It was recently determined that I have gallstones, which aids in my quest to become Your Grandpa. Gallstones aren’t dramatic like kidney stones- you can’t pass them out of your body in a feat of authority and excrutiation. And the gallbladder holds the honor of being an even less sexy organ than the actual pee bladder, mostly by being largely ignorable and by the awkward ergonomics of the word ‘gall’. Ask twenty people what their gallbladder does and where it’s located and I bet only 3 of them could answer with any accuracy, and of those 3 people, 2 are your grandpas. What is, a pear shaped organ that aids in fat digestion and concentrates bile produced by the liver, Alex? It’s about 3 inches’ worth of your guts and stores a whopping 1.7 ounces of bile. When stones form, resulting from unfortunate genetics (thanks, grandpa), a fatty diet (thanks, Milky Way Simply Caramel), pregnancy hormones (thanks, babies), and eating actual rocks (not true), they can’t get out of the narrow-necked li’l organ, so they take up valuable real estate and, just like squatters, make a mess. You can have asymptomatic gallstones for years, but as the not-rolling rocks build up over time, they become a problem and after a fatty meal one day you’ll find yourself literally under attack.
A full-scale gallbladder attack is awful. I’ve had two babies and believe me when I say I’d rather be in labor than have a gallbladder attack, and not just because labor nets you a baby and a tax write-off. GB attacks involve intense pain that starts in the middle of your back and wraps around like a steel band giving you a mean, mean hug that doesn’t abate and makes it hard to breathe. Sitting, standing, lying on your back, belly, side, other side, pillow, or dog makes absolutely no difference. And while you feel like your insides are burning/exploding, you’re also nauseous, probably vomiting, and experiencing other unpleasant instincts of expulsion. The reason I’d rather be in labor than suffer a GB attack? Labor contractions are only every 2 minutes or so! Cakewalk! A gallbladder attack will make you beg for 2 minutes of relief, just… two… minutes…. GOD. Also, attacks can last for hours and hours, with no cute babies or adorable tax write-offs at the end.
Take heart though (but not a heart attack, don’t get confused), because the prevention of gallbladder attacks is simple: utter boredom and misery. I’m sorry, I meant to say: a very high fiber, very low-fat diet. I haven’t had dessert in a month. I used to brush my teeth with dessert. I haven’t had cheese in a month, either. If you’ve heard about the dairy industry going belly up lately, it’s because its main buyer was diagnosed as having gallstones. (ME! I’m famous, Ma!) No syrup on my waffle, no butter on my toast, and waffle and toast must be whole grain. I mainline apples now, snack on celery, accessorize everything with flaxseed, and wander the cookie aisle at the grocery store muttering incoherently and frightening customers. I can’t skip meals, but I can’t grab anything at a fast food establishment if I’m out and about without fibrous sustenance. I have to start every day with a mug of hot lemon water to stimulate my bile production, and I love it because lemon goes SO well with toothpaste and that’s just a bunch of giggles right there. If my stones get wily and start to work up an attack, I have to drink apple cider vinegar (telling yourself ‘it’s just salad dressing’ doesn’t work) and an ocean of water and sit propped up on pillows for a half hour or more until order is restored. This is not conducive to my lifestyle, as my toddler lacks the language capacity for me to explain the intricacies of inhibited bile production in the pre-middle-aged mama. As bad as he is about offering sympathy and time to sit still and harness my chi, you should see the 4 month old. I tell her I’m having a gallbladder attack and she just stares at me and poops her pants.
To treat gallstones, the medical world will yank out your whole darn gallbladder (laproscopically, of course) and send you on your way. It’s not something you need to survive, like…say…. your brain, or cheese, or Milky Way bars. It ranks somewhere below your appendix and somewhere above your extra kidney in the cast of ‘ORGANS: Who Needs ‘Em?!’ You’ll likely be fine and can add a little bit of fat and normalcy back into your diet. Or you’ll have chronic diarrhea! Roll the dice. (Or the stones, if you’re twisted.)
Perhaps the worst part about having gallstones, even for a cheese- and sugar-fiend such as myself, is the aforementioned ridiculousness of it all. Gall is “something bitter or severe,” audacity, impudence, effrontery. If you have gallstones, you certainly feel severe bitterness, but without the weightiness of a serious medical condition. If you turn down a slice of cake at a birthday party, but the hostess keeps insisting, you can’t really say, “I can’t- I have gallstones” and receive the same sympathy as something who can’t because they have diabetes, or even the understanding of someone who can’t because they’re trying to lose weight. If you have house guests and you’re experiencing a gallbladder attack, going to lie down in the bedroom isn’t as woeful as closing yourself in to ride out a migraine. What do you say, especially when you’re only 30 years old? “My gallbladder is acting up”? You sound silly, like a sketch comedy character- Hypochondriac Senior Citizen Girl.
To be fair, gallstones shouldn’t be considered the way diabetes and migraines are; they’re largely treatable and attacks are generally avoidable. And frankly, there are people in the world with cancer, Parkinson’s and MS. My chief complaint is that I don’t get to whine about it, and even when I do, I can’t have cheese with my whine. (and I can’t drink as much wine) Though, I’ll admit that it is a tiny bit fun to declare, “I am under attack!!”
So what if I have to keep apple juice boxes in my car in case of emergency and I stash a bottle of vinegar in my glove box? It’s not like I have to instruct my child on how to stab mama with an epi pen in case a tree nut blows by. I’ll probably have my GD GB removed one of these days and tango with those ‘chronic diarrhea’ odds. If I lose out on side-effect roulette and have to maintain a restricted diet, I can at least have a sexier excuse for stuff: “I can’t- you see, I had to have an organ removed and the recovery has been rather difficult.” Place hand to forehead, flutter eyelids, and… scene. I totally have the stones to pull it off.