Gallbladder, Ultrasound, MRI, Tumor, and Other Scary Words

In addition to carrying on my normal duties at work, at home, and as a blogger, I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices trying to figure out what’s going on inside me.  If you’re interested, here’s the play-by-play.

Photo by SeeBeeW

December 27 was a cold day for many Arkansans, and a lot of you had no electricity.  The roads were slick, but I dutifully made it into the clinic to weigh in.  It was a Thursday, and the clinic was closing early because of the weather.  This made the second week in a row that I had lost over 4 pounds, and this raised some flags.  My metabolism was telling us that it was time to transition from 60% meal replacements to 100% conventional food.  That afternoon, I went to the grocery store, stocked up on the necessary items, and came home to prepare my meals.

December 28 was my first day on all “real food.”  We calculated that 2300 calories would allow me to lose between 1/2 and 2 pounds per week at my level of exercise.  In retrospect, we aimed too high.  I wrote a series of posts detailing my meals that day including breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack.  What I didn’t write about was the terrible case of indigestion I suffered that night.

Cutting short my typical Friday visit to a local venue that features karaoke, I came home before 11:00 PM because I could tell that “something was up” in my digestive tract.  Against my better judgement, I ate my evening snack of yogurt, berries, and granola “because it was on the plan.”  Within 30 minutes, I was throwing up yogurt, berries, and granola.  After a quick shower, I tried to sleep it off.  By then, the pain, which I attributed to gas, had grown such that I wasn’t comfortable lying on my back, my front, or my sides.  I sat up in bed, rocking.  The pain didn’t go away, but it wasn’t exacerbated in this position.  At some point, curled up in the fetal position, I fell asleep.

December 29 found me sleeping in.  Waking, I was glad to find that the pain had gone.  I don’t recall exactly what I did that day, but I’m sure it involved blogging and tons of laundry.  On my visit to the gym, I noticed that there was a bit of soreness in my gut, but nothing that I would call “pain.”

The next day, Sunday afternoon, I wrote an email to my dietitian with the subject, “I’m Gaining; Check my math.”  We exchanged several messages, one of which mentioned that I’d had some intestinal pains Friday evening.  Her response included this line:

If you have any other GI issues, please be sure to let me know. And if you think it’s your gallbladder, please call your PCP or go to the emergency room.

Now, gallbladder issues never came to mind Friday night.  I do recall the endocrinologist telling me when I first started the program, “Here’s where your gallbladder is.  If you eat fatty foods, it’s possible that you’ll have a gallbladder attack.  If you get sharp pain in this region, go immediately to your doctor or the emergency room.  It will be really painful.”  Well, that explains it.

Over the next few days, I researched gallbladder attacks, gall stones, and other issues.  Realizing that a gallstone in the wrong place could cause an infection or a rupture, I decided to be safe and make an appointment with my doctor.  At that appointment, he palpated me, sent me for some labs, and recommended I schedule an ultrasound to see whether I had gallstones.

It was Tuesday, January 8th, that I went in for the ultrasound.  The technician did an abdominal scan which included several organs, including my liver.  When she got to my liver, I saw her mark several regions, presumably to label and calculate the dimensions of the blobs that were displayed on the screen.  I asked, “What’s that?”  She said, in an artificially calm tone, “That’s part of your liver.”

I cleaned off the goop, walked to my car, had some breakfast, and left the imaging center to head to work.  Less than 15 minutes after leaving the imaging center, I received a phone call from my doctor’s office.  They put me through to my doctor, who explained that the ultrasound picked up some abnormalities in my liver.  “It very well could just be cysts, but we need to do an MRI to find out for sure.”  The gallbladder, he said, didn’t have stones, but they saw “sludge.”

That morning, I felt invincible.  “I’m sure it’s nothing.”  That afternoon, I started feeling somewhat pekid and blue.  After my customary trip to the gym, I came home, washed my dishes, packed my meals, cycled the clothes in my gym bag, and sat down to write this post.  It could be the gallbladder sludge that contributed to my mood.  According to eHow, “Not all cases of gallbladder sludge are accompanied by symptoms, but a general feeling of malaise may be a sign of gallbladder sludge. When symptoms do occur, they include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.”  But who believes what they read on the Internet?  I was also speculating that my mood could be due to my reduced caloric intake.  I’m now on 1800-1900 calories per day.  It could also be the uncertainty.

For what it’s worth, my Internet research indicates that home remedies for gallbladder sludge include always eating breakfast and eating small, frequent meals to keep the juices flowing.  Sounds like my current plan!

Photo by digital cat

Thursday, January 10th took forever to arrive.  So what’s an MRI like?  I’ve heard so many horror stories about people having panic attacks in these machines.  The closest I came to panic was when I was told the cost:  $750 without insurance, $150 with mine.  The technician led me to a changing room where I was instructed to leave any metal items in a locker.  They handed me a key (made of metal), and told me to bring that with me.  Having spoken on the phone with the imaging center the day before, I knew to wear shorts to facilitate the process, and not to eat within 4 hours of the scan.

In the room, I was asked to lie on the plank-like bit with my legs facing into the machine.  Because they were going to inject dye half-way through the scan, an IV was inserted.  Some gear was strapped to my abdomen, I was handed a bulb to squeeze in case of panic, they fitted me with headphones, and in I went.

While some folks have experienced claustrophobia, I just closed my eyes and felt calm.  These machines are loud.  There are pumps clunking and slurping to keep the refrigerant flowing to the machine’s magnetic parts.  When the scan happens, it sounds a lot like an old flat-bed scanner, growling in various tones.  It’s necessary to take in a breath and hold it so the machine can get good results.  I almost felt like my time at the gym counting my breaths during cardio was paying off.

After the first scan, they injected dye into my bloodstream.  I was told that I might smell or taste the dye, but I didn’t.  After the second scan, they backed me out of the tube, unstrapped me, took out my IV, and showed me to my locker.  Once the technician gave me directions to the door, she was about to walk away.  I asked, “How long will it be before I know something?”

Whereas my ultrasound results came almost before leaving the parking lot, the technician told me that MRI results are usually delivered to the doctor within 24 to 48 hours.  That put me squarely into Saturday, so I didn’t expect to hear anything until at least Monday afternoon at at the earliest.

I’m not sure why I imagined that going in for the MRI would set me at ease immediately.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would have more waiting, more time to let my mind conjure images of what could be the matter with my liver.  In the best of all possible worlds, it’s just a cyst.

My dietitian encouraged me to stay in my routines.  I’ve been working, going to the gym, visiting the weight-loss clinic, researching new recipes, cooking, portioning, cleaning, and socializing as usual.  I made a meat loaf and posted about it.  I’ve also started reading fiction, something that is handy to do while killing time in waiting rooms.  I’m reading an interesting little murder mystery called Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.  Fitting, as I awaited my doctor’s reply.

This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.

This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.

Monday afternoon, January 14th, I received a call from my doctor’s office.  “Can you come in?  The doctor would like to discuss the outcome of your MRI.”

I was concerned.  They usually don’t give you the bad news over the phone.

“I am an hour away.  I can leave right now if he will still be there.”

“Please hold.  I’ll check.”

I was packing my things when I heard my doctor’s voice on the phone.  The liver problem turned out to be a hemangioma.  That was the good news.  The not-so-good-news is that my gallbladder continues to worry him, and he is recommending that I see a surgeon.  “It’s abnormal.  I’d like you to see a specialist who can better advise you of your options.”

A liver is essential.  A gallbladder is optional equipment.  I’m very glad to know that I’m in a good spot right now.  I’m waiting to find out when my appointment with the specialist is.

I’ll keep you posted.

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7 thoughts on “Gallbladder, Ultrasound, MRI, Tumor, and Other Scary Words

  1. Please do keep us posted. I had to have my Gallbladder out last year, I know how much pain you are in when you have an attack. Hopefully you won’t have another attack; keep track of what foods make you feel worse, there are a lot of foods that can irritate your gallbladder. Hope it all goes ok x

  2. pythonkatie says:

    Glad that the liver cyst was nothing serious!!! Will definitely keep you in my prayers! I had my gallbladder removed 7 years ago. No surgery is fun but it was relatively easy and over quick enough.

  3. Elena E. Lovelace says:

    I Had My Gallbladder Removed In 2004. I Had Lap Surgery. My Mother Had Stones In The Bile Duct And Had A Large Vertical Incision Which Hurt A Lot While Healing. I Will Pray You Can Have Lap Surgery.

  4. Your gallbladder is not essential. I had mine removed after the last day of classes before Christmas break one year – from one teacher to another, you can appreciate that a break in classes is usually well-deserved, so adding recovery from surgery to it was not appreciated! You know how to get hold of me if I can help with things gall-bladder related, and yes, small, low-fat meals are the key to keeping happy insides once it’s gone. I’m very thankful that your liver is healthy.

  5. Claibanne says:

    It will be okay! If you do end up having surgery or procedure, don’t let it get you down – physically, or mentally! Take care of yourself as you recover. I totally got off the wagon after 3 procedures last summer. Both physically AND mentally. They scared me so bad it was all I could do to survive. But I know you-you’ll do great! Keep us up to date!!!

  6. […] Gallbladder, Ultrasound, MRI, Tumor, and Other Scary Words ( […]

  7. […] gallbladder when I made the transition to all conventional food.  I wrote about the entire saga on this epic post.  My doctor encouraged me (that is, nagged me) to have it out.  After weighing the costs and the […]

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