Four small puncture wounds was all it took to steal one of my organs.
Note: I’m guessing there will only be a small handful of people who “get” the reference in the title of this blog ;)
For those of you who’ve been even somewhat following my story, you probably already know that I’ve been battling with my pesky gallbladder for about 18 months and, after trying so many natural alternatives, surgery was the best remaining option.
You probably also know that, over the course of our ongoing standoff, I really gave it my all to beat this thing naturally.
First, I tried bettering my body by starting to actually exercise and learning to eat clean, eventually adopting a vegan lifestyle. The theory was, a healthier body would be able to heal its ailments. But, even as my weight went down and my fitness level went up, even more and more foods were giving me gallbladder attacks.
Then, with the help of my doctor, we tried a number of natural remedies to heal my gallbladder, or at least lessen the pain of attacks. While things like milk thistle extract and organic apple cider vinegar certainly helped prolong the need for surgery, in the end, they just couldn’t reverse the damage that had been done.
Lastly, I researched ways to naturally remove the stones lodged inside my gallbladder. There are a number of ways to go about doing this. I did an extended juice ‘feast’ in an attempt to reset my body naturally. My dad suggested looking into a sonar treatment which is common for breaking up kidney stones, but unfortunately, the gallstone version is only in trial stages. My doctor looked into a medication that could dissolve the stones, but unfortunately, had side effects including possible damage to other organs. A few friends suggested an apple juice cleanse followed by drinking a certain oil to soften the stones then flush them out, but unfortunately, that just seemed far too risky to me. One tiny drop of oil gives me the worst pain I’ve felt in my life, and you’re asking me to drink a half cup!? No thank you. I still think that might’ve just caused a need for emergency, rather than scheduled, surgery.
Turns out, after talking with the surgeon, even if I had been successful in removing the stones by any of those or other means, my symptoms still would have persisted. My gallbladder was simply in a state of not working, stones or not. Over the years, he had personally seen a number of gallbladder surgery patients with the same (or worse) symptoms, on his operating table to get their gallbladders removed, even after successfully flushing their gallstones one way or another.
That was pretty much the final kicker for me.
Let’s get this sucker outta there!
Please keep in mind: Many people have their gallbladder out after the first or second attack. So why didn’t I? I really wanted to give it a go and see if I could do this the old-fashioned way. I am a BIG supporter of natural remedies. While these natural treatments may work for others, my gallbladder was just a different story than theirs. But also, I just simply couldn’t afford it. With no health insurance, and without the benefit of living in a country with national health coverage, surgery really just wasn’t even an option until now.
* * *
Wednesday: The Big Day~
Here I am staying positive right before going into the surgery room. I’ll be the first to admit that I totally rocked that lavender scrub toga and hair net ;)
The morning of the surgery was pretty fun, actually. The staff at the surgery center were very attentive, and helped me feel welcomed and relaxed, even during something as stressful as my first (and hopefully last!) surgery.
There were notes in my chart that I am vegan, and had recently lost 70 pounds. All the nurses were a buzz with questions about both topics. One nurse in particular squealed when I told her how I’d lost the weight: by eating healthy and exercising my butt off for just over a year. She pulled another nurse over, pointed to my chart and said, “Do you see that!? You never see that! Seems like the only way people lose weight anymore is with surgery or crazy diets or something. She lost 70 pounds by exercising!!!” ;)
The nurses were also impressed with my resting heart rate and blood pressure. My pulse was 46, and my blood pressure was something considered low. She told me I was “cool as a cucumber” and those were stats they usually only see on long-distance runners. Nice! I’ll be a cucumber any day.
After an hour or so of prepping, it was time for the operation. They are a mobile facility, so I actually walked into the operating room to get situated. They helped me up on the tiny T-shaped bed, laid my arms out, and asked me about my photography work. The anesthesiologist told me he was adding some drops to my IV and… blink… longer blink… boy that’s a funny looking lamp above the bed… that’s all I remember.
When I woke up, the nurse asked me about my pain, which was minimal. She noted that, per my vegan request, she couldn’t give me the usual pudding or jello, so asked if saltine crackers were okay to take with my pain pill. She very thoughtfully checked the box, and deemed them dairy-free.
After spilling my cup of water on the bedside tray, fading in and out of sleep, groggily blundering through some outpatient paperwork with Abe, and being wheeled down to the car, we were on our way home!
I spent the rest of the day in bed, in and out of sleep, drinking water and a little low-sodium vegetable broth. Abe kept a close eye on me, and was a very good “nurse”. The paperwork clearly specified that I needed monitored, and should not be allowed to make any important decisions :P
* * *
Thursday: Day 2~
I woke up the next morning feeling great! Sure, I was moving slower than a sloth, but feeling great. The only time I was really experiencing discomfort was when I transitioned from laying down to sitting up or standing. I felt like an old lady, moving so slow and holding my tummy. And as I laid down, I could feel and hear what seemed like air bubbles moving around as my organs adjusted to their new homes. I felt really full, stuffed even, bloated, full of liquids and air.
I quickly found out that it was important to use my abs as little as possible, so I adjusted to using my arms and legs when sitting up or laying down. It’s actually pretty difficult to do something as simple as not use your core muscles!
The crazy part? No pain pills.
Let me say that again…
I have four puncture woulds through my tummy muscles into my insides, a missing organ, and I don’t need pain pills? I still can’t get over this. The wonders of modern medicine.
Here’s a look at the aftermath: four small incisions, covered in white tape. I am assuming the gall bladder came out of the top incision, since that one was (and still is) the most sensitive. Pretty darn amazing!
The surgeon warned me of a few things prior to the surgery:
First and foremost, I wouldn’t be hungry for a few days, as my digestive tract reawakens from the surgery, and as my body begins to cope with the loss of the gallbladder. He insisted that I shouldn’t eat if I’m not hungry, and reassured me that that was okay.
Second, my only exertion restrictions were the limitations of my own discomfort. If I hurt, don’t exercise. If I don’t hurt, feel free. If I was tired, rest. No swimming for two weeks. Based on this, I decided to take five solid days of rest from exercise classes, two weeks of rest from water aerobics, at least two weeks of rest from intense core or ab workouts, and re-analyze as needed.
I got up that morning, cleaned the bathroom, did the dishes, puttered around the house, then laid down and napped the rest of the day away, waking up to read and snuggle kitties. I decided I’d better make my minimal calories really count, because my body needs nutrients to heal, so I ate fruit & veggie smoothies and soup throughout the day. Abe made me dinner after he got home from work, but still, could not bring myself to eat much.
* * *
Friday: Day 3~
I’m looking at all of this, really, as a blessing in disguise.
If I hadn’t developed gallbladder issues 18 months ago, who knows if I ever would’ve been as motivated to analyze my eating and lifestyle choices. These long-term life changes, in turn, led me to add exercise into my daily routine, embrace physical fitness, cut out so so so much junk food from my life, go from vegetarian to vegan, lose 70 pounds, drop 75 cholesterol points, drop 13 pants sizes, and actually become a healthy person.
So really, thank you, gallbladder for opening my eyes to this new lifestyle. But also, good riddance. Now that you’re gone, I don’t have to live in fear of food. I don’t have to be scared of even a teeny tiny bit of oil, and I don’t have to worry I’ll need an emergency surgery, or have an attack during a wedding photography job.
Spent the morning lounging in bed today, but started feeling cooped up. We tossed the puppy in the car and off we went to Baskett Slough, our local wild bird reserve. My walking was still slow, but we just enjoyed a nice leisurely walk and some time together.
This is the view from the top of one hill, looking at the peak of another. Perfect dry, crisp, Oregon winter day. A great local hike for viewing birds, getting some fresh air, getting the blood pumping a little, and just getting out of the house!
Spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself I was hungry, and ate a little bit. My first day back to eating somewhat close to a normal amount of calories. Still not quite up to my normal amount, but taking it slow, and listening to what my body wants.
Look at all that delicious food… so colorful!
Breakfast: fruit plate: 1 banana, 1 cup strawberries, 1 kiwi, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Second Breakfast: Garden of Life 1/2 serving vanilla Raw Meal. So much good stuff. 1 cup green peas.
Lunch: 1/2 vegan falafel wrap my parents brought me from Trader Joe’s. (Thanks mom and dad!) Side of lightly steamed kale, dried cranberries, and lemon juice. Next time I’ll leave off the lemon juice
Dinner: colorful bowl o’ goodness: steamed zucchini and spinach, 1/2 cup no sodium kidney beans, 1/2 cup corn salsa. Yum! Side of Sproutofu baked tofu. My favorite.
Snack: cinnamon pecan vegan Simply Bar. It has more fiber than sugar; no sugar alcohols; no fructose; non-GMO certified; less than 10 ingredients.
* * *
Saturday: Day 4~
Finally… starting to get some real hunger pangs in my tummy! YES! Spent the day visiting with friends and family. Abe and I took the pup for another walk, this time longer (2 miles) and a little faster (3.5 mph). Still easily tired, and ended up napping a few times. Lots of rest throughout the day.
* * *
Sunday: Day 5~
Feeling next to normal! Took the pup for another walk, this time even longer (3+ miles) and even faster (4 mph). I’m super excited to get back to normal. My only discomfort today is from laughing too hard! It feels like I worked my ab muscles really really hard, and they’re just sore. Hard to believe that five short days ago, I had an organ removed from my body.
Enjoyed this little pure-fruit beauty this morning. A new breakfast regular!
And, in case it isn’t obvious, or you are wondering: Yes, I do plan to continue everything about my new clean, simple, vegan lifestyle! Trust me, I’m not going anywhere. All this really means is, like I’ve said before, I won’t have to live in fear of oils or fats.
* * *
Tomorrow: Day 6 and Beyond~
Since my walk today was almost back to my normal pace with no discomfort, I plan to test out hitting up the treadmill at the gym! Can’t wait to get back to it! Might even join my good friend Erica for a (super light version) Zumba class tomorrow night.
Really looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring! I’m going to continue to eat my typical careful foods for at least another week. That means: no oils, light fats, limited nuts. But after that… time to test out my new gallbladder-less body! Let’s see… what will the first test be…
Onion rings (vegan, of course)?
More than 1 tablespoon of peanut butter?
Some sort of greek vegetable dish with oil and vinegar?
Hmmmmmmmm. Lots of possibilities :)