Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If I don't need it, why do I have it?

If I don’t need it, why do I have it?

If you checked this blog two weeks ago and I wasn’t there, I have a very good excuse. 

I forgot.

Because I was having my gall bladder out the next day.

See?  A reasonable excuse, but an excuse nonetheless.

Back in December, I started noticing that certain foods were becoming problematic for me:  short ribs, butter, peanut butter, dairy in general, to name a few.  (The gall bladder is responsible for digesting fats, so from that list, you would guess that I needed to stay away from those particular foods.)  I would have what are termed “gall bladder attacks” which amounted to a very dull, but very persistent back pain that I couldn’t get rid of by walking, laying down, marching up stairs, or anything else that you would think might move whatever it was to wherever it needed to go.  I knew, from frequent CT scans that I endure as part of my long-ago cancer diagnosis, that my gall bladder was “sludgy,” a term that means “nice and ripe to house numerous gall stones”.  Although I knew at some point my gall bladder would erupt in furious objection to the housing of the gall stones, I figured I would wait until that happened until I actually did something about it.

It happened on December 20, 2011.

I came back from a lovely walk, this being the most mild winter we had seen in the Northeast in memory, and decided that what sounded good was a big glass of water followed by two pieces of toast slathered with peanut butter.  (I know.  Stupid.)  Within minutes, I was prone on the bed, crying, screaming for hubby to take me to the Emergency Room.  I had two kids without drugs, had a major cancer surgery seven years ago that left me held together by one hundred staples, and now I was screaming for him to take me to the ER?  He knew that this had to be bad.

I called my oncologist, the lovely Dr. P., and cried to her that I was dying.

“It’s your gall bladder!” she screamed into the phone, trying desperately to talk me off the proverbial ledge. 

“It’s much worse!” I cried.  “It’s like I’m dying! Or having a heart attack!”

She got a nurse walking by to join in the chorus.  “It’s your gall bladder! Get to the ER!”

So off I went. 

You know how you hear a noise in your car and take it to the mechanic, only for the mechanic to say, “I don’t hear it”?  Well, that’s what happened.  By the time I got to the ER, all was well, I was not in pain, and I was starving.  The gall stone had passed, although I had never seen it come out.  But you go to the ER, you don’t get to eat and you get tests—a lot of tests.  And the tests came back with a positive diagnosis. I was having my gall bladder out.  When was the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I guess this is the point in the story where I tell you how much I hate surgery.  (Does anyone like it outside of the women in the Real Housewives’ franchises on Bravo?)  I told the doctor that I needed to wrap my brain around this—which in Maggie-speak means “I’m going to put this off as long as I can”—and left the ER.  I started polling people who had had their gall bladders out, who knew someone who had their gall bladder out, who knew surgeons who performed gall bladder surgery.  All returned with the same conclusion:  gall bladder surgery was a “piece of cake.” They all actually used the exact same cliché to describe a procedure in which four holes are punched in your stomach, with a camera and a long pair of scissors being inserted into two of the holes, and the gall bladder being pulled out the third.  (I’m still not sure what the fourth hole is for.  All I know is the belly button I went in with doesn’t look like the belly button I came out with.)  Everyone assured me that you don’t really need your gall bladder; it’s vestigial.  I went into the surgery thinking “piece of cake,” “vestigial,” “don’t need it…”

And woke up to excruciating pain.  This was the “piece of cake” that everyone referred to?  Liars, one and all.  I awoke to a recovery room nurse screaming in my ear so loudly that I thought maybe she had mistaken me for a patient who had just received cochlear ear implants.


Where am I, I wanted to ask?  Where are you?  Because that’s where I am.  I wisely bit my sore tongue (the one that had just minutes earlier had an endoscope atop it) and said, “NYU.”


“Why are you yelling at me?” was the reasonable question, but I responded with “2012.” Satisfied, she went back to writing notes in my chart, probably to the tune of “patient doesn’t do a good job shaving her legs” or something like that.  It was ten o’clock in the morning.  I was sent home at three.  This is what is called “ambulatory” or “outpatient surgery.”  I was neither ambulatory nor well enough to be an outpatient but home I went where I spent the next several days in a painkiller haze, watching episode after episode of “Curb Appeal: The Block” and dreaming about what Chez Barbieri might look like if I actually had the inclination to go outside and plant anything.

So, I’m rambling.  Those are the aftereffects of general anesthesia.  (Just ask my extended family.  They showed up for Easter dinner—the one I invited them to— only to have me ask them why they were there.) But let’s put it this way:  any thoughts of having my tummy tucked, my chin fat sucked out, or my eyes lifted are now gone the way of the wonky gall bladder, never to be seen or thought of again.  Because the piece of cake that is supposedly laparoscopic surgery is anything but.  As a friend who once had it said to me, “Mags, they poke holes in your stomach.  Trust me. That’s not pain free.”  I guess I’m glad I was lied to, though, as it saved me months of agitation over something that is now safely in the rearview mirror.

I’ll just have to remember this next time I think about having a facelift.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Maggie, you are hysterical, even when talking about excruciating pain! I'm so glad that gall bladder is gone, and I'm sorry my mom was one of those who promised the surgery was a piece of cake. But then again, she told me Moh's surgery was nothing and she's assured me she can't recall anything unpleasant about childbirth so it must be easy-peasy. ;-) I'm with you: I never want to have surgery again, and I would never elect to do it. So when our chins are sagging (like, when Emily's in kindergarten), we'll have to try duct tape or something.

  2. Is it wrong to be laughing right now?


    I think Alison needs her gall bladder removed. PLEASE.


  3. I guess it was a piece of cake because here it is, two weeks later, and I'm already laughing about it. (Not the belly button, though. I'm seriously wigged by how weird it looks.) Glad I gave you guys some chuckles this morning. :-) Maggie

  4. Wow, Maggie, what an experience. Glad you can laugh about it.

  5. I had a big up-tick in gall-bladder attacks when I was nearly 43. My sweetie took me to the ER, where after some IV pain meds I felt better and they did a sonogram and the spouse, who could see the exam screen when I couldn't, exclaimed "Holy Cow, Lady! You're full of rocks!" Nice.

    Two weeks later, had it out. Took a little longer than the advertised 45 minutes and when the doc came out to talk to my husband and said something like "wow, your wife's gall bladder was really bad!", the dear one gave him a what the hell look and said "duh, that's pretty much why we're all here today!". At least he had the sense to sass my surgeon after my procedure.

    Everyone's different. I didn't need much pain meds after (saved them for later, though!) but I did need to nap a lot, really a lot, for the couple of weeks following. I was told that can be normal as anesthesia works its way out of your system.

    So glad you're mending up, though. That business of incision marks and weird navel fades away a lot over time, so take heart.

  6. Ok.. I can one up you with my mom's story... Pregnant with me...6 months... Yup... major gall baldder attack... I've never heard the end of it.. plus that was back in the day before the surgery just messing with your bellybutton... I'm not so sure she didn't have the surgery just to get rested from 3 kids all under the age of 5... back in the 1950's you got to stay at the hospital for a while...

  7. Thanks, Marilyn. Vicky, thanks for the good news about the belly button. I don't why I'm so obsessed with it, but there you have it. And girlygirl, I remember when they did it the "old-fashioned way" with leeches and cuts from stem to stern. I think that was in the back of my mind. :-) Maggie

  8. Yes, you are funny, and it does get better. I am sorry you went through that, but now it's gone, and you don't have to worry about it anymore. I will say it again-surgery is surgery, and our bodies need to recover from that. What makes me angry is that they don't always tell you about the side effects because they're afraid you might "imagine" them. I'm glad you're on the mend, and your belly button will be aligned soon.

  9. Lil, one day you'll click on the Stiletto Gang and all you'll see is a picture of my belly button. I have faith that it will return to normal but if it doesn't, my bikini-wearing days are way behind me, like 40 years behind me, so it doesn't matter. Maggie

  10. Girlygirl, I laughed OUT LOUD at never hearing the end of the gall bladder attack your mom had while pregnant with you. LOL.

    I may be able to one up you. My mother had tickets to see the Pope when he came to NY in 1978. Unfortunately, my body decided it was all done with its appendix at that same time. Mom missed the Pope and I, too, have never heard the end of that. LOL.

  11. OK - you totally made me freak out for you and giggle all at the same time. That is a gift my friend! Feel better. XOXO