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November 13, 2019

How coping with Past Medical Trauma Experiences can Boost your Creativity.

Or perhaps I should say: 81 gallstones, 20 years of age, 13 different doctors, 12 months of pain, a trauma for take-away and one fucking great idea.

Have you ever had trust issues? And I am not talking about the ones that concern relationships. I’m talking about trust issues with doctors — the most important people when it comes to lifesaving. Not trusting them anymore because of a past medical trauma experience made my life a lot harder, but here is also what I have learned from it, even though it took me five years. But for what it’s worth, I’m sure that I can fast-forward your healing process or at least light up your day with an unbelievable story with an unexpected happy ending.

Let’s start at a point where everyone complimented my new necklace. They wanted to know where I bought it, but it was handmade – by myself. “Wow, that’s pretty cool with all those small stones!”, they said. And I was like: “Thank you – that’s the stones from my gallbladder.” You should have seen those shocked faces, not actually sure if I was joking. Well, I wasn’t. I put some glitter on top of them to make it look a bit fancier, and glued them into a crown cap from a beer bottle. My former boyfriend helped me to put a leather band through it – and there it was, my extraordinary necklace aka a reminder of how strong I have been and also the seed for a fucking great idea (l come back to that later). I was sick of showing people this plastic box full of 81 (yes, I counted twice to be sure) small, dark red/brownish gallstones that caused me an incredible amount of pain. The doctors handed this box to me after the operation as if it was a souvenir. As if the kind of trauma I got from this journey wasn’t souvenir enough. Thanks, though. I mean, of course, I wanted to take it home, and I wanted to show it to people. Not because I was proud of what my body had produced inside of me when it was supposed to be doing something else, but because I was relieved to finally having an explanation to what has caused me pain over one whole year. And yea, all the people who also started to doubt me having actual pain (because every single doctor reassured me again and again that I was perfectly healthy), they could finally see themselves that there has been a reason. Well, 81 reasons to be specific. I was just so unbelievably happy that all this not-knowing, distrust in my body, the recurring pain and utter despair seemed to be over.

It all began during my first Working Holiday Year in Australia when I was 19, pretty much in the middle of this backpacking and exploring the other end of the world-year. For some reason, I had upper abdominal pain repeatedly. In the beginning, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. But only until my body made me pay more attention, on this one day, when I ended up in an ambulance on the way to one of Sydney’s hospitals. It was the first of April 2013; I remember it so well because I had to convince my family over the phone that it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. It was hard for me to talk because I literally was not able to breathe properly because of the pain. Just before my friends called triple zero, my pain got worse and worse. I tried to lay down, stand up, walk; I tried everything – nothing has helped. My chest was hurting, my stomach, even my whole back. I had spreading pain in my upper abdomen, and I didn’t know what to do. It scared the hell out of me because I thought I was going to die. I never felt such intense pain before. Once arrived in the hospital, they gave me two powerful painkillers, then palpated my upper body, did a blood sample and checked my heart. All good. They sent me back home with guessing “It’s probably a Gastritis, take those pills for the next two weeks, and it will be fine.”

Today I know that it was a biliary colic, also called gallbladder attack. This is when a gallstone is blocking the cystic duct, causing very intense pain in the stomach and upper abdomen. And it happens most likely after having eaten a heavy meal when having gallstones. If I only had known that I had stones in my gallbladder, I wouldn’t have eaten two Beef-Burgers on that day with extra bacon and cheese – which is way too heavy and greasy – and overall it was not a very healthy choice (but I was young, I didn’t know better, okay? don’t judge). I probably also didn’t really care back then. Maybe that’s why my gall bladder started a war with me. Might be. However, I took the pills as prescribed, but after some weeks, the pain came back. It came back more often and with shorter breaks in between. I ended up going to the hospital again and again. Painkillers seemed like an easy option. The other doctors up in Queensland came to the same conclusion “It might be a Gastritis. Do you have a lot of stress?” Well, YES, INDEED, from wondering what’s wrong inside my body and getting pissed about how nobody is really helping me. He said: “You just turned twenty, there is no way you have gallstones. According to statistics, gallstones are normally a problem of middle-aged or older women, most likely overweight and/or after a pregnancy. We can outline that for sure. Don’t worry. That’s 250 Dollars.” Thanks. And just a piece of advice, Doctor, next time you go to the toilet, you can wipe your ass with those statistics because they are shit as well. That’s probably what I would say now. But in a more polite way. Anyway, what this doctor has told me, that we can outline gallstones without even doublechecking it just to be sure (which would be an easy option – just saying), I have heard a couple of more times. It has been such a pain in the ass, or should I say a pain in the gallbladder? I knew that something was wrong inside my body. Over one year, I went to 13 – T-H-I-R-T-E-E-N – different doctors, in Australia and later back in Germany as well. No one wanted to do ultrasound, because “we won’t see much from that”. Instead, they looked into my stomach with a camera and found – nothing. Which was a relief, of course, but still, the problem wasn’t in my stomach. Every doctor kept sending me back home, telling me that everything is fine, and I’m all healthy while I kept struggling with this pain. I felt so left alone and I even kind of started to second-guess myself. I mean doctors must be right, right?

In the end, I even had to throw up after heavy meals because the gallbladder is needed to digest fatty foods, but my one was busy producing fancy stones, which I don’t think I have ordered. The first time I threw up was on holidays with my former boyfriend and his family. It wasn’t the best start for a good relationship with my “possibly future mother-in-law” who was also a pharmacist and thought that I was pregnant. But luckily, the pregnancy test was negative. Straight after coming back from the “getting-to-know-his-family-holidays-in-the-shittiest-moment-of-my-life”, I went to the hospital once again for the millionth time, and I earnestly begged the doctor to please do an ultrasound. She tried not to get my hopes up too high with “We won’t see much from doing an ultrasound, but if you persist…”. So she did it, and I remember her saying with a surprised voice: “Oh, here we go. There’s the problem. You have gallstones. I think you need to get an operation.” Followed by: “Pretty uncommon for a 20-year-old girl, huh, statistics say…” as I interrupted her: “I know. I’m special, I guess.” Incredible. And discovering that took five minutes. I mean, one year and five minutes. I was happy that I finally had an answer, relieved that it was only gallstones, angry at every previous doctor and scared for the operation. Everything went well in the end, and all I had left to remember this journey was a plastic box filled with 81 gallstones, and the take-away trauma was included.

The memory of this experience was terrible and painful; that is why I at least wanted to create something beautiful out of it – like my very special gallstone necklace. And with that one, another idea was born: making jewelry out of crown caps. Of course, I used beads for those necklaces, and not my gallstones. And so I created unique necklaces. Each one was different. Different like me, not fitting into those statistics. Special, I guess. I posted pictures on Instagram, and I got great comments and compliments – people loved my stuff. So I kept going with it, I sold the necklaces on Etsy and the flea market. I even ended up being in a short report on a german lifestyle magazine on tv. I guess it’s really about what you make out of a situation. Like John Wooden said: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” So here I am now, five years later, making peace with the fact that thirteen different doctors in even different countries failed somehow. Or maybe they didn’t fail. Perhaps they have done the best they could. And perhaps they were told to believe in statistics, and perhaps they thought that they helped me that way. It is time now to be grateful for every single one of these doctors. Even grateful that it took so long to discover the gall stones, and even thankful for the pain. Because we can not grow with only sunshine, we also need rain. And without this long journey, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with the idea to make jewelry. I wouldn’t be writing this story either. And in the end, I brought a smile to a lot of people’s faces with my unique necklaces, and I also amused a lot of people when I told them this story. Because that is what a great story is about; it has both bad and good, pain and joy, right?

So here is my message for everyone who has been through a similar experience:

  • Sit with the bad feelings. Speak about it. Be angry – for as long as you need to be. Use inappropriate language to express your frustration and anger. Here’s my permission. Maybe pay to destroy a whole room. That’s what it was invented for! You need to let these shitty emotions out before you can let it go.
  • And then make peace with whatever happened. You can not change what happened, but you can choose how to cope with it. Change your view. Be grateful for how everything happened. Be proud of yourself. You are so strong! Think of something good that wouldn’t have happened when you wouldn’t have gone through this experience. Be grateful again. And tell yourself over and over again that everyone has done the best they could to help you. Even though it took them however long and caused you more pain than necessary, you survived, and that is all that matters.
  • Tell your story. Be honest about it. It creates connections. And you never know how much it can help others who experience(d) similar things. Even if it is just for feeling understood, that is what I would have needed the most in this situation.
  • Get creative. Creativity always comes from pain. Draw, write, whatever comes to your mind. You don’t need 81 gallstones to begin with…
  • Trust doctors again. That is probably the hardest one. But first of all. Trust your body. If you need reassurance, do not feel stupid to ask for another check.
  • And finally: always, always, always take good care of yourself. Eat well. Move your body. Do what you love. Rest enough.
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Janine Friedrich  |  33 Followers