Chapter Three
The Stones

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Not the Rolling ones but the gallstones. I guess 50 years of wear and tear were bound to leave some bad residue. In terms of time, this is a very short story, at least in Quebec health care terms. It all started on August 16th this year (2007).
On the previous evening, after a golf game at the Challenger, we had supper at the golf course. I remember having a couple of beers and a glass of wine and eating what was the spiciest pizza I had ever eaten. After 2 pieces I was full and thought of having last 2 pieces put in a doggy bag but as we talked I kept on munching on the remaining pieces until there was none left to take home. I thought nothing of it. The next morning I awoke with what seemed like a blockage in my upper intestine (just under the ribs). For about 3 hours I tried everything from drinking Perrier, hot water, Eno but the pain was still there. It was only a day until the Wyder Cup and I wondered if I would be able to play. Then the pain subsided to almost nothing. The following Monday, I awoke with the same discomfort and then the pain hit again. This time for only 2 hours.

Then came the real attack. On Friday morning, after a good hearty meal of ribs at Baton Rouge I woke up fine. Then, all of a sudden, the pain struck me again. More intense than the first two and it was accompanied by sweats and a low grade fever. The problem this time is that I wasn't home but up north in the Auberge Beaux-Reves for a morning round of golf. Fortunately, we had internet access in our room and we researched what could possibly be going wrong. The symptoms all pointed to some kind of pancreatic attack. Had we been home, I would have immediately gone to the hospital but because there was lots to pack I decided to wait another hour before hitting the road. The pain subsided enough that when Hannes (owner of the Auberge) knocked on our door to see if we were going out for our planned golf game, I decided that it would take my mind off the pain. Although the pain lasted throughout the day, it was dull enough to play one of my best front nines of my life. At one point, I thought that the Big Guy was giving me one final under par game before calling me to the Pearly Gates. The back nine settled that as I shot 36 - 44 for an 80. Earlier in the morning during the worst of the attack, I had promised my wife that if I didn't go to the hospital right away, I would look into this first thing Monday morning. Here is when the health wheels started turning as they have never done before.

Monday morning (August 27) I visit our company's clinic (which is staffed by 3 different doctors on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday). The doctor examines me and she tells me to make an appointment at the Westmount Medical Imaging for an ultrasound. I phoned and my appointment is the next day at 11:30. The report from the ultrasound: several gallstones, some up to 1.5cm. I bring back those results and blood tests to her the next Monday and she says to go see a specialists at a hospital. Fortunately, I had been dealing with the Jewish General for another minor ailment and more fortunately our good friend Joan Fitzmorris, who is semi-retired, knows the doctor who specializes in abdominal surgery.

I make my appointment and it's set for the 26th of October. Somehow, Joan gets me squeezed in between appointments on the 24th of September. Dr. Garzon examines me and looks at the ultrasound results. He then looks in his little black operation schedule book and says 'you are scheduled for the 21 of December'. So now within less than a month of my last attack, I am scheduled for an operation in 3 months.

When my initial ultrasound tests arrived, I did a lot of research on gallstone removal. Unlike kidney stones that are hard and crystal like and can be broken up and passed naturally, gallstones are soft and the real only way of getting rid of them is to remove the gall bladder. At least that seems to be the way the medical world wants to deal with them. There are probably more natural ways to get rid of them. Also many people have gallstones and never experience the attacks that I went through, so it's not the same for everyone.

The thing that worried me the most about this was the fact that after the August scare, I was now watching my diet and had not gotten any more attacks. Was I going under the knife for nothing? Regardless, December 21st was approaching and there wasn't many other options available in this short period.

The day of reckoning.

December 21st quickly arrived. I was surprisingly not nervous about this operation. I did have a nightmare a few days before but it was probably more from hearing about the movie 'Awake' and not being completely 'out' during this operation and feeling all the pain.

My operation was scheduled for around 8:30, so I had to check in at 7:15. One of the reasons that I did not feel nervous was that Joan had made sure that she was working that day. Not only working, but that she would be in the operating room for me as she had assisted at many of  Dr. Garzon's operations. As I got closer to the hospital, I did start rethinking about things. As initially explained by Dr Garzon, there was a 5% chance that this operation could turn from simple day surgery to a full cholecystectomy, requiring a 5 to 8 inch incision and at least 5 days of hospitalization. This would mean missing Christmas at home and at least a 6 week recuperation period. There was also the 1 in 10,000? chance of not coming back from the anesthesia. As many people put it, surgery is surgery. It is invasive and it is a shock to the body.

All nervousness disappeared when we got to the hospital parking lot. It is a silly reason but when we got in, the parking lot attendant asked how long we were staying and assigned us parking space 19 along the fence. Spots 1 thru 18 were occupied (except for 13) and the next spot was 19. As many of you know, 19 is my lucky number. Other than being born on the 19th and using that as my hockey number, it seems to bring me luck in many things I do.

Being assigned 19 parking spot was a sign for me. (told you it was silly). Joan greeted us at the door and it was really special having her there as a hospital can seem like a very unfriendly place sometimes. She also had asked me to bring my camera and that she would take some pictures. I would have never thought of taking pictures of this ordeal but it really made the day a little more memorable and probably incited me to write this as it can now be told in pictures. The next few pictures are pretty self explanatory.

 

 

As I walked in to the O.R., they were all laughing because I walked in with the warm blankets. One of the orderlies
had given them to me to bring in. They said they had never seen a patient bring them in before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After going back to the recovery room things were not quite as good. When I woke up I was in extreme pain. Apparently my resistance to pain is low. It was in 2 spots. One where my gall bladder probably was and the other in the shoulder. A good thing I was connected to the I.V. through which the nurse could give me some kind of pain killer. Within minutes I was OK but I stayed in the recovery room for about 3 1/2 hours. I didn't sleep much but was probably pretty weak from the anaesthesia. I got wheeled out by Joan just after 1.

 

 

 

Got home as around 2:30 after picking up some soup at Timmy's since I hadn't eaten or drank for 19 hours. Also picked up the emergency painkiller should I need them to sleep. I snoozed from around 3pm to 5:30. Then I was well enough to go see the guys at the arena and stopped in at the Tartan to tell everyone that I was still alive. (I was told by a nurse (not Joan) I could even have a drink if I wanted, which I did).

The first night was surprisingly good although I decided to take the prescription rather than just Advil. Today, (the day after) I ate normal food, not much of it as I still feel bloated. In the next few months I will report on the longer term effects of having your gall bladder removed.

For now, I want to thank Joan Fitzmorris for looking after me as well as Dr. Garzon and everyone else at the Jewish General for how they treated me and made me feel more comfortable going through this ordeal. Also want to thank everyone who were concerned about me and thought about me and had prayer chains started for me. So far so good, stay tuned for more news.

January 6, 2008 - 16 days after the operation.

I will recap the last two weeks of recuperation for you. First of all, I will say this was the Christmas break, so it was actually a good time to take it easy. Well obviously, I took it easy for the first few days. 72 hours of not lifting anything heavy, I can live with that. I didn't need to take that many of the painkillers which by the way were 5mg Supeudol. Although it was prescribed as take one every 3 hours as needed, I took 2 the first night and 1 the next 2 nights, 1 a few days later and finally one on the 13th night which I will explain later. These pills really worked well for me especially when I couldn't sleep from pain. Actually, the pain was worse at night lying down than during the day in the upright position. The negative side of this happening at Christmastime is that this is not the time that you eat in the best patterns. There a lot of good food around by the third day I was eating pretty well anything that I used to eat before. The only difference is I didn't go for seconds. By week two, I was feeling a lot better except for the 13th night.

That Thursday, I had gone back into work after the Christmas break. In the morning it was minus 25 Celsius. The train didn't show up so I drove to work with no traffic as everyone else seemed to be off work. When I got home I ate probably just a little more than I had been eating. It was also the first morning that I hadn't started off the day with a bowl of cereal containing a little All-Bran. It was recommended to me to make sure that I didn't 'clog' up and All-bran seemed to work well. That Thursday night just after going to bed, there was a sharp pain n two spots in my stomach. One where the gall bladder use to be and the other one right in the middle. If I would take a deep breath, it would shoot a sharp pain in those 2 spots and up one shoulder. After not sleeping for a few hours I took one Supeudol and eventually the pain subsided enough to fall asleep. In the morning, I didn't have the strength to go into work and I hadn't sleep very much so I worked from home a little bit and went back to bed. I almost didn't eat that Friday and by 2 o'clock the pain was almost completely gone. I was well enough to try to play hockey on Friday evening (exactly 2 weeks after the operation). I had asked the doctor after my operation how long to wait to play hockey and he said that 2 weeks should be fine. So as I told some of my team mates, I will play Monday Hockey on Friday to ease back into the groove. All was good. That day, my stitches finally came out.

I would say that I have been pretty lucky so far in my recovery. For a week (around day 5 to 12) I couldn't sleep on my right side  because the pressure caused pain in the area where the gall bladder had been removed but other than that, everything is fine so far. This is far cry from the old way of removing a gall bladder. I have heard of people being in the hospital for 10 days and recovering for months. For me to actually play hockey after only 14 days and to have been in the hospital for only 6 hours after such an intrusive operation really tells a lot about the advancement of medicine.

Dr. Garzon was one of the pioneers of this type of surgery and he really knows what is is doing. I will keep this chapter open with long term effects of living without a gall bladder. Everybody reacts differently but if you have to go through this, I hope I can provide a little encouragement.

Update 22 months after surgery.

In the past two years, there hasn't been too many side effects of having no gall bladder. There have been a few close calls since some foods seem to go right through you (as they say). I found that I have lost the taste for pork as it seems to have a tourista effect on me. Since bile is secreted from the liver and doesn't have a place to be stored anymore, it just goes directly into your intestine. My theory is that whatever happens to be there (not necessarily what you just ate) get flushed out. As long as you know which foods can cause that you are ok. If not, beware and make sure you know where the bathrooms are.