A bile story from a hospital bed

The surgeon calls it an antiquated organ. My gallbladder needs to come out and he’s explaining why I don’t need it anyway. If I lived in the Stone Age, he says, eating the spoils of a successful hunt in one large meal, well yes, I would be in trouble without a gallbladder. He continues with a similar comparison being a polar bear. I get it: don’t eat like a caveman or polar bear if you are gallbladder-less. 

Us modern-day creatures can easily adjust to several smaller meals a day and control fat intake so our digestive system isn’t dependent on a bile reservoir. Which is what the gallbladder is: a reservoir. It doesn’t make bile (or gall), that yellowy-greenish fluid that aids digestion. It just stores it. The liver is the bile producer. As long as we give the liver a chance to make enough bile to send directly into the small intestine, we don’t need a gallbladder. 

I didn’t know all that when I was admitted to hospital a week earlier. When I was told my gallbladder had to be removed I reacted like Gollum, wanting to protect my ‘precious’. You want to take one of my organs?? I was in hospital with a severe infection caused by gallstones blocking the bile duct. It started about a week prior to that, with sudden pains in my upper right abdomen. To go and see a doctor was complicated. For one, we were in a remote area; not our home country; and then there was the pandemic. So I suffered through the attacks (which at the time I thought was gastritis), pressing a hot pack against my ribs until the pain subsided. It wasn’t until my urine turned an alarming dark orange that I realized something was wrong. That and the fact that the latest attack had me writhing in agony.

When you feel like you’re on Death’s doorstep and you wake up in a geriatric ward.

The first night went by in a blur. They wheeled me from my emergency room gurney to a bed on another floor in the middle of the night. I didn’t notice much about my surroundings, other than the guy in the bed next to me protesting loudly against my arrival in his room. 

Knocked out on morphine, I slept deep, sweaty sleeps. After the second night I am ready to explore, see where exactly I landed. Tottering up and down the corridor with my IV hookup in tow, I register that my fellow floor patients are all frail and elderly. Many seem disoriented, or mentally challenged (including my roommate), and all are in need of around-the-clock care. The whole scene unnerves me. Where the heck am I?! 

I learn later that a large part of the hospital is allocated to the mental ward. Aha.

The nursing staff is terrific, the way they care for their patients. What I see and learn those six hospital days confirms what we always hear and, really, already know: nursing is a calling. Nurses are veritable octopuses, multitaskers. They keep up spirits, comfort where needed, and always know who needs what and when.

My roomy Robert calls out for a few things with great regularity. The first one is easy: pee-pee. Then there is “do-do” (pronounced as dough dough) which I initially thought was… well, the other thing. Whenever he called out “do-do” I dug under my blanket, covered my nose and ears mouthing a “why me?”. Until I realized I was hiding under the blanket at the wrong word. The word to pay attention to, one that was without fail followed by moans and groans on a poop chair behind the curtain right next to my bed, that word was kaka

Do do, it turns out, is actually rather sweet. The penny dropped when he added a verb: “Fais do-do, fais do-do”. Wait a minute. Fais Do Do? I think of the very lively, danceable folk music in Louisiana, a veritable dance party of fiddle music and washboard rhythm. It is rumored to originate from a tradition to lull babies to sleep (while in a park or venue listening to live music). What do you know, here in Quebec, it is baby-talk for go to sleep.

I’ll take it, that little ‘connection’ with New Orleans. It’s 20 years to the date, after all, that I was in a hospital in New Orleans lulling my newborn to sleep. 

Thanks for reading! Francine