Since I was 16, I have had these incredible pains under my ribcage that were more unbearable than watching session time in parliament. I had them diagnosed as everything from an infectious disease, to a spleen issue, to a rectus abdomenis strain, to heartburn, to a hiatus hernia, to everything else, except what it was… gallstones. I had been to a naturopath, an osteopath, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a herbalist, a psychologist (in case I was just phantomly feeling these pains) and numerous trips to the GP to work out what it was. No pain killers would fix it, only 2 cups of peppermint tea and an ice-pack on my back gave me any relief, which kind of suggested to me that it was digestive.
I just so happened to have had a doctor’s appointment scheduled about an hour after an attack started back in March. My doctor asked me what the pain level was compared with child birth, and that’s a tricky one, as whilst both my kids were born naturally, one was a long drawn out 22 hours of slow going-nowhere contractions, whilst the other one was a fairly intense one and a half hours of drug-free screaming of ‘get this thing out of me.’ Except, I had lost my voice, so it was more like (in a crackling whisper) ‘this hurts, get this thing out of me!’ So the pain under my ribcage, was rating at about an 8 out of 10, compared with child No 2, but probably a 10 out of 10 for child No 1.
I had 8 attacks from the start of this year through till about Anzac Day weekend, and was almost not going to London because of it. After about attack No 6, my GP did some extensive testing and an ultrasound showed I had gallstones in my gall bladder, and it needed to come out. My GP was saying that I shouldn’t go to London, but the specialist said it was OK to go. So I went.
Being a single mum with 100% custody needing to have surgery was a little daunting for me. I wouldn’t be allowed to drive for 5-7 days after the surgery. I had to work out what to do with work and my kids. I couldn’t have my dog jumping on me after the surgery. And I had never been in a position that someone actually had to look after me, and that was really humbling. I asked a few people to help out, and many others offered, but by the time the day of surgery came closer, everyone just started to pull out, and I felt I had no one. People were happy to look after my kids and my dog, but no one was there for me.
It was hard, because I had to be at the hospital at 12 Noon on a Wednesday, and everyone works then. And then I had to be picked up at 10am on the Thursday, and everyone works then… and I can’t expect people to take time off work to help me for an indefinite amount of time, because for me, it was all so unknown. So I called the hospital, and they gave me the OK to get a cab there and back home.
Then it dawned on me, that in all of my 41.5 years, I had never had a stitch, a broken bone, a general anaesthetic, or a hospital visit except for giving birth and a quick emergency stop over in San Francisco after fainting on a plane. Before attack No 6, when my GP prescribed me some Tramadol (which made me even more sick), I had never taken a drug stronger than a Nurofen Plus. I had no idea how I would react to anything, and it was all so scary, because I felt so alone… and I was truly an emotional mess. All I kept thinking was, am I such a terrible person that no one wants to be there for me?
The day before the operation, I started getting phone calls from people wishing me well. I took a deep breath, feeling a little less alone. I had messages in the morning of the operation from people who I love dearly, and I wasn’t sure if they would remember my ordeal, but they did, which made me feel a little bit more better, and renewed my spirit in believing in myself and the life I had created around me.
When I arrived at the hospital, I saw all these other people sitting in the waiting room, waiting for their operations, without any support, and figured that I’m not the only one… but how sad it is for us to all go it alone.
The nurse gave me a hospital gown, some hospital undies, booties and a dressing gown, and a brown paper bag to put my stuff in. I forgot to put my dressing gown on before I left the dressing room and realized I had a lovely breeze behind me, so I slipped back in and looked a bit more ‘appropriate.’ Then they put my stuff in a locker and I just had to wait with all the other ‘dressing gowns’.
But then somehow, I snapped out of it and started joking around with the hospital staff as they interviewed me. ‘Look at my winter nails’ you know the chipped scratch look when you haven’t had a pedicure for months because your toes are covered in boots. Yes ‘Susan’ is the name my mum calls me when I’m in trouble. And really, Mr Anaesthesiologist, ‘Why do you keep asking me if I have any loose teeth?’
Before the operation, I was lying on a hospital bed in another waiting room with everyone else, like some type of conveyor belt on a factory line. My surgeon comes in to see if I’m alright, then says she’s going to have some lunch before the operation. She was very carefree, while I’m sitting in the land of ‘I have no idea what’s going on.’ Then this no-name nurse comes and wheels me out, which was weird, because every other person had introduced themselves to me. Was she taking me somewhere to the wrong operating room? So I’m lying down, with my hair in a net, being transported through all the corridors, looking up at the lights, the air vents, the smoke detectors and the speakers that lined the ceilings, just like the vision you’d see in any episode of ER. I get pushed into the operating room and there would be at least 12 people in there, all in blue scrubs, talking and joking around. The anaesthesiologist comes up to me and says he’s going to give me a slight prick in the back of my hand and….
…. I wake up in the recovery room feeling like all the pains I had that caused me to have the operation were all there again. I had an oxygen mask on my face, feeling really claustrophobic, and I hear the nurse saying ‘Susan wake up, how’s the pain?’ I tell her, and she says, ‘OK more morphine.’ And she would have said it 10 times! Well, it felt like that, but in the end they said they gave me 7mg of morphine in recovery and 8mg in surgery.
So with a bit of love from messages on Facebook, text messages and a couple of phone calls, including a savior who said she would pick me up the next day from hospital, I felt better in myself about being wanted in this world. I started affectionately referring to my 4 key hole surgery marks as my ‘stab wounds,’ and that my eating had slowed down to a pace 10 times less than it usually is. I ended up leaving the hospital 24 hours after I arrived, with a menu of Panadol, Voltarin and this tablet form of morphine called Endone to have with breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 7 days.
Once I was home, I had more phone calls, a couple of visitors (after no visitors in hospital), and my boys came home. My spirits were higher than they had been in months, because I was feeling the love, even though my stab wounds were torturous.
I was hoping that this operation would take away something from my gall bladder that would take me off the emotional roller coaster I constantly live in, as if my gall bladder was linked to the part of my brain that stopped making my heart and head feel constantly rejected and hurt, but I’m afraid it didn’t. But I guess, now that I have one less thing to worry about, that caused me stress and pain, I can now move forward to find love, happiness and vitality in my days…