I should be feeling a little drowsy or, at least, placid, as the sedative given to me earlier should already be kicking in. But my senses remain alert, gluttonously taking in everything happening around me.
The cool air coming from the air conditioning units chills me to the bone, causing me to shiver and my teeth to chatter. Goosebumps are already grazing my arms.
The only sounds I hear are the faint echoes of conversations and murmurs coming from the other side of the door, the hurried footsteps, the humming and beeping of machines, and the occasional slamming of doors.
I am all alone in this huge, sterile room, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the adult diaper that the nurses in my third-floor room made me wear because, as luck would have it, I have my monthly period today of all days.
I know that I should be assailed by nerves right now, but oddly, the only thoughts occupying my mind are how I would really like to head to the restroom and take a pee (I refused the bedpan they gave me earlier, and I would definitely not urinate in my diaper!), how my stomach is growling, waging an internal revolution due to a 12-hour food deprivation, and how I wish my e-books were with me to keep me company in whiling away the time.
I am in a waiting room. And, minutes from now, I will be wheeled into the operating room for a surgical procedure called cholecystectomy or, in layman’s terms, the surgical removal of the gallbladder, commonly performed to get rid of gallstones.
It was five days ago when I learned from the result of my abdominal ultrasound that I had to undergo this procedure. Otherwise, the occasional back pains I experience will only get worse, and, if the stones manage to get out of my gallbladder and into the tract leading to my intestines, the operation will likely be more complicated.
So, I had no choice but to resign myself to the fact that going under the knife was inevitable.
After relaying the doctor’s diagnosis and advice to my husband, I immediately subjected myself to the required pre-op tests and diagnostic procedures: blood tests, chest x-ray, and, for the cardio clearance, ECG.
Choosing the surgeon was a no-brainer for me. I wanted someone whom my family already trusts, someone who knows us, and someone whose competence and track record remarkably speak for themselves. And so, I chose Dr. Leo Carlo Baloloy, the renowned transplant surgeon who performed my husband’s kidney transplant in December of 2014. (Aside from the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, he is also affiliated with the Makati Medical Center, and the Asian Hospital and Medical Center). Fortunately, he does not consider a simple cholecystectomy beneath him. And although he was not in the roster of the accredited doctors of our HMO, he kindly took on my case as an accepting MD.
We visited Dr. Baloloy on a Tuesday. I found myself admitted to NKTI the next day, with the operation set for the following Thursday.
The schedule was just perfect for me. Roel could afford to take a few days off from his work, I still had another week for my next blog article, my globe-trotting doctor was in the country ;-), and all my kids were still on their school break (Lala was not yet to start her mid-year classes in UP until the following Monday). Hopefully, I could make a complete recovery in three days. I was actually betting on it!
Now, let’s go back to the day of my operation.
I was made aware by Dr. Baloloy during my check-up with him that I would be placed under general anaesthesia. So I know that, unlike my three previous operations (all were for giving birth via C-section), I’d be dead to the world for this one.
As I am finally transferred to the OR after a seemingly endless wait, I am still awake. While they strap my legs to the bed, connect various wires to my body, and inject another drug into my IV (which I realized, later on, to be the anaesthetic), I could still hear them bantering. I watch them set up a big monitor to my right, a little above their eye level. I want to ask where the anaesthesiologist is, but decide to hold my tongue. The last thing I remember is how one of the nurses, while checking my record, tell me that, like me, she is also from Malolos.
That was, I think, a little past 11:30 am.
When I regain consciousness, I am in another room (which I assume to be the post-surgery recovery room). The first things I notice are the temperature (it is a lot warmer compared to the waiting and operating rooms), the time (the wall clock tells me that it is already a little past 1 pm), and the buzz about the place (aside from mine, there are seven other beds – all occupied – with each patient attended to by at least one nurse). There are wires still strapped to my body and some sort of bubble wrap hugging my midsection.
I’ve been expecting to feel my every joint and muscle aching from the surgery, or at least experience any one of the common side effects of anaesthesia, but, surprisingly, there is none. As in, nothing at all. I would like to think that it is because I have an inherently high pain tolerance threshold, but it could actually be due to any one or a combination of the following reasons: the use of the surgical technique Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy or lap chole, as compared to Open Cholecystectomy, which entails smaller incisions, shorter procedure duration, lesser post-operative pain, and faster recovery; NKTI’s state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and tools that could actually give some of our biggest private hospitals a run for their money; how many people were simultaneously banging on heaven’s doors for my successful operation that God, exasperated, immediately cried out, “Okay, okay, enough with the banging already. I’ll make Lorelei’s operation quick and easy, and her recovery painless. Now, go. There are more pressing concerns that I need to attend to.”; and how my surgeon and his team are among the best in their field of expertise.
It must have been a perfect combination of all the factors, but more so of the last two.
I am eventually wheeled back to my room, where a huge welcoming committee anxiously awaits me. Aside from my husband and kids, my parents and siblings, who traveled all the way from Bataan, are also present.
In hindsight, my biggest post-op frustration was not being able to eat the food my visitors brought for me because, for the next 24 hours, I was on a full liquid diet. Other than that, being the patient, for once, proved to be a pleasant experience. I was pampered, everyone was nice to me (I even had a monopoly of the TV’s remote control!), and my every wish was their command.
A week after the operation, when I removed the bandages from my incisions, I found three stitches that were really too small that my husband and I had to put on our eyeglasses to clearly see them. (If not for the stretch marks generously spattered around my tummy, I would have gladly shared a photo here). I swear, Dr. Baloloy is a miracle worker!
A lot of people dread the idea of going to the doctor, or the possibility of being hospitalized, or of going under the knife. Undeniably, a huge chunk of worry is removed from the equation when one knows that all expenses would be taken care of (in my case, since my husband is a Unilab employee and I am one of his dependents, all the expenses we incurred for this particular procedure had been fully covered by our HMO), but a great deal still depends on how a person decides to view his/her situation. With my hospitalization and operation, for instance, I chose to dwell on the good things that accompanied the circumstance that I found myself in.
Painless surgery. Relaxation time and a short respite from my daily duties. A brief yet comforting visit from my family from Bataan. A chance for my husband to pamper me. The successful removal of my flawed organ. The incisions that did not leave any ugly marks on my already unsightly tummy. And, of course, another reason to thank and praise the Almighty for yet another conquered challenge.
Indeed, every cloud has a silver lining!
To know more about Gallstones (types, causes, risks, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, etc.), click here.
About the gallbladder (functions, conditions, tests, treatments, etc.), click here.
For information on General Anesthesia, click here.