Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Twist in the Gut and the Plot

It wasn't the nutritional yeast.  I know that now.

And San Francisco will most likely wait for us.

Three weeks ago on a Sunday morning I fried up a happy bacon and eggs breakfast like a good Trim Healthy Mama. Then I ramped up the THM engine and added a few slices of avocado and pulled out my jar of nutritional yeast to sprinkle over the whole works.

Instead of sprinkling gently, the nutritional yeast fell out in a big glop, probably two tablespoons of it.  Oh well.  Sunday morning, lots to do, and if a little is good, more must be better.  I ate it up.

An hour later Paul had left for his pre-service ministers' meeting, my hair was fluffed and up, and my stomach suddenly hurt.  Wow.  I scampered around putting pens in my purse and lunch in the oven.

Oh my word. This HURT.

Finally I told the kids to go on and I'd come later.  I went to bed and spent the next six hours in great and terrible pain.

When it subsided enough to think, I thought back over everything I'd eaten in the last day.  Was it the Mexican food from the night before? The eggs?

I looked up nutritional yeast.  Some people react to it with painful bloating and cramps.

All right then.  That explained that.  I felt very silly, and the next day I dumped the rest of the nutritional yeast in the trash.

*     *     *

Paul suggested we go to San Francisco for our anniversary.

Despite being a great planner, he isn't really the whisk-away-on-a-romantic-trip sort of person.  So when he suggested taking off to San Fran, I said YES.

Even though there was a LOT going on, like Vacation Bible School at church, and my sister and my dad coming, and harvest, and chickens and flower beds to take care of, and my sister leaving and Dad staying, and people streaming through my life, and our church's first ladies' retreat to plan for at the end of August.

I drew up a chart with all the living things that would suffer or die if uncared for for four days, and who was in charge of what.

First we talked about flying to San Francisco, and then we decided to drive, taking off after lunch on Sunday.

That Sunday morning I once again had two eggs.  I put kielbasa soup in the Instant Pot, prepped the buns, shepherded Dad out the door, went to church.

After church I started with another stomach ache that got worse as the minutes went by.  I didn't at all connect it with the episode two weeks before.  Some crazy indigestion.  We ate lunch, put our bags in the car, and left.  We tossed in an ice cream bucket at the last minute, just in case.

*     *     *

This is the thing about sickness and health issues: do you share the news of them? And how much? To whom? And when?

The question has a number of sides.  The TMI factor, for one.  Stomach aches and barf buckets. Indigestion.  Ewww.  How can this be anyone's business but mine?

But: how can anyone support, rally, care, help if they don't know?

Also: sharing brings advice.  Some of it you desperately need and want.  But when you're surprised by illness, dealing with the flood of well-meaning un-asked-for advice can be so overwhelming that you decide to keep your news to yourself.

Also: explaining is hard work.  People want to know particulars, because they care about you.  Or because they're curious, some of them.  And if they give advice and you don't take it, you seem ungrateful and snippy unless you explain and explain what you're going to do instead, and why and how theirs would be great advice except for this.

Clarifying ideas and experiences into words and sentences is hard work when you don't feel well.  So not saying anything can just be easier and more manageable.

But it can make you feel alone.

*     *     *
We headed south on Interstate 5.  An hour later I was in really really awful pain.  I started throwing up.  Thank goodness for the bucket.

Paul stopped at a rest area to dump the bucket.

And at a gas station.

And at a few other places.

I was in serious, serious pain.

We can't go on, we decided.

*     *     *
Illness and emergencies are an opportunity for people to say, afterwards, "You should have just...."

Medical situations bring out stuff you didn't know was there, and I'm not talking about the bile in the depths of your stomach that comes up via your wretched heaving on the gravel parking lot in Sutherlin, where you've pulled off to make a few decisions.

Paul, for instance, is brisk and decisive in 99% of life, but he is completely baffled and desperately uncomfortable and inadequate in medical situations.

Whereas my missed-my-true-calling self shows itself whenever a gash or ache or upset stomach comes across my way.  I'm immediately pulling on the sterile gloves and laying out my instruments and pulling pills and oils from the drawer.

Unless I'm the one who's sick or hurt.

Then some haunting ghost from the distant past takes over and I feel I have no option but to tough it out.

Because deep down is a belief that I will not be believed that it hurts.  And that only wimps ask for help.

That was one of a number of unpleasant things I found out about myself through all this.

*     *     *
So we got a motel in Sutherlin.  I have vague memories of one of us mentioning going to the ER in Roseburg, but somehow I couldn't stand the thought of being poked and asked and moved and x-rayed.

I also don't like making big decisions in an emergency.

So Paul helped me inside and I curled up in that lovely bed and was lost in a delirium of pain for a long time, and then I fell asleep.

Paul called our nurse friend Esta, who said it sounds like gallstones.  Then he went to Safeway and got me some apple juice and roses.

The next morning Paul called our doctor and made an appointment.  We canceled the anniversary trip and began a journey of a different kind.

*     *     *
I've read about and known people who go through chemotherapy or multiple surgeries, and it seems they are familiar with this mysterious System.  They know about scans here and ICU's there, about how to tell which is a good doctor, about insurance, and how to be assertive and demand what you need.

Me? I know about visits to a family doctor for asthma, bronchitis, and kids' broken arms and ear infections.  And giving birth, but that's different.

I've never really had to navigate the System.

*     *     *
Our doctor took me seriously.

"How often have you given birth?" he said.  "How did this compare?'

I said, "Two of my births were easier than this, and I didn't have easy births."

He believed me.

Then he sent us off into the System.  An ultrasound first, in an unfamiliar area of Salem.

I expected discomfort, gowning up, an icy sploosh of gel on my stomach.

Instead: a casually friendly technician who said no, you're fine, just have a seat here. And she had warmed the gel!

Little things make a huge difference in the System.

*     *     *
Two days later, we went to meet with the surgeon.

The word "serious" came up and bobbed around like a helium balloon left over from a party that blows with the air currents in the house.

Not just gallstones, but "serious" gallstones.  And a hint of pancreatitis, which can be very serious.  And an inflamed gallbladder.  Again, serious.

Most people, it seems, have small gallbladder issues for months and years before they become big issues.  This sudden and extreme is unusual.

Surgery is the solution, everyone in the medical system said.

I thought, "Steven is graduating on Saturday.  I HAVE TO BE THERE."  And then I schemed how I could make this work.  Hold off a few days, then graduation Saturday, surgery Monday.

The surgeon said, "You can't have laparascopic surgery with an inflamed gallbladder.  You'll need to wait six weeks and eat a very low-fat diet in the meanwhile."

Six WEEKS?!  Of eating almost no fats, which is just awful awful, and meanwhile the gallbladder could attack again at will, any time it pleases.

I wanted to burst into tears and cry for a long time.

And then the surgeon said he's going on vacation, so it might be more like nine weeks.

*     *     *
Sickness strips away control and capability.

Healthy, it's easy to delude ourselves into a sense of control over our lives.  Daily schedules, routines, duties.  Lists and plans. Do this, delegate that, make things happen.

Think of the almost absurd audacity of scheduling something two months out.  Yes, I can bring a salad to that party, organize that event, speak at that retreat, even fly to your state.

With control of place and time comes control of emotions.  Feeling in charge, giving orders, keeping life like it ought to be, or at least trying.

And then, just that quick, the control is gone.  Sickness brings a mental fog brought on first by the shock of things changed all of a sudden and then by the inevitable brain shutdown from just Not Feeling Well.

So I get up in the morning and try to prioritize what's absolutely the most important, because that's about all I can get done.

And then I do really spacey things like forget to turn stove burners off.

I'm easily overwhelmed at the best of times, but when I'm sick, everything looks monstrously overwhelming--such as the half dozen orders for Dad's new book that are sitting here on the desk.  Such an enormous, impossible task, figuring them out.

Forgive me, you people who ordered a book and haven't received it.

Emotional control also disappears with sickness.  Last night I recalled an odd memory from sixth grade, when I had been out of school for about four days with a bad flu. On the first day back in school we made stained-glass windows out of black construction paper and tissue.  Something went wrong with mine, and I started crying.  Mrs. Olson said, kindly, "Are you sure you're over your sickness?" and I thought it odd.  What did that have to do with crying over a frustrating art project? She said, firmly, "I don't think you're well yet."

Now I'm sure she was right.

I cry too easily at the best of times, but this last week I feel the emotional fragility that comes with sudden loss, physical pain, and big life changes.

It's just hard any way you look at it, to go overnight from sharp, active, busy, healthy, strong and sure of things to dull, slow, sick, weak, and uncertain.

I hate it.  But you know who just GETS it, who knows what to say, how to say it, when to make me laugh and when to commiserate, what advice to give and how to give it?

The people who have been through something like this themselves.

God isn't going to waste this.

*     *     *

So now I'm waiting.

Eating plain potatoes and longing for butter and sour cream. Analyzing every twinge in my side for signs of another attack.  Trying to re-schedule my talks in the next two months because I have no idea if I can be there or not.

I try to think through the what-if's and have a plan, since I still don't like to make big decisions in an emergency.

It's kind of like getting ready for labor, except it's not fun, and there won't be a baby at the end.

But I made it to Steven's graduation on Saturday!  Seventeen strong amazing uniformed young people on the platform, Steven the most handsome and amazing of the bunch, of course, and then he got his diploma and we were just thrilled.

I sat in the auditorium and thought happy thoughts about how far he's come.  I also thought, "Oh dear.  What if I have another gallbladder attack, here and now?"

But!  What better place and time to have an attack? Steven and all his friends would have swarmed around to help and transport me to the hospital.

But now that he's graduated, and I was there, I don't care so much what happens and when.

*     *     *
As per James 5:14--"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord."--Paul and I met with the other church leaders and I was anointed with actual oil and prayed over.

So many times I've been the one praying for healing for someone else.

When you're the one anointed and prayed for, you feel touched and healed by Jesus in your spirit, no matter what the outcome is physically.

*     *     *
"I had no idea about any of this," said my friend Sharon this morning.

"You didn't say a thing on social media," said Amy when we Skyped last night, implying that this was out of character.

"I just didn't have the energy for all the explaining, all the conversation, all the questions," I said.

I will be honest: what I feared most was the barrage of remedies and products.  I've contacted a niece and a couple of friends about non-medical treatments.  My family doctor gave me a few parameters with natural remedies.

If you feel the need to share a suggestion, please let me just listen without explaining whether or not I'll use it, and why.

What I need and appreciate most is words of support.

*     *     *
A low-fat diet is mandatory.

So is humor.

A few days ago I faced the reality of what weeks and weeks of a low-fat diet looks like: punishment.  All my beloved peanut butters and alfredo sauces and bleu cheese dressings and whipped cream, forbidden.

[Just wondering if this might be a clue why I got gallstones in the first place...]

I said, darkly cynical, "Hey, I should call this a fast so I can at least get some spiritual credit for it!"

Ben said, "Mom, I can't believe you'd have the gall to say that."

As long as we keep laughing, we're going to be ok.

I don't think I'll try nutritional yeast again, regardless.

And Paul says we will definitely make it to San Francisco, someday.
Jenny made a paper chain for me to mark off the days until surgery.

Emily made me a pretty, low-fat salad.


  1. Kudos to you, mustering the energy to write another good column, this time about "sisters", when you were feeling weak and vulnerable. The article was great. But I had wondered about the long silence, and assumed you were in the rush of a busy summer. I'm sorry about the pain and the uncertainty and out-of-control sensation.

    And no fat--I would miss butter and coconut oil... I hope you can re-introduce at least some of that after surgery.

    Just this evening my friend Ruby and I were talking about how pain can sap your energy. Praying for healing and grace in the waiting and the healing process. LRM

  2. I love how your children are taking care of you: a paper chain, a salad, a perfectly timed joke. (Oh, I laughed and laughed.)

    I'm sorry, Dorcas. I wish you God's grace and a restful spirit (and gut) in the coming weeks.

    How many more weeks do you have to wait? (The waiting, I think, would wear me down, especially doing it without peanut butter.)

  3. I've copied and pasted your words for future reference, they are the best! Thank you very much.

    "I will be honest: what I feared most was the barrage of remedies and products. I've contacted a niece and a couple of friends about non-medical treatments. My family doctor gave me a few parameters with natural remedies.

    If you feel the need to share a suggestion, please let me just listen without explaining whether or not I'll use it, and why.

    What I need and appreciate most is words of support."

  4. ^ by the way, have you tried a rhubarb colonic? They're awesome for gallstones.

  5. Your children are awesome!! I hope the low fat weeks fly by:)

  6. I feel your pain. I dealt with horrific gall bladder attacks from the time I was nine until some where in my early teens. I learned raw peppers were the worst for bringing on an attack and after avoiding them I thought I outgrew having attacks .... until after our third child was born and they came back with a vengeance. It finally got so bad even a sip of water wouldn't stay down. Off to the ER where I was hurried by ambulance to a bigger hospital. My gall bladder had burst!

    Prayers for you to not have another attack, and that surgery goes well.

  7. Prayers. That waiting for your body to rebel on you is just no fun. Hopefully the surgeon comes back from his vacation and declares your gall bladder un-inflamed and takes the crazy thing out. As in the words of my son "we ain't got time for this".

  8. Oh, the worst pain ever! I thought I was dying and told my husband to tell the kids good bye. My one word of advice is to skip the anti-nausea patch they put on me before I went into surgery. Some people are addicted to that patch after the first one. Yes, me. I ended up using that patch and trying desperately to take it off for months. I ended up having to do a full blown drug withdrawal way worse than anything I had ever seen in a movie which was way worse than the gallbladder thing. The maker of the patch knows about the problem and the brain damage that happens to addicts, too but they continue to make the thing. If I can save one other person from going through what I did I will do it!

  9. So sorry!! As the days limp by, hopefully you can see a point to all this. Being in pain is very hard! But having a baby is 9 months and so 9 weeks is at least lots shorter....Will pray that you have no more attacks. Thinking about them and dreading them is almost as bad as having one, or at least that's how I am. Take care and thanks for letting us know. Have you tried....? Just kidding, it was carrot sticks!!

  10. A quick search of my favorite essential oils source yielded this. Both for inflamation and gall stones.

  11. Oh, Dorcas, I am so sorry.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your heart on the topic of sickness. I'm sure I have been guilty of not being considerate in my comments to an ill person.

    So hoping that the weeks will go quickly and you'll soon be able to eat peanut butter in San Francisco.


  12. Verna Stoltzfus8/22/2016 9:40 AM

    When I was having gall bladder pain, I finally understood why my daughter with food allergies doesn't enjoy eating. Not fun, when you are afraid food that should nourish you might betray you.

  13. Dorcas, I loved that your husband took such good, thoughtful care of you through the pain of your ordeal, and that he cheered you with roses and apple juice. I smiled at Ben's subtle humor using the word "gall" that undoubtedly made you laugh just a little. I'm glad that you made it to Steven's graduation and that Emily fixed you a pretty salad set on a pretty tablecloth. And how wonderfully providential it was that the sudden timing of these attacks did not ruin the wonderful reunion and beach trip you had with your sister Rebecca! (. . . at least not to my knowledge) But, oh, my! Surprised by pain worse than child birth--twice! I'm so sorry that you have had to go through this, and will be praying that there will not be
    another such attack. Your comment was wise and discerning that in due time God will give
    you opportunities to show empathy and encouragement as you are able to comfort others in great distress.

  14. Get well soon! I feel your pain! Been there too. In my case God held off further attacks till I could get surgery. If I had known at the beginning how long I would have to wait I don't know how I could have handled it. It ended up being a 3 year wait!

  15. So sorry you are feeling bad physically! It's very hard to keep running a home when you aren't feeling well! I battle a chronic illness, and as I began reading this I thought, "oh boy, the comment section will be full of remedies!" I had to laugh(although compassionately and ruefully) when I read the reason you haven't told us sooner. I don't think people realize how exhausting illness is, and that sometimes a whisper of compassion does more than all the remedies in the world, well meant though they may be!

  16. I read all your posts although I very rarely comment. Thank you so much for the wisdom and humour you share here.

    I've witnessed and experienced the kind of sudden change in health that you are writing about, and your passage here on emotional fragility resonates deeply. There is a seismic shift in our lives when these things happen, and the memory of them becomes a permanent part of our outlook. But, as you say, the good that can come from it is the deeper understanding we gain of how others feel when it happens to them, and of what we might do to make them feel better, or at least not so alone. I wish you freedom from more attacks while you wait for surgery, and successful surgery when it comes.

    Congratulations to Steven! Graduation is an important event, in my opinion - it is so good to formally recognize the work that has been put in and the start of a new chapter!

  17. Hi, I am Marian Zimmerman well I'm 57 and after eating THM I've got Kidney stones, study says a high protein diet causes them, When pain comes I take vinegar drinks n lots of water so far praise God I have not had another severe attack, so painful!
    enjoy your blog

  18. My mom follows your blog and when she read this she called me and said, "You HAVE to
    read it!" I just had surgery a week ago to remove my gallbladder.....I read this
    article and had to smile and sigh for you! I understand.
    I also 'do' THM and ate a lot of oatmeal and rice and beans etc.
    And I know what you mean about unwanted advice!! But......there are some things that
    did help make it bearable in the weeks till surgery.
    I took lecithin caps. A lot of them and I also drank ACV. (And now I can't bear the
    thought of drinking it again!) I also got something called Gallbladder Plus from Whenever I felt the pain coming on I would take a
    good chug of ACV and gallbladder plus. I was able to survive till surgery, and I'm feeling SO much better now. When I fry eggs with nut. yeast in the mornings, I think
    of you and pray that God gives you lots of grace to be sweet, even when you feel so
    sick! I hope and pray that your surgery can come soon! God bless you!

  19. My mom had her gall bladder taken out, finally after when she would allow her self to suffer to long with gall attacks.. she said having the surgery was the best thing ever, she is only sorry she didnt deal with it sooner, because it left more damage than had she not went in when they first started giving her issues.

    I love how you have turned this to GOD and are seeking him for strength...

  20. Thank you for all the healing words, people.
    Stephanie Leinbach--I see the surgeon on Monday and then I find out how long til surgery. I'm hoping he says no inflammation and it can happen soon. And yes, I'm being taken care of very well.
    Anonymous--a rhubarb colonic!! Why didn't I think of this?!
    Lana, I put that in my notes!
    Regina, So sorry about the chronic illness. I'm sure you could give us all lessons in what to say and what NOT to say.

  21. Love your blog!
    I am sorry for your pain and hope the weeks go fast! If you have to wait that long you might want to research Dr. Schulze' liver/gallbladder cleanse....
    Thank you for sharing Steven's graduation. Our son is also a career firefighter/EMT so it is always a pleasure to 'meet' other fine, young men in the service. Blessings to him and you.
    Natalia Showalter

  22. I love your honesty and that pretty salad at the end. Blessings to you as you navigate the choices and feelings. Your Stephen is very handsome, I agree, and I'm so glad you got to be there for him.

  23. Not suggesting a home remedy, but another opinion on gallstones? (By a bonafide doctor)