Timeout for Brother & Gallstones

This blog is supposed to be about my therapy and my healing from abusive experiences in my childhood. But every now and then, I have to wander off topic and just talk about what is happening in my life–which of course ends up affecting, in some way, where I am in therapy.

So today I’m calling a short timeout from the discussion of comforting, therapeutic touch. I’ll get back to it shortly, I’m sure. But I feel the need to process my brother’s visit and my own trip to the ER for what turned out to be gallstones.

So my brother arrived last Wednesday. I haven’t written about my brother because he lives far away, and we aren’t close. But the fact that last summer my husband and I drove a couple thousand miles to his daughter’s wedding in South Dakota seemed to make him warm up a little, and we’ve talked more over the past year than in the previous five or more. This summer’s visit, though, marks the first time he visited me in over twenty years, since he was in his late teens.

I’ll skip the long backstory and the details about all the ways in which he and I are different. It’s enough to say that the first day and a half of his visit was a little rocky. Maybe we were both nervous. He was loud and blustering and sometimes insulting (he would have said joking). I was overly placating. Then one morning as I was out watering the tomatoes, it occurred to me that what was bothering more than his deliberate boorishness was my obsequiousness. We were reproducing the way my mom and my stepdad interact, the household we grew up in.

I couldn’t do anything about his behavior, I reminded myself. But I didn’t have to spend time trying to, well, kiss his thorny ass. Maybe he was just being himself. Well, I could be myself, too, and he could like me or not. Just as I could like him, or not.

That mindshift helped me a lot. It didn’t mean that I started to argue with him. I just stopped editing myself  and acted more like the way I normally act in my house, more relaxed and less like he was a guest.

Then he took off for two days to meet some people, which may have been what he was most nervous about, I’m not sure. He came back on Sunday afternoon, sooner than I expected. And he came back more relaxed, and appreciative.

As it turned out, I started to get sick after a late lunch on Sunday, just before he got home. Stabbing pains in my right shoulder blade, and a tightness in my upper right abdomen that radiated outward through the whole center of my body. At first, I thought it was a backache. No, it’s a stomach ache. Did I eat too much? I didn’t think so. It must be my back. I took two ibuprofen and when to lie down, leaving my husband and brother on their own.

Those two have spent very little time together over the years, and I wouldn’t have thought they’d have much to talk about. But when I overheard parts of the conversation, my brother was asking my husband about the technology he’d developed to measure the rate at which brand newborn babies suck in response to different sounds (this was for a psycholinguistics research project). Another time, he was asking my husband’s advice about the wireless setup at his home. None of the bragging and posturing that we’d heard in earlier days was present; it was a friendly, sometimes joking, but also practical conversation.

I wandered outside to join them for ten minutes that evening. “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” my brother said, with no hint of sarcasm in his voice. What?!? First I was surprised, and then I was very honestly and deeply touched.

When the two of them got ready for bed, my husband said, “I had such a nice conversation with your brother tonight… I feel like I know him a better, and we got along really well.” I registered this even though my body was hurting so much that I couldn’t find a comfortable position to rest in.

I didn’t bother going to bed; sleeping was impossible. I went down to the basement, where it’s cooler, and I started watching the TV show Luther. Nothing like violent crime to distract you from crushing pain in your side. Sometimes I took little breaks to Google “abdominal pain.” That’s what taught me that with pain in your upper right abdomen plus nausea: it could be gallstones. I read more on gallstones, and a lot of things fit.

I looked up “treatment for pain of gallstones.” No wonder the ibuprofen did nothing; morphine was the preferred medication for relief of this pain. Some websites said that gallstone pain only lasts an hour or two, but by early morning, I was going on 13-14 hours with no decrease in the intensity.

When my husband’s alarm went off for work at 5:15, I called the advice nurse for my insurance company. She told me to go to the ER to check it out. I asked my husband, “Do you want me to wake my brother up, or will you take me?” He said, “I’m taking you, of course!” (One more reason I’m so grateful he’s my life partner, even though I could have managed with my brother.)

It was nearly 7:00 by the time we got to the ER–new hospital because my insurance company changed, and we got lost trying to find it. It was shift change and busy in the ER, so it was 8:30 before I got anti-nausea and anti-pain meds. By then I had been feeling lousy for 17 hours, yikes! The relief came so fast, astonishingly fast. Mentally, I sent love and blessings to everyone ever involved in pain management and research. Thank you, thank you, thank heavens.

My brother texted at 9:00, asking how I was doing and whether he should feed my dogs. Though he’d been planning to leave at 10:00, he said he wanted to stick around until I came home.

An ultrasound found, no big surprise, gallstones. I snoozed (thank you, morphine) for a couple of hours before the doctor came back with the results. Then I got sent home with prescriptions for hydrocodone and more anti-nausea meds. By the time I got home, around noon, the morphine was wearing off and a crushing headache was coming on. This made it a little hard to listen to my brother, who was in a chatty mood. And while the edge had come off his conversation, he was as loud as ever.

He loves to tell stories, and he continued for a couple of hours, while I was longing to go to bed. But I didn’t cut him off. Maybe I was going back to my placating self, or maybe I was enjoying (despite the headache) hearing my little brother tell rambling stories in a good mood; I’m not sure which was true.

He packed up his truck and was finally ready to go. He gave me a big hug and said he’d try to come back next year. I told him I hoped he would, and I meant it. Then he turned to my husband and said, “I really liked our talk last night. I haven’t got to know you very much. We’ve only seen each other a few times, and always with a lot of family around. I’m so glad we got some time together.” My husband responded warmly, “I told Q the same thing last night, how much I appreciated our conversation.”

After my brother climbed into his truck, just before he took off, I reached over and said, “wait a minute.” Then I gave him another hug, a big, heartfelt, sisterly kiss on the cheek, and said goodbye.

After that, I took a hydrocodone tablet and crawled into bed for 16 hours.



  1. I was smiling when you wrote about your brother – that’s wonderful, it really is, and it made me happy. I hope someday I can begin to repair my relationship with my brother, too. I was cringing, though, as you wrote about the gallstones. Ouch!! I hope you are feeling better now!


    • Thank you Lily! If gallstones were the karmic price that I had to pay to get a warmer connection to my brother, I would say it is worth it. I know life doesn’t really work that way, but still… I hope there’s a time when you are also able to reconnect with your brother. It might take a while (hopefully not as long as it took us), but it’s possible.


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