It began on Sunday 9 April. A bad stomach-ache which I thought had been caused by too many spring onions for my lunchtime salad. It got worse and worse over the next two days and I was sitting doubled up most of the time, holding my stomach and groaning. I kept thinking - somewhat stupidly I now realise - that it might pass at any moment. Eating made the pain worse and it was better to avoid food altogether.
Tuesday I decided enough was enough and I made a doctor's appointment for 4.00pm. I arrived in his surgery, burst into tears and got prodded in the stomach in various places which resulted in (and I can't quite believe it came from me) screams of pain. Our lovely doctor made a phone call and I was then told that a clinic in a nearby big town was expecting me and to go now.
By 7.00pm I had been x-rayed in every different position, had had full blood tests and was a third person in a two- bedded room. By 8.00pm I had been for an examination in the operating block (the camera down the stomach one) and was told that I had several stones filling the gall bladder, overflowing into the bile duct and that a stray one had attached itself to my liver. I also had a peptic ulcer and a touch of jaundice. At that moment all I really cared about was the fact that they had given me a huge dose of pain killer and I could rest a bit.
The next day I moved to a single occupancy room which I knew we would have to pay extra for, but one of the two ladies I was sharing with took exception to the fact that a foreigner was taking up a bed in a French hospital. My understanding of French is quite good and I knew what she was saying but felt too weak to retaliate. Sometimes you just need to be quiet.
By now it was 12 April and I was yellow. I was unable to eat solid food and for the first four days my sole intake was via a drip. It was decided that gall bladder removal would take place but the method of removal would depend on whether the stone in the liver could be dissolved using an endoscope (ERCP). At least I was in my own room, my partner's mother had given me a mini-DVD player and I was able to pass the time watching films and listening to music. There was also French television but we won't really give that more than a passing mention. I was also lucky in that many virtual and real friends sent me gifts, letters and cards and my partner was always bringing me lovely little suprises to keep up my spirits .
After the first few days I was given the disappointing news that the stone in the liver had not been dissolved and that I would have to have old-fashioned surgery, as opposed to the keyhole procedure (an Open Cholecystectomy instead of a Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy). This is a longer recovery period, as a deep and long incision is made across the abdomen. My surgery was scheduled for 20 April and I was now off the drip - I have small veins and I had a lot of problems with intravenous feeding. My daily diet was a bowl (the French drink morning drinks in bowls) of black coffee for breakfast, a small bowl of bouillon and a natural yoghurt for lunch and the same again for dinner.
I've always wondered what it would be like to lose your appetite and at last I found out. Even though I was eating very very little it didn't bother me. One day I was given an apple as an experiment and, even though I peeled it and chewed each mouthful many times, it still resulted in the terrible pain I'd been in prior to my hospital admission. It was easier just not to eat.
The day before the operation two nurses came to shave me. I'm still unsure as to why this was done. They told me the surgeon preferred it but whether or not it was due to aesthetic reasons I still don't know. Whilst shaving me a nurse asked if I ate shellfish. I thought they were trying to distract me but it turned out that following the shave I had to have a shower using a product that if one was allergic to shellfish, one would also be allergic to this product. This shellfish wash is some sort of anti-bacterial agent. It was just good to be under a shower, never mind the brown gunge I had to use.
Operation day arrived and I had been told that I would be the first one in theatre at 8.00am. But it was not to be and I spent a very twitchy morning looking constantly at my watch. I eventually got taken there at 11.15 and have a lot of hazy memories about the rest of the day. I spoke the best French of my life in the recovery room - must be something to do with a bit of relevant brain relaxing. I was a bit detached - marvelling at my ability even whilst chattering away. I remember being attached to a morphine machine and being wheeled back to my room, where I saw the lovely face of my man awaiting my return.
I had a night of very low blood pressure and constant interruptions by nurses. I was wired up to many machines and got a bit scared now and then. But I would just press my morphine button and life would be okay again, if a bit trippy.
The next day I felt terrible. The pain from the wound was dreadful and they gave me strong painkillers together with the morphine. Then two idiot nurses who were giving me a bed bath turned me on to my wound in order to wash my back. That was a very very bad moment but my screaming soon saw them realise their error.
The surgeon came and told us it had been a success and that I must now rest and recover. It would be a slow process because the incision had been deep. He handed me a phial containing the stones that had been removed. My partner counted them and it turned out that I'd had 36 stones inside me. The wound was closed with 25 staples (the sort from a staple gun) and I had a wee wee bag to the left of me and a bile bag to the right of me. I was attached to a drip and it was impossible to move without calling for assistance. I felt helpless and miserable. I had my first solid meal at lunchtime - pasta with a salmon fillet and at least my stomach was full. Twelve hours later I was in agony. The salmon had wedged itself halfway down inside me and I was unable to digest it. I tried to make myself sick but I've never been able to do it. I was given all sorts of medicine by the two night nurses but it was a very bad night. It transpired that I should have been given a pill to help me digest my first food and that it had been forgotten. I didn't sleep at all that night and it will be a long time before I am able to eat salmon again - for psychological rather than physical reasons.
Over the next few days I grew a bit stronger and just when I thought nothing else could happen I got the heaviest period of my life. I wasn't even aware of it, a nurse noticed and then proceeded to clean me as I was unable to bend to do it myself. That was also a very low moment.
I was discharged a week after the operation, with my 25 staples and a drain in the stomach. The staples came out last week and were relatively painless when being extracted. The drain is very uncomfortable and stops me bending. It is like a long tube coiled round and round with one end inserted into the stomach and the other plugged up. A nurse has been coming every evening to jab an anti-coagulant into my poor bruised thighs and to change my dressing. The drain will be removed by the surgeon on 24 May and I'm marking the days off like a prisoner would. I've also lost count of the number of blood tests I've had. This is mainly to check that my liver is returning to normal.
One unfortunate effect of gall bladder removal is that excess bile collects in the stomach and has a laxative effect, until the body adjusts - which can take up to two months. It is not very easy at the moment. Even though I am on a fat free diet I cannot move very far from a loo and on my rare trips to the outside world I am worried constantly I will get that sudden desperate urge to find a loo. There is some medicine I can take to help this problem but it is too soon. I need to be in a stronger state.
One thing that has upset me is that we were due to have gone on a holiday to Nice last week and that now has been postponed to the autumn. A friend was also due to visit in a couple of week's time, but that has also been postponed because I'm just too tired and the toilet situation takes it out of me. No pun intended.
One contributory factor in my gall bladder problem was the fact that I had taken many many Nurofen over the years. In fact I can recall having stomach trouble on and off for about 15 years and I would just take more tablets from the little silver packet. If only I had gone to a doctor instead.