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The Little Gallbladder That Couldn’t

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been having troubles with my gallbladder.  It all started years ago when I started having trouble with heartburn, night after night I’d be kept awake with the pains in my chest, some nights even getting bad enough for me to go to the hospital.  I’d be awake, bitching on Facebook, whining on Twitter, watching TV and trying to distract myself from the pain.  It was horrid.

When I was in Canada in October I had a really long attack, lasting from 1pm – 11pm, which was horrible for me and quite worrying for my parents.  My mother insisted that I have my gallbladder checked when I got back to the Netherlands, as there was quite a broad history of the women in our family having problems and needing them removed.  We came close to going to the hospital that evening but not wanting to deal with international insurance and worrying about flying out two days later made me hesitant, so I just got through it the best way I could.

When I returned to the Netherlands I had my doctor arrange for me to have an ultrasound to check it out.  The results were that I had a lot of stones, both big and small, and that one was trapped in the bile duct.  That was on Monday November 15th. The next day I visited my doctor and was sent to have blood work, after which he said I would visit him for the results and discuss what we were going to do about the gallbladder.  I needed to give at least five working days for the results to be in so I made an appointment for Wednesday November 24th.

Before I even got the chance to go to that appointment, I had a really bad attack on Monday the 22nd.  It was unlike any of the previous pain I’ve ever had, causing me to pass out in our hallway on the way to the phone. When I came to I tried to call my husband at work but got his voicemail, and was left with no choice but to call 112 (that’s our 911).  I was in more pain than I had ever experienced in my life, and I was afraid because I was home alone.

A medic arrived shortly after, coming by motorcycle.  He checked my blood pressure and oxygen, also giving me medication for the pain and the nausea, as the pain was getting to the point where I was pretty sure I was going to be sick.  Within about five minutes the pain was gone and I was ready to get back to my housework, I felt like a million bucks!  He had other plans for me and had called a proper ambulance to come and take me to the hospital.

At the emergency room they drew more blood, poked and prodded and also came to the conclusion that it was my gallbladder.  It needed to be removed but before they could get me in to see a surgeon I had to have an ultrasound done.  The one I had done the previous week was of no use to them as it was done by another hospital, and the earliest I could get an appointment was for December 9th, over two weeks away.  I was angry, because they did have access to the previous ultrasounds, and afraid because I was now completely terrified of doing something to cause that pain again.  I was sent home with a prescription for painkillers in case of another attack, which we had to demand, as they were set to send me home with nothing other than my frustration.

I came home and once again bitched on Facebook.  As luck would have it, a friend of mine read my complaints and talked to her husband about it. It turned out he worked at the same hospital as a radiologist!  He had her message me to tell me that if I wanted he would bump up my appointment and do my ultrasound on Thursday the 25th of November during his lunch break, only three days after my trip to the emergency room.  That beat the hell out of a wait of a few weeks, so I jumped at the chance to have it done earlier.  He was my hero!

Things went really quickly from there.  When he did the ultrasound he found that there were a lot of stones (as was found in the previous scan) but also that the walls of the gallbladder were thickening.  Apparently this is another sign that it needs to come out.  Not only did he do the ultrasound for me but he also used his contacts at the hospital to get me an appointment with a surgeon that very afternoon!

When I saw the surgeon he was very nice and said that they want to get the gallbladder out soon, but that he was a bit concerned as some later tests on the blood work from my trip to the emergency room showed signs of an infection.  If the infection worsened, they would have to postpone doing any surgery until it was dealt with.  He went ahead and started me on the course anyway, and said I’d hear from him if we had to postpone, but otherwise to go ahead as planned.

The next day (Friday) I had an appointment with the anesthesiologist and my surgery was scheduled for three days later, which was this past Monday, November 29th.  It was only three days away. Three days!  I freaked out and spent the entire weekend as a big ball of nerves wrapped up in a thick layer of OHMYGOD!!!


This is where I spent most of Monday and Tuesday this week.  I was checked in at 11am and my surgery began at a little after 3pm.  I was in a lot of pain when I woke up, and after multiple doses of painkillers I was feeling well enough to be brought back to my room at about 6pm.  My husband came to visit from about 6:30 – 8:30pm but I was so tired, nauseated and drugged up that I was not of much use to him.  He just sat by my bed and held my hand while I struggled to throw out a few words every 15 or 20 minutes.  The nurses gave me medication for the nausea but I eventually asked my husband to go home as I felt bad that he was just sitting there and I was hardly able to even talk to him.

I slept most of the rest of the evening and dozed through the night, except for when the nurse came in to check my blood pressure, which felt like EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES!  Ok, so it was more like once or twice and hour, but when you are in pain and trying to sleep, it’s very annoying.  She was concerned because my blood pressure had dropped really low so she was checking it obsessively.  Seriously, twice an hour for the entire night. Both of my upper arms are striped with bruises from that UNGODLY machine.  Do those cuffs really have to go that tight?  Really??

In the morning they said I’d be able to go home at 11am, that is… until I threw up my breakfast.  That had them a little concerned, so I they made me stay and have lunch, finally letting me leave at 4pm after proving I could keep something down.


If you can excuse my chubby belly, you can see where the incisions were made for the surgery.  It was done via laparoscopic surgery rather than a proper open surgery, which makes me very happy.  Instead of one giant incision I had four smaller ones.  One of them was through my bellybutton, and that has been quite painful.  I also have some weird and painful darkening of the skin under my belly button which you can see in the photo. I guess it’s a bruise, but I’m not sure why it’s not blue.  I assume there will be scars, which means no bikini for me. OH darn!

No seriously. Dude, look at those stretch marks.  LIKE I was ever getting in one anyway.

Right, so other than having to look at my butterball belly, you’ve come through this relatively unscathed.  I cannot have that, it’s just not in my nature to go through something like this and not overshare and gross you out at least a little bit.  When I had my mini surgery, I showed you that wound.  When I had my tooth out, I saved the tooth just for you, although I did take pity that time and put the really gross and disgusting pics in links instead.  I took it easy on you.

You’re welcome.

You KNOW I got them to give me some stones!  It was the first thing I asked when they were wheeling me into surgery.  I considered bringing my point and shoot and asking them to take photos during the surgery, but I thought that may have been pushing my luck, plus… my camera is probably pretty unsanitary and I’m not sure it’d survive the decontamination process.

When I woke up this was taped to the foot of my bed, bless them, they kept their word!


These are three of the bigger stones that had been hanging out in my gallbladder.  There were a crapload of smaller ones and other big ones as well but I guess these were the most impressive and bottle worthy of the bunch.

Oh, you want a closer look? Ok!


These are my stones with a Canadian nickel, for size comparison.  It was the only money I could find in my wallet.  My husband has been a thieving thiever and has stolen all of my Dutch coins again.  Gross, huh?  Be thankful I was too lazy to get my good camera out and just used my phone, because I could have gotten some serious detail with that.

I can’t believe those, and others like them, were living inside my body!  Man!  I know it’s the smaller stones that cause the pain when they go into the bile ducts, but they wouldn’t have looked nearly as cool as these suckers, unless I got them all.  If I had gotten them all it probably would have been a pretty impressive sight.

Now I am home recovering.  I’m sore, and other than almost passing out when I had to change my bandages (hence no non-bandage photos now, really not keen to take them off again yet), it’s been going rather smoothly.  My belly button hurts and my right shoulder killed me for the first two days. Random, I know… but it’s something to do with the gas the pump into your belly when doing the surgery. It irritates the shoulder, and for the first while that hurt and annoyed me more than the incisions did.

All in all it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  I was quite terrified at the idea of my first surgery and I while can’t say I enjoyed my short stay in the hospital,  I am looking forward to the possibility of a future with no pain… at least not from this.

I wish I knew for certain that the only thing causing me pain over the years was my gallbladder, perhaps I do also have a touch of acid reflux, I really don’t know, and only time will tell.  All I know is that it would be really nice to eat without fear again.

Oh, and you know what really made me laugh?  That the doctors and nurses actually though I’d be able to speak Dutch to them when I was in pain and drugged off my head.  Come on people, I can barely manage it on my fittest of days, you must be joking!  Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t come out of there minus a kidney or missing a limb, who knows what I probably agreed to!  Maybe I should have my friend give me another ultrasound, just to make sure everything is where it should be!

About Tammy

A Canadian living in France with her Dutch hubby after 17 years in the Netherlands. A total TV and movie junkie who is never not knitting. She also enjoys other crafts, nail art, cuddling her dogs and general geekery. Otherwise just working on getting by and making a life for herself in her ‘new’ country.

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  1. So glad you are doing better, man those are big stones and gross too.
    Good that you got the surgery fast, so you didn’t have much time to get too nervous.

  2. I had mine taken out about 9 years ago. It is very scary. I was always worried that it was something more serious every time I had an attack.

  3. So glad to know you’re okay!
    Jules´s last post ..Updates on things in the works

  4. Those are enormous! I know lots of people who’ve had stones and had their gallbladders removed (my ex-sister-in-law’s family all seem to have this problem), but I’ve never actually seen a stone.

    Now that I’ve seen what they look like, I can only imagine how badly you’d feel with those collecting inside.

    One thing I remember is that they said they had to watch what they ate… which I suppose now you do, anyway.
    Gail at Large´s last post ..New York At Night

    • It’s funny because everywhere I’ve read where they say to watch what you eat etc. When I asked the doctors when I was being released, they said to just eat like normal. If I have a problem with anything, leave it alone for a week or two and try again. They said everyone reacts so differently that the only way to know how you’re going to do is to eat as normally as possible. So that’s what I’ve been doing. So far so good!

  5. gallboulders. that’s what i’d call those babies.

  6. madness! madnesss i say!!!
    Tara´s last post ..Flying lessons…

  7. Oh my, no wonder you were in pain!

    Regarding the stretch marks, I’m not trying to me nice but I seriously can’t see them. Or maybe I’m so used to mine that I blank stretch marks anyway :-)

    Glad everything turned out okay, the pain must have been terrible!
    Zhu´s last post ..Marriages of Convenience

    • You’re very kind haha I am covered in stretchmarks but I’m not going to sweat it. One day I will be thin and I’ll have stretchmarks and loose skin. Hopefully I will be able to look at it all and it will serve as a reminder of why I should never EVER let myself get so out of control and overweight again.

      The pain really was terrible, unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I had dinner with someone the day before my surgery and she said she had troubles with her gallbladder while she was pregnant and swears the pain was worse than labour! Eish…

  8. HOLY CRAP! I can’t believe the size of those stones, woman. No wonder you were in pain! Glad you’re rid of that sucker gallbladder, and hope that this was the answer to not having any more pain.

    I did wonder what language they used to speak to you, lol. That is one tiny worry that I have, a medical consult and feeling like Dutch is limiting my ability to express myself. :P

    • The surgeons spoke English really well, the guy was even telling me Newfie jokes as he had worked with some Canadians in the military. The nurses were another story, very few of them spoke English, surprisingly!!

  9. I still remember my post-op follow-up with my surgeon. His first question was “So, how many gallbladder attacks have you had in the last week?” I just got a huge smile on my face and said “NONE!” What a great feeling. It’s 10 years later now and that surgery has had such a positive effect on my quality of life I can’t imagine not having had it.

    • I think I’m still in that weird place where I’m not fully convinced the pain won’t be back. I know the GB had to come out but a part of me keeps thinking… what if some of the pain was heartburn or acid reflux too, that might still happen! So I still wait in fear every evening after I eat! Hopefully that will go away though, and there will be no more pain.

  10. Yikes, that is one epic story. I’m glad to hear you are home now and feeling better. It could not have been nice at all.
    Invader_Stu´s last post ..Radio Reading- The Englishman Who Spoke English

    • No it really wasn’t. Your gf oops sorry I mean WIFE was very sweet and offered to come help me out before the surgery. What a sweetie :)

  11. Monica Van Maanen

    Wow, that’s not very nice! Glad it’s over with though, eh!

    • Yeah really glad it’s overwith, especially now that I am getting a bit more mobile, life can start getting back to normal now!

  12. Wow, that’s scary! I’m surprised if it was such an emergency that you had to have it removed, that they didn’t schedule it immediately.
    Avitable´s last post ..The complete and not at all made up guide to Chanukah by Avitable

    • I was surprised too, especially when I found out about the 2 week wait for the ultrasound. Apparently because they didn’t see the infection at that point and I wasn’t jaundiced yet, I was ok to be sent home. Ridiculous…

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