Remember, the old saying - When you have your health you have everything?
Those words could not ring more true, but we are usually so caught up in the demands of life we forget how important that phrase is.
Recently, my mother was hospitalized for "routine" gall bladder surgery. Looking back, I wonder what exactly they mean by "routine". Her surgery turned out to be anything but...and it's been a most stressful time.
Thousands of people across the U.S. suffer from gall bladder related problems each year. Most have "gall bladder attacks" that are brought on by gall stones, those sometimes large and sometimes small stones that can collect in the gall bladder. There are times when a stone or two will move and get caught in the bile duct between the liver and gall bladder creating a LOT of pain.
Since this isn't a Biology lesson, I won't get into what forms the stones, etc. You can research that on the Internet if it interests you. However, if one of those stones gets lodged in the duct you risk infection and a multitude of complications. If nothing else you never know when one of the "pain attacks" will come upon you and affect your quality of life. Some people get only one attack in the their entire life, while others have many.
So, as I was saying.... most GB surgeries are termed "routine", and I never realized how untrue that can be until my mother had surgery. Her GB was not inflamed or infected, but it was sick with multiple stones and needed to be removed. The day of came and the surgery was performed and she was sent home to recover.
As older folks sometimes can suffer complications, after surgery she developed a stomach blockage from the anesthesia, and she had to go back to the hospital to see what was actually happening. Point A - the stomach blockage was located via a CT scan, but Point B was a complete shock. Guess what? A tiny gall stone was showing up in the bile duct. What? Don't they scan for such things before they send a patient home? Doesn't the surgeon cover himself and the patient and hospital making sure nothing is left behind? Guess again. It is not considered "standard procedure" to do so. The surgeon may or may not have this checked out. After all, procedures are in place by the American Surgical Board, and the Hospital Administration. Insurance may or may not cover such a procedure depending on the carrier. Lots of red tape.
I was in shock when I met with the hospital Risk Manager to ask many questions, and also to ask WHY? Why would you send a patient home from surgery like a ticking time bomb, never knowing if stones were in the bile duct? It seems a no brainer to me, but not to them. I have known three people now who lost loved ones to infection from lodged stones in the bile duct. It seems much closer to home than the percentages I've read about.
My mother had a minimally invasive procedure called and ERCP along with dye injection to located and obtain all of the stones for removal. It's an endoscopic procedure and no surgery is required. With that being successful and the stomach blockage breaking up, I thought she was out of the out of the woods and then the pancreas became irritated and swelled, and bladder infection set in, along with a tiny blood clot in the foot. Again, some of these infections might be brought on by older age, but not all. One thing can lead to another regardless of age.
The lesson here is that you need to be sure that before you consent to a gall bladder surgery, discuss the possibility of bile duct stones prior to the surgery. Make sure the surgeon, insurance and hospital agree to scan, or do some type of procedure to locate stones left behind prior to you leaving the hospital.
Approximately, 600,000 gall bladder surgeries are performed across the U.S. each day. 10-20% develop complications as a result of stones left in the bile duct. Some have no complications whatsoever, and others are not so lucky. More than 5,000 die each year from gall bladder related surgeries and complications. It may be a small number when you look at the percentages, but who wants to be the dead guy?
My mother is now home recovering from her 11 day ordeal, and I feel blessed, because it's the 2nd surgery she's had the last five years. The other surgery also had complications, so this was not the first time around for her.
Research, know your options, know your surgeon and the hospital procedures before you sign consent for surgery. Be sure you have a family member or a good friend to be your advocate and voice in the case that you're too sick to do that for yourself. It could one day save your life!
***All opinions expressed are strictly those of the writer.