Emergency Surgery

I cheerfully signed off my last post with a mention of my New Year’s plans for hosting family at the ski hill. A raclette dinner was in the works, lots of extended family arrived, and the snow was deep and powdery. All of the right conditions for a perfect New Year, except for one small problem: I was sick.

I’ve written about my ulcer before, and since Christmas Dinner it was back with a vengeance. I was enjoying the cabin – skiing daily, cooking for a steady stream of family and guests, being the hostess-with-the-mostest – but feeling bloody awful. The day before New Year’s Eve, it got so bad that I decided to leave my husband in charge of the guests so I could return home to rest in quiet.

My doctor squeezed me in for a quick appointment before closing for the long weekend, promising bloodwork results on Monday. I went home to spend New Year’s Eve alone under a blanket on the couch, terribly uncomfortable and suspicious that this was no ulcer. By Saturday night I was planning my own funeral.

Fast forward a few days and I was in the local emergency room, getting lots of attention for what turned out to be acute gallbladder problems. The surgeon was called in and I was admitted. First thing the next morning I had a procedure to clear out the gallstones that were lodged in my main bile duct, followed by surgery to remover the gallbladder itself.

I’d gone from a wonderful, fun family vacation to a lonely, uncomfortable sick bed for days and then finally three nights in hospital. Things can turn on a dime!

The hospital was noisy and chaotic. I was in pain and alone. It could have been terrible, but I was too grateful to wallow. As I lay there, I realized that many things I’ve learned in recovery were getting me through this ordeal:

  1. Ask for Help:  When I was sick at home and certain I was dying, I should have called an ambulance or a neighbour for a ride to the hospital, but I didn’t. I wanted to be helped but I didn’t want to ask for help. I was afraid they would say I wasn’t sick enough to be in hospital and send me back home. This was reminiscent of when I knew I needed to quit drinking but was scared to go to a meeting for fear they’d say I wasn’t addicted enough. Don’t be silly – help is there and the people who provide it are caring.
  2. Be Grateful: If you’re new to sobriety, you might not yet be aware how important a role gratitude can play in your journey. Sober or not, everyone can benefit from taking time every day to list three or four things for which to give thanks. Stop right now and look around you – what are you thankful for? This simple act is a life-changing habit. As I laid awake through the night in my hospital bed, wishing for sleep but surrounded by noises and activity, I reflected on all the positive things deserving thanks: the iv that was replenishing my hydration, the kindness of the nurses and doctors, the ultrasound tech who quickly confirmed the problem, the warm blankets an orderly brought when I shivered on a gurney. I was sick, uncomfortable and a little scared of the surgeries ahead, but reflecting on the situation with gratitude kept me smiling.
  3. Give Service: Service is another concept that helps sober people stay the course. Helping others get and/or stay sober strengthens our own recovery efforts, and having a helping attitude spills over into the rest of our lives as well. How could I help anyone while I was sick in bed? I spoke kind words to each nurse, attendant, and worker who came through my room, thanking them for their work (see also: gratitude). I sent kind thoughts and prayers for the well-being of the doctors and nurses who were working all around me. I looked over at the sweet 92-year-old in the next bed, and sent prayers for her comfort and healing, for her family and caregivers. Thinking about others took my mind off of my own pain and fear, and allowed me to reciprocate some of the kindness I was receiving so thankfully.
  4. Be Present: Hours passed by slowly in the hospital, and at times my mind would bounce between two unhappy places: the pain of the previous days and fear that the next day’s surgery would have complications. Bouncing between past pain and future fear is a rollercoaster ride of depression and anxiety; I’ve learned this lesson well in recovery. So if I caught myself slipping in either direction, I coaxed myself back into the present by deep breathing exercises. Staying in the present is enormously helpful in sobriety when we are likely to ask ourselves, “Is this forever?” “Can I make it through the weekend?” “Am I a horrible person for all the bad things in my past?” Stop. Breathe. Stay in the moment, just do the next right thing. Moment by moment, we can get through anything.

So although I was sidelined for a few days, I am feeling much better already and should be back to normal in no time. Having an alcohol-free lifestyle (as well as smoke-free and drug-free) lends itself to a strong, healthy body that bounces back quickly from these things.

The new year always brings lots of new readers who are looking for help and insights as they consider sobriety as a resolution. I am sorry that I was not able to respond quickly to those of you who have written this past week – please know you are very much on my mind and I am cheering for you.

If you are in the early days of recovery or experiencing a post-holiday wobble, I hope this post shows you how the principles of recovery can serve you well in all areas of your life. Stay well. Seriously.



  1. oh my Jean I am so sorry to hear you have been in the wars… glad you are on the mend. and love your phrase ‘too grateful to wallow’. I still have hippopotamus tendencies sometimes and that’s a fantastic one to remember, thank you! wishing you a happy, healthy and un-hippo-like 2016! Prim xx


  2. Oops, hit send before my message to you! I am grateful that you have come through your ordeal and are able to continue to be with those of us who enjoy your posts and rely on your support. I am nearing 1000 days sober and yours was the first blog I read in June 2013. My gratitude begins with YOU! Trish


  3. Happy New Year Jean, I am glad that you got the medical attention you needed and took care of yourself…I bet if you were drinking daily and heavily over the holidays this may not have turned out so well for you. I’m sending healing thoughts your way. Thank you for being here.


  4. So sorry you’ve been unwell – get well soon, but take your time in recovery and don’t rush. Also… how odd. Last weekend of November I spent in our local hospital after 24 hours of intense pain – same issue as you!!! However they decided to not operate just fill me full of fluids, antibiotics and pain killers in an attempt to “flush” it. I’m suppose to see the specialist no doubt when a conversation about potential removal will take place.


  5. I’m so new to this I’m not sue if this will “Take”. Being Ill sucks, having surgery sucks, but having the opportunity to be well again is really good. Thank you for responding to my post…most appreciated. I hope you are well on your way to total health. Rest, recover, be still.
    Thank you for your kind words


  6. Happy New Year Jean! I’m sorry your year had such a challenging start,but it sounds like you are on the mend.I was thinking how difficult it must have been for you to drive from the hill to town by yourself.The combination of pain and winter roads couldn’t have been easy to deal with. Glad you posted, I am indeed having a “wobble” and was much comforted by your post.
    Take care of yourself 😀


  7. Hi! So horrified at the ordeal you went through, glad that you are on the mend and grateful for your wisdom today. I’ve missed you.
    I wrote about allowing vulnerabilty today too because I needed a reminder, but you are right, gratitide and service in any kind of recovery are as important as well. Sending you lots of healing energy and peace.
    Love Phoenix


  8. Awesome post. We totally take our everyday lives and incidences for what they are and don’t think of how to play them forward if something happened to us. You turned a gnarly life experience into practice. Glad you are on the mend.


  9. I’m so glad you are feeling better and are able to go forward in 2016 having figured out what the medical issue was and resolving the problem with the necessary surgery. Living in fear of What Could Be Wrong with us is a terrible place to reside. All the best to you and thank-you for sharing and guiding us, even while recuperating:)


  10. Jean, glad you are OK! Gallbladder gone bad is definitely a life threatening condition. I went through it in October 2011, and can definitely relate to your experience. I lived alone at the time, and swore I was dying for 3 days before I called my doctor. Thank goodness I did because I was in real trouble. Had the surgery, and stopped smoking as a result. Could not see myself with an IV, in a hospital gown, on the street outside a hospital in Detroit!

    At some point in time, can you address recovery and prescription pain medication? I have found most doctors are truly ignorant when it comes to prescribing appropriate medication for post surgical pain management. I have learned that I have to fiercely guard my recovery around the medical community. The only doctors I can rely on are my regular doctor, and my gynecologist who are very supportive of me.

    Happy New Year!


  11. Sorry to hear your holiday was derailed – it is always scary when we don’t know what is going on with our bodies. I’m glad you went in and sought help. Glad, too, that you are feeling better and are on the mend.* Great post and connections to each sober tool – I needed a reminder today. Thank you.* -HM.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so glad you’re feeling better! Great examples of how to practice gratitude and live in the present. Hope you’re back to 100% soon. 🙂


  13. I am so sorry to hear about your being ill, and send you lots of love and good wishes for a speedy recovery. Your strength and wisdom shine through this post, Jean, and I am amazed that despite your feeling so poorly, you still radiate so much hope to others. I learn something every time I read your blog. Annie x


  14. Sooooo glad you are still with us Jean! Gallbladder? What a doozy! Hope you have a good book.

    I’m still learning that asking for help is ok. I was brought up believing that showing any weakness was shameful. In my family, anyone who was injured was told to grunt up – if sick, accused of being a hypochondriac and belittled. For as long as I can remember, if I used to get sick or hurt myself, I would furiously reject offers of assistance, like attention was being drawn to my obvious weakness and it was an insult to me as a person.

    A common thing in the workplace now seems to be acknowledging when you’re overwhelmed. The first time a colleague asked me if I was overwhelmed, I felt like they had punched me in the face. My reaction to them was so strong they never asked again. I know I’m making progress now (after just enjoying my first year in recovery) by practicing saying ‘yes’ to help and ‘no’ to too much workload. A part of me still feels like a wuss and this goes against my grain, but I keep telling myself that this is what others do and it’s normal, that I’m not Wonder Woman and no one cares if you leave on time any more than they do if you’re there late and burn yourself out.

    Take care and I’m sorry your family was sans-Jean on their Christmas celebrations!

    PS: I just had a memory bite me on the bum while writing this comment – I remembered myself as a 7 year old, getting my dad ‘another beer’ from the fridge. He was a chronic alcoholic even back then (I’m now 44) – he’d wanted sons and got 2 daughters so I’d already clued on to the fact that I got a tiny slice of love from dad if I made him laugh. So when I got him a beer I would pour him a glass from a 750ml bottle (we’d call these ‘big bots’) skull it myself, then do a re-pour for him. Man, did he laugh. I would do this as many times as I’d get away with (‘that’s enough now’ he’d finally say) but this was happening every night, sometimes I’d get away with 4 rounds. I’ve always known this occurred as a kid, but it’s only through writing this comment to you that I realised its significance. I always put it down to being in small town NZ in the 70s. Unbelievable.

    Thanks Jean, for having this website, and for being there. It’s a very powerful thing. Xx


    • Slight clarification to the above – it should say “I’d” always put it down to being in small town… etc – I’m not suggesting that small town anywhere, in any era, is the cause of anything whatsoever (including the behaviour mentioned in my comment). Or big town anywhere, for that matter…


    • Hi Gee-Gee, have you read anything on codependency? Those of us who are pleasers or who hate to admit fault are often guided by codependent thinking, which means defining ourselves through others. It’s complicated by having a drinking parent or family dysfunction. Understanding codependency was a HUGE piece of the recovery puzzle for me, maybe it might give you some insights too. Thanks for being here. I want to hug your seven year old self and rescue you! But I’ll settle for standing with you now as we all muck through this together.


      • Hi Jean! Ha! Do you know my first reaction to your reply was ‘No, no, I’m ok, thanks, I don’t need help – I’ve read this book and that book and I’m ok’ when, really, I have to face it, there is still work to be done! I’ve read some amazing books that have helped me reclaim my childhood, etc, and have helped me learn a great sense of self as an adult, but I have been cautious to reach out to books through my recovery so far – one of them I feel put me backwards in my thinking and I had to recalibrate after it. Your own writing and podcasting (and book recommendations where I’ve come across them – (I’ve read lots of Brene Brown and a few biographies you have already referred to along the way) – have really been key (and a safe bet in terms of keeping me on the up and up) in my recovery though and so I would really be open to further recommendations on any book(s) addressing co-dependency. Please can you give me this? I would be very grateful Jean!

        Also, I wondered if you could please point me in the right direction to locate a post I’m sure you once did which related to coming to terms with the difference between ‘what is reality and what is your recovering brain telling you is reality’ – and asking your husband to be almost like a reality gauge (or something) for you to check with him from time to time on whether your ‘take’ on an occurrence was within the realms of reality or whether it was distorted slightly. Sorry if this description isn’t making sense. I have sifted through your past posts and cannot find it – it was a GREAT post that has stayed with me and I’d like to read it again.

        Thanks for responding to my comment Jean, I really appreciate it, especially as you are not very well at present!! Xx


      • PS: thanks for wanting to hug my seven year old self!! That means a lot! I have had to hug my seven year old self a lot through my recovery. She’s a pretty cool kid, I’ve learned. Xx


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