What a Palaver

‘A Woman in Bed in a Sick Room’. A woman in bed in a sick-room, attended by a physician, receiving the blessing of the Madonna del Parto. Oil painting by R. Pistoni. Votives. Contributors: R. Pistoni. Work ID: cuc43722.

Dear Readers, well it hasn’t quite come to the need for saintly blessings yet, but Bugwoman has been a bit under the weather for this last few days, and most peculiar it is too. I suspect it might be something to do with my gallbladder – roughly once a year I have a horrible spasmodic attack that means I just have to lay on my back in a cold sweat for about twenty minutes until it passes. When it first happened, about ten years ago, we actually called the ambulance because I was afraid I was having a heart attack.

And here’s just a quick aside in praise of the NHS paramedics and ambulance staff. The paramedic was at the house in less than ten minutes, and I was having an ECG before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’. The ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, though by then it was clear that I wouldn’t have to be red-lighted into hospital. What was so wonderful was that the ambulance team were fresh from delivering a baby in Waterloo Station. They were so happy – it must make such a change from all the unhappy scenes that they witness. And then they were all off, leaving me with a bit of a mystery.

I went to the GP, and the blood test results, particularly my liver function, came back as ‘deranged’. I had an ultrasound, which revealed a gallbladder full of stones. In many people these are completely asymptomatic, as mine had been for the best part of fifty years, but clearly they had been stirred into action. An MRI was done, and I spoke to the surgeon, who recommended taking my gallbladder out.

I was a little worried about this – after all, gallbladders are part of the way that the digestive system regulates itself. But I was all set to go for my keyhole surgery, so I notified the surgeon that I had had my MRI, as he’d requested, and waited for a date for the procedure from the hospital, which never came. And, as I didn’t have another attack for years, I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t go through the surgery, and that I could live with the occasional outburst.

Interestingly (to me anyway), Dad had major surgery at the Royal London Hospital for what was thought to be liver cancer, and turned out to be a gallstone the size of my thumb wedged in his bile duct. Dad was very proud of the scar, which stretched right across his ample stomach – it’s extraordinary to think that my scar would be about a twentieth of the size of his. Dad was a nightmare patient though, always standing outside the ward with a gang of other miscreants, all of them smoking and setting fire to the gases coming out of the drainage tubes in their noses.

“I looked like a bloody dragon”, said Dad when we saw him at visiting time, “And we didn’t half get a telling off from the other dragon”. Dad never did like the matron of the ward.

Anyhow, my gall bladder and I have been living together very harmoniously for the past ten years, but I have been in almost constant pain with it for the past few days (though it does seem to be settling down now). I have a theory (as I usually do). You will remember that I’ve been doing Veganuary, which finished on Monday. I started getting slight twinges as soon as I started to eat a small quantity of dairy products again. The gallbladder is all about processing fat, and I would have thought that it couldn’t distinguish between animal fat and plant-based fat (such as coconut yoghurt, which I highly recommend), but maybe it can. Anyhow, I have backed off completely on the fat, and am starting to feel a bit better. Let’s see what the next few days bring!

Gallbladder problems seem to be very underreported, and I’d be intrigued to know of your experiences. The poor old gallbladder goes about its work unnoticed most of the time, but it certainly packs a punch when it decides to make a statement.

13 thoughts on “What a Palaver

  1. Anne

    How strange that the surgeon never came back to you all those years ago. Then again, it meant you could keep your gallbladder for that much longer! Any change in a diet can cause odd twinges. I certainly hope you will be up and about pain-free before much longer.

  2. Sarah

    So sorry to hear that you are in pain. It makes your daily blogging even more admirable and appreciated. Perhaps time to get it checked out again.

  3. Rosalind Atkins

    Hope you’re continuing to feel better! Can I offer what might be a little encouragement, should it at any stage come to that, with apologies if you are already aware of this. Removing your gall bladder doesn’t remove your ability to make bile, nor to supply it to the gut. The GB simply stores excess bile, for use later, The duct leading from it joins into the “common bile duct”, a bit like a tributary to a major river does, and this duct also collects from very many smaller tributaries which drain the whole liver. You’d be fine without a gall bladder, it’s a bit of an evolutionary vestige.

  4. jentsplace

    I know what that pain is like. Had my gall bladder removed by key hole surgery (3 days in hospital) over 20 years ago &, while I was told I could eat anything afterwards, I find if I do eat a bit too much fat I feel “off”, no pain but just uncomfortable. I’m so glad you’re feeling better now but if it flares up again please let your G.P. know.

  5. Andrea Stephenson

    My wife was taken to hospital on more than one occasion with chest pains, which were actually gallstones passing. She used to get regular attacks. In the end she finally got the gallbladder out – keyhole surgery, done in a day and no problems since.

  6. Sharon

    Ah yes, gallstones. Remember them, and the PAIN well.

    I had some many years ago, must have been, at least one of the children was still at Primary school, & they’ve been all grown up and independent for years now.

    Anyhow, for several weeks (or what felt like that) any time I ate anything I had PAIN. Often I’d be sick too. This went on for a while. I booked an appointment with my GP, who put me down for tests. Then I had a bout of sickness every. 15. Minutes. One night, and got admitted to hospital for the weekend. They managed to do LFTs, as I was pretty yellow by then, and even gave me a scan – “see the little gallstones lined up in a row.” Cue low fat diet.

    A hospital Doctor gave me an Op appointment – for keyhole surgery. For which I duly turned up, only to find that the appointment hadn’t gotten from the ward I’d been on (or that Dr) to the Gallstones Op ward, one floor down. I went home in disgust and continued the low fat diet. It’s amazing how much you Really Don’t want butter or cream, etc, when you’ve had several weeks of Rebelling Gallbladder! I now prefer half-fat Cheddar too.

    I’ve had no trouble with Gallstones or Gallbladder since, which is just as well as the Op appointment never came through. I didn’t bother pushing it. Anaesthetics and I don’t mix well.


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