The ugly truth about “bile” (and how writers misuse it).

Marianna stood in the doorway and listened. Her father just gave her away in marriage to cover his debt. She clutched the doorway. Bile rose into her throat…

Sorry, won’t happen.

Last Thanksgiving at this time, my dad went in for a simple outpatient gallbladder removal. Should have been easy. No complications.

But after he came home, later that night, he rushed back to the ER in extreme pain. But they thought he was being over dramatic. Nothing could have gone wrong. So they said. But the pain only got worse. He was readmitted. Several days went by. And on Thanksgiving Day, right before we cut the turkey, we got the call. “You’d better come in.”

What were we supposed to think? My dad isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore, even though he still runs up mountains at 73.

Bile was leaking from the sutures and filling his stomach cavity. It was slowly eating away at his live organs. This is an extremely rare occurrence. But deadly. They had to operate. Again.

We all took turns sitting with my dad. Over the next couple days, he slowly came to but he couldn’t walk. And he’d break down and cry just because we came to visit and walk with him down the hall, which he could barely do. He couldn’t believe we loved him that much.

I felt many things. Outrage that the hospital staff didn’t believe my dad when he said something wasn’t right. Fear that he could have died. Regret that I hadn’t told him I loved him. Thankfulness that our relationship had gotten better over the past ten years. Forgiveness goes a long way.

After the second surgery, they inserted a tube into his stomach to let the bile drain. A brown icky substance produced by the liver to aid in digestion. That took days. And that’s when I realized not only how much I loved my dad, but there is no way bile can rise into the throat.

So I asked. And a person would only taste bile in their throat or mouth if they’d been throwing up continually for a very long time and nothing was left in their stomach.

So, the next time you go to use that phrase. Well, don’t.

And this Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful as I look back on last year.


21 Responses to The ugly truth about “bile” (and how writers misuse it).

  1. Andrea November 19, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Laura, thanks for sharing your story. It’s very touching.

    That “bile” expression is one of many that only show up in books. Those kinds of phrases annoy me because they often don’t make any sense.

  2. Stina Lindenblatt November 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Somehow the misuse of bile in fiction never came up in any of my physiology courses. I’ve used it. It’s just a saying, even though it’s not physicially true–which is the case for many cliched sayings.

    That’s horrible what your father went through. It’s so common for medical staff not to believe what a patient is saying. Of course the patient is going to know better than the medical individual. I know someone who was 24 weeks pregnant when she went into labor with her second child. She knew what labor was. The nurse told her she was wrong. The woman went back to the hospital after being sent home. Again, she was told she was not in labor. Moments later she gave birth to in the waiting room. If the nurse had listened to her the first time, the labor might have been stopped, and the baby wouldn’t have been stuck in hospitals for four long months. To make things worse, the baby had to stay in a hospital 200 miles from the family’s home.

  3. Jennifer Shirk November 19, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Wow, thanks for sharing that story.

    It’s funny how phrases start and get used without people really knowing it means.

    • Laura November 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

      Jennifer – I’m sure I use plenty of phrases that make no sense. I don’t use the word bile like that anymore though.

      Stina – I can’t believe that about the woman in labor. I guess it does happen though.

      Andrea – Thanks. I’m looking forward to a peaceful thanksgiving.

  4. Catherine A. Winn November 19, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    This story is so moving. Rash judgements by medical staff happen constantly. They don’t listen until it’s usually too late. I’m glad this Thanksgiving will be so much better for you.

  5. Creepy Query Girl November 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    awe- I’m glad your dad made it through that alright. That must’ve been so scary. And yes, bile isn’t really an accurate description for indigestion. Happy Early Thanksgiving:)

    • Laura November 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks Catherine! This year will be much better.

      Katie – It was very scary, but it made me appreciative of so many things. Perspective.

  6. Kelly Polark November 19, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Oh, Laura, what a scary November for your family last year! Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family this year!!

  7. Lois Moss November 19, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    I’m not a bile abuser. It’s not in my MS once. Whew. I’m so glad you’re dad is okay now. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  8. Karen Strong November 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    That’s a scary story. Glad that the second surgery addressed the problem.

    Wow, the things I learn here! 🙂 I see that term a lot when reading and now I know that there is no way that the can happen.

    • Laura November 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      Karen – I see the term a lot too, but honestly, it doesn’t bother me b/c I know what the writer means by it.

      Lois – That cracked me up. “Bile abuser” And thanks, my dad is a lot better.

      Kelly – It was scary. Have a great Thanksgiving too!

  9. angela November 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    Goodness! I’m so relieved your dad will be all right. How terrifying for all of you.

    The bile thing is similar to the whole turning-ona-a-heel thing. I think every writer should TRY actually turning on a heel before writing it. I guarrentee they’ll find another way to show someone leaving in a hurry.

    Hugs for you and your family!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  10. Patti November 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    I haven’t used that phrase and now I never will. So glad your dad is okay. That must have been scary.

  11. Elisa November 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

    Yay! I’m glad I’ve always hated any fictional reference to bile and I’ve never used it. It always sounded so forced to me, like the writer was too lazy to think of something else, now whenever I read it I can be like, no, your medically wrong. Wow I sound so condescending. Ewww.

    I’m glad your father was okay in the end, but I noticed both doctors and nurses like to do that, they don’t really listen to you and pretend like what you’re saying doesn’t matter. I went in once b/c I was having extreme lower back pain and I gathered a list of all the things that ran in my family that may be the cause. Which is recommneded, and the doctor told me he didn’t need to know, it didn’t matter.

    I was like, I don’t think that’s right, many of the things on the list were hereditary and I was around the same age as my grandparents when they struck. In the end the doctor gave me a pamphlet on strething and I cried. I still get that terrible back pain from time to time.

    • Laura November 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

      Thanks Elisa – And now you know the truth! Sorry about your back!

      Patti – and now you know why not to use it, in case anyone ever asks!

      Angela – Thanks. I’m sure there are lots of phrases like that. In fact, I bet use some!

  12. Cathy West November 19, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Oh my gosh. You are absolutely right, and I think I have written that…shoot me in the head!! Wow. Thanks for the insight, and I hope that after all that, your dad is okay!

  13. Botanist November 20, 2010 at 2:34 am #

    First off, thanks for the story and I’m glad your father is OK after all that trauma.

    This is a timely post, I’m nearly done revising my first chapter which does indeed include the “b” word 🙁

    I’ve experienced that sour burning in the back of the throat when you just barely avoid being sick, and even though I know it’s not actually bile (I guess what you’re tasting is stomach acid) the phrase seemed to capture perfectly what I wanted to express in this case. Now I’m in a quandary, knowing that everyone out there sees it as a lazy cliche.

    Oh misery!

  14. Julie Musil November 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Oh Laura, what an ordeal! I’m so glad he was finally taken care of. That must have been so horrible. It’s moments like that that strip away everything else, and yes, leave us thankful for the little things.

    Oh, and thanks for the tip about bile. I’ll remember that!

  15. Glynis Jolly November 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Even though I haven’t found an occasion to use this word, thank you for the advice. I haven’t wanted to use it anyway and now I have a good reason.

  16. susan kaye quinn November 22, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    OK – never knew that about bile!

    And – I’m so glad your dad is doing better, but what an awful, scary time! Hang in there!

  17. patti November 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Oh, shoot! I have bile in every one of my published novels, I believe, and in the two at their foster homes with the publisher.

    Great post.
    But sorry about you dad’s pain.

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