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!