A Gallbladder’s Story
That’s right, folks, I’m playing the sympathy card. Don’t panic — I’m not dead. I am however, as of July 1st, one gallbladder poorer, and our parting, as is often the case with someone we’ve grown close to, was somewhat painful. Still, as one so-called-friend wrote, “I read that after losing your gallbladder one can still live a normal life like a normal person.” So there is that.
He followed up with my new favorite condolence joke:
“A friend asked his doctor if he would be able to play the piano after his triple bypass heart operation. The doctor said ‘yes’. He said ‘that’s great because I can’t play piano now.’”
Please do not send any actually funny jokes like this. It still hurts when I laugh.
This experience inspired a few thoughts about non essential internal organs that I’d like to share with you. Don’t worry. I’m not going into any gory details. I was fortunate enough to sleep through the whole thing so I missed all the gruesome stuff myself.
Modern or Natural Medicine?
I am blessed to have a number of dear friends who are medical professionals. As a result, whenever I get sick, I immediately get a flood of free advice. Inevitably, there is a polarity of opinions along the ‘natural’ medicine to ‘modern’ medicine spectrum. As a less kind person than I once remarked, ‘seems like enough quacks to fill a duck pond’. At this point I, as I lie there dying in my pool of blood, am really not interested in debating the merits of the various medical disciplines. I have to make a quick judgement call.
My Guru in India wisely said, ‘the best medicine is the one which works’. It seems to me that different medical methods work better in different situations. If you have diabetes, or high blood pressure, consider changing your lifestyle. If you are in a car accident, or need to eradicate smallpox from history, thanks for existing, allopathy!
Natural medicines’ strengths are long term prevention, boosting immunity and avoiding harmful side-effects.
Modern medicine is brilliant at measuring and diagnosing, and in critical, urgent situations.
Using this lens my decision was easy. I was in a critical situation which could quickly become much worse. I did not hesitate to go with the surgical option.
Please Note: I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. This is merely my personal death postponement strategy.
The Wonders of Modern Surgery
I was fortunate to be treated using one of the wonders of modern medicine, ‘laparoscopy’, also known as ‘keyhole surgery’, or ‘minimally invasive surgery’, though I think this last is a little generous. (See below)
Now I know I said this wasn’t going to get gory, but I was lying. I’m in a creative flow here — don’t interrupt.
In earlier times, surgery meant ‘open surgery’ where they slice you open and carry out their mission — you know, send in the commando team and extract the genius scientist before the villains use him to dominate the Earth. Then they stitch you up again, hopefully remembering to take with them anything they brought along, such as hand grenades or spare ammunition clips. Open surgery creates a large wound that takes a long time to heal. This method is still often necessary, but for some procedures a less drastic technique is available.
Enter our hero, laparoscopy. Here the surgeon makes one small(ish) hole, (about 1 centimeter wide. Note how this is a LOT bigger than a keyhole), and inserts all their equipment through this, including cameras, lights, special effects equipment, production managers, death ray generators, lapdog pacifiers, clapper boards, and of course microphones to capture the screaming.
I noticed that they also made three other smaller holes in my abdomen. No-one seems willing to talk about what these were for, but I’m pretty sure that it involves secret, advanced weaponry.
By this time you probably get why I think calling this ‘minimally-invasive’ is overly generous.
In any event laparoscopy means that once the surgical team has achieved their military objective they can walk away leaving far less collateral damage than would be the case if they were using the open surgery method.
From my civilian perspective, pain and healing time are dramatically reduced. Fantastic!
Metaphors and Metal Objects
I am a peace loving man but if I must engage in battle I prefer that armed attacks on me occur with my consent whilst I’m under general anesthetic. In military strategy books this approach is referred to as ‘the way of the abject coward’. I find this term somewhat hurtful, but not nearly as hurtful as being stabbed in the stomach four times with a scalpel.
I’ve thought quite a bit about bladed weapons in the past few days. You know, swords, switchblades, scythes, scimitars — pretty much anything sharp beginning with ‘s’.
Such as ‘sabre’. Open surgery is like being sliced open with a sabre. Laparoscopy is more like being stabbed with a rapier a few times. Much more relaxing.
So Report for Duty Already!
Since this procedure leaves no gaping wound, most of the damage is inflicted within subterranean caves inside my body where no mortal will ever venture. From the outside it doesn’t look like much. This is already misleading enough without some fantasy writer describing laparoscopy as ‘minimally-invasive’.
A week after my operation, my so-called-friends ask me, ‘so are you better now’? No more pain?
This is fairly annoying. It’s only been a week, for heaven’s sakes. Just because I only got stabbed with a rapier four times doesn’t mean I’m going to bounce back like James Bond after he’s merely been shot and poisoned! If I was an actual warrior and I’d been stabbed in the stomach four times, I’m pretty sure my friends and family would not be cheerily stopping by a few days later, hinting that it was about time I reported for guard duty already.
Does it still hurt after a week? Yeah, quite a lot actually! But not as much as it did a week ago. And in another week I’ll probably be more or less fine. Thanks laparoscopy!
* * * * *
It’s been ten days now and I’m worried. I’m actually feeling much better and it’s getting harder and harder to pretend I’m still suffering. I’m afraid I’ve almost milked this situation dry of sympathy.
You’d think you’d get a longer run with something serious enough to be considered ‘life-threatening’ by your insurance company. I do figure I can still fake it for a couple more days. That’s maximum. This morning someone said I look ‘normal’. No-one has ever said that to me before.
So I’m getting ready to declare victory. I’ll gasp bravely, ‘don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s really just a scratch’, and revert to pretending that I’m a normal person. All will nod in sympathy, impressed by my Stoicism, little knowing that from this day forward I will be leading a secret second life as a man without a gallbladder.
Many thanks to all my friends. Your sympathy and visits and flowers and enquiries, and genuine funny jokes touched me deeply. If any of you have a friend or relative who is unfortunate enough to be forced to part company with a non-essential, though no doubt charming, internal organ, don’t be fooled by their joking and bravado. Your love and gifts and good wishes bring healing of all kinds.
I’m especially grateful to my wonderful lead surgeon and her thoroughly sterilized rapier. Thanks to her team, and lest we forget, my heroic immune system, there is zero sign of post-op infection. They didn’t even need to give me any antibiotics, so just relax, lactobacillus!
And most of all I must thank you, my loyal little gallbladder for all those years of quiet service. I will not forget you. Until we meet again, farewell.
“May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
These were Horatio’s last words to his friend Hamlet. Shakespeare did not specify that this was addressed to an internal organ. But when you think about it, Hamlet was a human like me, so the noble Horatio surely intended that this most touching of blessings also include Prince Hamlet’s gallbladder.