My Gallbladder Surgery and Recovery
I wrote last year about being diagnosed with gallstones and then I also wrote about my feelings the day before I had the operation to have my gallbladder removed. But I recently realised that I’ve never written about the operation itself and what the recovery was like.
So to rewind a little bit, around Easter last year, I was diagnosed with gallstones. A gall bladder attack is pretty hellish – the only pain I have ever experienced like it is the pain of labour and an attack similarly can last for hours. To get a diagnosis I had to have an ultra sound. Then it was left to me to decide if I would like surgery or not. A gallbladder removal or a cholecystectomy as it’s medically called is actually classed as elective surgery. To prevent a gall bladder attack you can eat a very restricted diet comprised of only items that are less than 5% fat. Anything more than that can trigger an attack.
The diet itself is pretty limited as you would expect and I found it easier to just eat dairy free and only white meat and fish. I can pretty much guarantee anything you like to eat is over 5% fat. I’d actually argue, that it is no way really to live your life. As an example, we went on holiday to France while I was awaiting surgery and I could eat no croissants, cakes, cheese, I survived on tomato based pasta dishes, bread with no butter and salads while we were there. Although you could also argue that that is not a reason to have surgery. What is, is the idea of having another attack. The fear of having another attack like that is pretty real. What can also happen is an attack can be so bad, that you need to have emergency surgery too. Which is another consideration.
I was fortunate enough to have BUPA medical insurance via my husband’s work, otherwise I have been warned that the wait on the NHS is pretty long. At the time I had my surgery it was an 18 week just to see an consultant, let alone for surgery. All in all I waited 6 weeks from consult to surgery on BUPA. I also believe that the NHS have a requirement of a certain BMI weight wise for you to be considered for the surgery. I was advised to loose some weight by my surgeon, but given the diet restrictions of less than 5% fat, it isn’t really that tricky.
The surgery that I had was keyhole surgery and most gallbladder removals are now done this way, but my surgeon did warn me that there is a small chance that they wouldn’t be able to remove my gallbladder this way and then it would have to be open surgery, which has a lot longer recovery time. There are also with any surgery small risk, the biggest thing that some people can suffer after surgery is an upset stomach after they eat. I was advised keyhole surgery is usually two weeks off work, but a month of taking it easy and no strenuous activity.
The surgery is usually done as a day surgery, but as my surgeon couldn’t fit me in until 3pm for surgery, I required an overnight stay. I was allowed a light breakfast and then nothing but water for the rest of the day.
I had the surgery under a general anaesthetic, so I remember counting down before going into theatre and then waking up in recovery. The first thing I remember being aware of is that my stomach was sore, which was to be expected really. I was wheeled back to my room and the staff was very generous with their painkillers, for which I was grateful for!
I was also glad that I spent the night in the hospital, although it did mean I woke up at hospital on my birthday. It was then or surgery about a month later, which clashed with our summer holiday. The first time I attempted to get up for the bathroom, I nearly passed out and had to hit the emergency call button, but this isn’t unusual for me post surgery. Drugs seem to be make me light headed and nauseous. I also had a lot of problems getting my bladder to work again which was really awkward and uncomfortable, but the nurse did advise me it was quite common. So I felt like I was desperate to go, but couldn’t make myself go. The biggest problem I had post surgery was that my oxygen levels were very low. Which meant I had to sleep with an oxygen tube up my nose. The nurse finally twigged was me taking shallow breaths as my chest and abdomen were sore – they do actually move your diaphragm for the surgery. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it! So they increased my painkillers and things improved.
I was discharged in the morning with a combination of codeine and paracetamol tablets, laxatives and anti-nausea medication. I’ll admit that the journey home was pretty unpleasant and my husband commented I was an interesting shade of grey by the time we got home. The first couple of days I really had to take it easy and keep up with the painkillers, I would say the first week is when you really have to be careful. I started to reduce my painkillers pretty quickly as I hate the way they make me feel. But if I did too much – easy to do with small children – I felt faint pretty quickly. And I spent much of the first week on the sofa, which by my own admission I’m not very good at doing! After that I started to feel a lot better.
In terms of the incisions themselves, I have three small scars. One to the right just under my rib cage, one in the centre under my rib cage and one through my belly button. It’s been nine months since my surgery now, and these are still quite red and raised, but not terrible at all. And in terms of the fact I had an organ removed, I think it’s pretty amazing I only have three small scars. Each incision had stitches when I came home, which were dissolvable so they did not have to be removed. I also imagine that the redness will slowly fade over time.
Let’s talk pain. The only thing surgery I have had that I can really compare this to is a c-section. And in comparison to c-section pain, a cholecystectomy is a walk in the park. It’s sore don’t get me wrong, but not it feels like I have been cut in half type of pain that a caesarean gives you and the recovery is so much easier.
After affects I have been very lucky and had none at all. No upset tummy and after the initial light-headedness, I feel completely back to myself and can eat completely normally. So it was definitely the right decision for me.
- Take soft stretchy clothes to wear home and after the surgery. You will have stitches through your belly button, you are not going to want to wear jeans or anything tight. I actually found a jersey dress a really comfy option, especially as the weather was pretty warm when I had my surgery. I also found soft jersey trousers and tops fine.
- If you work be prepared you will need two weeks off work, if you have a strenuous job with lifting 3 weeks
- If you are a stay-at-home parent like I was, try and get someone to help with the children at least for the first week. You’re going to need it. Especially if you have a younger child that needs lifting.
- Be prepared to not drive for about a week.
- Don’t forget the sexy stockings. You know the ones, to prevent blood clots, I had to wear them for about a week, it was hot and sticky and it was not fun!
If you’re having the surgery soon or deciding if it’s right for you, I wish you luck.