There are two ways I can sum up how the last quarter went for me. One’s clinical, which is bound to be laden with medical jargon. The other’s spiritual, which might sound convoluted to some. But sure, I have time to share. And thanks in advance if you likewise have time to read.
I was discovered to have gall stones in 2008. I guess you can call it inevitable as I didn’t have the healthiest eating habits as a child. That much you’d be able to tell, even without the laboratory findings. But as in the case of many, my situation wasn’t considered cause for concern at first. At the time, my stones were still minimal, with the largest being no bigger than ¼ my pinky nail. Nevertheless, I was routinely told to monitor what I’d consume and to be more physically active from that point onward. Otherwise, I’d be waking those little sleeping monsters.
The stomachaches began in 2012. At first, they didn’t seem completely linked to the findings. Because, debilitating as the episodes were, they only apparently struck whenever I overate under stress. So, there I was assuming I simply had to eat less. Having seemingly lost the tolerance for hefty meals, I reduced my portions. The tactic eventually and gradually led to my weight loss, which I somehow managed to maintain – more so when I went on the stationary bike at home every day during lockdown.
Through it all, I held off having another check-up– admittedly and regrettably out of fear of what could come out. I always assumed it was hyperacidity. Though, I never completely dismissed the stones.
It was different during the pandemic. Given the circumstances, rushing to the hospital felt like a non-option. Suddenly, my fear had an added catalyst. I didn’t want to expose myself to another prevalent risk. So, during that period, I swore by Omeprazole, as it somehow managed to keep the attacks at bay.
By mid-2021, however, the spells became much worse. By then, they were no longer triggered by how much I ate, but by what I ate, serving size notwithstanding. Regardless of what precautions I took, a strip of bacon or a slice of pineapple would render me incapacitated for an entire day. As for the regimens, they had seemingly lost their potency.
Prior to that month, I was used to my episodes occurring at night. And granted my sleepiness would overpower the pain, I’d wake up the following morning feeling better. Then came October 17, when the reverse happened. After going to bed feeling fine the previous night, I woke up the next day to a sharp, stabbing GERD-like pain. It felt like being impaled from behind, with the weapon emerging from my chest in a manner akin to Friday the 13th. It’s a wonder how I even managed to stand up after that 15-minute ordeal, let alone push through with that day’s plans.
Remnants of that pain lingered throughout the week, followed by a slew of other symptoms – symptoms that were traceable to my liver. And I knew something was up when I’d throw up even after eating only a packet of crackers or sipping water.
Chronicle of a Cholecystectomy
It sure felt inopportune for this to happen in a year that started with me losing two income sources. But at the same time, it also felt like divine timing.
I finally got in touch with our family doctor, who initially recommended a blood test, a HEPA profile, and an updated ultrasound. At first, there was a surge of relief knowing I was hepatitis-free and that there were no growths in the areas of suspicion. The ultrasound, however, pretty much confirmed my worries: “Multiple intense posterior shadowing echogenic foci with aggregate measurement of 3.54.” My gall bladder was already packed with stones.
The second doctor I saw was that hospital’s resident gastroenterologist, who made it clear that surgery was already imperative. But after struggling to secure the soonest available slot for his recommended procedures, my mother stepped in to tap other hospitals. Not that it took long. It was my cousin, Essie, and her husband, Dennis, a cardiologist in Cardinal Santos Medical Center, who responded with the most decisiveness. Time was really of the essence at that point.
What followed felt like both an adventure and a reprieve. And despite checking in with no companion, I didn’t feel alone. Throughout that week, the personable staff were a source of both amusement and comfort. “Si Sir, mukhang bata! Kaso lang dilaw ang mata.” (Sir looks young even if his eyes are yellow!), quipped one nurse, in reference to my jaundiced eyes, as I awaited my ERCP. That procedure later revealed that a stone escaped into one of my bile ducts, where it got broken down into sand-like consistency. That caused the obstruction and my liver’s unrest. Delaying the process would have led to graver repercussions.
Dennis and Essie then dropped by later that evening to deliver a couple of updates: 1) that a stent was planted to keep my narrowed bile duct open, and 2) that my gall bladder’s hours were numbered.
It’s funny how my cholecystectomy fell on Halloween, a day I often identify as my favorite holiday. Grown up as I am, I still get a thrill out of parading the streets of Makati in costume. This year, the only non-everyday piece I managed to sport was a hospital gown. Nothing could disguise the circumstances.
The procedure wrapped up past noon. As I slowly regained my faculties, I could neither feel nor move my legs. It was just like in fantasy movies, when a sorcerer turns a character into a statue and that statue retains the consciousness to still notice what’s going on. That afternoon, I was that statue. And the only one person who could talk to me was the attendant, who checked in every hour if I’d regained movement. In one of our exchanges, she showed me my extracted stones. There were at least sixteen of them, not counting the tiny shards.
I spent the next 24 hours getting acquainted with having a four-inch wound on my right torso. And there sure was a strange symbolism in spending the first half of All Saints’ Day stuck in a horizontal position. One challenge was when my nurse buzzer fell from the bed, but my IV, catheter and general immobility prevented me from readily picking it up. I won’t share how I managed. But I managed.
What prolonged my stay to three more days were the sporadic bouts of fever that struck every time I went into chills or walked to the bathroom. After a series of follow-up tests that ruled out further or residual infections, I was finally cleared to go home.
It was the lowest I ever weighed in years. The last time I was that far below 200 pounds, I was a much shorter tween. But it’s understandable, given how my stomachaches gave me food trauma and I was barred from any intake during the first half of my confinement. Shrinkage was imminent. It would take another week for me to regain semblance of appetite.
Anyone familiar with the chakras knows the solar plexus as our seat of personal power. It’s where we draw our confidence, our will, and our sense of identity, among others. Anatomically speaking, it’s what governs our digestive system. It was always my most problematic chakra.
Solar plexus blockages usually manifest with issues in the stomach, the liver, the pancreas, the intestines, and yes, even the gall bladder. Gall bladder issues, in particular, spiritually stem from a lack of self-sovereignty or feeling powerless in making decisions, thus, leading to anger and resentment. Surely, those accumulated stones stood for something.
I touched base with my theta healer, Michelle, one month after my procedure. It’s been three months since our last session. Over our preliminary catch-up exchange, she asked what I thought the gall stones symbolized.
To which, I responded: “I guess for me, they represented every choice I did not make for myself, for every time I undermined my capabilities, for each time I settled with being an instrument to somebody else’s ambitions at the expense of my own, for the guilt I instinctively felt for doing things my own way, and for generally not taking care of myself.”
“Again, no one can validate you but you”, she replied, echoing past sessions.
There really is an energetic shift that follows losing an organ. In my case, I feel a huge blockage was expunged and I haven’t had stomachaches since. Two months later, getting reacquainted to my routines is admittedly still a struggle. So is going back to the grind. I’m like a computer that had to be restarted and some apps are still taking time to reopen. It can get frustrating. But at the same time, I’ve never FOMO’d this much. And I’ve never yearned for new experiences this strongly.
Back to that early December session, Michelle also asked “If there’s one thing you wish to thank both your liver and your gall bladder for, what would that be?” Without hesitating, I answered “For making it clear that I was danger. And, in effect, for making it clear that I still needed to be around.”
The Zoom reunion ended after two hours, but not before she helped me concoct this takeaway: “Let 2022 be your year of action”.
“That sounds about right”, I agreed.
“It is Done. It is Done. It. Is. Done.”