When gallstones attack…

This week, I logged on to the HR system at work to check my holiday balance, and there it was in big red letters “FLAG: 21 sick days in the last rolling 12 months.” Pretty damn impressive considering that I was on maternity leave for nearly 10 of those months. To be honest, I’d just about forgotten how bloody awful the end of my pregnancy was, I think I’d blocked it out. I don’t really know why I feel the need to blog about this, maybe it’s because it was such a horrible period and I just want to put it to bed.

This time last year, I was 7 months pregnant, and I started getting weird pains in my abdomen. At first I put it down to Braxton Hicks, but they just kept coming back until one day I suddenly puked everywhere, and couldn’t keep any food down. At that point, I thought I’d better see a doctor.

Doctor #1 sent me away with antibiotics, misdiagnosing a urinary tract infection (spectacular fail.) I was back at the surgery with a week seeing doctor #2. That doctor took urine tests and decided that, since I couldn’t keep fluid or food down at 33 weeks pregnant, I should be admitted to the labour ward to be put on a drip and rehydrated. I honestly thought that would be it- I’d be re-inflated with fluids and sent home.

Then the blood and urine results came back. I was hugely dehydrated, I had high levels of ketones in my urine (meaning my body was starving) but more worryingly, my liver function results were showing some crazy numbers, and I was starting to go yellow with jaundice.  I was kept in overnight, they took more blood, and I was told to go to sleep.

At 3am, some nurses and a doctor burst into my room looking very serious. They told me that they had the results through from the second blood tests, and that I was going straight to the High Dependency Unit (HDU.) They didn’t know what was wrong, but it was probably bad.

At 4am, I woke up on HDU with a searing pain in my abdomen. They gave me intravenous paracetamol and the pain went away. I went back to sleep.

In the morning, my husband came back, and the doctors came round. They didn’t know what was wrong, they needed to do more tests, there was talk of induction at 33 weeks.  I later saw the notes they were writing at that point- they thought I had HELLP syndrome- a very serious (and potentially fatal) form of eclampsia. That explained the grave faces.

There was one last thing they wanted to try- an ultrasound of my abdomen, to see if there were any blockages or abnormalities. And there they were, tiny little bastard stones in my gallbladder, and spilling out of my gallbladder, blocking everything up. This was good news. I wasn’t going to die, and baby would be fine.

Unfortunately, there was nothing much they could do until after I gave birth, so I spent the last two months of the pregnancy going in and out of hospital. Every time I had an gallstone attack, I would be in agony for a good 12 hours, and then unable to eat for about a week, so I needed to be on a drip. I can only describe the pain as feeling like somebody is whacking your delicate insides with a baseball bat studded with shards of glass. Definitely worse than childbirth, and also pointless, which makes it harder to bear. And being pregnant, I was pretty much limited to paracetamol for the pain, which didn’t even take the edge off unless it was going straight into my veins, and only then for an hour at most.

After the pain subsided, the nurses would try and get me to eat. I will always remember after the first attack, a nurse tried to force me to eat an egg and tomato sandwich “for the baby.” I tried so hard to eat it, but it stuck in my throat and I wanted to be sick. I ate just over a quarter, and it felt desperately unnatural. My mouth was dry and my stomach was churning. I just wanted to curl up and cry.

They tried two ERCP’s while I was 35 and 37 weeks pregnant- a procedure where they put a camera and some tiny tools down your throat and through your stomach and try and take a look at the gallbladder and bile duct, and in my case, try and remove any problem stones, and make some cuts to help things pass through. That was pretty damn unpleasant. The team had never carried out that procedure on a very pregnant lady before, and I felt like a test case oddity.

After I gave birth, I had another attack when cub was 5 weeks old, and was admitted to hospital again. I had another ERCP when he was 6 weeks old, and my gallbladder removed when he was 12 weeks old.

And this is all that’s left.

A scar, less than an inch long. That’s it.

Now, all of this has been pretty shit. But what’s amazing, is that while I was pregnant, ill and in pain, I was never really scared. I was scared of the pain, a bit, but even on that horrible dark morning in HDU when the consultant thought something really really bad was happening (I could tell by the way he spoke) I wasn’t frightened, I just dealt with it. And in between the weeks I was in hospital, I just went back to work and carried on.

It was only when the cub was born that it hit me. He was so tiny, 6lb 1 0z at 3 days overdue, and very skinny- he was growth restricted because I was sick and he wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed from me.  The midwives and our friends and family kept talking about how small he was, and I’ll never forget the midwife that kept saying he was “just a little dot.” Every time someone commented on his size, it cut me.  They might as well have told me that I hadn’t looked after him properly while he was inside me. In public, I was fine, but in private, I didn’t stop crying for about a month. I felt guilt, like I had let him down.  I hated that I had managed to let him down before he was even born. I know how irrational that sounds, but it felt horrible.

Then breastfeeding became hugely important to me- that was how I was going to fix him. My body had let him down, and my body was going to fix him, and make him strong. So I did, and I still am.

I hate that the end of my pregnancy, and my first few weeks of being a mum were ruined by tiny, malicious gallstones. But we are all here today, happy and healthy. That’s all that really matters, in the end.


3 thoughts on “When gallstones attack…

  1. I’m so glad you all made it through safely and healthy. Ah, mother guilt – I bet that felt as bad as the damn gallstones! My youngest child was only 5.10 and dropped to 5.0 before we took him home. He was six weeks early. I remember him looking just like a chicken you see at the store! He was a scrawny little scrapper that wouldn’t eat a thing until puberty. You should see him today at 25! I don’t know where he puts the food!

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