It usually hit me around 1:30 in the morning. I'd be sleeping peacefully and suddenly wake up in pain. The pain would be bad enough to wake me up, but vague enough to try to sleep through. I usually thought it was either cramps or constipation (TMI, I know - I'm just getting started). But that was just the beginning. And the beginning doesn't last long. The vague pain would quickly morph into "Oh-my-freaking-God-what-the-&%*%^-I-think-I'm-dying-wake-the-*^(*(%-up-and-listen-to-me-bitch-about-it" type pain. It would last for a good four or five hours. Nice, huh?
I distinctly recall saying to the dog and cat during my first attack (who were pacing through the house with me, trying to figure out where we were going and what we were doing), "If this is what childbirth feels like there's no &#*$(@^% way I'm having any #*($@()^ kids." Note that we have no children.
That first time it happened, seven or eight years ago, J was pretty freaked out and wanted to go to the emergency room. But I'm not so much for emergency rooms or doctors - although I'll be the first in line to nag at anybody else I care about for having the same attitude. Do as I say, not as I do. We called Mom - the usual medical question/emergency protocol for us - and she said go to the emergency room. So I didn't. Of course. I bargained with J (stupid, I know) and told him that if it hadn't gone away by the time he had to get up for work (5:30) I'd go to the ER. It'd finally gone away by then, so I "won". Yay for me!
However, he and Mom did convince me to call my doctor the next day and make an appt. I did and when I told him about my painful attack the night before he thought it could be a few different things, but was most likely gallstones. He sent me to have an ultrasound and they couldn't find anything. So he told me that if it happened again, he needed me to go to the ER - he can't do much to diagnose me unless I'm in the midst of an episode. So that was that - wasted a ton of money on tests and dr's appt for nothing.
Honestly, I'd almost completely forgotten about that attack until last year. When it happened again. Only this time we were at Kentucky Lake with a nice long drive between me and the nearest ER - and much of that drive was gravel or two lane country road. And the last thing I wanted to do, while cursing and crying and writhing in pain, was hop in a big bouncy diesel truck and bounce and wind my way for an hour to the nearest ER. So again, I ignored Mom and J and just toughed it out. My general medical plan is this: ignore it and it'll go away - pretend it doesn't exist and it doesn't!
A year later it happened again. Same pain, same story, same stubborn refusal to go the ER. Except now it's because I'm pretty sure there really is a problem and I just don't want to deal with it. My medical plan wasn't working.
I had a follow up appointment two days later with a doctor who also happens to be a surgeon for a completely different matter and at the end of the appointment he asked if I had any other questions and how I was doing otherwise. I told him about the attack two days prior, and the two attacks before that one. I was purposefully casual about it and told him what my PCP had said about not being able to diagnose unless I was in the midst of an attack and... "No," he interrupted me. "That's the difference between a surgeon and your PCP. Go get an ultrasound immediately and have them send me the results. Either way we're taking your gallbladder out."
Hello? Rude much? No "we" aren't! I was not happy with his response. And he wasn't much happier with mine. I told him that if they found gallstones in this ultrasound, we could discuss surgery. But if they don't - we won't even discuss it. "Heather," he explains, clearly trying to be patient with me, "1 out of 10 people end up with gallbladder disease. And 10 out of 10 people don't need their gallbladder. Left untreated it really can create much worse issues than the pain - or kill you. It needs to come out."
"Nuh-uh." I am a champion debater. No arguing that point, now is there?
It didn't matter. Two days later the lady that did my ultrasound said with surprise, "Wow! Those are huge!" as soon as she located my gallbladder. She showed me the ultrasound and even to my completely untrained eye it was pretty obvious. I had huge stones. And not in the way I'd always meant when I said I have huge stones.
But I wasn't giving in. A couple of days later at my follow-up appt with my doctor to review my results, I felt like we needed to discuss other options. Isn't there a medication we can try? Medical or pharmaceutical trials I can participate in? A laser that can obliterate them without surgery? Honestly - he looked at me like I was from another planet.
"Heather," he starts, trying to patient once again. "This is the most common surgery performed in the United Sates. I have done thousands of them. It has a 100% cure rate. You will be fine." He tells me it's laproscopic, I'll recover quickly, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But seriously - can't we just TRY a prescription, or drug trials, or lasers? Now he's irritated again. "There are no medications, no drug trials, no lasers. Why would there be? There's a solution. It works and it's simple," he tells me.
He wants to operate immediately - in two days. I tell him I'm busy. Maybe in late November... He totally wants to yell at me now, I can tell. He explains that I need to do it before my common bile duct gets blocked and I end up having to have emergency surgery for it. He talks me into scheduling the surgery for the end of July - three weeks from our discussion.
As I walk out of his office, I'm not sure how he won. I can't remember how he talked me into the surgery AND into doing it so soon. I'm going to call and reschedule. The nurse won't argue with me - she'll just reschedule it for me. The customer's always right, you know.
That very night I had another attack. This really may have been God's version of slapping me upside the head.
So I had my gallbladder removed on Friday, July 31. I asked to have my gallstones after the surgery and the surgical nurse told me I couldn't have them because they have to be sent to pathology. They'd already given me something (not sure what, this was JUST before surgery), so I was little pushier than usualy... so I argued with her that it was MY gallbladder and MY gallstones and they were coming out of MY body so I can do whatever I want with them! She argued a little bit and then told me she'd take a picture if i wanted. So that satisfied me. The picture is below (GROSS... I know) - the gallbladder is at the bottom, of course. The two yellow things are the stones and I have no idea what the other thing is.