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The Gallbladder Story

The gallbladder is a little pouch about the size of two thumbs. It is connected to the liver and the small intestines by the common bile duct. When you eat, it contracts and squeezes bile into the system to help with the digestion of food. The liver makes the bile; the gallbladder stores it and concentrates it for later use. I don't know if I did anything to make this happen to me. I don't think so. It sounds like a better diet may have helped. Keep your cholesterol down. Eat lots of veggies. Stay away from fatty foods. No more burgers and fries . . . no more Mexican or Chinese for you. Oddly, coffee drinkers are supposed to have fewer gallbladder problems. I guess I didn't drink enough coffee.

Gallstones develop when calcium and cholesterol coagulate in the gallbladder. They can hang around for years unnoticed, and then just decide to pop up and make trouble at a later time. When stones are released from the gall bladder, the result is pain. The stones will often block or slow the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestines, causing a backup of liver enzymes. This is not good . . . because, while you can live without a gall bladder, your liver is a pretty necessary thing if you want to remain vertical.

Eight days before I had my grand mal giant attack, I had two smaller ones. In the first case, I simply felt a good deal of discomfort, which lasted about 6 hours. The second incident was more acute, like an attack. It lasted about two hours and ended abruptly as I actually felt a stone pass. As soon as the stone moved through, the attack was over and I was fine.

At 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 30th, all hell broke loose. After a nice Mexican dinner with friends, I was awakened to some pretty horrific pain. I was still not sure what this pain was about. I walked the floor for two hours and when my stomach finally released its contents, I felt a bit better and went back to bed. I slept for one hour and was awakened again by pain at six a.m.

I knew that there was no way that I was going to be doing anything that day. I made a very short post to my blog, got cleaned up and went to the office. I had an 8 a.m. appointment, and I had to let that person know I was sick. I met her at 7:50 and explained my problems. A few minutes later, staff showed up and I asked them to call and cancel my other appointments for the day. I made an appointment at the doctor's office and drove myself there.

The developing, compounding nature of this attack was pretty scary. It just seemed to get worse and worse. By the time I arrived at St. Luke's medical building, I was done. No more driving for me. Hunched over, I made my way to the doctor's office. It took forever to get there. It seemed to me that hundreds of people were in my way. The elevator took forever.

The gals at the desk in the doctor's office are having another normal day. They greet me, give me my paperwork, and tell me to sit down. Easy for you to say. I am now in what I thought was full-fledged agony. While the girls prepare for the next patient, tell stories, and drink coffee, I am in pain. I am wondering if this is a heart attack. I am starting to make little whimpering noises. I pray.

Finally the nurse, Stephanie, one of the heroes of this story, comes to get me. We get out of the waiting room and into the hallway. She takes a close look at me and says, “Mr. Brinkman, I think I am going to take you to the emergency room.” That was fine with me.

Getting into the wheel chair was not much fun. The ride to the E.R. was long and bumpy, but at least it is in the same building. We arrive at the E.R. I hear someone ask for my Driver's License and insurance card. You have to be kidding me. I just gave it to the other girls at the office.

I am now in full-fledged gallbladder attack. Out of the chair and curled up on the floor, I am in agony. My chest is killing me. I would not wish this pain on anyone. I am crying and sweating. My hands and feet are cold and begin to shake. I am praying. I am crying out for Jesus and my Momma to help me. Stephanie the nurse prays for me.

My phone rings. It is my dear wife who is in Chicago on business. Stephanie answers. “Hello.” My wife wonders if she has the right number. Why is this young woman answering my husband's phone? They get disconnected. Not a good thing. Cathy calls back. “Who is this?” Stephanie explains the situation. What happens next is no reflection on Cathy. I have given her trouble for 22 years. I have pulled her leg for so long that I deserve this. She thinks it is a joke. Back and forth she goes with Stephanie, trying to get to the bottom of it. I realize that I have traumatized my dear wife, so I ask to talk to her. I explain to her the situation. We hang up so I can call the office.

Sherri answers the phone. I briefly explain. She says, she will be right there. I am now if full fledged distress. I can barely breath. I fully expected to pass out at any moment.

The nurses come to get me from the E.R. waiting room. They help me back into the wheelchair. Soon I am in the holding cell in the E.R. Gina and Sherri show up. I am begging for pain meds now. The E.R. nurses are professionals. You will be fine, just relax. Ahh! I need help now! Finally medication. Dolodin, that is good stuff. Clay arrives. In a very few minutes, I am feeling better. I can still feel the attack, but it is deadened and I have that happy feeling that comes only from the morphine family.

I have two worries as I enter the hospital that day. The first worry is that I have some incurable disease. Like mediterranean andromeda mad cow cancer. In 30 days, you are done. My other worry is that they would not be able to figure out what it was. “Mr. Brinkman, you have deer tick lupus chronic fatigue something. Take these pills and go home.”

In short order I was wheeled down the hall for a sonogram. Shortly thereafter, the reading was made. They found Jimmy Hoffa. No, really they found lots of gallstones. Some have left the pen and are blocking or have been blocking the bile ducts. I will be having surgery later that day or the next.

Hallelujah! Praise God. Now at least we know what it is. I am not crazy. It will get better. I spent the next couple of hours talking nonstop. Dolodin is a truth serum. I told everyone around me what I really felt about him or her. Very personal words that are so difficult to find and share in the normal world, found free expression while medicated. Some thought it a bit funny, but I tell you, if I could take that medication and speak to each of you, you would know how deeply I love and appreciate you.

They moved me to a real room in the “short stay” department. Drugs, I.V. and blood work. Lots of people came to see me. Security was tight, but several were able to sneak donuts in to me.

At about 1:30 that afternoon, my dear wife arrived from Chicago. Joliet, Illinois, to be exact. It's kind of a boring town, so she was glad to come see me. She understands now that I am not pulling her leg and that this is a pretty big deal. She cancels her work trips and calls her family. She pulls up and chair and sits down next to the bed. She will hardly eat or sleep for the next four days. She loves me. If someone loves you, it is a gift. See it for what it is and give thanks.

The surgery began about 3:30pm on Thursday. Four holes, spaced out across the chest, a snip, a clip, and the offending gall brother is gone forever. Unfortunately in this case, it was not quite so simple. The doctor said the gallbladder was encrusted with hard fatty tissue and he could not get it out through normal laproscopic means. The truth as I choose to believe it is this. The stone had coagulated and fused together in the shape of a dinosaur, a pterodactyl. Due to this phenomenon, he was unable to remove the gall bladder in the normal four-hole manner.

The end result of this set back is three holes and a 12-inch scar. Call me Brinkenstein. I am really going to be a hit on the beach this summer. There is a quote from the movie The Replacements when Keneau Reaves is trying to rally his team, he says, “pain heals, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever.” I think I will put that on a t-shirt.

When I woke up in recovery I was a mess. So says my wife. I don't remember much about those post surgical moments, but I do remember one thing very clearly. I was calling for Kyle. I could see him up and to the left. I am not sure I understand this, but it was a spiritual thing. I knew if I could just get to Kyle that everything would be ok. I slept.

Friday was a good day. I felt pretty good. Saturday was hell. The anesthetic shuts down your digestive tract and trying to get your stomach and intestines to work again can be very painful. I apologize to the person who spent an hour with me during this most difficult time on Saturday afternoon. I also apologize to those who came to the door and did not get to see me. I was in lots of pain and it was miserable. Saturday night was better and Sunday, the Lord's Day, I was going home.
I want to thank the doctors, nurses and staff at the Doctor's office, E.R. and the hospital. They were all awesome. I want to thank you my friends for loving me. Thank you for the cards, the donuts, the fishing pole, and the secret snacks. Thank you to the teachers and children of our Sunday School and We Care who made me very nice cards.

We filled out paperwork. I received instructions. One by one, needles were pulled from my arms. I was free. We made our way through the hallways, down the elevator and to the lobby. When I stepped outside into the afternoon air, it was a miracle. The sun on my face, the wind in my hair, I could hear God saying, “Welcome back. I love you.”

There are lessons from this gallbladder story.

1. Your life may change today or tomorrow with no warning.
2. We usually don't tell our loved ones how we really feel about them. We need to do a better job of that.
3. There are spiritual connections that we have with one another that we are not really aware of.
4. Friends laugh with you and cry with you.
     5. My wife loves me a bunch.

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