Saturday, October 19, 2013


Today I'm going to talk about gallbladders, which are also known as cholecysts or biliary vesicles.  Almost all vertebrates have gallbladders, except for horses, deer, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, guanacos, rats, lampreys, and several kinds of birds.  If you ever took a biology class in high school or college, you might have learned what gallbladders do (which isn't a whole lot, really).  But in case you forgot the details, like my mom mostly did, I will now refresh your memory.

©2009 WebMD, LLC
Gallbladders are little storage sacs for bile, which is this stuff that the liver makes.  While the bile is sitting around in the gallbladder, waiting to be needed, it gets concentrated and made more potent.  Then when a person or animal eats food with lots of fat in it, the gallbladder springs into action and empties its bile into the digestive tract.  The bile helps break down the fat and digest it.

In an adult human, the gallbladder is about 3.1 inches (8 cm) long and 1.6 inches (4 cm) in diameter.  At one end, the gallbladder has a cystic duct that joins up with a duct from the liver to make a common bile duct.  If something such as a gallstone gets stuck in the gallbladder's duct, then it can cause problems.

Gallstones are made out of cholesterol and other stuff that is found in bile.  Some people have small gallstones that do not cause any symptoms.  Other people might have severe symptoms such as pain that makes them think they are having a heart attack.  If a gallstone moves through the ducts and gets into the pancreas, that can cause pancreatitis, which everyone says is really, really painful.

Mom did not have any horrible pain or anything like that.  She just had nausea that started back in August and made her not want to eat much.  She didn't throw up.  She just went around feeling nauseated a lot of the time.  Also she got constipated, and her abdomen was kind of tender, and she was tired a lot.

At first, Mom thought she might have a stomach virus, but when her symptoms didn't go away, she got worried that maybe she had some sort of horrible cancer.  So she started researching cancer symptoms on the internet.  Then Mom went to see her internist, who said there could be something wrong with Mom's gallbladder.  Mom was really relieved that the doctor did not say right away that Mom probably had cancer and would die soon.

Sonogram of a gallstone in a gallbladder
©Nevit Dilmen

So Mom had a blood test to see if her liver was okay, and she also got a sonogram to look at her gallbladder and everything else inside her abdomen.  When the results of all this came back, Mom's internist said Mom had a gallstone.  Then she referred Mom to a surgeon named Dr. McCrosky.  Mom got an appointment with him and he told Mom she only had one gallstone, but it was a big one -- 2.5 mm (.098 inch).  He also told her that  she was a "good candidate" for laparoscopic surgery to remove her gallbladder.

I thought that finding a gallstone in your gallbladder might be kind of like finding a pearl inside an oyster, and that bigger gallstones would be worth more, just like bigger pearls are.  But Mom said it wasn't the same thing at all because people don't usually string gallstones together and wear them around their necks, like happens with pearls.

Anyway, the date when the surgery was scheduled to happen was Thursday, October 17.  Mom's friend Jeanne, who is also Mom's therapist, said she could take Mom to the hospital for the surgery and also spend the night with Mom afterwards.  So on Thursday morning, Mom made us all get up very early.  She wasn't supposed to eat anything, but she fed all of us cats and dogs.  Then Mom went to the hospital and got her gallbladder taken out.  The fancy, medical term for this is cholecystectomy, which is a really long word that I'm not even sure how to pronounce.  But medical people like to use long words, for some reason.

In the old days, when people had their gallbladders removed, the surgeon made big, long incisions, and then the patients had to stay in the hospital a few days to recover.  Nowadays there is the laparoscopic way of doing this surgery, so the patient often gets to go home the same day.  Also, there are only four small scars instead of one big one.  If you not squeamish and want to see the whole operation, you can watch this video on YouTube, which is about 5 minutes long.

Mom was not awake while her surgery was happening, so she did not get to watch it.  She said she thought it was better just to watch YouTube and see somebody else's gallbladder get taken out.  Mom does not have any stitches because Dr. McCrosky just glued her incisions shut.  And she does not have to wear the Cone of Shame because she can't reach her wounds to lick them.  Mom took a selfie of her incisions and the ugly bruising around them.  She says the wounds hurt, but she has some nice pain pills to take whenever they do.

That big gallstone in the middle
is maybe the size of Mom's gallstone.
Photo:  Jian-Hua Qiao ©Qiao's Pathology

Anyway, Mom took a long nap Thursday after she came home from her surgery.  Then she and Aunt Jeanne ate supper and watched TV all evening.  It was weird having somebody different in the house overnight, but Aunt Jeanne slept downstairs, and the rest of us slept upstairs so we could look after Mom.

Yesterday morning Aunt Jeanne left pretty early, and then our lives got more back to normal.  Mom felt crappy, so she took a 4-hour nap.  She will be staying home with us for several days because she is not supposed to drive while she is taking pain pills.  I like it that Mom gets to stay home.  I'm even starting to wonder if there is some other kind of surgery that she could have that would also keep her here, but Mom doesn't like this idea, for some reason.


  1. Piper,

    I'm so glad your Mom is home resting and doing ok. Back in the Dark Ages when I was a girl, my Mom had her gallbladder removed and was in the hospital for two weeks. Lucky you--your Mom came home the same day! Anyway, take good care of her and make sure she gets lots of rest so she'll heal really fast.


    1. Wow! Two weeks is a long time! We dogs and cats would not be able to get along without our mom for that long! Nowadays, the insurance company would make you leave the hospital after 2 or 3 days, even if you had the old-fashioned kind of gall bladder surgery. At least that's what my mom says!
      Your friend, Piper