Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
Save me, and I shall be saved,
For You are my praise. Jeremiah 17:14 (NKJV)
I was lying on the narrow table in the Nuclear Science department at the Bozeman Hospital. Of all the tests I’d had in the past half year, this one took the longest. The kind technician explained it was a little boring, waiting for my gallbladder to appear on the screen and I could take a nap if I wanted. Whatever chemical he had injected was slowly making its way to my gallbladder so it would become visible. I wasn’t surprised when after 90 minutes it still hadn’t appeared. This organ had been eluding doctors for months, why would it come forward now? Perhaps I didn’t even have one! But finally, after sending me for two walks and letting me chew sugar-free gum, my shy gallbladder showed up enough to allow him to complete the test.
While lying there, I prayed my favorite verse from this ordeal, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed, save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14) And I contemplated all that had brought me to this point. It began over a year before with daily nausea. When I had a root canal in January 2016, I thought the nausea would quit, but it continued. Then in March when I was running, I had a mysterious pain below my right rib cage. I kept running and doing all my usual mom activities. I even became a grandma in April and had a wonderful visit with my new granddaughter in May. For almost a week, I was “super-grandma,” running, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and holding our sweet baby so her mommy could take a shower. Then I came home.
Reality hit when I walked in the door in early June and promptly threw up. A week later I was having tea with friends and had to rush to the restroom where I was sick again. Soon I found that if I had food in my stomach, I could keep the nausea at bay. A handful of nuts every hour or two seemed to do the trick.
My first thought was I must be pregnant, which seemed like a jolly blessing for a new grandma turning 50. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The doctors did an ultrasound of all my organs and said they were fine. My daughter was having emergency gallbladder surgery, so they looked closely at my gallbladder. The technician pressed the wand into my right side so hard I cried out in pain. She asked surprised, “Does this hurt?”
I replied, “Yes, doesn’t that hurt for everyone?” Then she continued pressing for another 15 minutes, only to have the tests come back normal. But the pain in my right side persisted. For those who have experienced pregnancy, it felt like a little foot pushing on my rib cage. Sometimes if felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my side from mopping. Always, it hurt.
Over the next several months, I had blood tests, ultrasounds, GI exams, CT scan, X-rays, and a bone scan. Every test came back negative. With each doctor appointment, I prayed, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed.” I dutifully went for the next test they recommended. Each time it came back negative. The doctors began to get tired of me. I began to wonder if I was crazy. But at night when I was lying in my bed, with a great pain in my right side, I knew I wasn’t crazy.
My symptoms continued. Besides the nausea and pain in my right side, I had a tight chest and shortness of breath. I could run four miles, but lifting my arms to brush my hair or walking from the kitchen to the laundry room would leave me breathless. In July, I quit running as I didn’t have much energy for it anymore. In September, I quit most of my work.
The foods I could eat were also diminishing. Way back in 2010 I had started eating gluten-free and felt better for awhile. In 2013 I went dairy-free and again felt better for awhile. But this year I couldn’t digest other foods. A slice of gluten-free bread or a bowl of gluten-free oats would hurt for a day. But the GI tests showed everything was normal. By the end of my illness, I was eating banana/kale smoothies for breakfast, jello salad and celery, and highly refined gluten-free foods, such as pretzels. My beverages consisted of ginger tea and coke, both helped with the nausea and the caffeine eased the pain. I still had my handfuls of nuts to avoid nausea and give me energy, but had to give those up due to pain, too.
In October, doctors finally decided my chest and rib pains were from costochondritis, an inflammation under the rib cage. I started taking large doses of ibuprofen to reduce swelling. Four days later I was in the emergency room with a terrible pain that started above my left shoulder blade, extended down the top of my left arm and around to my chest. They did all the usual heart tests which were negative, gave me a toradol shot which did nothing and sent me home. The next day they put my on prednisone, thinking it might be polymyalgia and referred me to a rheumatologist.
It’s interesting how the various doctors each picked their favorite symptom and went with that in my diagnosis and care. The general practitioner was interested in my heart. The OB-Gyn doctor thought it was changing hormones. The GI doctor felt my pain was from irritable bowel syndrome after a round of Prilosec didn’t help. The rheumatologist first suspected bone disease. Even though they all knew my pain was located right at the gallbladder. If only one of them had said, “Even though your ultrasound didn’t show anything, let’s explore this area more…”
Of all the health care professionals I had, the wisest were the non-standard ones. One day in October I went with my husband to his chiropractor to ask if it was possible I’d had a rib out all this time. He checked me over and said no, I did not. He was very concerned about the pain under might right rib and encouraged me to keep my appointment with a rheumatologist. He said since I was taking prednisone, I shouldn’t have any pain if it was from inflammation. He didn’t do any adjusting and didn’t even charge me for his consultation.
The rheumatologist referred me to a physical therapist when the bone scan came back negative. He thought some core strengthening would help me. The physical therapist did an excellent job of checking me and pinpointing where my pain was coming from in the center of my back. Then he pulled out a text book to show me a diagram of referred pain from organs. The gallbladder defers pain right to the center of the back!
One day our neighbors stopped by to check on me and suggested I get a HIDA scan for my gallbladder. Right away I emailed my GI doctor and requested the scan. I remembered the rheumatologist had mentioned that as a possibility, too. So, here I was finally having the HIDA scan, 5 months after my first doctor visit. That very night I heard from the GI doctor. It was my gallbladder! It was only functioning at 8%. A surgeon would be contacting me.
The day I found out I needed my gallbladder out I was so happy. After months of no answers, I finally had the correct diagnosis! I went to bed so thankful, only to wake up a few hours later in dire pain, realizing my gallbladder wasn’t out yet!
The surgeon was all booked up until mid-December 2016, but there was a cancellation, so I got in earlier. He was sure that I would feel better after surgery, but he wouldn’t be able to do it until December 12. With almost three weeks to wait, I didn’t know if I’d make it. Friends must have been praying, because I didn’t feel too bad the first week of waiting, but the last week was awful. The back and arm pain I had in October returned full strength. It was excruciating, but I didn’t want to go to the ER where they couldn’t help. The only thing that would help was to take out my gallbladder.
December 12, 2016, I headed to surgery, again praying Jeremiah 17:14, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.” I also claimed God’s promise in Psalm 118:17, “I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
Surgery went beautifully, according to the surgeon. As soon as I awoke from the anesthesia, I noticed the phantom pains in my back and left arm were gone! Oh, what joy! However, my right side still hurt because I had four incisions in my abdomen. As the wounds healed, my pain subsided. The first week after surgery was the worst, as my body tried to expel the CO2 used to inflate me during surgery. But after a week, I felt like a human again, and after six weeks I was able to go for daily walks again. I am disappointed to note that my nausea and chest pains are lingering, and I had a few complications. I’m also having trouble figuring out what foods to eat, so I don’t get a stomach ache. My mother-in-law mentioned that some of her pains stayed for up to six months after surgery. So, I’m prayerful that soon they will all disappear, and Jesus will heal me completely.
The prayers of so many people carried me through this ordeal. I want to encourage you as a prayer friend, that your prayers really do matter! The first prayer was when I called Samaritan Ministries, our health sharing organization, to report a need. The fellow who took my information recognized my distress and called on Jesus for healing. In August 2016, a visiting pastor came to our church and offered to pray for people after the service. My husband took me up and the pastor, not knowing my ailment, prayed for my complete healing. Finally, there were the prayers of all the Samaritan Ministry friends who sent checks to help pay the doctor bills. I especially liked the comment written by one, “My husband and I stand in agreement for your complete healing.” And that is the promise I claim to this day.
Signs you should have your gallbladder checked:
- You eat Tums like they are candy.
- You have daily nausea.
- You are turning yellow.
- There are certain foods you avoid that you used to enjoy.
- Your digestion changes so that you are either highly constipated or running to the bathroom too often.
- You have a sharp or constant pain under your right rib cage.
- You have tightness in your chest and shortness of breath.
- You have back pain that may extend down your arm.
- Your pains are not improved with heating pads, pain killers, steroids, or shots.
- Your pain keeps you awake at night.
- You are fatigued and need extra caffeine to get going each day.
- You have multiple, unexplained symptoms.
- You just feel bad and the doctors can’t figure out why.
Be prayerful and persistent. If you’re not happy with your doctor, ask friends to recommend another doctor. Be sure to ask for the HIDA scan if the ultrasound is inconclusive. If you’d like to learn more about Samaritan Ministries for help with doctor bills, please check out this website. It’s a really neat organization. Each month they send our family a name. We pray for that person and send them a card and a check to help with their doctor bills. This time it was our time to be on the receiving end. It really works as Samaritan Ministries helped us with over $30,000 in doctor bills. Praise, Jesus!
P.S. I just want to say also, God bless the nurses! You do a wonderful job taking care of us when we are in so much pain. God bless Sarah, Bunny, and Ali!!!