking it all down (but, I was so proud of myself when I finished.) There was such satisfaction in checking off each little glass on the sheet I was provided, that indicated, yep, I'm a good girl and I drank all my medicine. :P

My mom drove me to the Endoscopy/Colonoscopy clinic. I was incredibly nervous, and my heart was beating a mile a minute. Having never been put to sleep, received an IV, or had a HUGE TUBE SHOVED UP MY BUM was kind of stressing me out.

A serious concern - thankfully, averted.

When I got to the clinic, all my nerves vanished. Everyone was incredibly kind and supportive, and I never felt confused or worried about anything. Once I filled out a form, I was guided into a room where I changed into the MOST fashionable blue hospital gown (they're all the rage, I swear) that had a back opening. I was allowed to keep on my bra and socks, but that's about it.

A really kind lady then escorted me to a bed, where she put in my IV. Slight pinch, but nothing horrible. My blood pressure was taken, I met with the man who was going to put me to sleep, and then I was wheeled into the operating room. I met my doctor, who was super friendly and answered all questions I had. Oxygen was placed into my nose, and the sleep medicine (it was Propofol - the same kind Michael Jackson used. Oy) slowly went into my arm. I felt a bit of a tingling/burning sensation and... that's the last thing I remember.

Next thing I know, a nurse is calling my name. I woke up in a little recovery section (I guess I was wheeled there?) and my nurse was all smiles - always a good sign! She told me that my colonoscopy went great. No polyps, no indication of Crohn's Disease, and NO CANCER! Phew. All my anxiety about that dreaded "C" word finally blew right out of me. Or was that gas? It might have been gas. You're REALLY gassy after that procedure :P

The doctor did biopsy several sections of my large and small intestine, just to be safe, and I'll receive those results in four weeks when I go in for a follow-up meeting with him. In the meantime, I've been diagnosed with having Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is easily managed by maintaining a healthy diet and not stressing out so much. I was also given a prescription for pro-biotic pills, just to maintain a good balance in my colon.

I'm surprised I didn't feel groggy or dizzy, or... really anything but gassy after that test. Some abdominal cramping, but nothing serious at all. In fact, I felt better rested than I have in a long while! I even joked that being put out was the best sleep I've had all week!

The moral of my story here is that, if you suspect you have an issue, don't be scared to have it checked out. Chances are, it's nothing as serious as you think. And if it is, the faster you catch it, the more effectively you can treat it. :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Colonoscopy at 30 - the Prep

I’m not going to lie – it’s been a rough couple of months. 2014 hasn’t really been my friend. I’ve dealt with some strange health issues (culminating in many blood tests, stool samples, and even a trip to the ER.) So far, the doctors aren’t sure what’s wrong with me… which brings me to tomorrow. I’m scheduled for my first (and hopefully last for a long while) colonoscopy.

EEP! When my doctor recommended I undergo a colonoscopy, I almost pooped my pants (pun intended ;) Being so young (and not expecting to have one of these procedures until I am at LEAST 50) I began to dread it immediately. I even put it off a few weeks, thinking that all my weird intestinal symptoms would get better and maybe I wouldn’t have to go through with this after all.

Well, nope. Things haven’t gotten better, so off to the Endoscopy Clinic I’m going tomorrow morning.

Of course, I’m dreading being diagnosed with the dreaded “C” word. More than being scared over the procedure, I’m terrified of waking up after it’s all done and having a despondent looking doctor downheartedly tell me I have cancer and it’s spread and I’m doomed.  So, yeah. Worst case scenario. It doesn’t help that I’ve been consulting with Dr. Google and Mr. WebMD and they both agree my outlook is pretty bad.

“STOP READING STUFF ONLINE!” – all of my friends and family. I’m trying! But I’m a naturally curious person and I hate waiting and while I know -something- is wrong with me, it’s hard to wait and find out what exactly that is.


Fast forward to today. Prep day! Everyone has been telling me that the prep is worse than the actual procedure itself.  So far, I’ve taken the 3 bisacodyl tablets with water, and I’m waiting until 8pm to drink the 4 glasses of the Bipeglyte PEG/Electrolyte solution I purchased. Four hours before my appointment at 11am tomorrow morning, I’ll have to drink 4 more glasses of the stuff.

I definitely anticipate spending most of my night in the washroom (which, has been cleaned and set-up with a good book for me to read, and my laptop with the latest Downton Abbey episodes queued and waiting.) From what I’ve read online, it won’t be a fun experience and I’ll most likely have a very sore bum by tomorrow morning.

Oh yeah, and I’m hungry (did I mention that I can’t consume anything but clear fluids/broth, Jello-O, herbal teas, and hard candies today? Cuz I can’t.) Nothing red or purple, and definitely no alcohol. And here I was, really craving a nice cold Margarita. Darn! :P

Broth, Jell-O, Clear Gatorade, Hard Candies... there are the only things I can consume the day before!

But I’ll be okay. I can do this. I’ve even looked up #colonscopy on Twitter today and found several individuals going through the exact same thing I am! How amazing are hashtags? I mean, really. Connecting intestinally-challenged people with a simple search. Amazeballs.

I’ll edit this post as my night goes on. I’m sure I’ll want some kind of distraction with all the time I’ll be spending stuck on the toilet bowl (attractive thought, I know!)

PS – The reason I’m even writing this post in the first place, is so hopefully any one going through the same thing, or who are even hesitant about getting a colonoscopy in the first place, realize that it’s a normal thing and anyone (at any age) can (and should) have it done. I’m the biggest wuss out there. I’m terrified of needles and I’ve never been put to sleep or had surgery. But I’m doing this. I’m doing this because my mom had cancer, my grandpa had cancer, and heck, maybe I have cancer. I know from experience, that it’s better to find things early than to chicken out and deal with worse consequences later. If I can do this, you can do this. Trust me.

So… here we go!

edit: 9:30pm. I drank the entire litre of the prep liquid. Four glasses, every ten minutes. I struggled with it, and honestly almost threw up twice. On the package it's labelled as, "fruit flavoured." Well, if SALT WATER is all of a sudden an exotic fruit, then yeah, totally tastes like fruit. ;) I used a straw to get it down faster (placed at back of throat, so I didn't taste it as much) and each long sip was followed with a gulp of clear lemonade vitamin water.  It was bad, but I guess it could have been worse! I'll have to repeat this procedure at 6am. Now, time to camp out in the bathroom.

edit 2: 6am. I'm up to drink more of the dreaded prep. I actually was able to get a couple hours of sleep and guess what? I had a nightmare about drinking this stuff! Groan! One glass down, three to go. The cat keeps looking at me weird - probably wondering why I'm up drinking one minute, and running to the toilet the next. :P