Eating without a gallbladder

gallbladderI had my gallbladder removed in July 2013. My digestive reality has changed a lot since then. I thought I’d share a bit about how I’m living without a bile reservoir!

Let me start by saying that I’m extremely lucky to be one of the “normal” cases. My digestion isn’t the same as what a person with a gallbladder would experience, but I don’t have any of the most uncomfortable or inconvenient lingering effects. I know someone who does, and I have nothing but heartfelt sympathy for those who have to deal with near-constant diarrhea and discomfort. Y’all are rockstars. I feel like that’s not something the doctors really emphasized could be an effect of the surgery, but in my case, they were worried that my gallbladder might become septic (and apparently, were right to worry–my gallbladder was scarred and swollen.) I think they didn’t want to dwell on the possible strongly negative side effects because my gallbladder had to be removed.

I have to watch fatty food… sometimes: I do have to watch my fat intake, but I feel like it’s not the most important measure of whether a food is “okay”. A lot of folks seem to have a magic number of fat grams they can tolerate, but I’m not one. It seems to be more reliant on a combination of factors, including the below. But fat does matter, and I notice negative effects more often when I eat a lot of stuff that’s fried or containing liquid fat.

I have to watch the spiciness… sometimes: Again, this seems random and nonsensical. Some foods that are spicy (read: hot) send me straight to the bathroom, while other spicy food is A-OK. I have problems with my boyfriend’s favourite order of “extra-extra-extra spicy peanut butter noodles”, but man do I love it!

I have to eat regularly and consistently: If I skip lunch and then eat a big dinner, I will pretty much certainly end up with diarrhea. It’s much safer for me to eat consistently-sized, regular meals.

I have to snack: My doctor wants me to eat (healthy) snacks throughout the day, but ughhhh it’s so bothersome. I try to keep oyster crackers and oatmeal at my desk in case I forget to pack lunch or breakfast. Sometimes, I try to bring vegetables/fruits, but I freely admit I’m just too lazy to get to the grocery store often enough to have this every day.

I have to know where the bathroom is, regardless: It’s just a fact of life for me now. If I eat something, there’s a chance I’m going to need a bathroom, usually within the hour.

If I get sick, I have to recover carefully: I had a stomach bug a couple of weeks ago, and I learned that recovery from that just ain’t what it used to be for me. I’m still not eating what is for me a normal diet. I tried to push my stomach with a too-big meal and it didn’t end well, so I’m still treading lightly.

“Gallbladder-friendly” recipes/diets are a crapshoot: I surfed Pinterest after my surgery, searching for “okay” foods. The list was usually consistent: BRAT, skinless/bland chicken, clear pop, Jell-o, mashed potatoes, bland soup. That was all on the pamphlet my doctor gave me! I wanted more exciting ideas than that. Tons of people had these awful “gallbladder cleanse” juice recipes that seem like BS and would’ve been incredibly painful for me to eat (I’m lookin’ at you, citrus, olive oil and garlic!)  In the end, I just figured it out on my own. Three days after surgery, I had sushi and I cried because it was so delicious. I had pizza that week, too. Lean proteins work best, but it’s all going to be what you know. For me, I avoided foods that had bothered me before surgery, on the reasoning that they would still be difficult to digest. I also avoided anything I thought might be heavy or fatty. I had a few missteps–a salad gave me diarrhea for goodness’ sakes–but overall, I did okay.

Gallbladder Update

So I had my surgery back in July.  I anticipated the worst after that sucker came out, but things actually went really smoothly for me.  I ate sushi on day three after the surgery and pizza the same week.  Aside from random discomfort in my scars and some changes to “normal” for my body, things have gone pretty smoothly.


Higher fat content meals are bothering me more lately.  I’m gassier and I have rare, occasional heartburn (something I’ve been blessed to have maybe once a year before now.)  If I skip meals, I get diarrhea.  It’s–interesting? weird?–to see how my digestive system has changed in the months after my surgery.  I have to graze.  I do have to watch the fat content of my meals, though it only seems to matter if it gets astronomical.  My migraines haven’t stopped, but my diarrhea/indigestion symptoms with that have almost totally disappeared (I still can’t eat anything before or during a migraine, but it’s been a world of difference.)

It’s still the best money I’ve ever spend, though I’m still paying for it (ugh, need to do that today.)  But my experience?  Still solidly positive, despite the changes it’s made to my routine.

My Gallbladder Surgery Experience (With Far Too Many Details)

Warning: I’m an oversharer.  If medical stuff makes you queasy, skip this post!  I’ll try not to be gross or graphic!  The takeaway is that I’m out of surgery and doing well.  I’m in a little pain, but much of it is just muscles getting used to being used in different ways than normal.

My hospital does a pre-surgery appointment to fill out paperwork and do any final labwork, so I went in for that yesterday.  I have to say that the St. Joseph staff is made up of absolute rockstars.  From the volunteer who led me upstairs to the nurse that worked with me on my paperwork, I left feeling totally confident in everyone there.  Mimi (my nurse) was incredible.  She’s one of those rare people who you can just tell really cares about her job, really believes in what she’s doing and was just made for the job she has.

The day of my surgery, I was instructed to come in at 7:30am.  I showed up and they took me to a Pre-Op “room” (all of the rooms are like little curtained off nooks along a hallway) to change.  The gown was paper with a plastic liner, which hooks to a machine that blows air into it for temperature control.  I had a vagina air conditioner!  Somebody needs to make this technology available for everybody.  I felt like I waited forever.  A nurse stopped by to take my vitals and after several minutes, a nurse came by to do my IV and some prep stuff.  I think I was there nearly an hour before my boyfriend and mom could come back to sit with me.

When they finally wheeled me back for surgery, the set-up staff (all female) was fun to chat with.  They all seemed super nice and really personable (again, ROCKSTAR staff.)  I scooted onto the table and they gave me an oxygen mask.  I don’t even remember them mentioning giving me anesthesia, but they instructed me to take a few deep breaths and the next thing I remember, I woke up with a nurse beside me in Recovery, asking me a few questions.

The new anesthesia is SO NICE.  I had a tonsillectomy when I was fourteen, and I woke up feeling like six shades of hell.  I was groggy, foggy and hung-over.  When they marched me out of the hospital, I felt like a petulant, overtired toddler.  This time?  Totally different story.  I woke up feeling a bit like I’d overslept, but I was pretty lucid within minutes.  I was ready to get up and pee within five minutes–but I said I wanted to wait until I was in post-op, which was probably a mistake.  They didn’t have a post-op room ready and someone across from me needed to be intubated because her vocal cords snapped shut.  It had to be 45 minutes or more before I got moved.

When I got to post-op, they gave me an ice pack that I couldn’t even feel and a pillow to clutch over my wounds when I move.  They gave me some pain medicine that didn’t seem to do anything for me.  I’m not sure if I had a gas bubble stuck or what (they inflate you with CO2), but it hurt a lot below my lowest incision.  I would learn later (nobody told me this) that my gallbladder was distended and pretty nasty, so they had to make that incision larger than usual.  I was crying with pain, which the nurses blamed on the anesthesia, but I was having none of it.  They brought me another pain pill, which still didn’t help.

Each wound was covered with pads and gauze.  When I got up to go to the bathroom, I felt drips all over my front.  I assumed I had been sweating, but it turns out my incisions had been seeping under my gown.  No one told me this would happen, and it was still a problem well into the night.  I got to go home the same day–around three or four?  I wasn’t really sure.  Driving was uncomfortable.  Curves HURT.

Getting up and down is pretty uncomfortable.  They instructed me to clutch a pillow to my incisions, but it’s hard to cover them all and it hardly helps.  PLUS, how the hell does one clutch a pillow and still manage to get up without using stomach muscles?  I usually have to have my boyfriend push my pillow in while I push myself up.  I slept pretty much sitting up, which made it hard to get any rest, but I know I’d never be able to get up if I were to lie flat.

The pain is mostly where my gallbladder used to be and around dat FUPA.  I’m using some new muscles when I move now, so those are sore.  Only my belly incision really hurts.

No diarrhea yet, no nausea, no visible bruising, no bleeding.  All in all?  Doing okay.  I’m much more alert today and feeling pretty okay.  I’ve been consuming Chex, applesauce, water and ginger ale.  About to try a biscuit.


So I’ll be having my gallbladder removed in a week.

Once a month with the flux of my hormones, I was having a migraine, diarrhea, nausea and indigestion.  Because the pain never centered on my gallbladder, I attributed these to the migraine, but I think know that I was having gallbladder attacks.

With my hormonal flux this month, I started getting diarrhea that lasted much longer than the usual day–after four days, I started to have some moderate stomach pain, right in the middle of my abdomen, just under the rib cage.  The pain shifted to where my duodenum sits, so I began to suspect an ulcer, but dietary changes and acid reducers did nothing to alleviate the pain.  That’s when the pain finally focused on my gallbladder.  By this point, my bm’s all had an orange cast, I was having back pain and nausea.

A normal gallbladder “attack” lasts up to 16 hours.  Mine were constant over 10 days and giving me just a few hours of break.  When I was able to see a doctor, the pain was ranging from a 3 to a 6.

My doctor ordered blood tests and an ultrasound.  The blood tests came back mostly fine (slightly elevated platelet count, plus slightly high glucose and proteins–I’ve got to watch that!)  The ultrasound turned up a 3mm gallstone, as well as inflammation of the gallbladder walls, symptomatic of an infection.  My liver and pancreas looked fine, fortunately.

Because of the length of this gallbladder episode and the fact that it’s possibly reoccurring, surgery was recommended and it’s the option I’m choosing.  With most people, if you have two gallbladder attacks, you’re almost certainly going to have more.  The more gallbladder attacks you have, the more your gallbladder may harden/scar or the more chance that a stone may lodge in the bile duct.

Pain medication has made the pain about a 1 or 2 most of the time, though my stomach feels sort of bloaty, gassy and upset sometimes.  I’m hopeful that the surgery helps!  A side-effect of the surgery can be ongoing diarrhea.  The surgery will most likely (a 90% chance, my surgeon said) be laparoscopic, meaning the incisions will be minimal.

Anyway, I’ll be sharing my experience (including food that works for me!)