So, last week I had an operation to remove my gall bladder. My husband and I decided it would be the best thing based on several potential “hazardous” future possibilities. However, a few days before the surgery I began to second-guess my decision. Was it really necessary to start removing organs at my age? Yes, I knew my gall bladder had produced an ample amount of stones, enough to become a hazard, or perhaps to fashion several nice bracelets, but would it become a hazard? What were the chances of a stone getting lodged in the bile duct and cutting off the blood supply and then becoming a gangrenous, cesspool inside my body, which would then spread and cause such a problem that removal would be the only logical option? But as it stood a week ago, it was functioning, although not very well; it hadn’t turn gang green and may never. So I was confused. Should I do this or not? Should I “preventively” remove my gall bladder? That is what preventive medicine is, right? All the doctors tell you it is no big deal. They act as though removing an organ is so routine. “What would be the potential long term risks?” “There really aren’t any,” I was told by some; other doctors skirted the question. Probably because they don’t know or there hasn’t been a long term study done…Everybody’s doing it.
The night before, I imagined all the ways I would get out of the surgery. I would fake an illness…I would jump out of the car on the way there. I would fain a fever or sore throat…a cough…Anything…In the waiting area I contemplated telling Marcel to just take me home I wasn’t ready…but I went through with it.
They wheeled me into the operating room asked me to move over to the operating table, strapped me down and without warning I was out in seconds. Where was the countdown? Hey, I thought I was supposed to count down from 10? I woke up, eyes closed, to someone screaming at me, “don’t touch your eyes; don’t touch your eyes.” “What happened?” I asked. I couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t tell who was in the room. It was all just voice scapes….sounds, people. Irritating wet eyes. I wanted to wipe them off, but every time I tried I was yelled at, again. Then YOU do it, I thought.; wipe my eyes off, please.
I must have fallen into unconsciousness, because I woke up again in the recovery room with Marcel next to me. I tried to turn over and immediately dry heaved, fell back to sleep, woke up again and threw up twice. They injected some anti-nausea medication into my hand, which burned, and I was out again; then I woke up feeling much better and wanting to get the hell out of there. They wouldn’t let me go until I could walk and go to the bathroom. Finally the time came and I was sent home. Poor Marcel spent the entire day there bored waiting for me to become conscious.
So that was it. I did it. I went home with an abdomen sore from bloat; I looked like a starving African child. For the next three days I mourned my gall bladder. We parted ways, I believe, too soon. I cried for it. What happened to my gall bladder, I wondered.
Around Christmas time I read a book about the HeLa cells. The cancerous cells taken from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks, hence the name HeLA, which were the first viable cells to be used, and are still used today, in medical research. Her cells have been used in so many applications they are well known in the scientific community. They never die. They’re immortal. The controversy is, at the time, patients were never informed and consent was never sought by the medical community to use a patient’s cells in research. Her family, who were undereducated and poor, were continuously contacted by other medical researchers, journalists and other professionals regarding HeLa’s cells for years after Henrietta’s death. The family knew that the HeLa cells were somehow important to the researchers. They didn’t understand exactly what they did to them. They knew the cells were exposed to many types of diseases. The cells were infected with Aids, shot to the moon, exposed to many other diseases to research the effects of diseases and treatments and even space travel had on human cells. I won’t go too much into this, it was a interesting book and I recommend it.
To Henrietta’s family, they envisioned Henrietta, herself, becoming infected with these diseases, over and over again. They envisioned her going to the moon. They didn’t have much understanding of what cells were. I believe they knew that it wasn’t exactly Henrietta the person, but to them there was no distinction between Henrietta the person and Henrietta’s cells. The medical community sees our cells as separate from our organism once removed. Her family didn’t see it that way.
Interestingly, after my gall bladder was removed, I contemplated this distinction. Intellectually I understand how the body works, the biochemical reactions and I have an understanding about research. However, I could not help feeling as though I lost something and that something was still out there. I was concerned for that piece of me that was removed. A bigger piece then had ever been removed from me before. It made me wonder if we are indeed separate from our cells. And it made me wonder what happened to my gall bladder?
Marcel joked that I would make a bracelet or necklace out of the stones I produced if they would let me keep them. This started a whole new conversation about harvesting gallstones and perhaps kidney stones to make jewelry. As sick as it sounds, it is no less sick then shooting elephants for ivory, farming pearls from oysters, even using bone for beautiful jewelry. Perhaps that is what really happens to the gallstones the surgeons collect. Why so many people have their gall bladders removed these days is not to prevent some impeding doom, but to harvest the stones our bodies produce as a precious commodity to fashion into jewelry, buttons, belt buckles and other consumer items...