On Gallbladder Attacks and Life

Recently one of my sons had gallbladder surgery. It was performed in a modern outpatient operating room and he was released to go home a couple of hours later. The procedure was performed through “punctures” using endoscopes rather than through a long abdominal incision by scalpel. They call it “minimally invasive surgery.”  

Those of us living today are fortunate. It wasn’t always this way.

I remember one of my mother’s gallbladder attacks in our home in Estevan, Saskatchewan. I was approximately twelve and deeply shocked by her misery.  

Mother had experienced several lesser attacks. As you might know, back in the 1930s people were slower to seek medical help even for serious complaints. They often tried home remedies first, or followed a neighbor’s recommendations. And they did a lot of “enduring.”

It was in our house that the big one struck. Mother walked back and forth between the dining and living rooms, groaning. When she came to the dining room table she bent over it seeking deliverance from the terrible colicky pain.  

I took off through the front door and ran along Fourth Street the length of a city block to Twelfth Avenue. Traveling north, I hastily passed a few buildings to one where the doctor’s apartment was located. I went through the street entrance and climbed the stairs briskly, propelled by my desperation.  

I was looking for Dr. Creighton. I think he was the town doctor and in his senior years by then.

A woman answered the door of the second-floor apartment. I poured out my concern breathlessly and she responded, “I’ll tell the doctor.” I returned home thinking help was on its way, for surely the doctor felt the terror as I did.

The doctor never came, but Mother was beginning to get relief from the pain. I can’t recall whether I told her and Dad where I had been or what I had done. I really thought she was going to die.

She seemed to recover from that attack and some months later decided she would ride a bus the 300 miles from Estevan to Prince Albert to visit my sister Doris, her husband, Al, and baby Myriam.

This trip included both paved and gravelled parts of the road. As well, her bus would have been much less grand than a present-day Greyhound bus.

Unfortunately, during my mother’s visit in Prince Albert, she had another massive attack that landed her in the hospital there. She had to remain in the hospital until the inflammation subsided, the surgery was done, and recovery verified for perhaps a week or so before she could be dismissed.

During her absence my father was forlorn. My parents never exchanged endearments to each other publicly but their commitment to their marriage was strong and showed in such situations.

Dad wrote mother letters during her absence. There were no emails or Face Times. Even phone calls were rare. I believe Dad’s frequent letters were quite mellow.

He shared a portion of one of his letters with us in which he told mother that if she would get on the bus and come home he would give her “two-thirds of his kingdom.” It was Lancashire humor exchanged between two English immigrants. He was lonely for her.

When mother arrived back in Estevan she looked thinner and a bit pale from the experience she had endured. And it took her some weeks to recover fully. But the family was reunited and life resumed.  

Reviewing the memory prods me to renewed thankfulness for medical care, both then and now. And prods me even more to remember that life’s interruptions can come with stealth so we should love each other person-to-person while we can.

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Photo credit: (Markus Grossalber via flickr.com)

One thought on “On Gallbladder Attacks and Life

  1. Being a professional in health care, I really appreciated this post. Even though I was not alive in the 30’s, I have read about that time when many people had not the finances for health care or they were stoics and as you said, did not seek any care until the point of death. I can also understand how you would be frantic about the health of your Mother, that she would survive the episode you witnessed.
    When my older grandson, he is five now, was ill a few times (once, with pneumonia at the age of 1) I was very concerned and did not sleep well waiting for news of his condition.
    As you said, we need to cherish our families.

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