Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Most Interesting Organ in the World

Following my bone marrow transplant in 2003, my body went haywire. For example, the orifice meant to expel solid waste went in favor of a viscosity close to water, and the orifice meant to expel liquid decided to shoot blood clots instead.

My liver stopped working properly, and I was left with gallstones and sludge in my gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ near the liver that stores bile to help break down fatty foods. The bile originally comes from the liver. Unless you eat fried chicken tenders every day, it is not critical and can usually be removed without causing problems.

Gallstones are harmless unless one gets lodged and causes inflammation. Beyond the possibility that this leads to potentially life-threatening emergencies, it is also one of my top-ten all-time pains. Remembering what I said before about where I excreted solid objects will give you an idea of the level of pain.

My first gallbladder attack occurred when I was still recovering from my transplant. At first I thought my liver was exploding. Then the pain radiated across my entire back and pulsed through me. I took 10 milligrams of oxycodone and showed my gallbladder who has the real stones.

Since I could hardly keep food down, of course fatty, calorie-packed foods were the ones I chose. But fatty foods are also what disrupts gallstones. And now I needed a high-calorie, low-fat diet, but I was unable to eat large quantities, which, by my calculations, was impossible. Faced with the prospect of laparoscopic surgery, I listened as my dad said, “You should get your gallbladder removed. While you’re asleep, they should also take out your appendix and spleen, because you don’t need those things.”

“Dad, your spleen is kind of important.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think so.”

“Then they’ll just take your appendix, that’s all. I kind of want my gallbladder out. I don’t use it,” he explained.

Since the stones and sludge never completely disappear, my gallbladder removal is inevitable. Removal of my appendix and spleen, however, is not.

I held off on surgery, mostly because I had the insurance of oxycodone at my disposal. My gallstone attacks also continued, mostly because I was also overly fond of fried chicken tenders. When I completely recovered from my transplant, my gallbladder calmed down and I went four years before my next attack.

I was working at a bank—my first job out of college. I had eaten a plate (or two or three) of bar-b-que at the holiday party a couple hours earlier. I thought I had indigestion so I took Zantac and Tums. When those were ineffective, I knew it was my gallbladder. Already having stepped away from the office for an hour, I told my supervisor I wasn’t feeling well and left. She probably assumed I had been in the bathroom all that time and was happy to see me take my presumed digestion problems home.

No oxycodone this time, though, so I found extra-strength, fast-acting Tylenol at Rite Aid. I could barely breath because of the pain, but I still had the presence of mind to get the cheap generic pills. Only a slow old woman was in line ahead of me. My stream of thoughts were foul and not because I have a granny fetish. Eventually I paid, swallowed my pills, and a couple hours later could at least breath normally.

I consulted a general surgeon who, again, suggested I get the organ removed. Though I read rare horror stories from people who had theirs removed, it is a simple procedure, and most people function fine without their gallbladders. But my gallbladder and I have been through a lot together, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let go of it by way of minimally-invasive surgery. I’m holding out until it has to be removed by cutting me open. I need to add to my 25+ inches of medical scarring. Bring back the fried chicken tenders.


Joanna said...

I had my gall bladder out when I was in the midst of chemo. Recovery is super fast. I don't miss it. Good luck...

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

That is soothing to know, thanks. When I get mine out I hope I can keep the stones in a little jar.