26 August 2015

Intro to Cholecystectomy, Vol. I: Calling an Ambulance

There is a first for everything, right? The first airplane ride. The first kiss. The first sex. I suppose I had one of these firsts recently, and yes, it's not the most pleasant one. After all, it was my first hospital visit.

I have been to hospitals before. When I was younger, I had a visit to the neurologist for a check-up. I also remember visiting the Buffalo General Hospital for yet another specialist visit. But I haven't really been hospitalized before, until recently. This time, it was due to a very intense pain emanating from the middle of my chest, at the upper stomach region. The pain was strong enough that I had to call 112 and an ambulance came and picked me up from home.

See, I had a history of heartburn and/or indigestion. The first time this happened to me was more than a year ago. October 2, 2013 to be precise. We went to a Moroccan restaurant, and somehow a few hours after that, I had intense heartburn which made me look up where the emergency pharmacy was that was open that night. I bought a suspension of potassium bicarbonate which neutralizes stomach acid, and a few hours later I was fine. The next incident was about 6 months ago. And then the third incident was a week ago, after eating Georgian chicken. And then this time, after I had lunch of leftover roast pork. In all times, the common factor seems to be that I have just eaten a heavy meat meal.

There's another factor. The last time I had visited my GP, I got an ultrasound, and during the check-up, he found out that I have gallstones. This means that the stones might be blocking the pathways for the bile, which means that it might be the case that whenever I eat a heavy meal, the bile is not there to help the stomach digest it. Which then results in these heartburns and indigestion attacks.

I never really thought that my heartburn and indigestion were related to my gallstones, though I did entertain the possibility. I just thought that if I take the potassium bicarbonate suspension whenever I have heartburn, it would be fine. Except this fourth attack was so intense and even though I took three suspensions already it didn't improve. So I felt like I had to call the ambulance. The ambulance came very quickly, they did an initial examination at home (they have a mobile EKG kit), and then they brought me to the closest hospital.

I ended up staying for two nights. I was given a regimen of pain killers, they opened my vein on the right arm, and was monitored with a continuous EKG system. My blood pressure was super high (180/130), but that was due to the pain I was in. When I checked out 2 days later, it went down to 100/70.

Long story short, as usual, doctors need to figure out what exactly is the root cause. They eliminated any cardiac problem (it's a chest pain after all), and attributed my high blood pressure to the pain. They also did a gastroscopy where I was put to sleep and they inserted a tube into my mouth which they navigated down my esophagus, my stomach, and duodenum, to see if there was anything unusual. After establishing that I don't have GERD (acid reflux disease), the main candidate for the pain is the gallbladder, which, because of my gallstones, is not doing its job properly. So the gallbladder has to come out. Right now, I have medication that reduces stomach acid to prevent further attacks until I get my gallbladder out.

So yeah, that was my first hospital visit. And I will have my first operation in a few weeks. I suppose I am fortunate to have had no hospital visits until I am in my thirties. Some people spend way more time in hospitals at a younger age.


  1. I had no idea it was called a "cholecystectomy" (same word in French with -ie at the end, didn't know it either).

    This is definitely one of those "okay... first and last, alright?" moments!

    1. Zhu,

      Well, one only has one gallbladder, so this one definitely is the last gallbladder removal surgery I am gonna have! :)