Afterthoughts: Mitigated Gall

On reaching a truce with your own body.

I was staring at the stained-glass ceiling of a hospital elevator when I realized: I had it coming.

It was this past December; I was being wheeled to a Straub Hospital operating room to have my gallbladder removed, at the age of 31. It’s a minor procedure these days, four little holes in the abdomen and a couple of days of recovery, but still, surgery has a way of making you reflect.

I’m no stranger to hospitals, but before it’d always been simple—I’d been dumb, had an accident. This time, the source of fault wasn’t immediately obvious, which was unsettling, somehow. I began to suspect my body was finally exacting revenge for a lifetime of recklessness.

The injuries started early: I fell out of just about every tree in our family’s east Maui backyard about as soon as I could climb them, and, in third grade, broke my arm pole-vaulting off my parents’ pickup truck with a bamboo pole. Things really went downhill once I got my first bike, often literally. If there was a patch of gravel, I slipped on it. A steep driveway, I bombed it. If there was a pile of bricks and plywood, I built an awesome, but ultimately treacherous, ramp from it. My collection of stitches grew. The teen years brought dirtbikes, and more stitches. None of this fazed me much.

Illustration: Michael Byers

After high school, I got a job pumping gas, and almost immediately spent my newfound wealth on, surprise, surprise, a motorcycle. I found new substances on the road to slip on—motor oil, water, sand—but remained undeterred until I smacked into a minivan and shattered my pelvis.

OK. Three weeks in the hospital slowed me down a bit. The docs bolted me together with titanium plates and rods; I had to figure out how to walk again, and spent the next year at a desk job. No more motorcycles for me, obviously.

Well, maayyybe just a moped, just to get around Honolulu a couple of years later as a UH student. A top speed of 30 miles an hour! What’s the worst that could happen?

A broken wrist, it turns out, and a few more stitches. Minor. Oh, and then a caved-in cheekbone. Maybe it’s time for a helmet, I thought, as the plastic surgeon prepared to rearrange my face.

I think it was around this time that my body rebelled. Things started small—a couple episodes of what I assumed was burrito-induced indigestion. But then a crippling bolt of pain sent me to Straub’s emergency room in the middle of the night. Gallstones, piling up in a dysfunctional gallbladder like the world’s most disgusting bag of marbles.

The doc recommended I have the mutinous little organ sliced out, but, like a lot of people in long-term relationships, I wanted to wait. We can work it out! I said. I’ll eat better, exercise more. I can change.

After two more midnight emergency room visits, though … snip, snip. No more gallbladder.

It would be tempting to consider things settled at this point. But I’m worried my body’s mutiny might just be beginning. How many other internal organs do I even have that could potentially go south? Seven? Forty-two? I don’t want to spend the rest of my 30s in a hospital bed.

So I’ve come to a resolution. For 2011, I’m declaring a truce with my body. I’ll buy, and wear, a helmet, and quit throwing myself down hills. Safety first, that’s what I say. In exchange, I’m only asking that my organs stay on the job and hold off revolting until I’m a little older.

Ninety-five sounds like a good age.