I can't remember exactly when my gallstone symptoms began, but I do know that I was 11 years old and had just started middle school. It started off relatively innocently; after lunchtime, I'd have an occasional stomachache. It didn't seem like much at first, but eventually, it got to the point where I would have to leave school for the day because the pain was too serious. The stomachaches didn't last very long but they carried intense pain. 

Mom took me to go see my doctor, but he didn't think there was anything seriously wrong with me. He thought that I was having issues coping with anxiety about middle school and my parents' recent separation

I more or less adjusted to the changes going on in my world, but the stomachaches wouldn't stop. As I went through 7th and 8th grade, those aches became more frequent and more painful. 

Visits to doctors became somewhat more regular. Once, at Duke, they took five vials of blood out of my (very unprepared) twelve-year-old self. I almost fainted in the parking lot on the way to my mom's car. Mom and my grandmother had to hold me up so that I could get to the car. Yet the blood work and tests doctors were performing didn't reveal anything. 

beer, pizza, tea, coffee
Kate Maxwell

By the time my freshman year of high school rolled around the pain was pretty consistent. It wasn't every single day, but it was so frequent that I was becoming scared to eat anything. 

During that same time, I went to New York over winter break. I didn't have a lot of symptoms at that time so when I came back, mom prepared me a casserole that I loved as a welcome home treat. Unfortunately, that casserole made me the sickest I've ever been (and will hopefully ever be). For a solid 24 hours, I threw up everything in my system, including water. I couldn't keep anything down. 

I went through another series of tests, including an ultrasound, and it was finally discovered that I had gallstones. Typically, only adults develop gallstones and that's why it took almost 4 years for them to discover mine. They scheduled my surgery for late-June and I was so relieved.

beer, coffee, tea
Kate Maxwell

Unfortunately, the months in between the diagnosis and the surgery were absolute hell. The pain had become a daily issue and I could barely eat anymore. Gallstones impact the ability of your body to handle fat, and so most foods would cause me serious pain. I found a few staple foods that I could handle and I ate those and almost nothing else. I lived off of a lot of grapes during those months. 

Since I was restricting my diet, my weight plummeted. My lowest weight was roughly 110 pounds, and on my 5'7" frame was underweight. My mom said on the day of my surgery when I went to put on my hospital gown she saw my rib cage and cried.

But eventually, my surgery did happen. My surgeon told my mom that my gallbladder was really bad off, so I think everyone was relieved that they caught it before it got any worse. I was very fortunate that my surgery could be done laparoscopically (which involved smaller incisions) and my recovery was a lot easier than if they would have had to make the larger, traditional incision to remove my gallbladder.

Today, I eat pretty much anything that I want, but I still do get sick sometimes. My weight is back to normal and I am generally very healthy. Fun fact: I've developed a slight aversion to grapes. 

pizza, gastronomy
Kate Maxwell

Dealing with my gallbladder issues took up a huge chunk of my life from the time I was 11 to just after my 15th birthday. A lot of those years were spent either suffering through gallbladder pain or going to see some doctor. I missed a lot of fun experiences because I either was sick or didn't want to go for fear that I might have to eat something that would make me sick. Developing gallstones shaped a good portion of my life as a young adult and has impacted me forever.