“10 years of pain, and a lifetime of gratitude”
In 2012 I finally found the surgery I had been looking for to end a decade long of hideous pain and suffering. Now two years post surgery I am still filled with the same immense gratitude that I felt when my Chinese doctors removed a 3 cm gallstone from my gallbladder. I share this story here in the hope that it might change someone else’s life for the better too.
A Brief Introduction
In 2006 I was diagnosed with gallstones. Truthfully I was self-diagnosed. It took me 3 years to finally work out what was causing the excruciating attacks of pain that left me writhing breathlessly for hours at a time. In retrospect I can’t believe it took so long to figure it out. Insanely my doctors just kept prescribing me antacids and telling me I had heartburn. I later found out that they had labelled me a hypochondriac and this was why no one was taking me seriously.
When I finally managed to diagnose my own symptoms via an article on the internet, I went straight to my doctor to request an ultrasound. The examination revealed what was by now a 2 cm gallstone in my gallbladder. Of course gallbladder removal was the treatment plan offered, but after doing some research on post-operative outcomes for cholecystectomy (some of which includes ongoing pain, food intolerances and other digestive problems), I decided that I wanted another option. I already suffered from digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome and multiple food intolerances, and I did not want to risk any worsening of these conditions and their restriction over my life.
For years I searched for cholelithotomy (gallstone removal) on the internet, desperately hoping to find a surgeon in Australia or elsewhere who would perform one. The only thing I discovered was that this procedure is no longer performed in western countries, but is still common in China. Of course I couldn’t understand Chinese, so how on earth was I going to research, let alone organise, surgery in China?
In the meantime I tried gallbladder flushes. I don’t know whether these things work for anyone, but they certainly did not work for me. My stone was quite large by this time and the range of things that I could consume without causing pain was dwindling. For years I relied on herbs and dietary restriction to manage the problem while I researched my options. In particular the herb Chanca Piedra helped immensely with the pain, even though it did nothing to remove the problem. After a major attack that lasted 2 weeks I became completely intolerant of fats and oils (as well as legumes, onions, and various other random foods) and I found myself living on a fat free diet for the next 4 years.
Finally by the end of 2012 I was ready to give in. I booked myself in for gallbladder removal surgery after making one last well justified plea to a surgeon and a gastroenterologist about my need for a better option. And a couple of days later I finally found what I was looking for.
Luckily I was not the only person in the world searching for another option, and shortly after I booked my surgery in Australia, I came across a webpage detailing the story of a man from the UK who had travelled to China for laparoscopic gallstone removal surgery (Whatisgallstone.com). The webpage includes details about the procedure, surgery costs and contact details for the hospital and medical staff. Thanks to this man I had everything I needed at my fingertips to make my dream a reality.
Three months later I was on my way to The Second People’s Hospital in the Panyu district of Guangzhou for surgery.
What can I say about the experience? The surgery itself went very smoothly. Afterwards I had some tightness and discomfort in my abdomen and pain from the CO2 gas, but little pain from the incisions. I think after you have experienced a gallbladder attack, any discomfort post surgery is more than manageable!
After surgery, the first thing I wanted was to see the stone that had been causing me so much pain for so many years.
As a Westerner, I have to say that I felt very touched by the level of attentiveness shown by the Chinese doctors and hospital staff who took care of me. They were very gracious and treated me very well.
Traveling alone to a country I had never been to before for surgery was an incredible experience in itself. It is also one that will always be close to my heart, because these doctors supported my point of view, and helped me to achieve what I wanted for my body, when I could hardly find a doctor who would take me seriously in my own country.
Of course, this is not a perfect surgery, like any surgery there are risks, especially for gallstone re-occurence. However my wish was for a chance to keep my gallbladder and that is what I have been granted. I probably went to lengths that most people would not go to keep an organ, and it is debatable whether that was sensible, but I cannot argue with my gut feeling that gallbladder removal was not the right choice for me, and that there was another possibility available. And that is my intention in sharing this story.
I believe in health sovereignty, and that we should be able to choose what we feel is best for our health and wellbeing. Part of that is having different options to choose from. In Western countries gallbladder removal is the only option. I am sharing this story so that people can have the knowledge and freedom to choose another option.
It has been nine months since my surgery now and I am pain free, and eating foods that I had been unable to eat for almost 10 years. As I continue to work towards healing from chronic illness I’m so grateful that I was able to have this surgery to give me a chance to heal in the way that I feel is best for me.
Thank you to the staff at the Second People’s hospital for making my dream come true.
It has been 14 months since my surgery and I am still doing well. At 1 year post surgery I went for an ultrasound to check on a small inflammatory polyp which had shown up on a scan 3 months after surgery (possibly left over from the surgery as they removed polyps as well). I am very glad to hear that the polyp is now gone and I am still stone free. These are the before, and 1 year after surgery ultrasound scans:
The doctors who performed my gallstone removal surgery three years ago now have an English website for foreigners who are interested in the procedure.
I have not performed any further scans but currently at 3 years 3 months post procedure I am still free of gallbladder pain and able to consume and digest fatty foods with no issues. I really encourage people with gallbladder conditions to look into food intolerances as this can cause similar symptoms (which persist post procedure if not addressed), and may play an important role in gallbladder dysfunction and gallstone formation.
With Gratitude x