American Expat’s Successful Gall Bladder Surgery in Philippines

My gall bladder is gone. Because I had suffered two painful gall bladder attacks within a space of one month, I had my gall bladder removed. Several doctors recommended the surgery, as did my wife. My asawa isn’t a physician. However, doctors at two different ER rooms convinced her that I did need to have my gall bladder removed. Furthermore, I was now minus 10 gallstones, along with my gall bladder, during a 50-minute operation at Medicus Medical Center in Iloilo City.

The Easy Way and the Hard Way

The Mayo Clinic  describes gall bladder removal, a cholecystectomy, as a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that sits just below your liver on the upper right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder collects and stores bile. Bile is a digestive fluid produced in your liver.

image courtesy of pixabay

While a cholecystectomy is a common surgery, it still carries a small risk of complications. A cholecystectomy is most commonly performed by inserting a tiny video camera and special surgical tools through four small incisions to see inside your abdomen and remove the gallbladder. Doctors call this a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.

Ninety-nine percent of gall bladder removal is accomplished laparoscopic cholecystectomy according to some sources. The “easy way.”

In some cases, one large incision may be used to remove the gallbladder, an open cholecystectomy. Hence, the “hard way.” Regardless, I would have to sign a waiver allowing the surgeon the open cholecystectomy option just in case.

Also, a couple of expats on our island province urged me to travel to the States and have the operation done. One of the expatriates had a botched operation in Guimaras. While I appreciated their concern, frankly, I wasn’t worried.

Shopping for Surgeons

After my second gall bladder attack in early February, I knew I had to get something done. The pain I experienced in both incidents was similar to the kidney stone episodes I experienced almost ten years ago. 

I had no idea how much a gall bladder operation would cost. My spouse had seen something on television that suggested a price range of around 100,000 pesos for the procedure. However, I don’t how recent the information she obtained was and I considered it prudent to review our options in nearby Iloilo City.

The St. Paul’s Stop

doctors hospital

Therefore, one Friday we ventured out to the “City of Love” to explore our options. Hence, we made St. Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo our first stop. It was the closest to us from the Ortiz Wharf.

We made our way through the labyrinth of hallways of St. Paul after inquiring at the Information Desk near the hospital’s entrance. We had no referrals. Consequently, I merely wanted some information and was determined to see how much the procedure would cost.

The surgeon at St. Paul’s in Iloilo quoted us a “ball park” figure of around 150,000 pesos, three thousand US dollars. Furthermore, the physician recommended that I see urologist first since I had an enlarged prostrate. I had taken along three ultrasounds. One done at Medicus in January, and two from previous years.

We thanked the doctor. However, instead of making our way to the urologist, also located at St. Paul’s, I informed my wife we were going to check with another hospital first. She felt we should stop at the urologist first. Because I wasn’t keen on some doctor probing around in my prostrate, I appeased my wife and advised her we could return in the afternoon.

The QualiMed Visit

Frankly, I wasn’t too keen on stopping by the QualiMed Hospital in Iloilo. Because it was near another hospital we wanted to visit, Medicus Medical Center, we decided to inquire about the operation there. I didn’t care for the lack of help we received at QualiMed when we were looking for an emergency room last September to treat my wife’s swollen and injured finger.

At that time, the ER staff at Medicus provided us with excellent emergency room service. The staff at QualiMed didn’t seem too concerned with my wife’s injury.

However, we inquired at their Information Front Desk and were able to have a consultation with a surgeon quite quickly. In contrast to the 150,000 cost quoted at St. Paul’s, the QualiMed surgeon gave us an expected operation fee of 250,000 pesos, 5,000 US dollars. We left the doctor’s office and moved on to Medicus Medical Center. The quote of a quarter-million pesos seemed too high for me. While an average gall bladder removal surgery is around 24,000 US dollars, I thought we could get a better deal elsewhere.

The Return to Medicus Medical Center

Above all, we had wanted to schedule a visit with Dr. John Paul Gonzalez at Medicus, but he does not schedule any appoints until one pm. Dr. Gonzalez, a surgeon, is the husband of Dr. Elvie Gonzalez, a physician who treated my wife for her gastritis attacks a few years ago.

medicus iloilo city

Dr. Gonzalez was now in his office and called me in for a consultation. He is a very friendly and personable man. I went through my gall bladder attack stories and asked him how much a gall bladder operation would cost at Medicus. He quoted me a price of between 80,000 to 100,000 pesos, 1,600 to 2,000 US dollars.

“Sign me, up,” I immediately replied.

The doctor asked me when I would like the surgery done.

“As soon as possible,” I responded.

The doctor gave me a list of tests that I would need done before the surgery. I could get the tests completed at any healthcare facility. As soon as the required tests were finished, I was to contact Dr. Gonzalez for my surgery date.

The StatLab Tests

statlab iloilo city

Because we have to stay at home during the weekdays to care for my wife’s elderly father, stricken with Alzheimer’s, we had to wait until the following Saturday to have my tests accomplished.

We decided to go to StatLab in Iloilo City, a healthcare facility we had used in the past. The five tests, which included a chest x-ray, ECG, and some blood tests only cost around 1,200 pesos total, 24 US dollars. Because it was a Saturday, the results might not be available until the following Monday. I asked if they could possibly process the tests the same day, as I wanted to schedule my gall bladder surgery as soon as possible. The staff was very accommodating and we received my test results that same afternoon.

The Surgery Date

Dr. Gonzalez arrived in his office around 2:00 pm that Saturday. He promptly called me to his office again and I advised him that we had all of test results for my surgery. He looked over all the results and noted everything was fine. He said I could be admitted into the hospital the next day, Sunday afternoon. Surgery would be on Monday.

I was happy to hear that. We thanked the doctor and my wife went to the admitting section to arrange for our room. We reserved a private room for 2,600 pesos, a day, 52 US dollars. During a previous stay for my wife’s gastritis attack, we had also used a private room. That room had good air con, a flat screen TV, and a separate couch from the main hospital bed.

image courtesy of pixabay

The Hospital Admittance

The next day, Sunday, we arrived at Medicus Medical Center. We were first direct to the Emergency Room. My wife went to check in with the Admitting Dept. The Business Office was her next stop. She had to make a 10,000 peso deposit, 200 US dollars.

While we do have PhilHealth coverage for me, the deposit was still required. Meanwhile, while in the ER, waiting for my private room, a nurse instructed me to put on my pajama gown.

“Nope! I would wait until I was admitted to my room.” was my reply.

I was growing impatient. While the upcoming surgery didn’t bother me at all, I wondered why there was such a long delay before I could get into our room. Meanwhile, while my spouse was in the Business Office, two doctors visited me. The physicians informed me that my surgery would be on Monday afternoon at 4 pm.

Leaving the ER in a Huff

Dr. Gonzalez had another surgery to perform before mine. At the time, I didn’t know that my physician was going to be performing surgery on a cancer patient. However, I didn’t know that at the time and asked why I had to check in so early. We could have merely come in early Monday morning if I had known my surgery wouldn’t be until the afternoon.

This American Expat walked out of the ER telling the nursing staff I would be back the next day. I went to the Business Office to try to find my wife but she was already gone.

Consequently, this irritated expat returned to the Emergency Room, found my spouse, and informed her I was leaving and returning tomorrow. She pleaded with me to stay. Furthermore, she wasn’t going to leave the hospital and demanded I stay and have my surgery. While I was sure I was making a scene in the ER, I didn’t care at this point.

Rather than argue with my poor wife, I finally relented and asked again about the delay to my private room. A few minutes later, we finally gained entry into our room.

The Night before the Surgery

We had arrived at the hospital at around 3:00 pm that Sunday afternoon. We were admitted into our private room about 5:00 pm. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too impatient. Our room number was 316. As the attendant wheeled me into the room, I remarked that 316 was a good sign, as in John 3:16. The attendant immediately responded “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Dr. Gonzalez came into see me. The delay in my surgery couldn’t be helped as my physician had to perform cancer surgery on a patient at another hospital the next morning.

As mentioned earlier, I didn’t know the surgery now scheduled ahead of me was for a cancer patient. Of course, I didn’t have a problem with that as my gall bladder surgery certainly wasn’t a matter of life or death. Dr. Gonzalez informed me that I would be taken to the operating room around 3:30 pm the next day.

An unappealing dinner was delivered. I passed on it. My wife now was out of the hospital trying to find some medication for a prescription that a nurse had brought in for me.

The hospital pharmacy didn’t have the medication in stock so my better half went to SM City in Iloilo that was some distance down the road from the hospital. We didn’t know there was a Mercury Drug Store that was closer. Unfortunately, no one at the hospital pharmacy had informed my wife of that fact.

When my spouse returned with the necessary medications, she also brought along a chicken potpie from a nearby Jaybird Coffee restaurant.

Around 9:30 pm, the nurse returned with a request for another prescription. However, it was late and I didn’t want my wife going out in the evening alone in the city. The nurse said my wife could purchase it the next morning.

Falling asleep, I didn’t have any worries about the upcoming surgery.

Words of Encouragement from Pastor Joel Osteen

The next morning my spouse went to Mercury Drug to purchase my new medicine. The hospital pharmacy did not have that medication in stock either. An unappetizing-looking breakfast was delivered. My wife was going to bring me something from a nearby 7/11 store. I had to finish my breakfast by 8:00 that morning.

Flipped on the TV from my hospital bed and began channel surfing, one of my favorite pastimes at home. Furthermore, one had to wonder why a study was done several years ago, which revealed men “channel surf” more than women do. My own wife certainly didn’t need a study to reveal that fact to her.

TV evangelist Joel Osteen was giving a sermon on one of the religious stations. He was exhorting Christians to soar like an eagle and fly high above all of their troubles, whether they be financial, or sickness, or personal. Pastor Joel encouraged the Christian to leave all those burdens and worries with God and rise above all your troubles.

The message comforted me. I personally committed my upcoming surgery to Jesus Christ and prayed for my surgeon, Dr. Gonzalez, who earlier had also encouraged me to pray.

The Needle Problem

Before noon, two nurse came into my room. They were going to place a large needle attached to a vial into my arm that would be needed during my surgery. However, after the one nurse couldn’t successfully inject the needle into either of my arms, another nurse attempted the procedure.

This grumpy expat informed the caregivers that nurses, technicians, and even doctors sometimes have difficulty finding a good vein. The nurses informed me that I have “small veins” and that the veins were moving. I joked that it was a good thing that I wasn’t a heroin addict. Finally, a senior nurse was called in.

However, the senior nurse couldn’t inject me with the larger needle and now the Head Nurse was summoned.

Sir Donald, a recently promoted head nurse who had previous been in the U.K. promptly injected the large needle and vial without any problems. This impressed me and I commended him on his technical ability. Over 10 years ago, five attempts to do a blood test had failed over at the former Great Saviour’s Hospital, now called Medical City.

image courtesy of pixabay

American Expat’s Successful Gall Bladder Surgery in Philippines

Around 3:15 pm, a friendly male nurse, Sir Jay, came into my hospital room. He secured me onto a gurney and proceeded to take me to the operating room. I joked that we had the same hairstyles; no hair, as Jay and I both sported the same baldhead look.

image courtesy of pixabay

My wife was going to stay in our room during the operation. Unbeknownst to me she suffered a panic attack during my time in surgery and had to walk around, compose herself, pray, and fight off the attack. My spouse has suffered three panic attacks in the past.

The last thing I remember before going under anesthesia was looking up at the overhead lights and speaking with my surgeon, Dr. Gonzalez. Before I knew it, I was waking up, wracked with pain in my shoulders. Sir Jay had called my poor wife to the recovery room. I was a “big guy” according to Jay and I was having a “tantrum.”

My arms had been tied up and held above my chest during the successful 50-minute operation in which 10 gallstones were removed along with my gall bladder. Pain medication soothed my shoulder pain and I was soon wheeled back to my room.

Checking out the Next Morning

Since Dr. Gonzalez and his talented team did such a successful gall bladder removal surgery, I could be discharged from Medicus Medical Center in Iloilo City the next morning. Thankfully, the removal of my gall bladder was accomplished by the more common laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Surgical staples closed the small incisions on my stomach.  Several self-dissolving sutures were also required. A little more than two weeks later, my wounds have virtually disappeared.

The approximate cost of my gall bladder removal surgery was 120,000 Philippine pesos, 2,400 US dollars. However, since I am covered by wife’s PhilHealth plan, which only costs us 3,600 pesos a year, our PhilHealth covered 31,000 pesos of the bill, 620 USD. That brought our total cost to about 89,000 pesos, 1, 780 USD.

PhilHealth

A Big Thanks to Dr. John Paul Gonzalez and the Staff

I sincerely want to thank my surgeon, Dr. John Paul Gonzalez. He’s an excellent surgeon and I would highly recommend him to anyone considering surgery in Iloilo City and the nearby area. He’s the best!

I would also like to my Dr. Mercy Margot T. Yanson, my very efficient and talented anesthesiologist. I didn’t wake up once during the surgery and didn’t experience any sort of pain afterwards.

Also, a big thanks to Dr. Elvie R. Gonzalez, Dr. John Paul’s wife, who also was involved in my care and surgery.

Finally, a BIG THANKS, to my lovely and patient spouse, “The Sainted Patient Wife,” who helped me during the whole ordeal and pushed me to have this necessary surgery. Without her persistence, I would probably be experiencing more painful gall bladder attacks.

Of course, another BIG THANKS to my Heavenly Father and his Blessed Son, Jesus Christ. I haven’t had any stomach pain since the surgery.  I was able to return to my normal routine after only a week.

I have lost 23 pounds since early January and am enjoying a much healthier lifestyle.

image courtesy of pixabay

Thanks, too, to the Nursing Staff at Medicus Medical Center.

The Exit

OK, here’s one more story. On the morning of my discharge, I was anxious to leave. Our bill had been paid. I impatiently had pulled out the IV needle out of my arm while my wife was out of the room. I walked over to the Nurse’s Station where my spouse was posted. Immediately, the nurse went into a panic since I wasn’t in a wheelchair.

They instantly had me sit down while they looked for a wheelchair and an attendant to bring me out of the hospital. Suddenly, the elevator on the 3rd floor opened! I jumped in! The nurses called out for me to stop. As the elevator doors closed, my wife exclaimed, “I can’t take you anywhere!”

I made my way to the ground floor and sat down near a security guard waiting for the nursing staff and my wife to catch up with me. Five minutes later, a nurse, and my better half showed up. As my wife scolded me, the nurse quickly found a wheelchair and an attendant who wheeled me out the front door to a waiting taxi.

We made our way home to Guimaras minus one gall bladder.

Author: The Kano

POST AUTHOR: "THE KANO." Dave DeWall, "The Kano", is the Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of "Philippines Plus" in publication since August 2009. He is also the CEO of Lizard Poop Productions and author of the best-selling guide book "The Philippines Expat Advisor." Dave moved to the Philippines in July 2009 from Central Illinois with his lovely wife of over 20 years, "The Sainted Patient Wife." The couple reside in a rural province in Western Visayas, Guimaras. The small island province is said to have the sweetest mangoes in the world. They do not have any children but are the proud owners of eight active canines, including a Belgian Shepherd called "Killer" "Killer" has bitten five people in the last two years along with one goat and a carabao. "Killer" doesn't like strangers. Or goats. Or carabaos.