My Gallbladder Saga — what’s your story?

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.img_gall_bladder_ill

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… 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.)

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 Surgery Scheduled:

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.

Surgery Completed

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
  • eggs
  • fried foods
  • dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream)
  • mayonnaise
  • 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.


Sixty feet deep

by Randall Beaird

randallanne2In 1989, one of my sisters talked me into moving to San Diego. For Texans, San Diego is scuba diving paradise. Certified in Nacogdoches while in College, I found a scuba club in the shoreline city. On Easter weekend I attended a bizarre “Easter rock hunt.” Three hundred multicolored two pound rocks were scattered in six to twenty feet of water. Only snorkelers were allowed outfitted with nylon mesh lobster bags to collect the rocks.

My first trip past the breaking waves had me tasting the Pacific–the excitement produced some untimely breaths. My mind drifted back to a Houston backyard and a kid charging around like a boiled egg addict. Now, the ocean was boiling. Dozens of bobbing wet-suits disappeared, madly searching for colored rocks. Thirteen stones later I was about ready to sink.

Teary eyed, I swam over countless others going back to shore. I knew one more duck divelimemouthpiece to the sandy bottom would be all she wrote. Afterwards, I laid under a twisting pine, thankful my belching was about over and for not drowning. Each rock represented a raffle ticket for assorted scuba gear. I walked away with a dinky lime flavored mouthpiece.

My first real dive in the Pacific found seven of us sixty feet deep, circling a sunken steel tower. Quite a variety of fish hovered around the tangled beams. My dive buddy led the way, slowly weaving through the rusty derrick. At one point, with my head turned, I floated too close and his frog kick slammed a fin into my face-mask. Freezing water instantly filled my mask. Sixty feet deep, it was a surprising and deadly situation.

Some divers panic and drown. I considered cashing things in with a dramatic series of convulsions, but my mind flashed back to practicing in the pool. I looked up, took a deep breath and inched my mask open. With nostrils flared like a scared sheriff’s pony, a deliberate stream of air purged the wet death out the cracks. The thread of life grew to a cable; I was going to live. But, salty eyelids ripped any comfort apart as they begged for the back of my hand. As a good-will gesture, I rubbed the tempered glass.
While in San Diego, I worked in Micrographics with a second job on a San Diego Bay boat line. As a bow-tied waiter, I began working the dinner cruises. Wanting more than one night/week (overstaffed), I switched to the deckhand position and became the back-up tour guide.

With minimal deckhand hours, I talked my boss into letting me fill the dishwasher opening. It was humble pie defined but six days of pay. The debonair diners danced the night away as I purged their dishes in a cloud of steam below.

After a month of washing down porcelain mountains there was an opening for assistant cook. I got the job! I couldn’t wait to wear the cool chef’s hat. ChefHatI was now working for the grand master of edibles and orders. The head chef had his own TV show and barked out commands like a drill sergeant. My frantic dish washer shuffle turned into a proud gallop; I was running with the big dogs now. I eagerly slid cold steel through hills of vegetables, striving for the same impressive head chef stroke.

Toward the end of the dinner cruise the wait-staff would often dance with each other. All the cooks were guys and my hat embarrassed the waitresses, so I looked on content but hopeful. I’m not too shy but it was too much to ask of a dinner guest, considering my giant hat and I smelled like the main course.

The band began “Lady in Red,” the last song of the cruise, when this lovely woman approached. Shuffling across the hardwood floor, I felt on top of the world. Maybe it was her compliment on my hat, the conversation, or maybe her shiny red dress. Whatever it was, life was firing on all cylinders. I smelled like dinner but danced like dessert.

K.T. Oslin

by Randall Beaird

A few years ago (1998), Country Music Singer K.T. Oslin was at Lon Morris College in Jacksonville to be honored as a Distinguished Alumna. I was invited to cover the event by a local newspaper. I fell in love with country music in 1976 while listening to Eddie Rabbit sing “Two Dollars in The Jukebox.” I was thirteen. Eleven years later K.T. began her triple Grammy run. Probably known best for “Eighty’s Ladies” and “I’ll Always Come Back,” Oslin sang “Hold Me” with such emotion in 1988 the chills came in waves the first time I heard it.
Born in Arkansas in 1942, K.T. was known as Kay in 1960 as a drama major at Lon Morris College. She chose Jacksonville in large part due to the reputation of legendary drama professor Zula Pearson. Oslin was also famous then, being “Class Favorite” and playing many leads. She has never married.

Freshman classmate Richard Dixon said, “She was the most congenial and accommodating person you’d ever meet.” By the time K.T. hit Nashville in the mid 80’s, legendary songwriter Bob McDill said she had the most outstanding talent of anyone he’d ever seen.

I couldn’t make the press conference at 1:30 on Friday, though someone said I could interview K.T. after the banquet. I know the happy, naive fool and play it well–I told everyone. Loose lips spread the jinx seed, and some people burn their bridge before they get there.

The sun fell into whispering oaks as I showered under cloud nine. My suit was perfect, my shoes dry and thirsty. Desperate, with no polish in sight, I whipped out the pam vegetable spray. One whiff of the buttery aroma and I was ready for something special. That kind of shine deserves a commercial.

After arriving and meeting Oslin’s agent, Stan Moress, I was tagged the “very nice fax man” and put in line to meet KT I shook the hand of a living legend and sat through dinner on the edge of my seat. If someone shot a starter pistol, I would have been nothing but a blur hurdling tables. Tributes were paid to Oslin in a frenzy of remembering, laughter and tears. The rafters shook as K.T. reminisced.

Afterwards, I stood on the fringe of the panting fans and classmates. I was happy for them–eyes fixed, teeth blazing, shoulders twitching with pens in hand, but I still thought my selfish please hurry prayer. I felt like a snow cone juiced with zeal, but starting to melt.
They could have been turtles circling the last leaf of lettuce. I could have been the kid staggering toward the last popsicle. My own little world was melting right before my eyes. There were just too many people and not enough time–a sad reality surrounding celebrities. Stan hovered like a guardian angel and informed me nicely, the interview would have to be postponed. It was only near midnight.

I left a note hoping I could be squeezed in on Saturday and staggered away a sad stack of bones. Saturday came along with K.T.’s condolences–she was too tired. After numerous meetings with faculty, alumni, and students, it was easy to understand why.

So if you come over for dinner, dust off your stories, trot out a few jokes–just don’t tell me you’re too beat to answer a few questions about your first hit single. And there’s got to be some singing, maybe even a duet. Because late at night, in my dreams, I’m still living that loss. K.T. Oslin, the one that got away.

Pig rancher dream/reality

by Randall Beaird

I always wanted a pig. They were the epitome of weird. Always asking, begging, and demanding, usually for food, hogs have high marks in the personality department. I never could talk dad into a pig; now was my chance to live out a dented childhood dream.

Around 1996,  a 16×16 pigpen rose from the prairie–Caddo Mills.  After scouring the paper for ads, I slid out to a large hog operation on a Saturday. The owner’s high school son fired up his pig lover side; now, over 100 squealers watched his every move. The novelty of it all drove me to spontaneous pig herder syndrome. I could only fit two squealers in my trunk-the truck would come later. Oh, they calmed right down on their cardboard, hardly moving a muscle, when we shut the door, and certain smell soon signaled everything still worked. Hunkered down behind the wheel, I drove on, pretending I was doing facial exercises my grandmother taught me.

Grasping at names for my pig herd mothers, I fired out words of welcome and encouragement for their new life away from their desperate relatives. Little did I know how close the apple would fall on my farm.

Ten miles from home, Ginger and Lucy won the name contest. My heart danced; I had my herd. Upon arriving home, I stared at my pigs. Yes, they were as weird as I was hoping. With a certain affinity for not being picky, I learned quickly, Ginger and Lucy didn’t care if they stood in their water or feed trough. In fact, they preferred it. There was some kind of connection–maybe a simple posture to portray the water was theirs. “I’m standing in it; don’t even think of dragging this away from me,” and “I’m stomping my food into smaller portions, so back off!” Peering into their lovely brown drinking water, and down at their high protein pig ration, mixed uniformly in the dirt, my smile began a reluctant retreat.

Two weeks later I drove back out to the definition of hunger; this place is in the dictionary. My third herd mama was waiting patiently to be rescued from the dinner olympics. If you wanted to chew your food here, you could forget it. On all sides, in all shades of desperation, feeding time was a race against your neighbor’s tongue.

With a gentle heave into the trunk, we hit the road with weeknight zeal with dawn’s alarm tapping my ear. I told Julie her name, and caught her up on Ginger and Lucy. She was grunting more than the other two, so I eased into “good girl” banter to lighten things up.

My vehicle’s fervor to be parked at the house found me on the roadside for speeding. As the policeman eased up to the window I was urging Julie to grunt. He heard me talking, wondered, and told me the damage,”56 in a 45.” Maybe he could smell her I thought. I began, “I’m sorry. I was in a hurry to get home because I have this pig in my trunk. She WAS making noise. Can you smell her?”

He was smiling, but not convinced. I gave him a quick history of my pig rancher dream, emphasizing my concern for Julie’s health, as shown by way of eager speed. Julie was probably giggling, but oh so quietly. Pork chop dinners began to dance onto the menu. I said, “Here, I’ll let you see her,” as I began to push the door open. He shook his head, laughed and with a wave of his hand said, “You drive carefully.” I eased back onto the road, happy to be traveling with such a handy pig. I forgave the untimely silence and hoisted Julie into the pen to join her cousins.

After peeling out around the pen and some serious sniffing, they quickly learned I pulled all the strings. Their world lay in a bucket of grub; now it was in my hand.

….and a couple of months later…..

After two months of gargantuan appetites and odors, I traded in my pig rancher dream for another less endearing. The labor department stomped out the novelty of raising pigs. I fell asleep counting days until my pigs were part of someone else’s farm.

Looking back, I should have secured their feed trough to the pen. I wouldn’t have had to pole-vault into the middle of the pen to retrieve it and then high jump out in an attempt to avoid being trampled. A certain regulation torpedoed my plan for their auction block trot. Pigs fed slop have to be off casseroles, and on grain rations, for several weeks before they walk the stage. Pig feeding time slid into the twilight zone.

I forgot their names and started seeing visions of crispy bacon. With no hotline number to call, I knew my pigs were in serious trouble. In a whisper, I called the packing plant. The ultimate betrayal/breakfast was sliding around the corner. I pulled some strings for a transfer next door for Julie, while reservations for two were made at the frosty locker.

Feeling sorry for the duo, I kept their feed trough stocked buffet style for three days. With a borrowed trailer and great neighbor, we prepared the suspicious cargo for transport. John stood ready at the trailer gates, backed snugly up to the pen, while I moved into herder position bobbing like a cow dog. Neither my outstretched arms nor the trail of grain into the trailer caught their eye. After the three-day buffet, they were not inspired.

At arms length, I roped one of the 225 pounders for a gentle walk up the ramp. I’d never skied on mud before. John rang the bell, and it was “Welcome To The Main Event!” I went in for a half-nelson that turned into a white knuckle bear hug. The problem was you couldn’t tell who was hugging who; a ham and bicep tortilla rolled up and down the ramp. My days at linebacker and third base came to help; there was tackling and catching mud splatters. After about five minutes of cheek to cheek, I finally wrestled one into the trailer.

Pig #2 was twice as hard. They pulled a tag-team to combat my flying tackles. Dropping them off at the packing plant, I was too tired to be too sad. I can’t remember being so worn to the nub or smelling so detestable. On the other hand, bacon and pork chops have never been so scrumptious and delectable.

Final curtain call

Only 55% of all Americans know the sun is a star. Maybe the thought of it as a “falling star” is too much to bear. But, stars don’t fall, they just explode. Our Sun is an ordinary G2 star, one of more than 100 billion stars in our galaxy.

The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. Since its birth it has used up about half of the hydrogen in its core. Everyday the sun loses 360 million tons of weight. No problem, for a while anyway; “it will continue to radiate ‘peacefully’ for another 5 billion years or so. Eventually it will run out of hydrogen fuel and be forced into radical changes which, though commonplace by stellar standards, will result in the total destruction of the Earth.”

As stars get older they get redder and swell to many times their original size. Most atoms are made in stars and in the explosion of stars.

The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system. It contains more than 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System (Jupiter contains most of the rest–its great red spot is a whirling cloud bigger than the Earth. The eight other planets could fit inside Jupiter.) The sun is 109 times bigger than the Earth. The sun’s core checks in at 15.6 million degrees.

“Falling stars” are meteors, objects falling through and into the Earth’s atmosphere. The friction between the Earth’s atmosphere and the speeding rock causes the rock to burn up and produce light (usually at altitudes of between 25 and 75 miles above earth). Most meteors would fit in your pocket though they vary in size from specks of dust to chunks bigger than a car.

Earth gets as close as 91 million miles to the sun; the next closest star is Proxima Centuri, 4.2 light years or about 247 trillion miles away. It’s a small pup, 0.07 times the sun’s radius and 18,000 times fainter.

These numbers make me realize just how small and far away I am; I guess we’re all out in the boonies trying to hold it all together–striving to keep mother earth alive for her final fireworks and curtain call.

We’ve had atomic bombs for fifty years, pollution for a hundred more. Those two are deadly enough. Sadly, religion pops up quite often in the catastrophic category. The different interpretations are natural, the conflicts some imagine, brutal.
We have about five billion years of sunlight left, if we can just hold it all together.

(I wrote this in 1998 so if you see any corrections that need to be made, please advise.)