Remove one gallbladder, get a dozen stones free

 | 4 min

This is the second part of the story of my hospital visit. The first thing I had to learn about being in hospital is that nothing happens to a timetable. The nurses come around every few hours (whenever they are free) to take vitals and dispense pain meds. The doctors come around at some time, usually in the morning or evening and usually in flocks to ask a couple of questions and dispense directions. Meals arrive at times roughly correlating with breakfast, lunch and dinner but varying up to an hour or more each day. The phlebotomist arrives sometime in the morning. They’ll come and take you to surgery sometime in the morning. You’ll be discharged sometime tomorrow. There’s no point asking for specific times for anything – the hospital just doesn’t work like that.

The CT scan I was supposed to have never happened – I lucked out and they had a free surgery slot open up on the Monday and they put me in it. Saturday and Sunday I was mostly just waiting, popping painkillers and tethered to my drip. Fortunately, they gave me a much nicer hospital gown that didn’t risk causing everyone nearby snow blindness every time I got out of bed. It was actually very comfortable. I wasn’t eating anything because the pain was too unbearable, so between visitors, I mostly just marked my exams, txted people and dozed.

The surgery itself was fairly uneventful – I put on the surgical gown (no arse coverage at all), the sexy compression stockings, signed all the consents, met the surgeon, surgical nurse and anaesthetist and listened to them explain what was going to happen. They put an oxygen mask on me, put something in my IV line and I went straight to sleep. I came to when they were lifting me off the operating table onto my bed and wheeling me into recovery. I was only in recovery about 15 minutes, getting morphine every time the pain went above a 3/10.

gallstones I got back to my bed to discover my mother waiting, along with some lovely bunches of flowers. I showed off my 9 large gallstones (3 were donated to science) and was pretty much too groggy to do much except sleep for the rest of the day. It was actually several hours after the surgery that I realised I had a rather large tube sticking out of a hole in the middle of my stomach, there to drain any blood and liquid away from the internal site of the surgery. Moving was extremely painful, although not because of the surface wounds. The pain was actually deeper, in the muscle, and felt rather like I’d done the most hideous killer abdominal workout ever devised. The surface incisions weren’t stitched and started bleeding every time I moved though, so I had to had my dressings changed often.

The most annoying part was that I couldn’t roll over at all and had to sleep on my back, which I’ve never been very comfortable doing. The next few days were mostly spent resting and having my dressings changed frequently. I could eat again, without pain, although frankly, with the quality of the food I was getting, I still preferred not to. I’m sure the regular hospital food isn’t bad, but to avoid stressing my bile ducts, they had me on a low fat diet, which was awful. I was craving protein something awful. I was actually relieved when they put me nil by mouth again for Thursday’s procedure.

Although the surgery went according to plan, they weren’t able to clear my bile duct so on the Thursday I had to have an endoscopy to check it and clear it if necessary. They didn’t knock me out for it, just sedated me and gave me something to numb my throat. I could feel the camera thingie bumping against the inside of my stomach and duodenum all the way down – a very bizarre and unpleasant experience. Fortunately they were able to clear the duct fairly quickly and it was all over in a few minutes. I only started gagging just as they removed it from my throat. The sedative they gave me was awfully powerful and I ended up sleeping almost all the rest of the day.

And finally, on the Friday, a week after I was admitted, they removed all the various tubes that were sticking out of me. I learned firsthand the value of direct pressure on a wound. IV lines tend to bleed very heavily when removed, but you press hard on them for a minute or so and they close right up, not even needing a sticking plaster.

Removing the drain tube from my stomach was a rather more interesting procedure. It was stitched in place, and penetrated a few inches through the muscle, so I thought. The nurse cut the stitch away and told me to take a deep breath and hold it, as she pulled about 20cm of tube. Then another deep breath and another 20cm, followed by a third deep breath and another 10cm or so. There was over half a metre of tube inside me and for the life of me I can’t figure out where the hell it was. It sure didn’t feel like that much at the time.

Finally, after all this (and a little bit of paperwork), they cut off my hospital bracelet and set me free!

I’m pretty damn lucky to be living in NZ. I know people in the US who have had to pay thousands of dollars to have this surgery, never mind the cost of a week in hospital. Using the Southern Cross health insurance scheme costings, I consumed over $20k worth of healthcare, and it didn’t cost me a single cent (well, not directly). I am a huge fan of socialized medicine.