Two days after returning from my birthday weekend in Las Vegas, I got up off the couch to brush my teeth before bed and was hit by a sudden, stabbing pain in my chest.
“GARGGGG!” I hollered, clutching my chest and staggering into the study.
“Honey?” My husband looked up from the computer screen in alarm. “Honey? You okay?”
“ARRG GARAGGGG GARGG!” I replied eloquently, gesturing at my ribcage.
“Jesus. Okay, honey, can you talk? What’s going on?”
By then I was staggering to the living room, then the kitchen, the playroom–unable to keep still. For some reason, my legs wouldn’t stop moving. I had to keep moving.
“Can you tell me exactly where it hurts? Should I take you to the ER?”
By now, my husband knows not to fuck around when anything is wrong with me, because by now it’s a given: if anything’s wrong with me, it’s something weird as shit.
“Feels…like…heartattack,” I gasped. “Like GARRRGGGHHH been shot.”
My husband ran and got the blood pressure cuff and slapped it onto my arm, since that was the latest freakazoid medical scare we’d had. Reading: 148/111. Not a great reading but not nearly on the scale of last time, so probably not cardiac arrest.
My husband went to take the cuff off, but I was already moving again, careening upstairs to the bedroom, dragging the cuff behind me.
“Hey! Can you stay still a minute? I need to talk to you!”
“No, you fucker! I need to keep GARRGGGHHH moving. Sorry!”
“Okay.” He ran upstairs. By now, I was flopped on the bed, writhing around like the least erotic Whitesnake music video ever.
“Okay,” he panted. “Is it just your chest? Does the pain go anywhere else?”
I whacked my right flank violently.
“It radiates to the back?” he asked.
“Just the right or the whole back side?”
“Okay, uh, I think I know what this is and you aren’t dying,” he reassured me. “But you are passing a gall stone. Pretty sure.”
I am nothing if not dramatic.
“Look. Just, ummm, try to calm down a little, because here’s the good news, okay? You aren’t dying.”
“I know it feels like you are dying, but you aren’t. The stone just has to pass. That’s the good news.”
I glowered at him.
“Yeah. The bad news is that it can take an hour or two for it to do that.”
He was right, though. 56 minutes later (yes, I timed it. When something hurts that bad, and you are guaranteed relief at some juncture, you watch every second tick by), the pain evaporated. Just went away, like it was never there. How can that be? How can you be near certain death and then bang! Everything’s alrighty?
The next morning, I knew it had happened, because my whole torso was sore, but other than that (and some lost sleep), I was no worse for wear.
“We should probably get you in to get that gall bladder looked at,” my husband said, pouring milk into his coffee.
“Yeah, sooner rather than later,” I snapped. “Because I don’t ever want to go through that again. I mean it. That was hideous.”
“Well, passing one like that doesn’t happen very often,” he assured me.
Liar, liar, pants on fire because wouldn’t you know it, right before midnight the very next night, I staggered around to his side of the bed and shook him violently.
“It’s happening again,” I hissed.
^^^Cue that whole opening scene all over again^^^
Except it only took 47 minutes to pass, this time. Lucky me.
“I’m off today,” he said. “Let’s take the girls to school and drive in and I’ll take a look at it, okay?”
“Okay, but I’m worried,” I said. “I mean this pain–I don’t EVER want to go through this kind of pain again and I’m afraid we’ll get in there and look around and see nothing. Like, there won’t be anything wrong with my gall bladder. So that means it’s something else, and we won’t know what it is, and it’s going to take forever to figure out, and I’ll keep having these things and…”
He smiled wryly at me. “Can we just go see if it IS your gall bladder and take it from there?”
My husband smears clear gel all over my winter-white belly and picks up the ultrasound wand.
“All right, let’s have a look-see, shall we?”
He has the wand pressed to my abdomen for maybe ten seconds before he huffs out a laugh. “Oh-ho, my goodness.”
“Are there any stones in there?” I say, trying to rubberneck around to the screen.
He starts chuckling in earnest. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, there are.” He turns the screen so I can get a better look.
I squint, making out a homely, gourd-shaped structure that looks to be filled with the entirety of Barbara Bush’s collection of pearl necklaces.
“Those aren’t pearls, are they…?” And then I start laughing. Hard.
“Cut it out! Quit laughing so hard, I’m trying to get a picture,” he says, but he’s laughing, too. “Jesus, honey, you’ve got a box-a-rocks in there!”
I reach out a fist to punch him but I miss.
He picks up the phone to call the surgeon. “Can I send my wife up there? She’s a walking box of rocks.”
I’m a special box of rocks because I have stones not only in my gall bladder, but in my bile duct, which means that I’m treated to two surgeries, not just one.
It takes a couple of days to get both surgeries completed, so I’m confined to a boring hospital bed and a grueling regimen of zero food and zero water. For 48 hours I get–whoopee!–ice chips.
48 hours is a long time to suck on ice chips and get stuck with needles and wait and wait and wait.
I shouldn’t complain.
After all, I got in for surgery pretty much immediately (at least the first one). It’s my fault my gall bladder is an overachiever and had to spread the wealth around.
But lemme tell you, 48 hours of forced fasting makes a girl eerily similar to a wolverine. I sat in my hospital bed, IV dripping away, sucking on ice chips, fantasizing about my first meal post-surgery.
Pizza, I think.
No wait. French fries–extra salty with lots of ketchup.
Could my husband smuggle me in that phenomenal spaghetti bolognese from that cute Italian place?
Egg rolls. Oh yeah. All of the egg rolls. Dumplings too.
The surgeon must have read my dirty, food-centered little mind, because as soon as I started plotting my feast, she knocked on my door and sat down next to me.
“Don’t even think about it,” she warned, narrowing her eyes.
I started to protest, but she waved me off. “Every patient I’ve ever had thinks they’ll get away scot-free after the surgery, but it doesn’t work that way.” She smiled in sympathy. “They think they’re in the all-clear and go order a giant burger and fries and then spend the next few days howling on the toilet with massive diarrhea.”
I begin to pout.
“You know what the gall bladder is for, don’t you?”
Is it bad form to give your surgeon the middle finger?
“Yeah, yeah, my husband told me. It’s where your body filters fat, or something.”
“Basically, yeah. And now you don’t have that filter any more. So most likely–in fact, it’s almost a certainty–you’re body isn’t going to be able to tolerate fatty foods for quite a while. In fact, it might never really be able to tolerate them well again.”
I must have looked really forlorn because she patted my knee reassuringly. “We’ll get to that when we come to it. For now though–and by “for now,” I mean the next four weeks–you are on a strict low-fat diet. Really strict. No fried foods, no creamy foods, no cheesy foods, no bacon, no sauces, limited dairy.”
“So you are basically saying that I am going to be able to eat ZERO fun things for the next month.”
“Yeah. Sorry.” She tried to look reassuring. “But then we can gradually add things in after that and see how you tolerate them. How does that sound?”
As foul as my mood was, I started to laugh. And then I told her all about my foiled birthday dinner and my Vegas weekend of craft cocktails and Kobe beef sliders and the return of Le Regime.
“Well, look at it this way,” she said. “Your body sort of took care of Le Regime on its own, didn’t it?”
I guess it did.
Damn, my body’s an asshole.
I’ll be a little scarce here for a bit, as I’m still recovering. I have a very unattractive drainage tube still attached to my stomach and painkillers are still very much my friend, but I am hoping to round the bend soon. Dang, this thing flattened me. Many thanks to those who sent well-wishes and positive thoughts and offers of help. And a huge shout-out to my wonderful, tolerant husband who has had to re-adjust his life this past week to wait on me and be Everyman around the house. Despite my bad attitude, I know I’m a lucky girl.
Pass the bran flakes.