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I'm writing this up here in case it helps anyone else going through gallbladder issues. I read many stories on here whilst I was recovering from my operation and it's obvious that there are many different stories.
I'm 52, male and around about 97Kg, 6.2" and otherwise healthy. I don't drink, don't smoke and don't eat much meat. My problems started 2 years ago, with a terrible night in a campground. We had had a big Thai dinner and then ice cream for dessert. I woke up with back pain that I thought was kidney pain, because that's where it seemed to be; I was also bloated and had gut pain. I spent the night wandering back and forth to the toilet, trying to go to the bathroom and ended up throwing up many times over as it seemed like the only way to slightly relieve the pain for a few minutes. No sleep was to be had and then finally around 9am it settled. I was completely buggered by then.
About a year later I returned from a trip to Solomon Islands and that evening had an egg sandwich and a cream bun from a local takeaway. That night things turned bad, similar back and belly pain, everything the same as above, but even worse. This lasted through to about 11am the next day, when it finally subsided and I could finally have a rest. This time I went to the doctor suspecting I had food poising, either from the islands or from the sandwich. Of course, I couldn't get an appointment for a few days and although he sent me to get blood and stool tests, that obviously turned up nothing by then. I was just glad it was over.
Then, it happened again a few months later. Same exact process, same pain, same length of time.. until about 11am the next day. This started to seem very strange to me and because it was so painful to go through I desperately needed to know what was happening and how to avoid going through it again. The doctor told me I wasn't dying of cancer and that it was probably IBS and to look up FODMAPs. He seemed unable to give me a way to deal with the pain if it happened again and I found that very upsetting as it was quite terrifying to go through. However, after reading up on IBS-C, it seemed to sort of fit the bill and so I spent the next few months desperately avoiding foods of all sorts, hoping this would fix things. One thing the doctor did tell me is that they couldn't diagnose the issue unless it was happening. He said I'd need to get to the hospital when it happens. I'd been avoiding that because from experience I would simply sit there in terrible pain for many hours and be sent home with a pain killer. I couldn't face that when I was going through it and as I thought it was IBS, I assumed that I had simply failed to eat correctly.
In any case, I had 3 more episodes, each as bad as the last. By now I thought it had something to do with fructose intolerance and over eating as those were the main things in common with each episode.
I had an attack about a week before Christmas and this time it lasted a full 18 hours. That was just the worst. I did note that I wasn't getting the back pain the last couple of attacks, but put that down to forcing some pain killers down the very moment I realised I was going to have an episode.
I never recovered from this last attack and just nibbled on some peanuts and the odd unripe banana for a bit of energy as I drove to visit family over the holiday. I had discomfort in my gut every day and I was using suppositories in an attempt to keep my bowels emptied. I had created an emergency kit of pain killers, anti-nausea pills, gavisoothe, and various laxatives, including a bag of Epsom salts, hoping to blast my guts out in the event I was going to have another attack. Note that I still thought this was IBS and bad constipation. By about the 27th, nothing was moving inside me and nothing was coming out. On the 31st, I woke up to a lot of pain and it just got worse and worse. I was having another attack, for this first time during the day. I went to the local after-hours clinic and broke down in tears in front of the nurse, simply because the non-stop pain had become too much to bear. I was a little mad that after relating the whole affair above to her, that she then said the doctor will see me shortly. I thought she was the doctor.. arghh!. So of course I then had to tell all of the above again to the doctor when he turned up. He said the best he could do is give me an xray and see if I'm blocked up. I was happy to have that and the result was that there was blockage high up where suppositories wouldn't deal with it. He prescribed a laxative powder that I was to take a lot of.. basically the same as when you are preparing for a colonoscopy. I took that home, mixed up the required litre of fluid, drank it over a couple of hours, and threw it all up. My gut simply did not work and nothing was moving anywhere.
The pain was getting worse so I drove back down to the same place and got to see a different doctor. I packed a bag ready for hospital as I knew I would be going there that day. I had to tell this doctor everything all over again.. 3rd time in one day now. He gave me a shot of buscapan and organised for me to be seen onarrival at the emergency ward in the hospital in the next town, 30 mins away. The drive over there was horrendous, as was the wait to be seen, even though I was in the emergency seat and second in line. I was in agony and made sure the triage nurse could tell. They wheeled me through to the ward, hooked me up to a drip and a bunch of other wires. They took blood and gave me morphine and for the first time in weeks I started to feel less pain. That was such a relief.During my stay in hospital I had to re-tell the entire story about 11 times to different nurses and doctors. I found that very frustrating.
I realise I'm going on and on with far too much detail here, but it serves partly as a wrap-up of the whole experience to me, and because it might help someone else identify the same issue.. remember that at this point I still had IBS... or something.
I had about 3 rounds of morphine and then IV paracetamol when they couldn't give me any more morphine. The pain would come and go between bags of fluid, but at least I was finally in hospital and being looked after. The blood test came back after a couple of hours and they said it indicated there could be a gallbladder or liver problem.
I should point out that my sister had suggested a few days earlier that it might be gallstones, mainly due to the way my pain would come on at night and last a certain amount of time. A friend of hers had exactly that symptom. However, none of the other gallstone symptoms matched, apart from eventually having pain on the right side. Throughout all previous attacks, the pain was spread evenly across my gut. Only in the last 3 days or so was there a secondary pain on the right side. So I wasn't surprised when they said it could be gallstones.
They wheeled me into a ward and said they'd try and get an ultrasound as soon as possible. The problem was this this was New Year's Eve and many staff were away on leave. I found it distressing that they couldn't tell me when anything would happen. I got a scan the next afternoon. A surgeon showed up later saying that they thought it was stones and that they'd take it out. I just wanted it out as soon as possible because they couldn't find enough pain killers to give me. Only the liquid paracetamol seemed to work, but that only lasted about 3 hours and I couldn't get another round for 6 hours. The tried Tramadol and also a Nurophen fluid. The former didn't work, but the latter did a little.
The surgeon wanted to wait until a specialist came back and so I didn't get an operation until the 4th day. By then I hadn't eaten for about 9 days and only had a drip for 4. I had also turned very yellow by then... finally getting another symptom. I had no bowel movements throughout and my urine had gone very very dark, partly from the pain killers I understand.
Anyhow.. they wheeled me in, the anesthetist did a great job and the next thing I knew I was awake with half a dozen holes in my belly and a drain bag stuck to my side.
I felt better already. I was able to eat straight away and that was a real treat. I stayed overnight and had more pain killers. They gave me a prescription for liquid paracetamol and I used that without overdosing on it. There were a couple of episodes of strong shoulder pain and pain up my right side whilst I was still in hospital. That would have been the gas used to inflate me. That lasted maybe half an hour to an hour each time and then no more.
The surgeon said the operation went perfectly and he gave me two small stones in a jar. I asked a nurse later on and she said they were not big at all.. she had seen much larger ones. The important point here is that the stones don't have to be big and may not even be visible on the ultrasound yet can still cause all this drama.
The biggest problem over the next few days was the pain from the surgery wounds. It was ok sitting or standing, but very painful transitioning. I saved the painkillers for nighttime so I could get as much sleep as possible. By now I was completely fed up with lying on my back all the time and desperately wanted to lie on my side.
On about the 4th or 5th day the surgery pain dropped off quite a lot and I had little trouble moving around.
Immediately after the operation, my guts felt way better. I ate, I drank, it was wonderful. I went to the bathroom as well. The next morning after leaving hospital I was ravenous. I walked slowly to a cafe in town and ordered scrambled eggs on toast with a grilled tomato and sausage, and an orange juice. I hadn't eaten anything like that in years, but I desperately wanted to eat it. Oddly I had no desire for cake or coffee.. I seemed to have lost my sweet tooth.. good!. The meal was just divine and I had the same thing for the next three breakfasts as well.
The outcome of all this is that my innards feel completely bulletproof, like they never have before. I can eat anything and I don't get any queasy feeling, I never get acid (used to have to take an antacid every day before bed), and I just never feel bad. It's like my belly finally works like it is supposed to. Every day I realise there's something else I can eat that I've been avoiding for decades, and it makes me happy.. even if I don't go out and eat it.. just the thought that I can is enough. The idea that I had IBS and had to avoid so many foods was awful. It's like having a new lease on life that I no longer have to do that.
This is now one month after checking into hospital. My bowels work. There's no pain anywhere. The holes from the surgery are still healing inside.. they look like dents and will take a while to smooth out. Each has an internal stich that needs to dissolve and the surrounding flesh should then return to normal.
I read many stories on the forum here and I'm clearly one of those who have had good results.
The biggest learning I want to impart is that no one should have to go through what I went through.. all those pain attacks for all that time.. it was horrendous. If my doctor hadn't suggested to me it was IBS, I wouldn't have spent the extra 6 months of suffering and living in constant fear.
I can tell from the many other stories that there are two big barriers to resolving this condition. The first is getting a diagnosis. The second is getting the operation.
All I can say about the first is - Don't waste your time with visits to the doctor. You need to be in hospital where they can do a blood test and get a result straight away. Do not let yourself be sent away with laxatives or pain killers just because the tests are inconclusive. Get another test or another opinion asap. It's possibly too late to get another blood test if you're not having an episode, but it's not too late to have another ultrasound. The guy who did my scan didn't see any stones, although he suspected they were there.
Regarding the second barrier, this is of course dependent on where you live and what your healthcare services are like. Where I live, we have single payer (taxpayer) funded healthcare and I was able to walk out of the hospital after 5 days of care and surgery with only a $12 prescription to pay for. It's unbelievable really, but it works. I have always used my vote and taxes to support this system and this is the successful outcome for me... phew!
One last point I want to note is that this wasn't the first New Year's Eve I spent like this. Way back in NYE of the new millennium, I spent the night in terrible pain, on my knees in a field, throwing up bile again and again, eventually recovering around 9am the next morning. I was at a huge forest rave party and couldn't do anything. I thought for 16 years that it was food poisoning from a pizza that evening in town. Now I know that it was the first time I had an attack like this. I don't know why I didn't have another attack for 15 years, but it was definitely the same thing. I'm guessing it all comes down to the specifics of one's own gallbladder and the stones in question. Perhaps they passed or dissolved. I have also had multiple occasions where I've had kidney pain, that I now believe was a mild version of these attacks and nothing to do with kidneys at all.
There we go. That's the full story... symptoms, red herrings, surgery and the eventual outcome. Hopefully it will help someone else in time. As I said, I read many stories here after my surgery and found them all useful.
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