Liver, liver, liver – you don’t treat me no good no more.

by shaysemmens

I had a liver biopsy 2 days ago, and it wasn’t what I’d call a pleasant experience. It was the first time I had had a liver biopsy or experienced anything like it, really. Last time I didn’t need one because the cancer was in my neck and around that area only. This time, the CT scan showed something ‘odd’ in my liver. It could be cancer, it could just be because I had pneumonia at the time of the CT scan, and the abnormalities could have been caused by my liver fighting the infection. At least, that’s what we’re hoping. However, better safe than sorry, so I had a liver biopsy done.

The letter I received in the mail about the liver biopsy made it sound like a pleural tap, which I had had recently due to the fluid in my lungs. However, when I arrived at the Austin Hospital I quickly discovered that the pamphlet was full of lies. The liver biopsy was absolutely nothing like a pleural tap.

The letter advised that they needed me to arrive at the Ambulatory Care Centre (the place for day surgeries/procedures that don’t require overnight stays) at 8:45am. As such, when they called me up the day before wanting to confirm that I’d be there at 8am, I was a little confused. It was even more annoying when I arrived at 8am to be told I wasn’t scheduled to have the procedure done until 9:45am. Not a great victory for the Austin there.

The first thing that happened was I was placed in a bed/stretcher and had a cannula put into my arm. This isn’t really painful at all (not for longer than half a second) and if you can’t take needles you’re not going to like the rest of this blog post.

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I then sat around for a couple of hours (thanks to the 9:45am start time) and was wheeled in my bed downstairs. As a side note, I imagine most of you have never been in an elevator while lying down before. It is quite a weird sensation.

I was moved into a little waiting room in the Radiology department, next to a bunch of people who had just had procedures done. Some of them looked a lot sicker than I did. Eventually I was wheeled into a small room where I met the doctor who would be doing the liver biopsy. I was filled in on what was involved (this is where I discovered that they were going in via my front, between/below my ribs, not via my back like a pleural tap) and that they’d be giving me sedation and painkillers throughout as needed (which sounded both good and bad at the time). To pick the spot they’d be going in, they used an ultrasound machine on me to find my liver. I took a quick snap of the machine they were looking at – though it’s not currently looking through my body so there’s nothing all that exciting on the screen:-

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I’d love to say that this procedure was painless, to assure anyone who has to have one that it’s a walk in the park, but if I start lying then this blog becomes fairly pointless. It was painful – but what I can say is that the pain only came in very short bursts. The needle injecting the local was painful, but that only took a couple of seconds and then I was numb. The actual process of taking a bit of my liver hurt – it felt kind of like a clamp had come down on something inside you and it felt a lot like the pain that usually comes when you get winded/punched in the stomach. But again, this pain didn’t last very long. It built up and made me clench my teeth and curl my toes, but right before it reached the point of being unbearable, it was gone. It did probably help that they pumped a little extra sedatives and painkillers into my blood stream throughout the process.

This whole thing was over quite quickly, and then I was moved back upstairs to my original location and told I had to lie flat for 4 hours. I was allowed to eat and drink after 1 hour, but if you’ve tried doing so while lying flat I think you’ll understand why I waited the full four hours before really getting anything substantial to eat or drink.

While I lay there, I wasn’t really in any pain. The nurses came around constantly to take my blood pressure, temperature, and check the wound, and ask how much pain I was in. There was another guy opposite me who had had the same procedure done just before me and he was in a fair bit of pain whenever he breathed deeply. I didn’t have any of that pain. I’m not sure if the drugs they gave me during the procedure took longer to wear off, or if I just got lucky.

That night I was in very minimal pain, same with the next day. It was completely bearable and only occurred occasionally.

So that’s a liver biopsy. If you have to have one, just keep in mind that while there will be pain, the pain is over so quickly you’ll barely have time to even register it. And these things aren’t for fun – they serve a purpose. Better to go through a little pain now to find out what’s wrong with you, rather than never know and have something very bad happen down the track.

I have an appointment with my doctor later today. I may not find out the results of the liver biopsy due to the short time frame, but we should have the results of the PET scan from earlier. Wish me luck!