Motherhood & Words

Last Tuesday I craned my neck to stare up at the monitor above my head. It was awkward because I couldn’t move my body; if I did, the picture from the gamma camera positioned inches above me might end up fuzzy. On the screen, a white star throbbed like a bright lung breathing in time with me. Periodically it would reach its fingers out across the universe of my organs, and small constellations would appear like white, gold, and red fire sparking then fading into darkness.

What I was watching was the radioactive tracer that had adhered to my bile cells and was traveling from liver to gallbladder to small intestine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I actually couldn’t tell which organ was which or whether they were working as they should. And because my neck hurt from twisting it like that, I spent most of that first hour with my eyes closed, reminding myself to breathe.

This was the fourth in a series of tests to figure out why I’ve been in so much pain, why it seemed my digestive system had suddenly revolted. The culprit, it appeared, was my gallbladder, but the previous tests had been normal. This one, however, would show how that organ—that organ to which I had never given any thought—was really functioning.

I felt fine lying there as still as I could until the second part of the test, during which I was injected with a medication to contract the gallbladder and see if bile was being ejected from it as it should be. For the next half hour, with each push of the syringe into my IV, a swell of nausea surged through me, and pain gripped my abdomen. “Breathe,” the technician reminded me. “Just breathe. It will pass.”

It’s funny how easy it is to take our bodies for granted, to forget how many systems have to work and work well in order for our whole bodies operate smoothly. I’m not used to being sick. Certainly I get sick: colds and sinus infections and the flu. And I have occasional back pain and hip issues that sometimes keep me from running. But for the most part I’m healthy. I exercise, I eat well, I meditate—I take care of myself.

So what’s going on here? Was it the fall, all those stressful days of waking up too early because of that impossible deadline? Perhaps I pushed it too hard. It’s true that I’ve felt irritable, uncertain, and overwhelmed lately, even when I really shouldn’t be. Hello, gallbladder! I’ve learned that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine the gallbladder is responsible for our “passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness.” I guess that explains why I’ve been feeling what I’ve been feeling.

When I left the hospital last week after that test, I felt woozy and unsteady. I was disoriented when I pulled out of the hospital parking lot to find the streets slick with sleet and slush. It had been overcast but dry when I went into the hospital, and now it was again overcast and dry, but clearly a winter storm had swept through as I lay as still as possible watching my organs in that darkened room. It seemed impossible, and I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything but go home and lie down on the couch, where I  slept, the dog next to me in her bed on the floor.

I learned that I do indeed have a borderline problem with the way my gallbladder ejects bile. So what now? I could have it taken out, and that might solve the problem. But it might not solve the problem. I’ve heard that removal doesn’t always take care of the symptoms. And I hate not knowing if I would improve, if I’d be able to run and sit and laugh without pain. If I’d be able to go to my favorite exercise class again without having to slip out after twenty minutes.

So first I’m going to try to heal that damn thing. (And when I say “damn thing” I mean that in the most loving way possible—I don’t want to create any more trouble here, people. I love my gallbladder. I want to take care of it.) I’m doing acupuncture twice a week and have met with an herbalist, who prescribed herbs and enzymes, and I’m now on an elimination diet: Day 6 of 21. I won’t even tell you what I can’t eat or drink (everything I love). But I’m committed to it, and I hope it will help.

And, between my many appointments and all the research I’m doing, I’m trying to figure out how to do what I’ve been talking about these last couple of months: clear my plate, open up some space so I can get back that passion for life, that inspiration and action and assertiveness. I want to feel like myself again.


I have to add a big shout out to my family and friends who have heard WAY too much about this in recent weeks and who have called and texted and taken me out and sat and listened as I talked about that angry organ again and again. I appreciate it so much and I promise I’ll stop talking about it now. I’ve decided that instead I’ll just write about it. (But not too much here. Promise.)

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Tania on February 17, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Kate, sending love! In the trenches with the kids, teen stuff, echoing the desire to “get back that passion for life…inspiration and action and assertiveness” you mention here. I feel lately my very psyche is revolting and self-care the first to go. Sending blessings for healing your way!

    • Kate on February 17, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Oh Tania, thank you! And I know! I’m hoping you can make some time for self-care as well! xox

  2. Caroline on February 17, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Oh, Kate, I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through this! Another friend just had her gallbladder out over Xmas break (and luckily the surgery did the trick). I hope you can avoid surgery and are feeling yourself again soon!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:41 am

      Thanks, Caroline. I’m so glad surgery helped your friend. I love to hear that (though hopefully I’ll still avoid it).

  3. Jess on February 17, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    I love you, and this blows. That is all.

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Thanks, love. It DOES blow. But all your texts help!! OX

  4. alexandra on February 17, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Take care, friend. I hope your elimination diet makes a difference. If it does, I’d love to hear about it!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:39 am

      Thank you, Alexandra! I’ll keep you posted!

  5. K.M. O'Sullivan on February 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Oh, Kate. I would suck at an elimination diet as I have absolutely no will-power BUT everyone I know who has gone though a gallbladder issue has made it clear that they would do ABSOLUTELY WHATEVER IT TAKES to heal. Take care of yourself and let yourself enjoy some non-food indulgences–movies, books, quiet time. Happy healing.

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:39 am

      Thank you, Kelly! I’m trying to refocus on self-care.

  6. Angie Mizzell on February 17, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Oh no, does that mean no wine? 🙂

    I’m so so sorry to hear this and can appreciate how scary/frustrating/unsettling it might feel to have your body not working like it should. We do take so many things for granted, and lately I’ve been trying to understand how clearing my space and my plate can really lead to the happiness I seek. I’m sure our passion is there, silently hiding behind all of the doing.

    I have a note to email you- no real news – just to check in. I’m glad I read this first. Thank you for sharing. I’m sending you a big hug and a bunch of virtual wine and all of the other things you can’t have right now. xo

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Thank you, my dear. Yes, no wine. And I don’t even want it–that’s how bad I’ve felt.

      This: “I’ve been trying to understand how clearing my space and my plate can really lead to the happiness I seek.” That’s exactly it. xox

      • Angie Mizzell on February 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

        Miss you! And sending continued good thoughts your way.

        • Kate on February 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm


  7. Sarah on February 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    I hope you are able to go to your favorite exercise class, and run and sit and laugh without pain again soon, Kate. And get to the place of openness. I’m in your corner!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Thank you, Sarah. That means a ton to me!

  8. Merle on February 17, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Oh Kate. Awful discomfort. Wishing you more comfort and painless days. Pray that alternative measures work. Hugs!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Thank you so much, Merle!

  9. Sue LeBreton on February 17, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Well that is no fun. Sending healing thoughts your way. You may enjoy Sarah Power’s Insight Yoga book- she has a practice in it for the liver and gallbladder chi. Her book says the gallbladder relates to our ability to follow our path in life, to avoid deviating or being put off by external influences. Her kidney chi practice got me through a really rough year.
    Your lovely classes must take a toll on you as well as we are tapping into your emotional centre. Hugs and healing.

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:32 am

      Oh Sue, I need you here to show me those positions. I’ll definitely check it out. I wish you were going to the upcoming retreat. I’d corner you for daily yoga. This summer! (Though of course I hope I’m 100% long before then.) xo

  10. Paula Chapman on February 17, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Sorry to hear you are having to go through this. Went through similar problems about 18 months ago, with a build-up of ‘sludge’ in my gallbladder (such a hideous term, sludge) causing a lot of issues. Good luck with pursuing non-surgical efforts. I know some women who have had success with that. Had to have mine removed which helped with my pain. So many unknowns in these type of situations so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you finding some relief!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:31 am

      Thank you so much, Paula! I’m so glad you are clear of pain. (And you’re right–sludge is an awful term.)

  11. Barb Buckner Suárez on February 17, 2015 at 10:08 pm


    A couple of years ago I was dealing with the same thing. I was really scared – I thought I was having a heart attack because the pain was so severe! Side note – if you ever end up in the ER and you want to be seen before anyone else in the waiting room, just complain of shooting pain in your upper chest, back and right arm. They will take you straight back! :O) I also went in for a surgical consult after all the same tests that you refer to here to talk about getting my GB removed and was told the only risk factor that I had was that I was female. So , I decided against it and lo and behold over time it went away and blessedly I have not had another attack.

    But here’s what I want to share with you – prior to what I thought was GB attacks, I had been incredibly sick with a sore throat infection that was not strep. So I took all sorts of acetaminophen. I was taking Tylenol around the clock (the pain would wake me at night) and I didn’t realize that the sore throat lozenges and numbing medicines I was taking throughout the day and night also contained this same medication. In short, I have come to believe that I overdosed on acetaminophen and that my pain was actually related to liver functioning impairment. No one was looking at my liver! Everyone was focused on my GB. I think it eventually healed itself as I’ve had no issues since. Sorry if this is oversharing, but I remember being at a complete loss as to what was happening and why. If this can shed any light on your situation, I’m glad that I mentioned it. Be well and I hope that your issues also resolve.

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Barb, not oversharing at all! I’m so glad it resolved. I love to hear that! I’ve had my liver tested, and everything looks okay, which is a relief. But the two are definitely closely connected, and I know the intensity of life before all this happened probably took its toll.

  12. Wendy Skinner on February 18, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Kate! Glad that there’s at least some explanation. Get well soon!

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Thanks, Wendy!

  13. Wendy on February 18, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Kate, this sounds like a good plan. Take it a step at a time. I did an elimination diet last fall–for excruciating migraines. It was hard, but it was worth it!
    Breathe. ☺️

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Wendy! Did it work for your migraines? It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s probably already worth it, but if I felt a ton better, I would be shouting that out too! Breathing.

  14. Galit Breen on February 18, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Oh no, Kate! I’m so sorry that this is happening! It sounds like, as always, yo have things gracefully under control. But if you need you need a break or a chat or some help, ASK, I’m here! xo

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 10:04 am

      Thank you, my dear. I’m glad I SOUND graceful about it all. It’s probably not the story you’d get if you talked to Donny or the girls. I am, perhaps, not my best self these days.

  15. Lisbeth Thom on February 18, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Kate, sorry you are feeling crappy. Hope things are looking up soon. Hate to hear that you are in pain. Saying prayers that you get back to your bouncy self right away. Lisbeth

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Thank you so much, Lisbeth! I appreciate the prayers!

  16. Cecilia on February 18, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I’m so very sorry to hear that you have been going through so much pain and uncertainty, Kate! I like that you are exploring natural ways to heal and I hope that they work. Please keep us posted and no worries about writing “too much,” since the writing will have healing powers too! Take care xo

    • Kate on February 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Thank you, Cecilia! It does have that power, doesn’t it? xox

  17. Andrea on February 19, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Ugh, Kate! If it’s not one thing, it’s your gallbladder!! I hope your elimination diet works and you can avoid surgery. Take care of yourself, lady.

    • Kate on February 19, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      That made me laugh, Andrea! Thank you! I’m trying, though I have to say that I’m terribly bored with the food today. Day 8. Urgh. Didn’t you do a 21-day thing and then spend another couple of months trying to get the dairy back in? That’s my fear, or at least one of them.

  18. Andria on February 20, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    🙁 Kate, I’m so sorry you have had to deal with this!! I want to hear that you’re back to wine and coffee and chocolate and scallops in cream sauce. Thinking of you and hoping you feel much, much better before too long.

    • Kate on February 24, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Thanks, Andria. And that all sounds delicious. I miss chocolate so much (and of course the other stuff too). It’s really no fun to have one’s body not cooperate. But I’m in less pain than I was a week ago, so that’s good news…