There Goes My Gallbladder
Day 1: The Procedure
“Take a deep breath for me,” says the anesthesiologist, placing a mask over my nose and mouth.
I inhale. Blurred images from the day swim behind my closed eyelids: the nausea and the relentless vomiting, the chills and the fever, the debilitating pain in my abdominal area, the inability to walk faster than a 90-year old (literally), the inability to focus on anything other than the crippling pain.
I exhale, marveling how quickly I’ve gone from my doctor’s clinic, to a nearby hospital’s emergency room, to a gurney and an IV drip. From blood tests to drinking contrast (tastes like soap!) for a CAT scan. The CAT scan machine telling me to inhale, hold, exhale.
Inhale. The images become increasingly blurry. A nurse had visited me in the ER and said “So you need antibiotics!” He had looked over papers, walked out, and walked back in declaring “You’re having surgery!”
Exhale. A surgeon had drawn me some diagrams and explained the procedure.
Inhale. I’m now laying on the operating table, feeling incredibly tired.
Exhale. The anesthesiologist is talking, but I can’t grasp what she’s saying.
I open my eyes in the faint morning light, taking in the cream-colored walls of my hospital room. The IV drip is still in my right arm, steadily administering liquids, nutrients, and antibiotics from bags in various sizes and colors. Wrapped around my calves are felt socks that make me feel like I’m defending the goal at a hockey game, except there are pumps in these knee-highs that inflate and deflate to prevent blood clots.
Amidst my anesthesia fog, nurses had come to check my vital signs throughout the night, so it’s odd suddenly waking up on my own. As if on cue, a CNA (certified nursing assistant) cheerily breezes in to help me freshen up, reminds me to order breakfast, and changes my sheets as I peruse the hospital’s food menu. Well, if I’m going to be constantly monitored and attached to machines, at least it’ll be at an all-inclusive wellness retreat with personal butler service.
The surgeon has visited to say he’d like to keep me at the hospital another day because the state of my defunct organ was quite severe. A case manager has come to verify I understand what has transpired: my gallbladder has been removed. Nurses have changed shifts. Friends have sent flowers. A friend has just left, regaling me with stories from her tea shop; and as soon as she departs, I feel exhausted despite having lain in bed all day. My third or fourth CNA (I’m starting to lose track) is emptying my JP drain and asking if I’ve ordered dinner. Not 24 hours into my stay, and the introspection begins.
Just how much do we take for granted every waking minute? In my present condition, it’s a struggle to bend down to adjust my socks or blanket; yet I’d effortlessly counted squats at the gym just a few days ago. Given my recent surgery, I can’t simply reach for my phone on the bedside table because I’m paranoid I’ll pop open a stitch. I adjust my bed into a near-seated position (thank goodness for technology!) because it’s challenging to raise my upper body on my own.
Gratitude washes over me, and I feel the floodgates unleash tears over my cheeks. I’m thankful just to have a full range of motion and the ability to walk unassisted (that is, when I’m not recovering from cholecystectomy, aka gallbladder removal). I’m thankful for friends who step in to provide a support system in place of a family who lives halfway across the globe. I’m thankful for medical professionals who dedicate their lives to caring for others. I’m thankful that my parents are far from needing the kind of care I’m currently under. I’m thankful for my employer’s generous medical coverage. I’m thankful for strangers, fellow hospital guests and their visitors, who offer me smiles and kind words. I’m thankful for my healing and my otherwise excellent health. I’m thankful that my now-cancelled plane tickets for the weekend are eligible for future credit. I’m thankful I didn’t have to go into the ER while traveling far from home. I’m thankful for religious clergy who come to offer comfort and consolation, prayers and assurance. I’m thankful for each new morning I wake up. I’m thankful for emotions. I’m thankful for compassion. I’m thankful.
Day 3: Hour 36, Post-surgery
I sit up in bed. It takes time and effort, but it’s an accomplishment because I do it on my own. No leaning on someone for support, no waiting for someone to move the machinery around me. This warrants a victory dance – in my head; obviously, actually dancing isn’t currently advisable. I brush my hair for the first time in days. (#Winning) This too warrants a mental victory dance. This very moment, every little triumph counts.
I open Instagram and, uncertain it’s coincidental, find my usual feed of colorful cities and tantalizing food photos scattered between the more prevalent images of inspirational quotes. The first quote I see says, “Don’t look behind you. There’s nothing there.” Here are a few others.
One can’t overdose on motivation or inspiration, so here are a few more screenshots from the following days, for good measure.
Despite being laid up in bed, I feel like I’m stepping into somewhere new. Maybe I’m just in a fragile emotional state, or in shock, or maybe it’s the pain medication, but this feels like a shedding of skin…the start of a new chapter. Of precisely what, I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.
Nearing the one-week anniversary of my gallbladder extraction, I find yet more Instagram inspiration. This time, it seems to be an affirmation of my earlier notions. Pretty sure the medicines are out of my system by now, so I can’t justify the feeling as anything else than a feeling. Intuition. May the gallbladder fairies look kindly upon me and be generous.