Sunday, August 7, 2011

You Won't Feel a Thing

Everyone, it turns out, has a gall bladder story.

It's like an appendix -- one of those extra parts we apparently don't really need, something that can be removed without much difficulty. Between my three sisters and me, we have a grand total of zero appendixes, and that's even counting the sister who started with two. For a while, every time the phone rang at night, it was with news that someone from Will's family was in the ER with a hot appendix. Now I keep a careful eye on Will's own abdomen -- it's only a matter of time, I tell him.

"You know, your grandfather had his gall bladder out," my mom says, in what is probably intended as a pep talk. "That was in 1999." See? Proof that a person can live for 12 years without this extra bit of tissue. Then she begins listing family friends -- Pam too, and what about Katie? She got out of the hospital only last week.

Armando, our brother-in-law, had his out, Will reminds me. Yes -- I remember. The waiting area, the hospital room, cracking jokes with Dad before Armando even came out of the anathesia.

I mention this to Mona, the sole person on earth who can tame the beast that is my hair. At the moment I have silver foils sticking out of my head; I look like a pale, somewhat lumpy Christmas tree. "Oh! Well you know, I had my gall bladder out..." she begins. What follows is a medical horror story that pauses only when it's time to stick me under the dryer, resumes for the shampoo, and finishes during my cut.

It's only a laparoscopy, everyone points out. I'll be back on my feet in no time -- my sister's co-worker, I'm told, was back at work in three days. No one mentions that the last time I was scheduled for a laparoscopy I spent seven days in the hospital.

I'm in no hurry to be cut open again, and besides -- I've had exactly one really bad stomach ache that may or may not have been my gall bladder. Who gets a tonsillectomy after one bout with tonsilitis? I'm too cynical not to ask: Would this option be suggested to me if I didn't have double health insurance coverage?

Will provides the theme music for my musings: "Losing My Gall Bladder" to the tune of "Losing My Religion." Meanwhile, I start to wonder if a bad gall bladder can get me out of chores like taking the trash out, washing my car, emptying the dishwasher.


I want to explore other options first, I tell my doctor -- like a change in diet. I'm 35, and it's time to kiss fried and fatty goodbye. I quote some passages from things I've read online about people who have just as much pain after gall bladder surgery as they did before, and other people who live with their gall stones, pain-free.

"I understand your concerns," my doctor says.

For the first time ever, I have her full attention. We're sitting in chairs, facing each other. It feels empowering to sit in a doctor's office fully clothed, in control of my dignity.

"Let's say I have one or maybe two more attacks, and there are no other obvious causes..."

She nods. "Then it will be time to come back."

I agree. We shake hands on the deal and I head back to the lobby, feeling suddenly much better.

A gall bladder is a terrible thing to waste.

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