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I’m Erin, and I can’t eat that

Junior+Erin+Sheffield+rests+in+her+hospital+bed+before+several+procedures.
Junior Erin Sheffield rests in her hospital bed before several procedures.

Junior Erin Sheffield rests in her hospital bed before several procedures.

Michele Sheffield

Michele Sheffield

Junior Erin Sheffield rests in her hospital bed before several procedures.

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“Hi there. I’m Erin, and I can’t eat that.”

“High-fat foods make me sick.”

“No, I don’t know why.”

“Yes, we have looked for that disorder. I don’t have it.”

“No, I can’t have fries or ice cream. Crazy, I know.”

“Yes, it is bad. But I can get through it.”

I’d had that conversation at least once daily since July. After months of dodging grease, butter and a diagnosis, I lay under the glare of white lights. One nurse, upon noticing my blood pressure, informed me I was nervous. (Apparently, she believed I hadn’t realized.) My feet flexed in scratchy blue socks at the end of the surgical table. My dry skin stunk of rubbing alcohol and felt coarse, a bothersome feeling for a scented lotion addict like myself. After months of waiting, it was time for the solution: surgery. 

Pizza is far less tempting when a small slice leaves one lying on the bathroom floor with cold sweats.”

— Erin Sheffield, 11

In December, my gallbladder was removed. The gallbladder’s purpose is to release bile each time one eats fatty food to help break it down. The problem was, mine wasn’t releasing enough bile at a time–it was at 22 percent function. Removing the organ allows the body to release bile at a constant rate, mostly solving the problem. 

The problem was I loved, and still love, fat. My mom and I sometimes spend Friday nights buried beneath blankets, pizza and cookie dough, illuminated by the glow of “Gilmore Girls” on the TV. My dad loves to use his deep fryer to make mozzarella sticks, which paired with my mom’s ranch dressing is amazing, for all of us on lazy Sunday afternoons. Fat is a major part of my lifestyle.

Unfortunately, pizza is far less tempting when a small slice leaves one lying on the bathroom floor with cold sweats. The episodes of sickness occurred so often, they weren’t traumatizing or horrible anymore; in fact, after a while, I got used to them, but my mom insisted on a doctor’s visit, which sparked a cycle of negatives.

Finally, one test arrived with results.”

— Erin Sheffield, 11

Tests returned negative. A referral to a specialist two hours away offered no clues. More tests returned negative. Pills made me sleepy. I started losing weight for no clear reason. Still more tests, now more frantic as the specialist panicked over my weight loss, returned negative. New pills tasting like bitter Smarties were nothing but a hindrance. More pills exhausted me. Tests returned negative.

Finally, one test arrived with results. And after a consultation, my surgery was scheduled for Dec. 14.

I laid under the glare of white lights. One nurse, upon noticing my blood pressure, informed me I was nervous. (Apparently, she believed I hadn’t realized.) My feet flexed in scratchy socks at the end of the table. My dry skin stunk of–

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.”

My eyes weren’t open yet, but gradually, my hearing returned. I was back in bed. And I hurt.

Erin Sheffield
During recovery, some friends brought gifts or cards. This is my favorite.

I opened my eyes. The ceiling tiles above my head performed an interpretive dance to the sluggish waltz of my “ows” rather skillfully for ceiling tiles; I was impressed. I felt the stuffed dog they gave me before the surgery resting in my fingers, but I didn’t have the strength to squeeze it. The nurse above me caught my eye.

“Ow. Ow. Ow.”

I couldn’t stop the “ows,” so I aimed them at her. She didn’t care. She was fiddling with a thermometer, one which she slipped under my tongue. I could’ve closed my mouth around it, but I was too high to realize I was supposed to. After about 10 seconds of vague, confused staring, she gave up and wheeled me to another room where my parents waited to begin recuperating.

For five days, I felt horrible. I constantly required a heating pad to dull the pain of bloating. I couldn’t walk without assistance. I once spent five minutes waiting in bed for my mother because I couldn’t lift the covers to tuck myself in. The pain drugs caused uncontrollable spasms, yet on Monday, I went from struggling to walk to doing crunches. It felt miraculous.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.”

— Erin Sheffield, 11

Now, for the most part, I’m well. Yeah, if I have nothing but a Dr. Pepper in the morning, I feel iffy, but that’s not the point. I entered junior year prepared for tons of homework and competitions, challenges I’ve faced often before, but I got something entirely different.

I got a scope down my throat the day before a choir audition. I spent the first day of a national convention hunched over in a bathroom in a cold sweat, trying to quickly vomit before the keynote speaker finished. I missed the Christmas choir concert sitting at home, high off my rocker on Tramadol and eating Chop Chop in over sized panda pajamas.

I saw my mom and dad scared. Being the parents they are, they rarely allowed the stress to show, but every time we left hospitals with bad news, my mom’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel with road rage. My dad reacted differently; instead of becoming frustrated, his voice softened, and he would seek out hugs or deeper conversations. The episodes hurt, but seeing my parents afraid hurt worse.

Yeah, if I have nothing but a Dr. Pepper in the morning, I feel iffy, but that’s not the point.

— Erin Sheffield, 11

I gained strong connections to others. I spent a school dance talking to my teacher about how horrible it is to have a colonoscopy. In the days following my surgery, people I never thought would care visited my house and brought over 200 ounces of Dr. Pepper, my favorite drink, to my doorstep. Friends showed me buttery recipes, all excited to see me eat them without consequences. Even at school, numerous people offered to push my wheelchair or help me through my first day back post-op.

I realized how lucky I was. I spent six months in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices, but some of my mother’s friends spent years undiagnosed coping with the pain. I met a 5-year-old with a dear love of cheese and a dairy allergy, too young to understand why it was hurting him. My father had the same surgery and woke in agony.

My troubles cannot even remotely compare to others’ hardships. Still, I’ve learned so much from the past six months. Even though I spent so many meals in a hangry huff, unable to eat and got to know lots of public bathrooms a bit too intimately, I would do all of this again.

Now, I know I’m strong enough to, and if I need to, if some other medical condition arises and decides to mess everything up again, I know I can be who I need to be and say what I need say:

“Hi, I’m Erin, and I can’t eat that.”

“Yes, it is bad. But I can get through it.”

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About the Contributor
Erin Sheffield, Editor-in-Chief
Hullo! I’m a senior in my third year on staff and my second year as an editor-in-chief. You can catch most of my work in the news and blogs sections. When I’m not around the school with a camera and a press pass, I spend my time in choir, musical, various competitions and on my...
3 Comments

3 Responses to “I’m Erin, and I can’t eat that”

  1. Paige on January 18th, 2018 9:33 pm

    You are amazing in so many ways. I am so grateful that this confusion and pain has come to an end. You are such an inspiration!

    [Reply]

  2. Mike on January 19th, 2018 10:46 am

    Great story, Erin. Excellent insights, and such an enjoyable read. You are very strong, and can rise to any challenge.

    [Reply]

    Dave Yirak Reply:

    I can see you directing your ow’s st the nurse- made me laugh and want to hug you at the same time- love you and miss you

    [Reply]

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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I’m Erin, and I can’t eat that