What to expect from laparoscopic gallbladder removal
July 12, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm having laparoscopic gallbladder removal in a few weeks, because my body has been so kind as to create a stone there roughly the size of a golf ball. Hurray for me! If you've had this procedure, could you share your experiences with me?

I'm mainly looking for what to expect when it comes to recovery. I'm having it done on a Friday so I can recover over the weekend. Do I need to allow for much longer? And how long after your surgery were you able to get back to exercising, or really any sort of physical activity?

Any other anecdotes or tips you have would of course be welcome, too.
posted by jbickers to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had this done 3 years ago, and it was life alteringly amazing. For me, the first few days were awful, and it was a harder recovery than I'd expected. I was up and about a day or two later, but it was probably a few weeks before I felt comfortable exercising. If I had it to do again, I would have made sure I stayed ahead of my pain meds for the first few days, as that made a huge difference.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:39 AM on July 12, 2013

Talking recovery: I came to in the same place where they'd done all the prep before putting me in and was pretty groggy and said some embarrassing/hilarious things to the nurses. They have senses of humor, fortunately.

Once they were sure I wasn't dying, they wheeled me into a room where my wife was waiting and fed me painkillers as I asked for them up to a point. Since I was pretty sure I was dying--I am a TOTAL wuss about pain, I was fine medically--they eventually had to regulate my dosage. I threw up a couple times, clearing all that gunk out of my stomach.

We worked on a couple things in there. Seeing if I could keep down clear liquids (I eventually could) and then getting up and walking around. They inflate you with gas and getting up and walking around helps clear it out of your system. Apparently it comes out one way or the other and walking around is the easy way and hurts less. Just something to be aware of.

After a few hours, we were at the "Welp, you can lay here if you want but you can go home and lay there and it'll be more comfortable" point, so the nurse and my wife piled me into the car and drove me home where I slept and woke up every few hours to throw up, take more painkillers, and walk around. Eventually, I figured out it was the painkillers making me throw up so I cut those out because the surgical pain was less than the pain of vomiting, so I just slept.

That went about a day and then I was sitting up and dicking around on my laptop. I was fine to sit around the house after about 2-3 days but it was a very slow ramp up on physical activity, probably a couple weeks before I'd do anything strenuous.

I'd suggest stocking up on liquids since that's probably all you're going to want for a day or two. I drank protein shakes for a couple days because just the idea of solid food was revolting and it usually wouldn't stay down anyway.

Make sure you have a bucket because you are going to puke and you're not exactly going to feel like scrambling to the bathroom.

Wear comfortable clothes there. I'm talking like sweatpants. Because you're not going to want to futz with jeans or anything when you're groggy on painkillers

And yeah, stay ahead of your pain. Take them on the schedule they give you, don't wait to start feeling it because man, will you feel it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:44 AM on July 12, 2013

I was in pretty large amounts of pain the next day, sore the rest of the week. Some people report permanent issues with greasy foods; tt took my digestive system about a week to calm down, but I've been totally fine since.

Basically, it wasn't that big a deal. I had it out Saturday morning, was at work Monday, and was at the beach drinking with friends the next weekend.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:51 AM on July 12, 2013

A relative of mine just had their gall bladder removed laproscopically about a month ago... the surgery took place midmorning, they were home that afternoon and had very little pain after; some expected soreness but nothing requiring the heavy-duty painkillers they were sent home with.
posted by usonian at 10:56 AM on July 12, 2013

Had mine out about two years ago. Went in on a Thursday and was back at work by Monday. Although they told me to take it easy on going back to my normal foods, I was eating loaded potato soup by Saturday.

Biggest issue I had was forgetting that I shouldn't sit up using only my stomach muscles for the first 48 hours. That and the massive chest pain about 24 hours after the surgery that wasn't a heart attack and was instead the CO2 dissappating.

I haven't had a single issue since.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, had his out just before Thanksgiving this year and discovered not long after that he is one of the unfortunate few that suffering from bile "dumping." That means that his colon doesn't absorb the levels of bile his liver dumps in when he eats greasy or excessively spicy foods. Which gives him the epic runs. He's also a cancer survivor and had a stem cell replacement therapy to cure the cancer years ago so he's not the picture of flawless health.

Compared to how they used to do it, laproscopic gall bladder removal is a walk in the park. But it's still surgery and there's still things to be aware of.
posted by teleri025 at 11:09 AM on July 12, 2013

Here is something VERY IMPORTANT: make sure that your stomach is working again before they discharge you. Abdominal surgery can basically cause your stomach to stop for a while - you drink liquid and eat food, and it just sits there. And eventually you get nauseated and throw up. Fortunately, this is an easy condition to diagnose - your doctor just needs to listen to your stomach with a stethoscope. And although it is a very common side effect, it resolves on its own. However, if it's prolonged, you need IV fluids.

Someone near to me had gallbladder surgery and the doctors inexplicably did not check for this and discharged them when they still could not absorb fluids. So we went home and had a bad 18 hours of vomiting, pain and increasing dehydration, compounded by bad advice from the nurseline, until we had to go back to the hospital and be re-admitted through the ER. This whole thing added a couple of extra days in the hospital, a lot of pain and distress and a lot of medical bills (which were fortunately covered by insurance, but it's still a shame that the hospital wasted all those resources).

Make sure that either you or a friend/family member can advocate for you with the doctors. Postsurgical ileus is the term you should ask about. It's absolutely nothing to worry about as long as it's caught - it resolves within hours or days and all they do is keep you on IV fluids until you're better.
posted by Frowner at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2013

I could have gone home the same day of my surgery, but the surgeon wasn't around in the afternoon to check on me so they made me stay overnight. I was only on IV meds for a few hours after waking up, then they switched me to oral. I never filled my prescription after being discharged and just stuck to ibuprofen. I don't consider myself to have a very high tolerance for pain, but YMMV.

I definitely wasn't able to move comfortably enough to drive or exercise for the first week, but I was mobile almost immediately. Be careful of using your abs too much in the first couple days, so you don't rip stitches or staples. Use your arms and roll to the side when you need to sit or stand.

This is such a common surgery that whatever advice they give you regarding driving, exercise, etc is based on literally hundreds of thousands of data points. So play it safe, just stick to the timeframes they give you unless you feel markedly worse than you think you should, or amazingly better than they predicted. You'll know if you fall on either end of that spectrum.

As for foods and digestion - For the first 6 months to a year, anything greasy, oily, or fatty went right through me. Literally, within minutes. Now, several years down the line, only certain foods still have that effect, but if I'm binge eating unhealthy food for several days in a row, let's just say I spend a lot of time sitting on porcelain.
posted by trivia genius at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2013

I have a rather different perspective: a week and a half ago, I got to watch a laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. I would like to share what I learned, but feel free to not read my answer if you're the kind of person who prefers not to read about insides.


Forgive me if this is all stuff your surgeon has told you; the surgeon I was watching did not explain the procedure in detail to his patients, but I suspect many might. It surprised me to find out (and it might ease your mind to know) that this surgery is quick and very neat. Once the surgical instruments are in place, and the belly is inflated a little so the surgeon can see, the gallbladder is easily accessible—no moving lots of other organs out of the way to reach it. The gallbladder is unusual in that it has only one port for both entrance and egress: the cystic duct. (Most other organs have two separate ducts.) Likewise, it is served by only one artery: the cystic artery. This means that only two things must be clipped shut and severed in order to disconnect the gallbladder from the body's systems (illustration of the end result), so it can then be removed from its snug little bed next to the liver. Before I saw this surgery, even though I knew it was simple enough to be an outpatient procedure, I didn't realize it could be as simple as clipping two things and removing it from the tissue around it; after all, wouldn't you think organ removal would be complicated? But this one's not! And that's good news for recovery—since so little needs to be messed with, there's relatively little that needs to be recovered from.

Disclaimer: I am a pre-med student, not a doctor or nurse, so there could be some inaccuracy in my description that I'm not aware of.

posted by ocherdraco at 11:22 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently had laparoscopic surgery for a different condition. In my case, I had very little pain from the incisions (didn't need my pain meds at all!) but I was surprised at how tired I was afterwards. I was napping a lot the first week and a half. Even at just over two weeks out, I still don't have my normal energy level and I'm having to sleep extra and eat extra and take it really easy in the evenings. Totally worth it though!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:38 AM on July 12, 2013

Had no real pain, just kinda sore. Took the painkillers to sleep since it did take me a while to be able to sleep lying flat. Spent quality time in the recliner. My belly button "surgery access" was a little drainy and drippy for about a week and I even passed a small stone out of it before it closed. So all in all, I *loved* my gallbladder surgery. Felt sooo much better afterwards since I was having trouble processing any sort of fat and according to my Dr., I had enough gravel in my gallbladder to pave a small driveway, lol.
posted by PJMoore at 11:43 AM on July 12, 2013

Here's one item I hadn't seen discussed above. If you are going in for surgery, they have probably told you to stay away from fatty foods until then. Do that. Completely and totally. I ate almost no fat for 2 weeks, which is not easy, but doable. My gallbladder shrunk from it's inflamed state and was easier to remove through the tiny incisions than it would have had I eaten fatty foods.

posted by Sophie1 at 12:03 PM on July 12, 2013

It only took me about four days to be healed up enough to resume most regular activities (I wouldn't have helped friends move or anything for a couple of weeks), but could have taken less time if I'd had more post-surgery help to allow more rest in the first couple of days. And, yes, take pain meds promptly on schedule rather than trying to extend periods between.

The interesting thing to me was how amazing I felt the absolute moment I was fully cognizant after the surgery - not having that poisoned organ in there was an awesome relief in so many ways.

I'm one of those people with life-long greasy/fatty food issues afterward, but it's still so, so, so much better after having it out.

The one big thing (other than having some easily-prepared meals set aside, comfy clothes for a few days, and a helper for at least the first 24hrs) is to choose a recovery spot in your house where you don't need to strain your abdomen/trunk to get up and down. Being able to just sit and stand to be up is going to be such a help as compared to having to clamber, drop, or climb.
posted by batmonkey at 12:16 PM on July 12, 2013

I had mine done laproscopically about 10 years ago. I remember very little pain from the actual operation but I did make sure to stay on top of my pain meds and not try and tough it out, which then led to a whole fear I'd never poop again as I was so constipated.

The main problem I had, as it was described to me by the doctor, is as they were removing the gall bladder the "stones" inside in my case were more like lots of grains of sand, and they somehow managed to release all the contents into my digestive system like a bag full of marbles, as the doctor described it and I ended up with pancreatitis that may or may not have been related to this. Now the pancreatits sucked.

I also had to go back in a few months later for a sphincterotomy where they stick a tube down my throat and through my stomach and cut into one of the sphincters relating to all this(I was never clear which one) so it would open more and this finally stopped all my pain and on and off pancreatitis attacks.

Oh and I learnt I like to take punches and nurses and doctors while coming out of various anesthetics and I puke for 12 hours afterwards no matter what they give me.

I was back at work in a week, but could have gone earlier as I have an office job but my boss made me stay home to heal. I don't really exercise heavily but was walking the dog within the week.

Just to throw some scary stories at you I had a friend go in for the same surgery, ended up having to cut her open to get it out it was so inflamed, and then the surgery scar got infected and she was in hospital for 4 weeks. She was 65 at the time though.

Spoil yourself for the week or so after your operation, even if it's not physically a big operation as such it is still general anesthetic and a big shock to your system, give your body time to heal. If you do go into work, maybe see if you can work a couple of half days on the Monday and Tuesday or make sure you don't then add other stress like doing errands or running out for lunch on top of the going to work. Keep the first few days back quiet and stress free and if you are working don't try and tough it out through the pain on top of it all you will just set yourself back.
posted by wwax at 12:26 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mine is a bit different from yours:

I went into the ER after a nine-hour gallstone attack, not knowing what it was. (My doctor had said it was just bad GERD the last time this happened, but I was scared at this pain that just wouldn't go away at all.) Got there at 4 AM, they had me piss to check for kidney stones, then hooked me to an IV and gave me some (oh blessed) morphine. 7 AM my family got there (I left a note that I was going to the hospital and took a cab; this is still hung over my head from time to time for doing that instead of waking someone), having brought me some books.

8 AM Radiology opened, and they wheeled me up there for an ultrasound. Back to the ER, reading a book, when a doctor came in, introduced himself, told me that I had gallstones - "a bunch of them". They could give me something, but then I'd be back in six months or a year, or... he'd had a cancellation and could take it out today.

My reply: "Rip it!"

Wheeled me into surgery at 2:30, I had a mild freakout (the surgical 'bed' they used looked like the ones I'd only seen on TV shows like Law and Order that they strap the guy to for the lethal injection). The anesthesiology told me to count back from ten to one. I remember getting to seven. (he told me later I got to four.)

Waking up is REALLY blurry. They told me there were some issues with the anesthesia and my system. But then they took me to my room, where my family was waiting, and they had my books, still. I think I slept about four hours that night, because I go to sleep badly and they kept waking me up for stuff - blood pressure, things like that. (I think perhaps I came out much worse than they told me and that it was making sure I didn't die.)

The next day they had me get up and do some walking around, and gave me this thing to breathe into from time to time, with a marble in it. This is to exercise your chest and stomach muscles so that you don't have issues with breathing later from the muscle damage that the surgery causes. They also gave me food (for the first time since Monday! Oh, god, I hate oatmeal but that stuff was ambrosia...)

2 PM that day the phone in my room rings (my insurance covered the phone in the room, who knew?) and it was my manager, asking me a question about a system at my workplace that had imploded and I was the only one who knew what to do. I told him, and then told him where to look in the department shared drive for the document which told him what I had just told him. (This is part of why I got a good review that year - twenty-four hours out of relatively minor surgery, still buzzed on the morphine comedown, and still able to do my job. Boo-yah, baby.)

They let me go the next day, and I spent the next two weeks at home - not my choice, my manager told me to do it to recover, called the surgeon and had the paperwork for Short-term Disability filled out, and took care of HR for me. For about a month after that I was kind of slow and wobbly, but I recovered.

Four things I remember firmly:
1) keep a pillow nearby. If you need to cough or sneeze, grab it and hold it against your belly. It DOES help, keeps the pressure a bit equalized, and it doesn't hurt nearly so much when you do. Otherwise you will get a brief moment of stunned from the pain.
2) about five days after the surgery, my sense of taste went to horrible. I mean, I have a gustatory reference for the word 'eldritch' now. Nothing tasted good at all. This was a side-effect of the fat-soluble anesthesia breaking down and leaching out of my body fat into my bloodstream, but when it happens you will not want to eat anything. But try. Bland as hell stuff is best.
3) it took me about a month and a half for my colon to not turn into a crap-bomb from almost anything fried - and that includes scrambled eggs. You may want to be careful of what you eat for a bit, and ease back into it.
4) when they removed the staples about a week later, the incision wasn't completely closed and scabbed. I had a leak of 'serous fluid' from it, which freaked me the hell out. I called the insurance company's call-a-nurse and she explained that no, I wasn't going to bleed out. Get some gauze and some medical tape at the drugstore and be ready to cover it. Keep it with you.

You may get someone like the asshat I had to deal with at work, who tried to move into my cube when I was out for the two weeks, and I had to threaten to take the gauze off to show him the still-not-totally-closed surgical incision to make him move.
posted by mephron at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2013

When I had it done they told me to take a week off work. Of course I felt ok long before that but don't minimize the fact you probably won't have a lot of energy for the next couple of weeks. A full work day (consisting of sitting on my butt and answering a phone at that time) wore me slap out right after surgery. So be patient with yourself and take your time.

Other than that, it wasn't difficult at all. Oh, and when they give you pain meds, take them on schedule. Don't wait to start hurting first. You stay ahead of the pain and they work optimally. My nurse backed me up on that, btw.

If you have someone to pamper you at home for a few days afterward, take full advantage.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:36 PM on July 12, 2013

I had this done recently. I did not throw up, but did hurt a lot and I took 2 weeks off of work, I have always healed slowly though. The throat tube also hurt me a lot and it only fully went away after about 2 weeks, I was told this can happen and is fairly normal. I would probably have switched to over-the-counter painkillers sooner if not for the throat pain and feeling like something was stuck in my throat all the time, I still didn't get through even half the bottle of strong painkillers though.

I feel a ton better now, its amazing, I hope you experience a similar change.

One last thing: if there is a chance a cat might jump onto your stomach during the first week then sleep with a pillow on it, trust me on this.
posted by meepmeow at 1:34 PM on July 12, 2013

I had emergency gall-bladders surgery (after going to the ER, being given loads of pain killers, which made me not care about my pain) - the afternoon my doc said "You are displaying classic symptoms." Ultrasound described the organ and "hot and slushy".
I remember nothing from anasthesia (counting back to about, oh, 9?) until I awakened in my room hours later to see my husband.
Spent the night in the hospital (with blessed morphine on drip!).
Went home and had to spend a week in recovery - pretty much in bed/sitting up, and not doing much. I was very tired, and had to stay on a very bland diet.
Things were tender/painful for a few weeks, and I eased back into a 'normal' diet, but it was almost a year before I could have chips or fries (or any heavily fried food). Periodically, I still get a 'bile dump' episode, but it's generally avoidable if I eat clean/healthy foods.

As you can see from all these stories, it's very dependent on the individual and their condition. Good luck!
posted by dbmcd at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2013

I assume you've seen these two previous posts? Lots more good detail there.

The only specific restriction my surgeon emphasized was: Don't even try to lift anything over 15 pounds for the first month. That was exactly right.

I recommend that you re-think your scheduling. Several bad experiences have led me to promise myself that I will never, ever schedule an elective medical procedure for a Friday, or even Thursday. I had my GB out on a Thursday, and I started developing some unanticipated problems at home on Friday afternoon (unable to swallow ANYTHING -- food, water, pain pills). Starting on Friday afternoon, the only response you can generally get out of the medical system is, "if you can't tough it out, go to the ER." If I had developed issues of that sort during the normal work week, I'm sure the response would have been better and I could have avoided some extra pain and anxiety.
posted by Corvid at 3:10 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was admitted to hospital for laparoscopic gallbladder removal and ended up having the full open operation with a 10-inch incision. That is a risk that your surgeon should explain. I don't think it's common but I'm proof that it does happen. In my case it was because my anatomy around the area was unusual (i had two cystic ducts where most people have one) and they needed to open up the area in order to be sure they were cutting the right duct.

The surgeons didn't know about this in advance so the first I knew of it was when I came round from the anaesthetic. I was in hospital for five days and was unable to work for about 10 weeks afterwards, and that was a fairly straightforward recovery.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2013

Regardless of the type of surgery, though, I'd suggest you take the painkillers on an appropriate schedule - it's best to keep on top of the pain, and it helps with healing to spend as little time as possible in pain, or so my surgeon told me.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:23 AM on July 13, 2013

I had mine out at the end of June after weeks of debilitating gallstone attacks that sent me to the ER several times in one week for the pain, vomiting, dehydration and so on. It's pretty easy, as surgery goes.

I had a bit of a freak out about the shape of the table too, as mephron did. It didn't help that the anaesthelogist couldn't find a vein and had to poke around a bit while I was strapped down. Definitely had a death row vibe to it. Make chit chat or whatever makes you feel comfortable at this point. There was another nasty moment as the anesthesia started flowing through the IV and mask where I felt a buzzing sort of pressure in the pit of my stomach and chest -- like I couldn't breath. I remember trying to warn them, but all I could manage was a grunt and a twitch of my fingers. Another thing to know -- the OR is freezing cold. Even with heated blankets it was very uncomfortable.

Waking up in the recovery room was OK. I felt like I couldn't breathe well, because of the discomfort from breathing in too deeply. They gave me some sort of mask with a vapour in it that helped. I wasn't really having issues with oxygen, so I guess it was more psychological. In any rate, it passed fairly quickly. I was on my way home about an hour after regaining consciousness -- they will want to know that you can urinate before they will send you home.

I was given Tylenol 3 with codeine for the pain but I found that I needed it only sparingly. Recovery was easy enough, but as others have noted you will just want to sleep and sleep and sleep. Movement of any kind is tough if it involves your abs -- sitting up or down required some help or at least something to hold on to. You will probably not have a bowel movement for a few days, especially if you are taking the pain pills. Eat very light at first and avoid fat as much as possible. Don't strain yourself by lifting anything.

It was actually sort of nice to have an excuse to stay in bed and be spoiled by my family! Just don't overdo it even once you feel better. My family doctor wrote me a note for two weeks off work and I would agree that's a reasonable amount of time. Luckily I was on summer vacation anyway, but I would've needed two weeks at least before going to work.

I haven't noticed too many issues with food post-surgery. I'm trying to keep it light and healthy. Heck, I've lost 15lbs since the gallstone attack so how's that for a silver lining? Good luck and don't worry -- you'll be fine.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 9:28 AM on July 13, 2013

They suggested I take a week off work, and with my surgery on a Friday, I took the next week off. My going back coincided with running out of pain pills, so my first two days back were pretty uncomfortable, but about day three a friend said "your color's back!"

It was two full weeks before I could comfortably walk a couple of miles, and I still felt best with an arm kind of wrapped around my middle to minimize jolting and jiggling.

I also had a lot of trouble bending and stuff for a solid week, and getting shoes and socks on was tough for at least a couple of weeks.

It's so great to not worry about my eating so much, and not feel that awful attack coming on. So glad it's done. Absolutely no complications.
posted by Occula at 3:04 PM on July 13, 2013

I just had mine out yesterday. Day surgery. Had a patient friend to sit with me before and after, another friend to drive me home.

I was given Rx for strong tylenols and for Oxycontin. I've been sticking to the tylenols. Yes, it hurts a bit, but hey, people were making holes in me less than 24 hours ago, it's natural for it to hurt a bit.

At least the damn gall bladder is gone, and the intermittent nagging pain from that is history. That is a huge bonus, and the pain I feel now is only going to improve till it's gone. Yay!

The one thing I had not foreseen was throat pain from the breathing tube. A friend brought me some lemon granita right now and it's so soothing. I had prepared by buying a lot of cartons of light organic soups, but hadn't thought about wanting something cold. So I recommend also having sherbet or granita handy for afterward.
posted by zadcat at 9:56 AM on August 16, 2013

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