What Gallbladder Surgery is Like


It was Friday the 13th, and I was half-delirious on an operating room table/ bed. About to find out what gallbladder surgery is like.

The room was almost entirely dark, lit in places by light rings aimed in my general direction. I was drugged out of my mind, and the room felt alarmingly similar to the snake-pit scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just cleaner and smelling of phenyl.

A third, larger light just above me seemed to be the boss of all the other lights. Bearing down on me like Auric’s laser. As his sterilized henchmen approached.

I sensed that I was in the left corner of the shoe box-shaped room, and there was possibly a unicorn hiding in the shadows on the other end. The unicorn was afraid of snakes too.

I know what you’re thinking; unicorns like snakes. Or perhaps unicorns don’t exist. I probably thought Unicorns were fantasy, too, before the drugs.

When we had pushed through the doors, I noticed something jump from behind the door to my right, and it sorta’ galloped once. Which, can you gallop once?

It didn’t have much room to do any kind of full-cycle galloping. It made a horse-like move into a group of shadows in the far corner of the room, where it struck a tower of bedpans. The bedpans crashed to the floor.

“Y’all have a horse in here?” Even drugged I knew my query sounded absurd. “Or like a mini horse, or a dog that looks like a horse?”

Silent eye stares all around.

“Do y’all have a bring your horse to work, day?” 

“We have a unicorn.” One voice responded from nearby.


I should probably mention at the top (ish) that I’m not a medical professional, and I got terrible grades, to the point my parents sent me to military school; twice.

I love cheese and scrapple and sausage and bacon (and half-Elvis peanut butter sandwiches) and at the time of my surgery had a shit exercise routine; it’s no wonder my gallbladder was destroyed.

So please don’t look for any medical advice here aside from listening to your doctor and not me.

So anyway, the gallbladder aids in the digestion process by storing and concentrating bile. What is bile, and why do we need it? The hell if I know. Bile is probably one of the many vital yet unheralded fluids that traverse our inner highways.

And it’s thought (by smarter folks) that stones form because of a chemical imbalance; that “levels of cholesterol in bile become too high and the excess cholesterol forms into stones.”

Gallstones might have one thinking of the more famous stones your body can create, like the stones that will eventually need to be passed out through urine.

Having to push a rock through terrifyingly tiny passageways in the body rightfully conjures an unrivaled stone dread. And fame like that would correctly eclipse any other body stones and their many complications.

So yes, gallbladders also make stones, and unfortunately, they don’t typically pass on their own.


I won’t dispute that the gallbladder is important, but if I could make a kitchen analogy, gallbladders are like napkins. Yes, napkins would be great at your dinner party, but you could always substitute in cleverly folded paper towels or toilet paper.

For an organ so low on the body depth chart, it can really fuck your shit up in the most confounding ways. I went from some medical tech being like, “yo, did you know you had gallstones? Are you in any pain?” To me, pacing my apartment moaning at 3am in the morning in less than a year.

awkward yeti

Gallstones brought a cornucopia of the most bizarre combinations of agony. When someone asks, “are you in pain?” Toothaches, broken bones, knife fights come to mind. 

I wasn’t expecting raging bouts of upper back pain concurrent with lower abdominal pain.  I would get these bouts around 2 A.M. or so. And nothing eased the pain, so I paced around for hours until I was too tired to stand.

I didn’t ever want to eat anything complicated for fear of pissing off that stony little asshole. So, I was basically just eating Rice Krispie treats for a year.

My life became abiding extreme back pain and hunger. 

I cannot speak for anyone else’s gallstone symptoms, but if they are anywhere near as terrible as what I experienced, then I can see why surgeons cut those terrible little things out.


In olden times docs weren’t sure if we ultimately needed our gallbladders to survive, so they didn’t remove them. Even though a couple of Italian doctors in the 1600s proved that an animal could live without it, which was pre-Google by 400 years. So, I guess no one was Western Unioned that info.

Hence, if you loved cheese and had a shit exercise routine in the 1800s and got stones, the docs would apparently just open you up, then open your gallbladder and spill its contents out. Then sew you and your gallbladder back together. 

All told, this draining of the gallbladder method only offered temporary relief. Which—no shit.

I do have to say, the 19th-century medical proficiency, cutting folks up to dump some gallstones and then stick that fucker back in, is vastly superior to what I imagined. I was sure primeval doctors just bled you out over everything, hammer toe, plague, et al.

Anyway, knowing what gallstone sufferers go through, the idea that doctors were just putting that thing back in is horrifying.

Although not as horrifying as dying from abdominal pain, which actually happened to a woman in 1420, according to the first gallstone accounts from Florentine pathologist Antonio Benivieni. 



Fortunately, medicine improved, and a German doctor, Dr. Lagenbuch, in the late 1800s decided to just start cutting out gallbladders and calling it a day. Unfortunately for Dr. Lagenbuch, tiny, primarily useless bodily innards would also be his undoing as his appendix went rogue and murdered him.

BTW can someone tell me why we don’t just pre-cut out the appendix when we’re born? It could be a double snip job with the circumcision. And there could be a neither-nor checkbox. Put the Jiffy Lube people in charge of coming up with hospital add-ons. Your air filter is looking a bit dirty and I suggest cutting out the appendix too.  

Where was I? Oh, talk about a legacy for Dr. Lagenbuch and others who left the world with a much better solution than reinserting the gallbladder.

Still, the traditional cholecystectomy wasn’t exactly a piece of cake; it included an abdominal incision to the tune of 10-inches.  Ouch. And is as much explanation as I need for why in the 1900s, Bayer was hocking over-the-counter Heroin.


The first laparoscopic cholecystectomy, where docs seemingly impale you with multiple miniature trash spears, began more recently in the 1980s. And in Germany. Those Germans know their way around a gallbladder, amirite? I wonder if Leberkäse has anything to do with it?

Seemingly (and again, I’m no medical professional), modern gallbladder removal only requires a few holes and some gas. Apparently, the surgical team cuts a hole, balloons your abdomen out with the gas, and then yanks the stony asshole through one of those holes.  Yay.

And if my doctor’s surgery schedule was any indication, it is a popular procedure. He was booked up for months, sans a Friday the 13th. The only Friday in existence that scares people was how I leap-frogged everyone into the front of the surgical line.


Three gentlemen converged on me in pale neon-colored scrubs or smocks or whatever the proper name is for the napkin-textured disposable adult onesies medical folks wear.

“Does the unicorn have a name?” I asked, choosing to belabor the joke to air out my nerves between the bleeps and bloops squawking from neighboring equipment.

I’m not entirely sure anyone ever answered the question. The phantom unicorn was a nameless one.

“You a Steelers fan?” I dumbly asked the dude wearing a Steelers surgical cap.

The other guy on my right was categorizing mirrored metallic items on a mirrored tray resting on a tiny, mirrored tabletop.

I’m sure I imagined this part, as the tabletop was floating in a Hannah Barbera way with circles shooting downward. And the tray was angled in a way that I could see the tools were seafood picks and crackers. The contraption was floating.

“Ah man, Gators?” I noticed categorizing tools-man wearing a Florida Gators cap.

And then I noticed my doctor, who was lead on this whole gallbladder thing wearing a NY Yankees surgical cap. “Geez, are you guys like the access of evil for sports teams?”

It was the last thing I remember from that room. Outside of the dwarf unicorn licking my ear.


Before I wound up in the room full of terrible sports fan docs, I was in the pre-op room where I got “the happy cocktail.” Which, as I understood, was the appetizer of sorts to the full-fledge anesthesia. And that cocktail brought about a cloud over my everything, not a depressing rain cloud, though. Sparkly, glittery fog.

“CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICKAT.” The wall clock kept saying.

And I would get lost between the conversation with the pre-op lady and the obtrusive clicking.

Had someone asked me a question, and the silence was the wait for a response? Or had I been speaking and then got lost?

I thought I detected that every fourth click was coming minutely sooner than the rest. If every 4th second was slightly sooner, wouldn’t that throw the time off on the clock fairly quickly? Was it someone’s job to periodically reset this clock?

Or was every 4th tick shorter universally? Was it part of the reason for leap-years? Do we live drastically shorter lives than we realize? 

I should tell everyone this, I thought with a mental fist in the air.

My wife was staring at me; which was usually a good indication I had said something stupid. I got the same look when I asked our tax-preparer if they had a checkbox for clients that wanted to take chances with the IRS. And this checkbox would atomically formulate a return that fibbed a bit with deductions and such and spit out an awesome return (not for me, for a friend of course).

Yet, how could she want me to shut up? I wasn’t positive I had said anything.

I was the patient, and everyone stared at patients in hospitals, right?


Apparently, I had asked if removing my gallbladder meant they were removing my soul’s home. My wife explained, “you asked if cutting out the gallbladder meant your soul would be homeless.” 

She added a few beats later, “please stop talking.”

When did the subject of souls come up? Had I broached it? I thought we were on clocks.

Also, I could swear I remember hearing that in a biology course once—not the clock thing, the soul thing. 

There is a small organ that basically does nothing, and thus it had been theorized by our teacher that it might contain our everlasting soul.  

The soul and biology theorizing in a school setting isn’t surprising; I went to a private school in South Carolina.

Fortunately, a dissection excuse in the same class, being against one’s religion, actually worked.

So yeah, the bible belt.


In the bible belt, you could be minding your own business reading the NBA preview in Basketball Digest at a food court cradling a 7 Layer Burrito. And then bam! Suddenly God.

The only attention I got from girls in the 90s as an awkward zit face, military school student, was soul related. A smoking hot gal from Irmo approached me once in that exact scenario to ask if I had been saved by our lord and savior. 

Forgiveness, Redemption, damnation was completely acceptable interpersonal communication in the south. Oh, folks are so nice down there; you’re exclaiming. Yes, yes they are. But secretly they want to inquire about your soul.

The book of revelations was just a regular conversation that happened seamlessly between NBA, junk food, and Nintendo talk.

Hell, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility that we could all be raptured out in the middle of basketball practice. 

“If I get left behind, I’m taking your Game Gear.” Was a promise I had made to a particularity pious teammate.


I awoke to my wife and a massive thirst for Coca-Cola.

The folks in charge of the recovery area would only hand me woefully tiny paper dental cups of water. It was awful, the most unquenchable thirst I had ever experienced, and the only remedy was the world’s smallest cup.

My suggestion to anyone getting gallbladder surgery is to buy whoever is accompanying you to the surgery the world’s largest fucking purse. And then have that person stuff the bag with bottles of your favorite soft drink so you can smuggle them into your recovery room. Essentially movie purse your recovery.

My awful thirst, fortunately, was the only hitch. And I was missing my Game Boy (pack that shit too).


After a few hours, my doctor checked up on me, and I got to go home with a prescription for painkillers and orders to stay in bed for a week.

It would be the best week of my life. No dishes, no childcare, no work. It was prescription drugs and movies for a week.

Ah, gallbladder week, how I loved you.

Gallbladder week had its challenges for sure, I gained a whole new appreciation for stabbing victims. If I overslept taking a pain pill, I would awake to exquisite agony.

And if my dressing got mangled at all during sleep, I would bleed out a bit and ruin the bedsheets. I screwed up the dressing so bad once that I formed a coagulated blood pancake just above my belly button (which, if you’re morbidly curious, I went into here).


Really the only internal speedbump during recovery was cheese related.

I had the bright idea to beta test my lack of a gallbladder by making a cheese and meat monstrosity by the Hamburger Helper folks. My gastrointestinal tract was like, fuck whatever this is.

But overall, it was basically just a day reserved for the hospital and a week to recover. Piece of cake.

In essence, if there is a “see you next lifetime,” in the Erykah Badu sense, I wouldn’t be hesitant or nervous about having a gallbladder removed “next lifetime,” so long as I wasn’t trying to remove it on my own. And of course, that next lifetime doesn’t revert to just evacuating the contents of the gallbladder and then putting it back in.

Basically, I regret that I have but one gallbladder to lose, to score that sweet sweet gallbladder vacation.

And if there is a Friday the 13th coming up, schedule your surgery then; there will no doubt be space on the schedule that day.

If you have any questions on what gallbladder surgery is like, drop something in the comment section. And if you have a dramatically different take on what gallbladder surgery is like, drop that in there as well!

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