Tips for Recovering from Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal Surgery (Cholecystectomy)
Having surgery can be a scary experience, especially when it has to be done suddenly. Thankfully, technology has brought the medical field a long way. If your doctor has advised you that you need gallbladder removal surgery (also called a cholecystectomy), then don’t fret. The good news is that you can have this procedure done as a laparoscopic surgery, meaning that you won’t have one long incision to recover from. Instead, you will have four small slits that are made in your abdomen, making recovery a much shorter excursion than recovering from an open cholecystectomy. You will also be inflated with air so that the surgeon can better perform the surgery.
Although recovering from laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery is a smoother process than major surgeries that require larger slits, it is still surgery and needs to be treated as such. When you initially wake up from surgery, you may feel a variety of symptoms from the pain and the anesthesia. Here are some of the symptoms that I had:
- Nausea (from anesthesia)
- Pain in abdomen
- Sore throat (from tube in throat during surgery)
- Bloating feeling
- Sore shoulders (I was told this could happen due to the air they put in me)
I don’t usually take anesthesia that well, so you may not notice as much nausea as I did. Your body type can also have an impact on how you feel when you wake up. I highly recommend speaking with your surgical team about common symptoms and any other concerns you may have regarding recovering from laparoscopic gallbladder removal surgery.
I’ll admit that I almost freaked out when I saw the four incisions on my abdomen (one in the upper abdomen and three on the right side). The only surgery I had prior to this one was getting all four of my wisdom teeth out, so I really wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being cut open. It didn’t help matters that the cuts were fresh and didn’t have any time to heal prior to me seeing them.
My surgeon stitched my incisions together with dissolvable stitches and then put surgical glue over each incision. I was instructed to let the glue wear off on its own, or at least until my follow up appointment so that my surgeon could evaluate how the healing process was going.
I had pain around my incisions for about a week, especially when I had to sneeze or cough. To help combat the pain, I would grab a pillow or something soft to hold on my stomach whenever I felt a sneeze coming on. With each passing day, the soreness began to go away and I started feeling more normal by the end of my first week post op.
When you are recovering from gallbladder removal surgery, make sure you do your best to leave the incisions alone. You will want to limit your range of motion for at least a week so that each slit has the chance to build new skin cells and reconnect the tissue. Trust me, the last thing you want is to pop one of your slits open! This was a particular challenge for me because I enjoy staying active, but I knew that being good for a week was better than risking it and ending up back in the doctor’s office for more stitches.
Eating and Digestion
Depending on where you have your surgery and under what circumstances, you may be required to eat something and keep it down before they let you discharge. For me, I was told that I had to be able to function without the heavy medications they had in my IV and I needed to eat solid food. After four days of being on a diabetic liquid diet, I was ready for something real!
When I received my first tray of solid food, I did notice that my stomach didn’t want to eat as much before. My surgeon told me that my body was going to have to reconfigure its digestion process, so I may notice my digestive system acting a little weird at first. I was lucky in the fact that I didn’t have any major issues with my recovery process in the eating realm.
Although my body learned how to work without a gallbladder fairly quickly, I have noticed that I have to be more cautious about what I eat now. I’m now two years post op and still have to be very careful about eating too much at one time, indulging in fatty foods, and anything that contains a lot of dairy. I get a craving for bacon every now and then, but I know there is always a chance that my body will disagree with it. Part of the issue could be due to the fact that I no longer have an additional organ holding extra bile for the digestive process. I still get to enjoy these foods on occasion, just not every day or in excess.
Laparoscopic vs. Open Surgery
Go home day of or within 2 days
1 Long (4"-8")
2-4 days minimum
Going Back to Work
Remember, everyone’s recovery from gallbladder removal surgery is going to go differently, but you should be able to return to a non-active job within five to seven days. Personally, I went into the hospital on Sunday, found out I needed surgery, had the procedure on Wednesday, and then returned to work the following Monday. My job required some movement and interaction, but I just took it easy and didn’t lift anything heavy (like our instruction binders). I also decided to sit during the moments when I was talking to parents at the school rather than standing, partly due to the fact that I still felt a little weak and sore, but also because I didn’t want to do too much too soon.
If you work a job where heavy equipment operation is necessary, I encourage you to speak with your surgeon about how long you should wait to go back to your job. You may want to discuss alternative options with your supervisor so that you can still work but complete other tasks while you are healing. If you take any short-term disability, make sure you discuss how that works with your human resources department.
Learn About Gallbladder Problems
The American College for Surgeons has a great guide for recovering from gallbladder surgery
Exercising and Being Active
I was really upset about the timing of my surgery because I had just bought a car the day before I went to the hospital keeling over in pain (which I later found out was a gallbladder attack). When I finally got discharged from the hospital, one day after my procedure, I was very anxious to take my car for a ride. Thankfully, I had family and friends taking care of me, which also included preventing me from doing stupid things, so I waited until I went back to work on Monday to drive. Listen to your body, your doctor, and the advice of others before you set foot into your vehicle!
As for exercising, I waited a few weeks before jumping back into anything. I made sure that I had approval from my surgeon before engaging in physical activities again, which I also recommend that you do. I don’t think I realized that recovering from gallbladder removal surgery was going to impact my exercise habits so much. I figured that I would have to start slow and work my way back up, but I found that my incisions were still limiting what I could do. I found that I couldn’t run much because it would make my incisions feel weird, sometimes a little sore, so I stopped doing that and tried to find other things. I also noticed that I had to be careful with engaging in any activity that stretched out my right side too much. I was finally able to get back up to my regular range of motion a couple of months after surgery. Your recovery process may be completely different, but keep in mind that exercising may be limited for a little while.
Getting Back to Normal
I am so grateful to have gotten my gallbladder removed after all the pain I experienced. Although there were painful times during the recovery process and I had to endure the surgery, I’m much better off now. My life has returned to normal – I’m exercising frequently, eating good (and enjoying some treats every now and then), and I’m not experiencing the pain that I had felt so much prior to my surgery.
I hope these tips for recovering from gallbladder removal surgery help you!