Sunday, June 29, 2008

If You Don't Watch Your Diet . . .

The preceding post has brought to mind a couple of mildly interesting and/or humorous incidents connected with the gall bladder removal.

It started when I undercooked a cut of beef and got food poisoning. I was out of work for three days and lost thirteen pounds. A week or so after I returned to work, people were telling me I still had not regained my color, and bludgeoned me into seeing a doctor.

If you knew me you would find this amusing. Since I left the Army some forty years ago I have been a night person and am by habit a mole. While I am not exactly albino, to distinguish between my color one day and my color another day seems to me to be no easy task.

However, I went to a clinic covered by my company's health care plan. I walked in and without so much as asking me "Are you an albino?" a couple of nurses wrestled me onto a gurney, and a doctor, a woman we'll call Dr. Straight Up, entered what was now my own private emergency room. They thought I was having a heart attack.

Sphygmomanometer on one arm and stethoscope on my chest, I heard Dr. Straight Up telling the nurses she wanted an ambulance waiting outside. After listening to my heartbeat, she began a conversation with me, during which I told her why I was there - that I had had food poisoning, lost thirteen pounds, and hadn't regained my color ho ho ho. She listened, then asked me if I was a drinker. I told her I definitely was not.

She instructed one of the nurses to take x-rays of my upper body, and she disappeared. The x-rays were taken and delivered to her. A couple of moments later she reappeared, saying "I have to know, straight up, no shit, are you a drinker?"

"Doctor, during the course of a month I might have wine with one dinner and perhaps one other drink."

"Then how come . . . oh! You told me you had food poisoning." Apparently the x-rays showed her that some things had flowed in the wrong direction recently.

She canceled the ambulance and made a sonogram appointment for me elsewhere, instructing me to return with the results when I had them. I did so and it was determined that my gall bladder had died and should be removed.

"I can recommend a surgeon if you wish. His bedside manner is mostly non-existent, but he's the best there is." I was in my mid-fifties and certainly didn't need babysitting. "He's the one for me."

And so I met Dr. Gangrenous. I had one meeting with him before we scheduled the surgery. He asked me a few questions, prescribed an antibiotic, and proposed a date for surgery, to which I agreed. I asked him "What would make my gall bladder die?"

"Well, the gall bladder is pretty small. Its job is to process fats into bile. If you don't watch your diet - and you don't - sometimes he just throws up his hands" (here he threw up his hands) "and says 'Fuck it! I'm too small for this.'" I now understood Dr. Straight Up's comment about his bedside manner and why little old ladies might not rejoice in having him for surgery. I, however, was simply amused.

I asked him how long the operation would take and how long the recovery period would be. He sad it would be a laparoscopic operation "unless we have to convert" and should take only a few minutes. The recovery should take about a week "if you don't overdo it, but you will."

I asked what did "convert" mean in that context and he explained that he was referring to the possibility of invasive surgery. What, I wondered, would cause that? "Oh, you know, if it's gangrenous or something." (More of the bedside manner.)

In the event, the operation took about forty-five minutes, much longer than he had expected, because my liver had decided to curl around my gall bladder. Even my internal organs are friendly.

He prescribed a non-narcotic pain killer, virtually useless to me. The pain was intense for a couple of days. I could not lie down for the first two days, and then could not lie down and stretch out for several more. I slept in an armchair. But he was right: I did overdo it and the recovery took about two weeks.

I had one final appointment with him - roughly ten minutes and then out the door. I asked him what dietary changes I should make to accommodate the fact that I was now missing an integral part of my body, and he told me that it was something I would have to learn, that everybody reacted differently. The upshot was simply that for a while cucumbers and I no longer got along, but even that symptom has passed. In conclusion I told him "The prescription was inadequate for the pain, but on the whole I'm glad you do what you do." He didn't even blink. I wonder to this day whether the non-narcotic prescription was due to the fact that I 'fessed up about smoking marijuana.

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