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Gall Bladder

March 12th, 2023 #

Health-wise, this spring has been a bit of a disaster.

This post has a lot of health-related things in it, so, content warning and all that.

Our household has averaged about one flu per week, in most cases the little one catching some bug in daycare, and then contracting that to the rest of the family. Add to that the global political situation, COVID still being a thing (as much as people act as if it wasn't), sprinkle in some extended family drama I won't get into, and my stress levels haven't been healthy either.

Which is foreshadowing to about four weeks ago, when I was submitting a pull request at work and got comments on it - completely routine - my stress just boiled over. I started shaking and my scalp felt like it was vibrating. I've heard enough horror stories about untreated stress reactions to stop working for the day and booked a doctor's phone appointment as soon as possible, who then told me to take rest of the week off and see a doctor physically.

That doctor then recommended me to take more sick leave (how much, I do not know, but judging from the reactions of other doctors I saw since, probably several weeks worth). I didn't want that as I had stopped working so suddenly that I was afraid I might generate some kind of phobia about going back to work. We did start on some mediation that should help, slowly, though. Medication that, among other things, initially made me feel like throwing up, and which somewhat messes up my internal signals so feelings like hunger feel strange.

Back at work things were stressful, and I was actually a bit scared going back. For the first couple of days I pondered if it would have been a good idea to take the sick leave after all, but then things stabilized.

Around this time I got my first attack. I had had a heavy dinner, and around bedtime, but before lying down, I felt like something wasn't agreeing with me. It passed in a couple of hours though. Later attacks, always after I had eaten something a bit more heavy late in the day, got worse, but still passed. When the attack was going on, nothing seemed to help; I tried lying down, standing, sitting, on my side, etc. Neither did painkillers, throwing up, or spending hours in the toilet.

It felt kind of like something was squeezing a knot in my chest, right at the middle, and kind of small; not something I would associate with a heart attack. More like anxiety. There was also a feeling I can't describe that was just... suffering, which got worse the more I stayed in one position, but never went away, until the attack passed.

Given that I had started on new medication recently, I suspected it was that, and hoped it would go away. After all, the initial nausea from the medicine had became less and less of an issue as days went by. I saw the doctor again, and she said that to her knowledge, the medication should not cause such issues.

I took a week off from work when the kids had their winter break from school. Coming back to work I jokingly said I could sleep for two more weeks. This was, coincidentally, about two weeks ago.

The fourth attack started at 3am, and right from the start it was clear it was worse than the previous ones. After a couple futile attempts at trying to get a taxi to the hospital (thanks, Anne Berner), I called 112 described my symptoms. An ambulance arrived very quickly.

In the ambulance the medics wired me up to check if I was, in fact, having a heart attack. Their conclusion was that it probably was not, but they hit me with nitro and morphine just in case, hooked me to a drip and sped me to the hospital.

Two notes on morphine: first, it did not help with the pain. Second: why would anyone WANT to be on morphine? It was horrible.

First aid at the hospital at 4am was very quiet; I was the only patient. So, I was given some more painkillers on drip (didn't help), plus a bunch of more tests, including more thorough heart exam to rule out any heart related issues. Eventually they ran out of obvious things to do and I was lined up for ultrasound, 10 hours later.

There was nothing to do but to try to sleep, text message relatives keeping them up to date, and listen. I was in too much of pain to use my phone for actual entertainment, plus I had not packed a charger, so I saved the battery. Around 7am other patients started drifting in.

It's no surprise hospitals are so popular TV fodder: they're stock full of stories. Between night nurses' gossip and various patients accounts, it's a veritable gold mine for writers.

There was the nurses' confusion about their new contracts and whether they're allowed overtime or not; elderly woman was worried about her dog, left alone at home while she was there; Another with suddenly paralyzed side and an impressive amount of people she needed to call with updates.

I listened to various devices beeping and pondered about sound design. If the devices had pure waveform beeps, it would get really annoying for people working there, but at the same time the sounds need to be pretty commanding when someone is, well, dying. And you want to recognize which device was demanding attention without having to search.

Eventually the time for my ultrasound came, and they found there's something odd about my gall bladder. No stones, but clearly irritated. Satisfied that's my problem, they prescribed some antibiotics, sent me home, saying I should pop by at the hospital closer to me in the morning to see if my situation hadn't improved.

At this point I had been up over 14 hours without eating (they couldn't give me anything to eat in case I needed surgery), so I stumbled my way out, managed to get a taxi, visited the drug store for my meds and then got home. My stomach felt like a crumbled ball of paper, and I did not feel like eating much.

I did not sleep much that night. I was feverish and stressed about making to the first bus to the hospital in the morning. I made myself a sandwich at around 5am, pondering about last meals.

In the bus I pondered whether I should try to pop by an optometrist after getting my results from the hospital.

I had been told to go to the first aid as early as possible to beat the morning rush, and that's what I managed to do. When I arrived around 7am, the first aid reception wasn't even technically open (even though the first aid itself is open 24 hours a day). After sitting down for a few minutes a nurse came to ask why I was there. I explained my situation, was directed to a different waiting area and even before I managed to sit down, someone was there to take my blood samples.

While waiting for the results I must have looked like a mess because another nurse asked if I wanted to lie down, which I gladly agreed to. I still felt awful, from sleeping, eating and drinking far too little the day prior. I was given a protein shake which blissfully calmed my stomach down.

The results from the bloodwork came along with a doctor, who said my values were a mess. I had to recount this tale to him, after which he went and called the other hospital to check what should be done with me. I was hooked to a drip again, since it was clear I was going to need intravenous antibiotics if nothing else. The doctor came back and said they'd be sending me back to the other hospital to be operated. There was nothing to do but to wait for another ambulance. So much for my plans for the day.

Around this time I realized it was really painful for me to breathe if I lay on my back. The trip to the other hospital I spent lying on my side, which wasn't fun.

Back at the other hospital the debate between surgery and using antibiotics went back and forth for a couple of days. Several series of blood tests were made, along with MRI. I got hold on a phone charger and started spending time listening to podcasts. After exhausting Tom Scott's Lateral, I started working my way through Beck Hill's and Matt Parker's A Problem Squared, re-living the initial Covid lockdowns.

MRI was an interesting experience. I'm not surprised that if you have even an inkling of claustrophobia that it's terrifying. You're put into a tube and it's LOUD. I noticed at some point that the MRI changed its behavior based on my breathing pattern, and, since nobody told me not to, played around with it. I'm not saying you should. But nobody mentioned about it later on, so I guess it was okay? Breathing on my back was still painful, but getting through the tests was more important.

The MRI results agreed with the ultrasound: something was wrong with the gall bladder, but there were no stones, which the doctors found strange. The doctor in charge said that even if they managed to treat it with antibiotics, the organ would be nonfunctional (either due to or despite the treatment) and it would be better to remove it or my symptoms would likely repeat.

So, after another two days of not eating I was finally scheduled for the operation. I returned my borrowed charger to my hospital room mate, wished him the best in case we wouldn't see again, and got prepped for operation.

In the operation room, after confirming the right person was in for the right operation, I was given oxygen and told to take deep breaths. Around the fourth inhale the ceiling tiles suddenly changed to have huge, colorful, blocky R letters on them, and I had completely forgotten where I was.

I realized I had been in surgery and tried to shake myself awake. I was seeing double, but clearly not in the operation room anymore. Instinctively I checked if my fingers, hands, feet worked. I was really confused and messed up. The rational thing to do would have been to try to sleep it off, but some proto-human inside my skull was like, we've been poisoned, we have to get up and fight.

I think I may have asked some slightly inappropriate questions from the waking room staff.

Back in my hospital room, after the worst of the drugs had worn off, I was finally given something to eat - mostly liquids but I was glad to take it. My wife dropped by with a proper charger and some light reading that I requested. Over video call my brother commented that it was the only time he'd talked to me while I was on drugs.

Over the next couple of days the painkillers given to me over the operation finally wore off. I was a wreck, but an understandable one. I also noticed I could breathe lying on my back again.

And then, after making sure I could pee again (a complication I would definitely would have preferred to skip, thank you very much), I was sent home for another week of rest, before allowed back to work. As I'm writing this I'm still a complete wreck and have no problem taking it easy. I hope I'm well enough on Monday to get something done at work.

Looking back, I've probably have had some related symptoms for years; odd pains when breathing sometimes, painful to lay down in certain positions for no apparent reason. Maybe they've been related, but it's hard to say. At least the body location for the pain has been similar to where they operated.

Everything considered I've been incredibly lucky. I hope the attacks were related to the gall bladder, but only time will tell.


March 11th, 2023 #

Another year, another slow start at posting..

Lots of things changed last year. Hosting for this site, for one. The startup I was working at got sold to Intel, which was interesting. No, I didn't get rich; didn't have any company stock.

I still tinker at zx spectrum next stuff. Maybe I'll get something finished this year. Here's hoping.


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