Monday, June 22, 2015

Two Years Ago Today, I Was Well

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my trip to the emergency room in 2013. The ER doctors at Lewis Gale performed an ultrasound and decided I was having a gallbladder attack. They gave me a list of surgeons, suggested I contact them immediately, and sent me on my way.

My primary care doctor found a surgeon for me at Jefferson Surgical Clinic, and that doctor performed the surgery at Roanoke Memorial (Carilion). At first we were pleased with the choice, for the doctor had also operated on my nephew and had done a great job with him.

However, apparently young men receive better care than 50-year-old fat women. My husband overheard the surgeon saying he needed to hurry up and get my surgery over with because he had a tennis match. My post-op care was joke.

I am still paying for that tennis match. It's been two years, and my pain continues.

What kind of pain? Abdominal pain. Something happened in the surgery and/or healing process that left my muscles in my stomach in a perpetual Charlie horse. Imagine how that feels in the middle of the night when you wake up with one. Now think about that in your belly 24 hours a day. Constantly. Sometimes it eases a bit but it never lets up 100 percent.

Add nausea to that, too, almost every day.

Now try to walk, lift things, bend over, do your chores, or sit for any length of time while you have that constant knot in your stomach. It isn't easy.

Over time, I've developed a significant limp, back pain, and ankle pain, as well as chronic weakness on the right side. Doctors attribute all of this to this "pelvic floor tension myalgia" or "chronic abdominal wall pain," which means, basically, they don't know what the heck is wrong with me. I've also been told it's IBS, pancreatitis, spasms, and a number of other things. I've been checked for AIDS, hepatitis, lupus, parasites, cancer, Lyme disease, and vitamin deficiencies.

Mostly, the doctors tell me it's a result of multiple surgeries and scar tissue from events that took place more than 20 years ago. As a young woman, I suffered from severe endometriosis, ultimately ending up with a hysterectomy at the age of 29. I received my records from that last surgery (the final in a series of six) and the notes indicated so many adhesions and scars that the doctors opted to leave things as they were for fear they'd make my insides worse if they tried to clear the scar tissue away.

The gallbladder surgeon was told of my previous surgeries, but I don't think he paid much attention to it. In fact, in a subsequent visit, he told my husband and me that he didn't believe in scar tissue (a statement that sends my physical therapist into orbit every time I mention it).

Unfortunately, after that gallbladder attack, I developed severe ulcers, which were diagnosed in October 2013. I am mostly recovered from those, but in the meantime my doctor determined I have fibromyalgia. It's also been hard to keep depression at bay because of the constant ache and inability to get around.

Two years later, things are improved over what they were in November 2013, but pain continues. I walk with a cane much of the time, particularly on uneven ground. Last week I had my second steroid shot in my ankle. It's bruised and swollen, and the doctor gave me a brace to try.

I have been in physical therapy for 14 months. For a long time I could only walk a whole 2 minutes on a treadmill before I bent over double in pain, and now I can do 10 minutes (sometimes 15!). It has taken a very long time to build up to that, and I am nowhere near as healthy as I was prior to the gallbladder attack. But I haven't given up.

Health care is not yet what it should be. Some doctors care a great deal and I am fortunate that my primary care physician is one of those people. So, too, is my physical therapist. The surgeon, however, was a doctor who practices making money by practicing medicine, and that is quite different from a doctor who practices medicine. The latter are gems; the former are all too common.

I don't write too much about my health. I try not to complain about it here or on social media often (my poor real-life friends get the brunt of my bitching, I'm afraid), but it has greatly impacted my life.

Prior to the surgery, I had big plans. By now, I had hoped to have secured a teaching gig at the local community college. I'd planned to be standing in front of a bunch of eager learners, teaching English 101 or something. I had even hoped to go back to school to work on my Ph.D.

Instead, I've spent my time in the last two years visiting doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, and specialists. I am taking a lot of medication that I would rather not be taking. It's quite difficult to hold any kind of position when you have to go to see a health care provider of some kind two or three times a week.

If nothing else, I hope my story serves as a cautionary tale. The doctors said my gallbladder needed to come out; it had disease and stones, the post-operative report said. But I wonder, had I given myself a little time and made some dietary changes, could I have affected that organ and saved myself the pain and agony of the last two years?

One should listen to doctors, of course. We are taught to do that and I had three of them tell me to have the operation. My husband, too, was eager to see me out of pain. But sometimes I think we act to quickly. We're too eager to operate, in too much of a hurry to get better right away. Sometimes time is the greatest healer.

I can't put my gallbladder back now. I will never know what could have been.

Now I wait for time to heal me again, watching the years tick by.


  1. I'm truly sorry for your terrible ordeal! You should be re-evaluated by someone like Mayo Clinic. I'd also think about going after some damages for a rushed operation and unprofessional conduct! To answer your question about diet, it does have a part to play in gall bladder problems, only sometimes. and for the surgeon to say that he doesn't believe in scars shows what an Asshat he is.

    My problems were caused by a bad medicine, prescribed by my GP, which had once been removed from the market and still carried the warning that it could cause pancreatitus, which it promptly did. I'd say that over zealous use of cholesterol reducing drugs caused it because I was already taking two!. Sometimes drug companies should be out of business. I had arthroscopic surgery, and still have abs muscle cramps frequently. Yours sound hideously unbearable. What has happened to you is wrong in so many ways!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. We aren't sure where to go next, but probably some major-city hospital will ultimately be our destination. I consulted several lawyers about the surgery and could not find anyone to take the case. Medical malpractice cases are very hard to win. I am sorry you also have abs muscle cramps. They are painful.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story so we can understand the extent of your pain. I feel so sorry for you and hope that somehow you can find relief.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate that. Mostly I wanted to warn people about rushing into things. We too often opt for the quick fix and sometimes that doesn't work out.

  3. I'm so sorry you are still going through this agony. As far as stones in the gallbladder go...if they are there, they do not disappear, nor can you "pass them" like a kidney stone. I fear your problem probably increased because your surgeon did not wait for the inflammation to decrease before operating. When I experienced my first gallbladder attack it was unbelievable pain and actually diagnosed by a doctor on call that came to my house in Brooklyn (they actually have those there!) not two months after I had my son. He suggested I visit a specialist to confirm. My obgyn recommended one who specialized in laser surgery which was not widely used in 1992. He confirmed and said there was no way he would operate until all inflammation was gone as that could cause major problems done the line. So I went on a special no-fat diet which helped me lose all the weight I had put on while pregnant and after three months he gave me the okay. It was an in and out procedure and I am so thankful that I found a wonderful surgeon. I did research him to see how many operations he had performed before settling on him. I never had a problem and in fact the surgery went so well I put on so much weight because I was able to eat everything again. Frankly, if I ever have to get surgery I would not opt for it in the Roanoke Valley...I've heard too many horror stories like yours. However, I have never heard of a doctor saying he didn't believe in "scarring!" That's absurd. And you're right, medical malpractice is a tough case to get a lawyer to take but it sure sounds like you have one. One has to be very diligent in their researching doctors before placing our lives in their hands, and after what happened to me with the RA I will always get a second opinion from now on! I hope you can find relief maybe through acupuncture and visualization? I fear pain pills sometimes create even bigger problems.


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