A month after my gallbladder removal operation, I am finally beginning to feel like my old self. For the first four weeks after surgery, I was restricted from certain physical activities, such as running, bending over, working out, swimming and avoiding lifting anything heavier than 20 pounds.

I can wear jeans again without having to worry about irritating my scars, and I can also finally carry my 30-pound baby. The bloating and shoulder pain are gone. I’m really happy that I no longer have to suffer from gallbladder attacks, which were painful. Each gallbladder attack felt like I was being squeezed super hard on the bottom of my right rib cage.

Although I’ve been going to the gym for months now, even before surgery, I’ve never felt this good in my life. This change was really good for me.

Challenges in nutrition

Now comes the most challenging part of my recovery: acclimating my digestive system to life without a gallbladder. While we can live without a gallbladder, its purpose is to break down fats with bile. Without a place to store the bile, it flows from the liver directly to the small intestines and makes fatty foods harder to digest.

As I now face the challenge of paying more attention to my nutrition and the food I eat, which in part means avoiding foods that are spicy or have high fat content. Even though I love spicy food, I’ve learned to let it go because of heartburn that now comes with eating anything with chili peppers.

Some of the first fatty foods I integrated were dairy products. I eventually developed irritable bowel syndrome and a lot of times, had to go to the bathroom within minutes of eating. I can tell you that it was very unpleasant. At that moment, I would ask myself, “Is this a forever thing? I hope not.” Thankfully it wasn’t.

Certain foods trigger some diarrhea more than others, like pizza or even having a cup of coffee. This is a common side effect. For some people, it goes away. For others, it doesn’t. Mine eventually went away. 

Today, I’m able to eat whatever I want and be as physical as I was before the surgery. But, a big difference in my life is that I must go to the bathroom as soon as I feel the need. I am no longer able to hold it off as I used to be able to do. And that can be a number of times. The other day I grabbed a cup of coffee before going to Burlington and while I was shopping I really needed to go. So, I had to go home to use the bathroom. It was such an inconvenience.

I also have visible scars from the surgical incisions that were made on the side of my belly. I like to think of them as my little battle scars because they are less than an inch long each. I don’t mind them at all, and I’m not afraid to show them off. I have a total of five incision scars, two below my rib cage, one above my belly button, another in my epigastric region and the last incision is on my left lumbar region.

I have visible scars from the incisions, and they’re my little battle scars for life. 

Thoughts on surgery

I think this surgery was definitely a wake-up call to look out for my health, to start eating healthier and to really consider what I put into my body. So I started doing just that. I’ve avoided a lot of dairy, fast food and chips, which were my guilty pleasure. I had actually stopped eating them for about 10 months. But since surgery I probably had a couple chips just to take away the craving. The good thing is that I don’t crave them like I used to.

 I even started going to the gym more consistently and taking it more seriously. There’s days where I wake up at 4 a.m. to just go to the gym. By the end of the day I’m exhausted as I’m a mom of a toddler and have two jobs.

Being consistent at the gym is not easy. I definitely have days with no motivation.

I recently spoke with Dr. Gloria Monsalve, who is a bilingual family physician and an advocate for patients in the San Fernando Valley. She’s also been in practice for more than 15 years, helping those in low-income communities, specifically the Latino community.

In our conversation, I discussed my concerns about food and the importance of changing my eating habits. “Even though there isn’t a strict diet after surgery,” Monsalve said. “There is some advice and recommendations for feeling better after gallbladder surgery.”

Some of those recommendations involve decreasing the amount of fried foods and fatty foods. Dr. Monsalve said that it’s crucial to follow those recommendations because after surgery the body will no longer be able to process nutrients like before.

“A lot of the time, people think that only fatty food comes from fried food,” Monsalve said.  “Just like animals and humans, they also have fat. And there are some animals that have more fat than others, just like pork meat, lamb meat and the skin of the chicken.”

She also stated that there are a lot of options when it comes to eating healthy, like switching from pork and beef to turkey and seafood. There are also tricks, such as eating fried or barbecued chicken without the skin. Every little bit helps.

And there are other ways of consuming healthy fat, which can be obtained by eating avocado, corn, soy, lentils, nuts and sunflower seeds. Monsalve said that these “good fats” are good for our hearts, our cholesterol and our overall health.

Gallbladder facts

A report published by the National Library of Medicine found that gallbladder disease is highest among Hispanic populations in Central and South America and in individuals with Native American ancestry. It also states that in the U.S., the prevalence of gallbladder disease is also notably higher in Hispanics compared to any other ethnic/racial group. I thought it was really interesting to find this out. 

If you’re having the surgery soon or deciding if it’s right for you, I wish you luck. I know for a fact that I made the best decision for myself and for my health.

If there is anything I can help young mothers and fathers with, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at amairani@latinomedia.org.

Follow my Mami & Me columns here.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...