Living, But Not to the Fullest

February 23, 2018

Eating large meals always proved itself to be a challenge for me because we would always go to someplace that only served different varieties of red meat, seeing as how majority of my family were proud Americas. At the age of six, I wasn’t thinking that the medium-well steak with a side of glorious mac-n-cheese were causing my stomach to gurgle or tighten up; I thought that, hey, I ate too much this time. I would then begin to bring up how my stomach hurt really bad whenever my immediate family -- my brother, my mom, and my dad -- and I got into the car to go home every single time we were done with extended-family meals. But, since we only did those about three times a month, we didn’t really worry too much about my stomach pain. According to my mother, I was just eating too much.

However, when we moved to Texas when I was in seventh grade, my stomach pain got worse and went downhill from there. It seemed like no matter what I ate, these tiny goblins would take hot daggers and  plunge them into the lining of my stomach, twisting their little blades with no mercy. I would eat a piece of toast and then be crumpled like a paper ball on the floor, crying and grabbing at my arms in a desperate attempt to get my mind to stop thinking about the war zone that was in my stomach. That’s when my mother and I began to think something was a bit off.

My brother, as well as my first doctor, thought I was insane. I went six months, afraid to eat more than a couple bites of food every day, before I was taken to the first of many doctor visits, addressing my digestive issues. I was told that it’s all teenage angst and should go away in a week or two, even though I’ve been in pain for over eight months at this point. I wasn’t prescribed anything and my mother and I listened to what he had to say; we decided to check back in at the two week mark.

My condition had gotten worse. In fact, it was so bad that eating any sort of red meat caused severe pain followed by extreme nausea, and usually ended with vomiting. So, we came back to my doctor after only a week. This time, he kept insisting that it was just female hormones but decided to prescribe me with medication: prescription strength Prilosec. Prilosec is basically just candy-coated heartburn medication. I don’t know how heartburn medication was supposed to help my stomach, but I went with it.

I then went down the deep rabbit hole of medication. I had to have two Prilosec every morning and two Prilosec as soon as I got home from school just to be able to keep my stomach at bay.

I was constantly medicated.

But, everything seemed to just go away after being on Prilosec for eight months. Poof! Like it was a figment of my imagination. We stopped going to the doctor and eventually stopped getting my Prilosec filled because I was able to eat without it -- or so I thought.

I was well into eighth grade -- maybe three months into the new school year -- when I had a “cancer” attack, as my mom started to refer to my awful, awful stomach pains. A girl brought vanilla cupcakes to English class to celebrate her birthday with her classmates, and she did not skimp out on the quality. Clearly, these cupcakes were made by a company that cared about what they produced because the amount of sugar was overwhelmingly good. The buttercream was light and did not have that disgusting, lukewarm, whipped cream texture to it; these cupcakes were clearly the work of God.

Too bad my body rejected them. I wasn’t even finished with my slice of heaven before my stomach pulled the fire alarm, making my organs seize up and go into complete chaos, causing me to crumple to the ground. People around me were yelling and trying to make sure I was okay, but their voices sounded distant, almost like they were in a completely different room; the pain was so intense that any form of response came out like a sobbed whimper or a squeak. I was gripping at my sides so hard that my knuckles began to turn white and the skin on my sides later developed light bruises. That’s what made my family decide to go see my first doctor again, who prescribed me nausea medication, Prilosec, and something that would aid in digestion.

My new routine consisted of taking two Prilosec before and after school, taking one of the digestion pills before each meal, and only taking the nausea pill if I felt queasy. Once again, I had to be heavily medicated in order to eat anything. After school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would head over to my mom’s clinic to get my blood drawn. This happened every week for the next six weeks, and the phlebotomist would take three tubes each time; it felt like my doctor was Dr. Acula. It was then decided that I needed an endoscope, which is where a tube with a camera would be shoved down my throat to take pictures of my stomach because the medication was no longer bringing me the relief it did a year before. Thankfully, no ulcers were found, but the results from the test said that stomach acid was found on the lining of the esophagus and blamed that my stomach pain on that even though all of my pain was happening after I ate. I was put on more medication that I don’t even remember the name or use of because I was only taking it for about three weeks before we left  my first doctor and dropped the medicine.

I ate nothing but graham crackers and bland food with nothing to drink other than water for the rest of eighth grade and for all of ninth grade. I was such a joy to bring to parties and I think that’s why a majority of my friends stopped talking to me. Everything started tasting like cardboard and I was so sad most of the time. Most nights, I would scream into a pillow while sobbing because God was such a cruel man. I couldn’t eat without vomiting or experiencing crippling pain; how was that fair at all, God? All I added to my diet during my tenth grade year was fruit, cashews, and almonds so I could get some form of protein. It was awful; my friends would talk about ordering a pizza for our movie night and I would sit there with my box of Ritz crackers.

One morning in April of my tenth grade year, I woke up nauseated, but I managed to get out of bed to warm my parents about my current state and to get a glass of water. An hour passed and I nauseous feeling was beginning to get more prominent, so I decided to take a nausea pill that, unfortunately tasted extremely bitter and had to be placed underneath the tongue to be dissolved. The disgusting powder barely touched my taste buds and I threw up twice on my carpet, beginning the four hours of intense nausea and only being able to lay down with my knees propped up. My mom had to help me change out of my vomit-stained shirt so we could go to the hospital. As we were leaving my room and heading down the hall to get to my mother’s car, I sprinted to the bathroom and had uncontrollable vomiting for roughly ten minutes. The drive to the hospital was a nightmare, but when we finally arrived, I was introduced to a much better, second doctor who knew how to end my suffering. Eventually, she determined that I needed to be transferred to a different location to get a CT scan, which turned out to be the worst portion of the morning due to the waiting and the two different forms of Concentrate; the first form was a liquid that tastes like what a hospital smells like and was as thick as molasses, while the second form was injected through an IV and made you feel like you just peed your pants. While waiting for my scan, a lovely nurse started my IV with a liquid that made my mouth taste like pennies and ended up causing me to dry heave and throw up bile into a bag, seeing as how I still hadn’t eaten the morning this happened.

The scan told us nothing except that my white blood cell count was abnormally high and i might have had a gallbladder attack, so I was put on an antibiotic to help calm down my white blood cells. We still had no answers three years into my condition.

Flashforward to junior year and my condition got worse, but what else was new? I had blood samples sent to an allergy clinic, which revealed that I’m actually allergic to red meat, dairy, eggs, and gluten. My second doctor still felt like something was off and that those allergens were not the cause of my pain and scheduled a hydescan which would do a deeper scan of my intestines and take pictures of them for three hours. The scan revealed to us that I have a hyperkinetic gallbladder, meaning the bile ejection rate was at a high 98% rather than the normal 40%. So, not only was my gallbladder releasing too much bile, but it was also ejecting it so fast that it was starting to eat away at my stomach lining.

With the mystery of what was causing my pain finally solved after four years, my second doctor only had one suggestion: removal. My mother swore that if the surgeon we were referred to tried to continue testing or told us that girls my age don’t have gallbladder issues that we were just going to leave and find a new surgeon. Fortunately, that was not the case with my surgeon; he fully agreed that removal was the best course of action and on November 17, 2017, the day before Thanksgiving break, I had my surgery and stayed the night in the hospital. Once removed, my surgeon sent my gallbladder to a lab to see if anything else was wrong with it and, sure enough, it had a degenerative disorder known as cholesterolosis and had crystals in it. So not only was my gallbladder producing too much bile, but it was also slowly dying and forming gallstones at the same time.
I have now lived without a gallbladder for three months and have had little to no food problems. I can’t eat red meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, fried food, or letture without having to immediately use the restroom, but at least I have had zero pain! It’s hard watching what you eat without a gallbladder because one food mistake can make you need a bathroom in a snap, but it’s even harder trying to live a life off Belvita Breakfast Biscuits and a banana for every meal and still experience intense, searing pain.

Do I regret getting my gallbladder removed? Not at all! While it is possible to live without one, it’s better to keep it if you can and make eating salad an easier thing. It’s been a rough journey filled with tears, but it was all worth it because I can finally eat like a normal, human person.

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