Getting Stoned, Part Two: Nowhere to HIDA

{The gallbladder saga continues. If you missed Part One, you can find it here.}

He (I’ve decided this bastard of a gallstone is a male, as well as a royal pain in the abs) measures 3 centimeters. That’s about six times the size of a “typical” gallstone, according to Google, my current BFF/terror-inducer. Even my gallbladder is an overachiever. The stone is partially blocking the duct that releases extra bile into my intestine when I eat a particularly heavy, fatty meal, which makes sense, since I’ve noticed that all of my attacks have been preceded by such a meal.

The doctor has ordered a HIDA scan to check my gallbladder’s function. As soon as I’m off the phone with the doctor’s office, I Google the test so I know what the hell I’m getting myself into. HIDA stands for hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (in case you’re every on Jeopardy!), and apparently the scan involves injecting a radioactive dye that attaches itself to bile. Then they take pictures of the dye-bile (dyle?) as it travels through the liver, into the gallbladder, and then … on. I can’t find anything that tells me where it goes after that. Lovely.

I arrive at the radiology place at promptly 8:15 the morning of my scan. Per their instructions, I haven’t had anything — not even water — since midnight last night. Actually, I haven’t had anything since dinner the night before, at about 7:30. Overachiever.

They take me back to the room, and the tech tells me to lie down on a platform that is, I kid you not, only about a foot wide.

“I’m flattered that you think my body will fit on that thing, but really?”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “It holds 500 pounds — you’ll be fine.”

I’m miraculously able to lie down on it. By the way, have I mentioned that I’m not allowed to do anything the whole time this test is going on? No books, electronics, etc. I just have to lie there while I’m pumped full of Spiderman juice and have a giant X-ray machine hanging two inches over my belly. Right. No problem. Because I’m so laid back.

He starts an IV and injects me with the radioactive dye. That process alone is somewhat terrifying. Okay, so you need to house the syringe in a lead tube, and then put the empty syringe into yet another lead tube? To keep everyone safe from the radiation? Sounds good. But yeah, go ahead and shove that into my body. No biggie.

“Okay, now we wait.”

“How long?”

“An hour. I’m going to go do some paperwork, but I’ll come check on you.”

“Seriously? I just sit here?”

“Yeah. Most people fall asleep. It’s no big deal.” He’s from Jamaica, and I’ve already had enough of his islandy, “don’t worry be happy” attitude. This is America, buddy — land of the Overdramatic Overthinkers.

So I lie there for what seems like 20 minutes. He pops back in. “Eight minutes in,” he says brightly. I want to rip the IV from my arm and throw it at him, but he leaves again before I have a chance to.

I’m going crazy. I’ve already run through my usual tricks for curing boredom, like going through episodes of Friends in my head — today, I quizzed myself on the cliffhangers that ended each season. Come on, I mentally chastise myself, You’re a 35-year-old woman. You’re not one of those millennials who has the attention span of a gnat. You’ve been on 8-hour-long road trips with nothing to do. You’ve got this.

I am so fucking bored.

I look over and see a large cardboard box on top of a storage shelf. Eureka! I decide to play the license plate game. On one side of a box. Amazingly, that one side has all the letters of the alphabet except: J, K, Q, V, X, Y, and Z.

J-K-Q-V-X-Y-Z becomes my new mantra. I tap out the letters by touching my thumb and fingers together, one by one, back and forth. Index-middle-ring-pinky-ring-middle-index. I do this over and over again and in the back of my head I think about zoo animals who go insane and run circles in their tiny enclosures and fling their poo at strangers and I say to myself, I get it now.

The hour finally passes, the tech comes in, looks at the screen, where the dye shows up as a glowing lava lamp-like mass surrounded by a velvety blackness. “It’s not in your gallbladder yet.” Great. He takes some “delay pictures” and sends them to a doctor, ensconced in some unseen room elsewhere in the building, and waits for his analysis. “Come back in an hour,” he finally says, as he raises the X-ray machine and tapes the IV down onto my arm. I’m actually kind of excited. I used to work right next door, so I can just walk over and chat with my friends for an hour.

“Oh, and don’t leave the building,” he adds. At that moment, I realize that this man is trying to beat my gallbladder to the punch and kill me first. Apparently, you’re not allowed to walk around the neighborhood with an IV taped onto your arm. Something about “liability.”

I take a seat in the procedure waiting area, in between a cancer patient whose hair is just starting to grow back and a burly guy with a trucker cap and a limp. A delivery guy walks by with trays of sandwiches and veggie wraps — I guess they’re having some sort of office party. I haven’t eaten in 15 hours and I want to cry. I get up and pace the long hallway. Every door I pass has a giant yellow sign that reads “CAUTION: RADIATION AREA.” It hits me that everyone who comes back here has something seriously wrong with them. Dozens of people pass through these doors every day. In addition to being hungry, I’m humbled.

An hour later, I’m back on the tiny table. He still can’t see much of my gallbladder — Google later informs me that this delay could mean that the stone is blocking (or in my case, partially blocking) the entrance to the gallbladder. Still, the doc gives us the green light to move forward with the test. The tech hooks up another syringe to my IV, this one filled with cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that makes the gallbladder contract. He’s placed the syringe in a box-shaped machine that will slowly inject the hormone over the course of 30 minutes. We’re about halfway through the 30 minutes when I feel this odd cramping in my belly, similar to digestion. It’s somewhat surreal to be “digesting” nothing, and to know that my body is simply reacting to a controlled stimulus. It’s kinda cool, although I do get a bit uncomfortable — perhaps because my gallbladder’s squeezing a small rock at the moment. Could be…

We’re finally done with the scan. I have no idea what it showed. My next step is to consult with a surgeon, who will look at my test results and tell me if I need to have my gallbladder removed.

The test took so long that I have to race to another appointment, and I don’t have time to stop and eat. By the time I get home, I haven’t eaten for 20 hours. I have a new appreciation for people who actually starve all day.

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1 Comment

  1. Aw you poor thing, hunger strikes and the boredom! Since my attacks started I’ve been amazed at how quickly I went off food and became afraid of eating anything (before I knew for sure it was gallstones). Though I have to say the past month or so, I’ve been so hungry most days! I have indulged at some points (we’ve never noticed a particular food or food group being responsible for an attack). This is what I’ve missed from my appointments, someone giving me ‘fun’ facts about the gallstones and what size they are, where they are, what’s going on. I’ve never heard or seen anything (indeed neither has the surgeon who will be cutting me open on Friday!). I think I’d feel a little more at ease knowing this stuff, whereas just now, there’s still a possibility it’s misdiagnosed.

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