A Gut Feeling

Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 1:01 PM


Around 15 years ago, when coming home from a visit with my sister, I suffered unexpected and persistent acute pain in my gut. My Mum, who was driving me at the time, saw me writhing in pain, asked me if I wanted to go to the A&E, and I said "Yes." She told me afterwards that my saying that, from a guy who was normally reluctant to visit even a Doctor, meant this was serious.

The diagnosis was not very successful. The X-Ray didn't tell the Doctor anything, and further tests left them confused. I was kept overnight, though the pain had long subsided, and a couple of experts were called in, but they didn't know what was wrong, so I was sent home.

About three weeks later it happened again. I went to A&E in an ambulance, and if I had been seen by the Doc on duty straight away, while still in pain, I would've been rushed into surgery and my gallbladder removed, as that was what it was - he recognised it as gallstones immediately. That would've been free surgery, as it was an emergency.

But that was not to be. Because a serious and tragic car accident had happened that same night (interestingly enough, to a family I knew from my school days) and had occupied the emergency services exclusively during that time, the diagnosis wasn't made until late the next morning, and by then the pain had subsided, and therefore was no longer considered an emergency.

Gallstones, though extremely uncomfortable, are not usually considered a life risk. Gallstones form in the gallbladder, and are made up of calcified cholesterol. When the gallbladder injects bile into the stomach to help break down fats, the stones sometimes get caught in the ducts, causing intense aching pain as the stone makes it way through the tube.

There is no cure. You're either genetically inclined to create these stones or you're not. There is surgery, where the gallbladder is removed, but that's not a cure, that's removing the problem area entirely, a different concept altogether. Surgery is safe enough, the gallbladder is not an essential bit of your innards, but it can mean that any fatty or cholesterol-laden thing you eat afterwards can do some amount of jiggery pokery to your gut.

Also you can reduce the likelihood of occurrence by changing your diet, by reducing your fat intake, or combining foods that assist in bile's job of breaking down fats, but even that isn't a guarantee, and eventually it will likely happen again.

This morning, after some seven or eight years since my last, I had another gallstone attack. It lasted around two hours, as they normally seem to do, and there was no alleviation of the pain during it. Knowing what it is and that relief is inevitable helps lower the stress, but it's still no fun rolling around in literally gut-wrenching agony.

There is no way to stop the pain, either. Normally, with other kinds of damage to your body, there are ways you can sit or contort your body parts where the pain is lessened somewhat, a case of "If it hurts when I do that, then I don't do that." But not so with gallstones (and probably similarly with kidney stones). When the pain starts, you just have to ride it to the end - there's no way to alleviate the pain, not even with painkillers. Suffering is your only option.

Gallstones, therefore, are not recommended.

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