by Randall Beaird
One Sunday afternoon a few months ago I polished off a half jar of crunchy peanut butter while watching a little golf. I’ve always been a bit of a binge eater, but this time my body went on strike. Later that evening I felt a dull pain growing in my upper abdomen as well as some serious gas. Tums were no help, and then I broke into a cold sweat, followed by an upset stomach. I thought something must have ruptured. After about an hour of agony I felt I was probably dying, but jumped in the shower. I didn’t want to be too smelly on the ER table.
Twenty minutes later I was in Lufkin at the hospital, though I thought I was going to pass out from the pain en route. After limping in and telling the nurse my symptoms I actually felt an ounce better, waved off the paperwork and took a seat to see if I was really dying (my deductible is too high for anything else.) Ten minutes later, the pain was almost gone so I sheepishly waved goodbye. Little did I know I’d be back.
A couple weeks later, after sampling the new Chinese buffet two days in a row, my gallbladder started hollering that evening. It was not happy,(though I still didn’t know it was my GB at that time.) After being drenched with sweat and throwing up, I showered again before my wild ride to the hospital (stopping twice to roar at the unlucky roadside pebbles.)
There was no doubt I needed to see a doctor this time, and I wasn’t too proud to moan on the stretcher, in the hallway, while I waited my turn. They told me it was my gallbladder, gave me some meds, and took some pictures. It had sludge, no stones, and was slightly inflamed. (I learned later the best test for gallbladder problems is the HIDA scan. It shows how well your GB is contracting to release bile. Make sure they give you the CCK injection.) I was there from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.. The emergency room bill was about $15,000! (of which I had to pay about $1,200. But then I found out later my insurance company had a discount deal with the hospital and the insurance only had to pay about $3,000 of the $15,000.
I started googling gallbladders every night, and was amazed at how many people had their own similar story. Some people said a GB attack can be more painful than childbirth. A common thought was that most people have to learn the hard way how not to have another attack. I have since learned I can’t eat several slices of bacon followed by a tall glass of very cold water. And I can’t eat a whole sleeve of ritz crackers. But more than anything I can’t eat what would feed 2 or 3 people. The only thing that saved me from these attacks was a 20mg pill of Dicyclomine after it started (took 30 minutes to kick in.) If it was really bad, I would take a 25mg tablet of Promethazine for nausea. (The doctor also gave me an antibiotic prescription to take care of the inflamation.) (I learned later with my second prescription of Dicyclomine that you should take a pill before you eat a big meal, and not wait until you start feeling the attack. This simple tip would have saved me from having many of my attacks.)
It is amazing how divided the GB attackees are on whether to keep it or lose it. I decided for the time being I’m going to try and eat like a normal person and keep mine. I have found the “straw that broke the camels back” is definitely in play after your gallbladder first acts up. If you eat too much fat 2 or 3 days in a row, you are asking for trouble. But if you have just one high-fat day, you might be okay. One time I had a big fajita dinner with the works, and would’ve been fine, but I was on vacation, figured I deserved a large ice cream snickers bar at midnight. That was the straw, and around 4 a.m. the camel was not happy.
So tell me about yours…..now I love gallbladder stories (especially about the sludge part.) I have an apple juice cocktail and some cranberry pills…..trying to slay the sludge. And if it helps…data at time of first attack, 50 years old, 5’10”, 215 pounds (down to 175.) (You can email me your story and I’ll try to post them. I had to turn off the comments–too much spam!)
Update after my first Thanksgiving since the attacks: I was very curious to see how my gallbladder would hold up during the holidays, with all the various goodies whispering my name. I entered that arena at 172, having lost 43 pounds since the peanut butter took my GB hostage back in April. Well, I waddled back home at 176. I ate everything, and never heard a whisper from my gallbladder. I ate lots of turkey, ham, dressing, corn casserole, potatoes, cranberries, key lime pie, banana cream pie and fancy caramel pecan clusters.
I made it through the Christmas holidays fine and my weight was back down to 170. But then I went out to eat one night in late December, and added cherry cheesecake with ice cream at the end of a large meal. Two hours later I was sweating and throwing up with tremendous gallbladder pain. Fortunately it only lasted one hour, surprisingly short because I didn’t have any dicyclomine with me at the time. Then this past Thursday I was starving by dinner time, a mistake, and ate a big burrito and quesadilla. I should have known better. While driving one hour later I had a very fast acting gallbladder attack. Within two minutes I was sweating with tremendous GB pain. I was swimming with nausea and felt like I might faint. Three seconds later right as I was telling myself I should pull over, I fainted. The car behind me said I was down in the right ditch for about 150 yards before I shot across the road and barreled thru a barbed wire fence, went forty yards before hitting a big rotten tree. (a large limb fell off the tree and landed on the trunk.) I remember none of this. I was doing about 60 when I left the roadway and I was very lucky in several ways. I didn’t hit a tree on the right side of the road, nor a car when I crossed back over thru the left ditch. I narrowly missed a very stout steel bar part of the fence next to the pasture gate, and then I hit a rotten tree versus a harder one. The first thing I remember was seeing white and feeling like I was trying to wake up from a deep sleep, a sleep that lasted several hours. I was so surprised, when the man that stopped kept asking me if I was alright. I kept saying, “Man, I fainted. I can’t believe that happened.” The pain in my gallbladder was quickly replaced by the pain in my sternum (though I think the dicyclomine pill I had taken just minutes before helped.) I was able to walk to the ambulance and I talked them out of taking me to the hospital because I felt my sternum was just bruised from the airbag. (The airbag around my feet also deployed which I think helped a lot too.) But three days later my sternum was still pretty sore so I went and had it xrayed and they showed it to be fractured, but nothing could be done about it. Today it’s feeling a little better. Coughing/sneezing is very painful! I have an appointment with a gallbladder surgeon tomorrow morning and hopefully I can get it removed soon. I’ve had about ten attacks since last April. I’m taking all the tests they ran yesterday and in April to hopefully cut down on the bill. (I have to pay 20 percent.) I thanked the cops for not writing me a ticket–they said they could tell my story was legit and that I wasn’t on anything (other than being hopelessly addicted to food and stupid.)
My gallbladder surgery is Tuesday, January 28. The doctor decided there was enough evidence present to remove it without further testing! The hospital’s estimated bill is $2,300 of which I have to pay $2,100 (to meet my deductible and then I pay 20%.) The doctor’s estimated portion is only $1,000 ($200 that I pay) and the anesthesiologist portion will be $3,000 ($300 that I pay) which doesn’t add up so I will call back tomorrow to get a more accurate estimate. When the doctor said it was time to remove it I was a little emotional….it just hit me, that maybe, just maybe, life would get a little less complicated.
So far so good after my gallbladder surgery. It was a little nerve-wracking driving to the hospital at 5 a.m., as it was sleeting/snowing and mom’s windshield had a thick coat of ice on it before we started. I ate my first meal with trepidation, about 30 minutes ago, though I let the first few bites settle for about 15 minutes before finishing. The lap. procedure left four holes in my stomach, but the pain pills seem to be handling that well. Dr. Cole said my gallbladder was inflamed and he noticed a couple pebble sized stones on the perimeter, but he didn’t open it up. I told him to save the stones for me for my follow-up visit, at which time they will remove a staple in one of my incisions, though maybe I have a staple in each one, not sure.
Feb. 3, 2014 — Staples Removed and Gallstones picked up
I had seven staples removed from my stomach (the four holes from lap. surgery) and Dr. Cole said I could pick up my gallstones at the lab. I was surprised to find a bag full of them at the lab….135 of them. I guess they didn’t show up on the scan last Spring because there were so many packed tightly that they looked like “sludge,” the diagnosis at the time. I guess the ER doctor wasn’t that good at diagnosing gallstones and I should have seen the specialist, but after the $15,000 ER bill I was a little too wary. You will find a lot of horror stories on the internet, of complications after your gallbladder is removed, but I have had zero problems. I think the complications occur in less than 10 percent of the GB removals, but they are a very vocal group (and I don’t blame them!) I can eat anything I want without fear, though I’m trying to keep my weight at 170. (Some people say the main reason I had so many stones is I wasn’t drinking enough water.)
June 5, 2014 — It’s been 4 months since my GB removal–still no complications with diet, other than I’m up to 190. It’s so nice not having to worry about what I eat, but I really should.
July 10, 2014 — I heard that some people had less control of their bowel movements after GB surgery, and that reality seems to have kicked in this past month. Where before I might have a twenty minute warning, it has now sometimes been whittled down to a three minute warning, to “go time,” and I mean “go time” in a scary way. The kind where I see myself telling the officer one day, as I sheepishly come back out from behind the tree, “Uhh, well, you see, I had my gallbladder removed a few months ago, and, well, uh….I’m sorry…this is kind of embarrassing…..there’s no way I could have made it to the next gas station.”
August 19, 2015 — The “go time” issue is not that bad anymore, though it does come knockin’ once or twice/month…..more often if I’m eating more than I should.
So, in the end, this is what I learned….
Foods to limit/avoid when your gallbladder goes on strike. (when attacks are due to too much fat…..There is a different approach to take if your attacks are caused by having too much of a low-fat diet.)
- overeating in general
- fried foods
- dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream)
- peanut butter
- fatty foods
Different foods are triggers for different people. My biggest trigger is eggs. I can eat normal amounts of everything on the list, but when I eat overly generous portions, I am playing with fire. For example, I’ve been hooked on this nacho cheddar sprinkle for popcorn lately. It’s not the cheese sprinkle that gets me, it’s the big glob of margerine (probably 4 tablespoons) I melt to put on it as well (air popped so salt/sprinkle won’t stick.) After about 10 days of this heavenly treat, my gallbladder had a painful flare-up. Likewise, while on vacation, I ate two sausage egg mcmuffins for breakfast two days in a row, and on the 3rd day, with the same breakfast, I had a GB attack. Again, the ol’ straw/camel’s back thing.
I think people have gallbladder attacks for two reasons.
1. They overload it too much with high fat foods (my case.)
2. They under-work it with a low-fat diet, and the gallbladder gets clogged up with stones/sludge because it’s not being given enough fat to go to work on, and flush the bile out of it. It stagnates.
Update on my favorite popcorn snack: I still use that Nacho Cheddar sprinkle (by Kernel Seasons) but I get it to stick by spraying the air popped corn, as it comes out into the bowl, with no-fat canola oil cooking spray.