In many ways, I have led a blessed or charmed life. I’ve never had to be transported in an ambulance, never been hospitalised (apart from once for a scheduled tonsillectomy when I was about six) and have never had any major medical problems that needed urgent or emergency treatment.
That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I discovered late one night that I had gallstones. Not only that, but one of the little buggers had decided to block up the neck of my gallbladder, leading to inflammation, infection and all manner of bad things.
I spent an initial night in A&E before things settled a little and I was sent home. However, the next day it came back with a vengeance and I was back in A&E before being transferred from the local hospital to the main regional hospital about 80 miles away.
If you’ve ever had a gallbladder problem, you’ll know just how much it hurts. Absolute screaming bloody agony. That pretty much sums up my first five or six days on the ward, connected to a painkiller pump (so I could bang the button for pain relief whenever I needed it) and being filled with all manner of IV antibiotics as if they had a massive batch they needed to use up before their best-before date. Eventually, the pain did largely subside and they could take me off the pump but the infection wasn’t playing ball. One night my body temperature reached 41 Celsius and I was pretty much away with the fairies. It did then come down a little, but blood tests showed that we still weren’t winning. Things were improving slowly, but something clearly had to be done.
Normally in cases like this, just removing the gallbladder entirely would be the number one surgical option. Unfortunately, two years of pandemic has left the hospital with a huge backlog and the operating theatres are already booked solid. I was ill, but it wasn’t enough of an emergency to clear a theatre slot and get me straight in. Also, given the degree of infection and the fact that any operation would have to have been a fully open procedure (as opposed to keyhole surgery) it was too risky to do it anyway. So I was given a “percutaneous cholecystostomy” instead.
“A per-who choly-wit-what?” I hear you ask? Yeah, it’s a bit of a medical mouthful but it basically means they have fitted an external drain to my gallbladder to get rid of all the bile, ick and general nastiness that was in there. It’s a little pipe that comes out of my body just below the ribs on my right hand side and is connected to a plastic bag that I have to carry around with me. Like a colostomy, but on a smaller scale and draining the gallbladder rather than my colon.
I finally came home last Sunday. The drain did the trick and I’ve been improving steadily since it was put in. It’ll remain with me for the next five or six weeks, at which point I’ll go back in for some tests and scans and – hopefully – they’ll be able to remove it. At that point I’ll be put on the waiting list for gallbladder removal surgery but that will be the standard laparoscopic (keyhole) version that is much less risky and easier to recover from. That’s the general plan anyway.
It’s been an unpleasant time. Throughout all of it, I’m incredibly grateful to the doctors, nurses, ancillary staff, cleaners, porters, radiologists and everyone else who works in the Scottish NHS. I know it’s not perfect and it has its challenges (as does the NHS in England and Wales and Northern Ireland) but I dread to think what the last couple of weeks would have cost if I lived somewhere such as the US. Whatever issues it may have and problems it may face, the NHS is a jewel in this country’s crown and we should all of us fight tooth and nail to stop it being sliced up and sold off to the highest bidder. Healthcare free at the point of need should be an absolute human right and it’s a sad indictment of politicians and their corporate cronies that this isn’t the case all over the world.
The last couple of weeks have also taught me a few lessons about anxiety and worry. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier (“bit?” – that’s an understatement!) but I think I’m finally beginning to learn that there is only a scant handful of really important things that deserve that kind of attention. All the other stuff I used to worry about is no big deal and shouldn’t be given the time of day. So, for all that it’s been a rough ride, I hope that I’ll be coming out of it feeling much better both physically and mentally. It might take a little while but, after the last couple of weeks, I’m OK with that.