Before I begin, I just want to make it clear right off the bat that the title of this post isn’t metaphorical. After 47 years of successfully avoiding any major injuries to my body, I finally had to go under the knife for the very first time. So I just wanted to put down the events that lead up to S-Day, October 6th, 2021.
It all started around April, when I thought I had another attack of late night indigestion. This wasn’t something new, I had felt this way a few times already in the year or two prior. The modus operandi was always the same: I would suddenly feel a discomfort/pressure in the right side of my abdomen that, while not painful really, made it impossible to sleep. Especially because it often felt worse when lying down. Many times I would awaken to this discomfort and then not be able to go back to bed. Other times I hadn’t even gone to sleep yet. I’ve had it enough times that by the time this latest attack struck, I kinda knew what to expect: pretty much an all-nighter alternating between kneeling, standing, lying down in different positions and visits to the toilet. Eventually it would get to the point where it was comfortable enough for me to lie with my upper body propped up on pillows, and I could finally try to catch some shuteye before I had to face the next day. Although I wasn’t really in any pain, the entire experience was absolutely agonizing because it always happened late at night when I just want to sleep. But I couldn’t, because it was sooo uncomfortable to lie down. And in the midst of it all the least uncomfortable position was to keep myself upright. But then I was so tired that I couldn’t keep standing. It was just an extremely uncomfortable and cruel cycle that lasted all night. Every now and again I would try to take an antacid. Never seemed to help so once I tried a laxative. Didn’t help either. I basically had to just wait it through. But every time it did go away by itself. As to why it happens to begin with, I wasn’t sure. At one point I even thought maybe it was because I was eating too much boba in one sitting. Cause a few times it seemed to have happened after I had ordered extra boba in my drink earlier in the day.
But this time, it was different. In the morning I was still awake and the discomfort still hadn’t gone away. It took a few more hours for it to finally subside but even then, I still had some discomfort if I pushed a bit around a spot in my right abdomen. That was new. It was concerning enough that I decided to actually see a doctor about it. By the time the appointment came around a few days later, I was already back to normal. My doc decided to send me for an abdominal ultrasound (along w/bloodwork) just in case. The ultrasound revealed a “large amount of tumefactive sludge and gallbladder wall thickening.” This was concerning enough for them to then send me off for an MRI which also detected the sludge as well as “several small gallstones.” So because of these results, the doctor’s recommendation was to have the gallbladder removed via laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Even though at this point I wasn’t feeling unwell, the fact that I had been having these attacks a couple of times already within the past year or two was enough cause to just get rid of the gallbladder altogether. Plus better to have it done now when I was in relatively good shape than wait for a really bad attack to happen to force our hand.
So after not much thought really I decided to just go for it. Overall, the procedure as it’s done nowadays is pretty safe. Surprisingly safe and run of the mill considering you’re removing a small sac hiding under your liver in your abdomen. To me, having to mess around with anything in your body that’s not in your arms or legs is a pretty big deal. My doc even joked about how she considered having hers removed when she underwent a C-section while giving birth. She made it seem like the gallbladder was just another extraneous organ that your body will learn to function just fine without. Furthermore, my mother also had underwent the procedure a little less than two years ago and she got through it just fine. She had hers done in Taiwan and because of her age, she had to stay in the hospital a few days afterwards; not because she was in any pain but just for observation. On the other hand, my aunt’s husband also had his removed and, not entirely sure what happened but he was in a lot of pain for awhile afterwards. So there are always exceptions to the rule. But frankly, I’m not the type to dwell on possible negatives so I wasn’t particularly concerned. My doc gave me a list of recommended general surgeons in the area and after doing some research online about them, I settled on one that had a lot of experience with gallbladder removal and majority good reviews so I was feeling pretty confident that things would work out fine.
Between my doc and my mother, I pretty much knew what to expect during and after the surgery. Although there were slight discrepancies between what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing afterwards. My mother had told me that after the surgery, I should eat small and light meals for weeks and slowly work my way back to a regular diet. Plus no lifting heavy things for possibly months. In the rather comprehensive pamphlet that I was given by the surgeon, it also mentions easing back into regular eating as well as avoiding heavy lifting but the timeframe was at the discretion of the doctor.
So anyway, the day of the operation comes. Oddly, when you schedule your procedure, they don’t tell you when to actually show up until the day before. Which is a little annoying cause whoever is your designated driver pretty much has to keep their schedule open for possibly the entire day. But I think usually they try to get you in pretty early in the morning. In my case, they called me in the early afternoon the day before and told me I had to check in at 5:45am. Plus I can’t eat or drink anything after midnight. E drops me off at 5:45 sharp. Because of COVID, she can’t even accompany me throughout the check-in process. Just drop off and go. They’ll call her later to tell her when to come pick me up. Now apparently same-day out-patient surgeries don’t take place at hospitals. They take place in a run-of-the-mill office building, albeit a nicely decorated one. This one happened to be behind a CVS and next to a Trader Joe’s. We had passed by it often in the past and had no idea it was there.
After you finish with all the paperwork, they put a band on your wrist and you go back out to wait briefly in the lobby until a nurse comes to bring you into the prep area. Then they have you change into a gown that opens from the back which I don’t understand cause uh, how do they get to my front where the incisions will be made if the opening is in the back? Best I don’t know I guess. And then you also wear these grippy socks that have rubbery grippy spots all over so it doesn’t matter which way you put them on as long as they’re not inside out. Grippy so you don’t actually slip and hurt yourself walking to your partition in the prep area.
Once seated, a nurse came to stick me w/an IV needle. Interestingly enough the needle goes into the back of my hand instead of the inside of my elbow which I thought was the usual place. But probably better that it was the back of my hand cause the blood vessels there are much more easy to see and access. Afterwards, a seasoned nurse and a new nurse came by to go over my health history. The seasoned nurse was showing the noob the ropes. Now I never really thought about, or appreciated that, as a nurse, you generally have to be a pretty social and empathetic type of person. Which makes sense cause you’re dealing with people who are about to undergo a pretty stressful situation, even if it is “minor.” But the nurses were great, they really did their best to make me feel at ease; cracking jokes and whatnot. After they finished with me, the head anesthesiologist dropped by for a chat and to go over my health history again. Again, very nice guy but for some reason he came to the conclusion that I was allergic to Tylenol (which I’m not) and jotted it down in their records. I didn’t know he had actually done this until a little while later when the actual anesthesiologist that was going to put me under also came by, looked at my papers and asked, “You’re allergic to Tylenol?” “Uhh, no…” “Yeah I didn’t think you were.” And scribbled that out. In-between that, my surgeon stopped by briefly to make sure that everything was moving along smoothly. And then I just waited for maybe another 10 minutes or so before a nurse came to lead me to the operating room. By that time, it was a little after 7am.
I don’t remember overly much about the operating room itself besides it just being filled w/medical equipment, 4 or 5 people doing stuff, and the narrow operating table in the shape of a cross. I didn’t actually realize that until I lay down and the anesthesiologist told me to bring both my arms out so they could strap them down. So basically I was being crucified. ;-p But the anesthesiologist also got a rather thick and warm blanket over the lower half of my body which was nice cause it was a little chilly in there. Now, the next part was basically the one thing that I was the most interested in ever since I knew I was going to have surgery: what going under was going to feel like. For some reason, I was really curious to see how that was going to play out. And it was both fascinating and somewhat disappointing at the same time. So what happened was, they hooked my IV up to something, I don’t know what cause it was behind me. After making sure that I was comfortable, the anesthesiologist then said, “Ok, I’m going to start the anesthetic now, you might feel something cold.” And sure enough, I could feel something cold run up my left arm from the back of hand and then boom, I was out like a light. Now I’m no stranger to fighting off drowsiness and that’s what I originally thought would happen. That I’d start to feel really sleepy and it’d basically feel like falling asleep. But no, it’s sooo much faster than that. Once I felt the cold creep up to around my shoulder, I had maybe a second at most of, “Hm, ok I think I’m feeling sleepy…” and gone. It literally was like someone had turned the switch off on my consciousness.
Next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room. Not as groggy as I was expecting but still somewhat out of it. I vaguely remember a nurse telling me that it was around 9:30 and they were going to call E to come pick me up and I think I fell asleep again for another half hour or so. Strangely enough, my recollection of this post-op recovery period is completely vague. I remember being given something to drink and snack on but I can’t recall specifically what it was I was eating or if I was given water or juice. I remember getting up and going to the bathroom, possibly because one of the things the seasoned nurse had told me in the beginning was that she always made sure that her patients were able to at least urinate before they were allowed to leave. But I don’t remember changing back into my clothes. I do remember feeling rather surprised, and grateful that I was feeling no pain whatsoever in my abdomen. My right shoulder was pretty sore though (and would remain so for the next day or so) but apparently that’s a common side effect of them pumping your abdominal cavity w/CO2 so that the surgeon has more room to work with. And I vaguely remember my surgeon coming by and telling me that everything went well and that it was a good decision to have my gallbladder removed cause it was really inflamed which meant that it had been having issues for years now. Then the nurse told me that E had arrived so they brought me out to her in a wheelchair cause apparently you can’t leave a hospital or medical building after a procedure on your own two feet.
For me, post-op recovery was fairly uneventful. I didn’t have to take any pain medication whatsoever which I thought was kinda weird considering they had just made 4 incisions in me. No sutures that I could see, just some sort of clear surgical glue holding the cuts together. Although after looking at the list of like 10+ medication/chemicals that they had used on me during the surgery, I can see why I wasn’t feeling any pain. I was told that it was ok to shower, just don’t take a bath or soak the incisions for too long. I was also encouraged to exercise as much as possible (except for heavy lifting). The most pain that I felt out of the entire affair actually came two days later when I had my first bowel movement after the surgery. My intestines started going berserk and I was feeling so bad at times that I thought I was going to faint. But after I finally got that bought of diarrhea out of the system, it was all pretty much smooth sailing from there. I didn’t even need to miss any days of work (besides surgery day). Had a post-op checkup w/the surgeon 10 days later where he just asked if I had any issues (Nope) and took a look at the incisions (which apparently were healing nicely). Then he said I basically had no restrictions on what I could do or eat going forward. I was like, “even heavy lifting?” Yup, even heavy lifting. But I figured I’d still avoid that for awhile. When they remove your gall bladder they need to clamp shut the part of the bile duct that it was attached to. Didn’t want to risk doing anything that would accidentally cause issues with that.
So now, about 3 weeks out, the incisions are still healing and I still have the occasional bout of diarrhea (usually after a particularly oily meal). But otherwise, everything’s more or less normal. I pretty much completely switched back to my normal eating habits about a week and a half after the surgery. After the wounds heal, I’ll try to keep them covered with silicone tape for awhile cause apparently they do wonders with scars. As the doctors’ liked to joke, “You can’t wear a bikini anymore.” For my first time going under the knife, it was pretty much the best outcome that I could have hoped for.