Last Tuesday I craned my neck to stare up at the monitor above my head. It was awkward because I couldn’t move my body; if I did, the picture from the gamma camera positioned inches above me might end up fuzzy. On the screen, a white star throbbed like a bright lung breathing in time with me. Periodically it would reach its fingers out across the universe of my organs, and small constellations would appear like white, gold, and red fire sparking then fading into darkness.
What I was watching was the radioactive tracer that had adhered to my bile cells and was traveling from liver to gallbladder to small intestine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I actually couldn’t tell which organ was which or whether they were working as they should. And because my neck hurt from twisting it like that, I spent most of that first hour with my eyes closed, reminding myself to breathe.
This was the fourth in a series of tests to figure out why I’ve been in so much pain, why it seemed my digestive system had suddenly revolted. The culprit, it appeared, was my gallbladder, but the previous tests had been normal. This one, however, would show how that organ—that organ to which I had never given any thought—was really functioning.
I felt fine lying there as still as I could until the second part of the test, during which I was injected with a medication to contract the gallbladder and see if bile was being ejected from it as it should be. For the next half hour, with each push of the syringe into my IV, a swell of nausea surged through me, and pain gripped my abdomen. “Breathe,” the technician reminded me. “Just breathe. It will pass.”
It’s funny how easy it is to take our bodies for granted, to forget how many systems have to work and work well in order for our whole bodies operate smoothly. I’m not used to being sick. Certainly I get sick: colds and sinus infections and the flu. And I have occasional back pain and hip issues that sometimes keep me from running. But for the most part I’m healthy. I exercise, I eat well, I meditate—I take care of myself.
So what’s going on here? Was it the fall, all those stressful days of waking up too early because of that impossible deadline? Perhaps I pushed it too hard. It’s true that I’ve felt irritable, uncertain, and overwhelmed lately, even when I really shouldn’t be. Hello, gallbladder! I’ve learned that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine the gallbladder is responsible for our “passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness.” I guess that explains why I’ve been feeling what I’ve been feeling.
When I left the hospital last week after that test, I felt woozy and unsteady. I was disoriented when I pulled out of the hospital parking lot to find the streets slick with sleet and slush. It had been overcast but dry when I went into the hospital, and now it was again overcast and dry, but clearly a winter storm had swept through as I lay as still as possible watching my organs in that darkened room. It seemed impossible, and I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything but go home and lie down on the couch, where I slept, the dog next to me in her bed on the floor.
I learned that I do indeed have a borderline problem with the way my gallbladder ejects bile. So what now? I could have it taken out, and that might solve the problem. But it might not solve the problem. I’ve heard that removal doesn’t always take care of the symptoms. And I hate not knowing if I would improve, if I’d be able to run and sit and laugh without pain. If I’d be able to go to my favorite exercise class again without having to slip out after twenty minutes.
So first I’m going to try to heal that damn thing. (And when I say “damn thing” I mean that in the most loving way possible—I don’t want to create any more trouble here, people. I love my gallbladder. I want to take care of it.) I’m doing acupuncture twice a week and have met with an herbalist, who prescribed herbs and enzymes, and I’m now on an elimination diet: Day 6 of 21. I won’t even tell you what I can’t eat or drink (everything I love). But I’m committed to it, and I hope it will help.
And, between my many appointments and all the research I’m doing, I’m trying to figure out how to do what I’ve been talking about these last couple of months: clear my plate, open up some space so I can get back that passion for life, that inspiration and action and assertiveness. I want to feel like myself again.
I have to add a big shout out to my family and friends who have heard WAY too much about this in recent weeks and who have called and texted and taken me out and sat and listened as I talked about that angry organ again and again. I appreciate it so much and I promise I’ll stop talking about it now. I’ve decided that instead I’ll just write about it. (But not too much here. Promise.)