October 21, 2018

What I Learned From My Emergency Gallbladder Surgery

Up here in Canada, north of the 49th parallel, we celebrate Thanksgiving several weeks before our American friends. During the second weekend of October, Canadians enjoy a three-day holiday taking stock in the fall harvest, friendship, and family while giving thanks for what we have, and who we are.

On October 7, our family held a dinner for 20 people. Eight adults and 12 children gathered round colours of orange, red and yellow and feasted on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Before the gorging ensued, I gave a toast:

“May we give thanks to each other, to those we have lost, to everything we have received, and to our health; never take it for granted.”

Eight hours later the irony of that comment about health was dripping as the gravy did off my plate.

Eight hours later I was in the emergency room, writhing in pain emanating from my mid-stomach region.

As the morphine kicked in, the CT scan and ultrasound test painted a picture implicating the gallbladder as the criminal. The guilty, charged. The verdict came in. Extraction. Goodbye gallbladder. Good riddance, too.

While the morphine and other antibiotics masked the pain pre-surgery, post-surgery a different sort of pain began: patience.

Despite my proclamations for slowing down to be better at thinking, it is always easier said than done. Like many of you, I enjoy a fast-paced, go-go-go lifestyle. Between my work at TELUS, writing, speaking, reading, family, friends and my athletic pursuits, part of my personal purpose is to live a life of action.

Yes, I have learned to insert more moments of pause into my calendar and my daily habits. I do not take meetings before 8:30 a.m. I block off Friday afternoons. I try to make as many meetings as I can 45-minute or 15-minute meetings versus 60- or 30-minute ones.

Long ago I committed to reading one book per month. I ride my bike somewhere between 75 and 250 miles per week.

However, when my gallbladder was removed, an entirely different type of patience was necessary during the recovery phase. It taught me a few things.

Granted I have never needed to be hospitalized for any invasive surgery; patience was a must. It became necessary to measure in advance any move I might make for fear of pain throughout my abdomen region.

Simply going to the bathroom in the hospital felt like an ultramarathon of planning, decision-making and execution. I was forced to sort out how I might get out of the bed—which arm to put forward first, which leg to move, when to turn, how to pivot—every two hours due to the volume of IV fluids circulating in my body.

Sleeping was like riding a stage in the Tour de France. Any minor shift seemed to have me touching wheels and crashing into a guardrail.

After a couple of days, I was released to recover from the comfort of my own bed.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the car ride home either.

The walk from the hospital room to the car waiting for me at the entry door would have normally taken five minutes. It took me 20, as I paused, reflected, and tried to avoid anyone bumping into me.

Once in the car after having successfully yet methodically sorted out how to sit down, the 30-minute ride home was an exercise in balance. As with Newton’s third law, every turn, brake, and acceleration was met with an equal and opposite force of mine trying to prevent the aforementioned abdominal pain. Patience came in spades.

Once at home, a sympathetic carousel of friends visited to check in on my health. But again, patience was a must. Not only is it exhausting to seem happy when you’re in pain, but I also found I had to learn not to laugh.

When my friend Mark—a natural comedian—dropped by, his normal sense of English humour was on full display. I had to teach myself to be patient and focus on not laughing.

I have a newfound respect for those that have been hospitalized with invasive surgeries of any sort. It’s something I have never experienced, and in summary, it has taught me even more about the importance of patience.

Next time you feel rushed or a visceral need to be speedy, I hope you consider being more patient.

And to our health; may we never take it for granted.

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