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Gall Bladder Surgery: What to expect

Learn about what causes a need for Gall Bladder Surgery and what happens during the surgery and recovery from the surgery

Published Aug 10, 2009 by camilla
Last updated on Aug 10, 2009

Pre-op

I have had unexplained pain in my abdomen, especially after eating, since I was a little kid. I had several tests before scheduling surgery to have my gall bladder removed. The first test was a simple ultrasound of the gall bladder. The radiologist looked for gall stones or other signs of abnormality. It is possible for a bad gall bladder to go undetected by a simple ultrasound. The next test usually taken is a HITA scan. During this procedure, radioactive iodine is injected via IV into the bloodstream. Then the gall bladder is scanned while filling up with bile, and while emptying. I had this test a few months after the ultrasound. During the emptying phase of the HITA scan I felt some pain similar to the pain I sometimes got after eating. The test was quite uncomfortable. I was required to hold very still repeatedly for up to twenty minutes at a time.

My doctor’s office called me and told me that the results to the HITA scan indicated a bad gall bladder, and surgical removal was indicated. They made me an appointment with a surgical specialist. I met with him, and we discussed the pros and cons of surgery, and scheduled the operation for a couple of weeks later.

The day before the surgery, someone from same day surgery called me and briefly discussed my medical history, and gave me pre-op instructions. I was instructed to take a bath or shower the night before or morning of the surgery, and remove all jewelry and removable retainers or other devices. I was told not to eat or drink anything after midnight that night. Check in for surgery was an hour before the scheduled operation. When I arrived that morning, I checked in with a receptionist and filled out some paperwork. I then waited in the waiting room for a few minutes, until a nurse called my name and I went back to the pre-op area. I was asked to give a small urine sample, and then I was instructed to undress completely and put on a lovely hospital gown and socks. I was given several warm blankets to cover up with. The nurse then started an IV with fluids, and went over my paperwork with me. Before the operation I got to meet the doctor, anesthesiologist, and nurse anesthetist and get any questions I have answered. Then the nurse put some antibiotics in my IV, and the nurse anesthetist came in and added something to it as well. He let me know that in about 15 seconds I would start to feel a little woozy. I kissed my husband goodbye and got wheeled into the operating room. The drugs kicked in a few seconds before getting in there. They then moved me from my wheeled bed onto the operating table and put an oxygen mask over my face. I remember almost five minutes of the operating room, before I woke up in recovery.

During the procedure

Four incisions were made during my operation. One was in my navel where a tube was placed to fill up my body cavity with air. Apparently this was necessary to create more room in my abdomen to perform the operation. Another incision was made at the top of my belly, just below the bra line. This one was for the scope to be placed. Two other incisions were made on the right side of my belly. These are the two the gall bladder was actually removed from. The operation took about an hour and a half.

Recovery

When I woke up I was in a lot of pain. It hurt to move at all. I also itched like crazy. I complained about that, and was given some Percocet and some Benadryl in my IV. That helped. After another 30 minutes of observation after taking the Percocet, they sent me home with my hubby. I was given a prescription for Lortab (Hydrocodone). I was told I could take 1-2 pills every four hours. I needed both every four hours for the next three days. I spent those three days propped up in a recliner in my living room. It hurt too much to lay down flat. The only comfortable position I could find was reclining with my legs elevated. I slept most of the first day, as I was still under the effects of the anesthesia.

The most painful part of recovery for me was the nitrogen bubbles in my shoulders. Apparently that air they pumped in me through my belly button got trapped in my shoulders, which is very common after this type of procedure. That was extremely painful. Nothing really helped much. Moving my shoulders and getting them massaged helped a little. I also had similar pains with trapped air in my abdomen, but it was more commonly in my shoulders. I had three episodes of what felt like an extremely painful gall bladder attack on the second day after surgery. They lasted 2-20 minutes each. By the third one, I figured out that lying down on my right side was very helpful in relieving that pain.

The next few days I gradually regained mobility and my pain lessened. By day four I down to only one Lortab every four hours in the day, and slept 8 hours through the night without any. Another unpleasant side effect was a yeast infection thanks to the antibiotic I was given during surgery. My doctor called in a prescription for some Diflucan to take care of that.

Originally, I was told that I would be able to go back to work 2 days after surgery, but that was quite an underestimate. I am writing this article at four days after surgery, and I don’t work outside my home, but I am grateful it is the weekend so my husband will be here to help me with the kids for another couple of days. I would recommend taking a week off work for this surgery. More if you have a very active job. My doctor told me not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for the next six weeks.

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