the great illness of 06


I went to the surgeon yesterday afternoon. He’s a funny little man with dark hair and beady eyes. A grandfather probably. As we sit in his tiny little waiting room, restraining Baby Bug from ripping up the three hundred worn copies of outdated People magazines that are stacked from edge to edge on the coffee table, I hear him through the wall ask a man to drop his drawers, bend over and grab his ankles.

What? I turn to Toby with eyes wide and eyebrows lifting up underneath my bangs. Are we in the right place? Why are the walls so easy to hear through in doctor’s offices? Everything seems so dirty and low tech. Like I could be in the waiting room at a used car dealership or a mobile home park, or maybe I’m waiting to hear if I won a time share or something. A black plastic clock radio sits on an white whicker end table blinking at me, beside it sits a Gideon bible. The standard Motel 6 oil painting of a boat sitting in still water rests on the muted floral wallpaper behind us.

I don’t know what I expect of a surgeon’s waiting room, but this is not it. I am so disappointed with the field of medicine these days. When I was at the hospital getting my ultrasound, everything seemed so high tech. The machines whirred silently as images of inner-space flashed across a monitor above me. It really seemed like they were looking inside me and getting to the bottom of things. But now I’m here and I’m supposed to trust this guy who wears a funny tie? I feel like I’m in the land of doctorville where medicine is a business and this surgeon is just as happy to cut out my gallbladder as a Jiffy Lube technician is to change my air filter.

When he calls us into his office, (all of us: Toby, me and baby–which was really nice of him) he ruffles through my chart. He looks at me. He’s quiet. He seems to be enjoying some kind of inside joke. Then he shows me a paper inside the folder he is holding. It says “Brenda Ponnay, diagnosis: hemorrhoids”. Hemorrhoids!? Who said anything about hemorrhoids? I don’t have hemorrhoids. This is really not helping. I’m starting to freak out.

“So I gather you do not have hemorrhoids,” he says with a chuckle. He scratches out the offending word with a ball point pen from behind his ear. I have the feeling he sees about a thousand gallbladder patients a day and this is his way to liven things up. I am not amused but I’m so anxious to trust this man, who is supposed to be an expert, that I try to see things his way. I tell him about my pains and he rocks back and forth in his squeaky metal chair, sizing me up.

He leans forward and puts his elbows on the paper of the examining table that I am sitting on. “It’s like a game of bridge,” he says. “Do you play bridge?” Toby and I shake our heads. Neither of us have ever played bridge. “Someday you are going to have to have your gallbladder taken out. You can do it now or you can do it later.” He looks at us to see our reaction. We have none so he continues on, “You can spend the next four months talking to an intestinal bla-bla-bla bla-big-word and they might find out your pain is caused by something else. Or they might not. Or you can have your gallbladder taken out and that might solve your problem or it might not.”

And the answer is…? I don’t know. Nobody knows. It’s just a great big mystery. So why not just take your gallbladder out! You don’t need it. It’s a useless body part! An extra piece that God threw in just for kicks! It’s easy to take out, so why not? It could solve everything. Or it might not. You came to a guy who takes gallbladders out, what more do you want?

What I want is to see the pictures from the ultrasound. I thought he would pull them out, show me the sludge and stick them up on the wall or something. Maybe he would have a pointer and point to the sludge. I thought he would have numbers and percentages and maybe he’d circle some things and boggle me with science. But no. There are no pictures. I can see everything in my file and it consists of the questionnaire I filled out in the waiting room, a form saying I will sell my next child if my insurance doesn’t cover all my expenses and some kind of fuzzy faxed xerox copy of something that probably is related to the ultrasound pictures. There are no pictures though. It probably just says that I am actually a candidate for gallbladder surgery.

I’m so bugged about the missing ultrasound pictures that I ask him about them. “Did you see them?” I ask. “No,” he scoffs. “I don’t read ultrasound pictures. I have readers that read them.” Oh. My bad. Like ultrasound pictures are such a waste of time for surgeons.

But seriously. I don’t mean to doubt him. I’m sure he is a very good surgeon. He probably has the steadiest hands this side of the Mississippi. I’m sure that it’s totally normal that he doesn’t “read ultrasound pictures”. It’s just that I wanted to feel a little more assured about this surgery. I know it’s routine and probably the easiest thing to do next to pulling a tooth but still it’s my body and I’m usually pretty healthy. I don’t like to mess with things. I don’t even take birth control pills because I like to keep things as natural as possible. Cutting me open, taking a body part out and then clamping it back together with METAL tags that STAY THERE FOREVER just doesn’t feel very natural.

Buuuuuuuut, neither does puking for weeks on end either. So it’s a gamble. And even though I don’t have a good feeling about it, it’s a gamble I’m going to take. (Not that I don’t mind a fat free diet. I’m doing great on rice and broccoli. I love broccoli. I found out I can have skim milk too so I’m living high on Kellogg’s Special K with strawberries. Good thing I’m allowed to have sugar.)

I set up an appointment to have the surgery on Monday at 10:45.

IN OTHER NEWS…. I owe you guys a movie. Guess who turned nine months during the great illness of 06? Stay tuned.


  • Amy

    oh my gosh. i think you should go to another dr. a second opinion. this is your body! and what if it isn’t your gallbladder? i just went to the gyno in npbeach and i swear it was the most amazingly beautiful office with all the high tech equipment and even antiques! i can promise you that there is a million world renowned surgeons in this area. good luck…

  • Donovan

    I have to disagree with Amy and agree with your decision. A friend of ours had a similar problem last year, and although removing her gallbladder did not completely fix her problem, the surgery was very smooth and the recovery was relatively easy. Good luck with it, we’ll be thinking of you. (even though we don’t know each other at all. isn’t blogging great!)

  • Marissa

    Well, I can only imagine how many hundreds of comments you’ll be getting. I will keep it short – if you don’t like the guy’s bedside manner, keep looking. It’s gonna make falling asleep on the table that much easier. I hope the pain goes away soon for you, and may you be able to healthily maintain the weight lost (if you want to, that is)! :D

  • Gena

    As I commented before, I had my gallbladder out just a couple of years ago. The surgery itself is very simple. However, my dr. told me to do whatever I wanted after three days of recovery. DO. NOT. TRY. THAT. I am a mom. I am a wife. I homeschool my children. I decided that I must be okay and I could clean out my fireplace. It put me back in bed for about 3 more days. You need to take time to heal, so get some help with Baby Bug. Also, don’t try eating whatever you want right away. Spicy, fatty things still made me double over in pain, but because of gas, not gallstones. (TMI, anyone? Sorry.) Now, I can eat everything. It is only the occasional odd food that sends my bowels into spasms again. I will pray for you. Just, please, do know that you are having MAJOR surgery (regardless of how easy it seems) – they are removing an organ. Don’t listen to the (mostly) male doctors and return to your normally hectic life. Take time to heal.

  • Gena

    P.S. As for the scars, they are so very tiny. I can’t even see the ones on my stomach anymore and I’ve always had to look for the one in my bellybutton.

  • Snowbear

    so sorry to read of your illness—I would second the second-opinion route. Good luck to you and I’m sure it will all work out. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

  • Heidi

    If you gut is saying something about this particular doctor, please listen to it and get a second opinion. My mother has been going through a very similar issue with her gallblader. All of the visits with the doctors and surgeons were very high tech (with pictures from ultrasounds and endoscopies and results from tests). I think it odd that he said he hadn’t seen your ultrasound, and didn’t offer to show it to you and explain what “the readers” saw on it.

    In any case, you’ll be in my prayers for a smooth surgery and a quick recovery!!

  • Steph

    Lots of my friends got theirs out and it’s a pretty easy surgery. I was borderline to getting mine out when my girl was a baby. It’s a very common problem that’s brought on by childbirth (not the act of having the baby…just changes in your body)…….

    My prayers will be with you……

  • Monica

    I’d say like Heidi and Amy, by what you write it sounds like you are way beyond uncomfortable with this guy, he might be right, he might be the best, but if you distrust him it’s not going to work…

    I’d say check a second opinion, and find a doctor that makes you feel more comfortable…

    oh and what you say about a surgeons waiting room, you’re right, you’re to expect something nice, new and clean looking… my husband had hip surgery with a top surgeon in Orange County and his waiting room and the whole office was nice, clean even shiny… maybe not brand new, but it made you feel comfortable and not icky…

    just by what you write, you should really look for a second opinion… if you are going under anesthesia you better trust the people whose care you are under, and you certainly don’t sound trusting of this guy.

  • josephine

    I want to be. He’s a nice guy… just not what I expected. I guess I had a stereotype in my head of what a surgeon would be like…. I’m know I’m wrong to want a quick fix. But at this point I just want it overwith. I called my doctor (that isn’t in) for a second oppinion but she hasn’t called me back. I think I’m just going to be brave (and maybe stupid) and get it overwith on Monday. I’m gonna trust him.

  • Jamie

    I just want to pop in and say good luck whatever you decide. But do have help lined up for next week if you go ahead with the surgery. You don’t want to push yourself. I am sure you are ready to just have this whole illness chapter closed! Take care.

  • Donna

    Oh Gosh…unsolicited advice here….Please consider getting a second opinion!!! You health is so important and the Dr.’s explanation sounded so whishy washy. You are your little girl deserve the best.

  • Jill

    Not to be a downer, but my daughter had sludge too. They removed her gall blatter at 2 yrs old and it fixed nothing. She had pancreatitus.

  • Jen

    I’m not one who believes in useless organs. ;) I think every little part has it’s purpose, including the gallbladder.

    I’m with you on those paper thin doctors office walls. You leave knowing that the woman in the next room has a low libido and the man who went in before you has “an itch rash” in a place you don’t want to think about on him.


  • margalit

    Second opinion, stat! If you don’t like this surgeon, and you aren’t 100% comfortable with his cutting you open, go see someone else. Someone that reads Untrasounds. And doesn’t make jokes about ‘roids. This guy doesn’t sound like somone you can really bond with and trust. Good luck!

  • Jennifer

    I meant to comment on your impression of the doc’s office. When I was seeing a fertility specialist and went to his office I was thinking, decent office but it sure isn’t what I expected. Then they sent us to their MAIN office for hubbies *cough* analysis and I was shocked at how high tech and cool that office was in comparison. Does your doc have another office somewhere else? :P

  • Lin

    From what I understand from friends, the surgery is simple. I’ve had laparscopic surgery before (voluntary sterilization many years ago!) and the scarring isn’t even worth writing about it is so small, but the disbursement of the gas (post-surgery) is uncomfortable. I remember having bad shoulder pain as the gas disbursed through my shoulders? I know, weird. Any incision in the belly, no matter how small, isn’t comfortable. The prospect of feeling normal again is the driving force fo rall surgery and you will be better soon.

    Regarding the surgeon’s office. Keep this in mind. His real office is the ‘operating theatre.’ That’s where he spends his money…renting operating rooms in hospitals and his ‘other’ office is less important. If your physician, who I gather you have confidance in, recommended this guy, he most likely is good.

    xoxoxo to all of you.

  • mipmup

    please get a second opinion! omg. i’m dying over here! (can i suggest seeing an “alternative’ practitioner, too? pretty please. surgery is so incredibly serious!)

  • HotRodHanna

    Sorry you are going through all this. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you feel better soon. I’ll be praying for you.

  • Nila

    I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. I won’t be the 27th opinion telling you to get a 2nd opinion. It sounds like maybe your Dr. is just a little old school. And if he read ultrasounds, the Radiologist wouldn’t have a job. Is the prettiness of an office more important than the skills. Does a pretty office a good surgeon make? Probably not.

    Be confident in your decision, because going into surgery with a positive mind set is important.

    You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers on Monday, and if I lived near by, I’d be over for some babysitting. I heart you, so take care of yourself.

  • Sue

    It was funny seeing those diagrams because when I was 15 I had my gallbladder removed… I was sick for about two years with similar symptoms to you, on and off. They finally figured out that it was gall stones and whipped the little thing out.
    However, the symptoms continued which left them mystified. To cut a long story short they found out they had left a gall stone behind!

    Hope you’re surgery goes well and without complications like that :) Been reading your blog for a while now, Irish fan!!

  • Daisy Mae

    I’m glad you are having it so soon. You will be amazed at how much better you feel once it is gone. Stock up on the Thanksgiving gravy!!!!

    And Gena is so right about the gas thing. With most people is lasts 1 week to 3. And there is a … ahem… loose stool problem that normally accompanies this surgery. It’s totally normal, but with many people they have to run to the bahroom really fast when they have to go number 2. Some people have this problem for a couple of months and then it goes away. But since the gallbladder is a digestive organ you’ll need to take it easy on spicy and fatty foods for awhile.

    Try not to worry this weekend okay?!

  • Carrie

    As someone who’s been there, done that, I say just get it over with on Monday. Not that you need my advice, but with the rain of “get a second opinions” coming down on your head, I wanted to give you some support. I know how badly it hurts and how you totally feel like you are dying. Getting that thing OUT will be the thing that puts you on to the road to recovery. LIke Gena said, you can’t go totally back to normal right away, but it is a start. I also had the gas like Gena said. I found that the chewable Gas-X works best for me. My recovery was not easy, but I think it was because they gave me an aneasthetic that I was allergic to and I kept puking. I do hope you are able to have your mom or someone come and help out for a few days. I can’t imagine trying to recover while dealing with an active infant. *big hugs* It will all be ok!

  • Lauren

    oh no!

    daisy mae described the problems my grandmother had for quite awhile after she had her gallbladder out.

    give yourself lots of recovery time and go slowly with resuming normal eating.

    and if they offer you drugs during your recovery period take them!

    are you pumping or will BB take formula?

  • Marissa

    Coming back to say – I don’t know what kind of pain you are in, and I don’t know how incapacitating it’s been for you, so please ignore my advice! ;) Good luck with whatever you choose, and I hope you get better fast.

  • BeachMama

    SAJ, I had this same surgery this past summer. Mine though, was for the removal of fallopian tubes due to ectopic, not gallbladder (I would have rather experienced the weight loss ;) ). The recovery for me was a bit longer because one stitch was on a crease and kept opening, but the gas went down after a few days and I only felt truly bloated for about a week. I was walking within a few days but, I was thankful for the help of my Mom and Sisters’ for a good two weeks.

    I will be thinking of you on Monday. Hope your Mom can come and hang out with you for a few days. Take it easy when you get home, don’t try to be SuperMom for a couple of days :).

  • ash pdx

    I hope the surgery brings you relief! Sending positive thoughts for a successful operation and speedy recovery. I don’t know anything about gallstones, but I have had kidney stones twice, coinciding with breastfeeding and not drinking enough water. Take care of yourself! Hugs,

  • Julia

    So I just wanted to comment to say it seems pretty reasonable to me to keep your appointment on Monday for the surgery. I commented before that I had mine out a few years ago, and it is a pretty no-big-deal surgery and it did solve all my issues. My husband is a doctor, and I have to say that your surgeon sounds so typical for surgeons! They are known for having TERRIBLE bedside manner, and being more technical, fix-it types, not touchy feely empathetic doctors. If it was just his personality that struck you as odd, I wouldn’t worry about a 2nd opinion and just get going on the road to recovery. If you’re worried about his actual competence, that’s another issues, of course.

    As far as recovery, do be very kind to yourself, have lots of help with Baby Bug, and don’t push yourself on the fatty food. Have you ever had anesthesia before? My biggest problem was a bad reaction to that. (I puked a lot starting ~24 hours post-surgery as the anesthetic all got metabolized; puking with 4 new holes in your abdomen is EVEN WORSE than the pre-surgery, fat-eating puking.) I healed up quite nicely, though, and my scars are quite small.

  • rachel

    My gallbladder surgeon was weird too; kept saying I would be able to eat pepperoni pizza soon.

    Well, I couldn’t eat pepperoni pizza soon. I was on a strict low fat diet for two weeks. And then for about a year after that I paid dearly for eating anything difficult or fatty by being sent immediately to the bathroom. Eventually, everyone I worked with knew about my pooping problem. For shame. In other words, that organ does do something important. You can live without it, but the body has to adjust.

    But the good news: the pain went away, I lost about 10 pounds that year (the goodness of that news is debatale), and I eventually was able to digest food more easily.

  • Donna

    Hi Brenda! Brad & my thoughts will be with you Monday. I just had to share with you my experience with a “scruffy” looking doctor. My dad fell and broke his left femur. He was admitted to the hospital where they immediately get an in-house doctor to evaluate and recommend an orthopaedic surgeon to do the surgery. Several hours later, approximately 6:00 pm, in walks this scruffy looking young doctor that looked like he had been sleeping all day in his clothes. He seemed very rushed and preoccupied. He answered all our questions but I had this very funny feeling about him. It turned out that he did a wonderful job and was a very caring, very consiencious person. His office was kind of unassuming too…and VERY busy all the time. It turns out he is also an accomplished sculptor. I guess you can’t always go on first impressions….