Friday, 26 December 2008

Respect your Pancreas....

Yesterday was Christmas Day, as we all know. I spent it over at my sister-in-law's house, a 20 minute drive from home, together with her (and, obviously, my husband's) extremely aged parents who had driven all the way from the valleys of South Wales to spend the festivities with us (rather than us driving to them). It was pretty successful all round. C (sister-in-law) has installed a woodburner in her sitting room which I am insanely jealous about - I desperately want one but it wouldn't work in our house, so I have to bide my time for the next house!

P (husband) was in charge of the turkey, I did all the vegetables (my homegrown sprouts, mashed swede and carrot, mashed potatoes, ordinary carrots, parsnips, red cabbage and apple, savoy cabbage), C did the stuffing. Luckily she has an enormous kitchen (compared to mine) so all three of us were able to work round each other easily without getting under each other's feet or stabbing each other.

Lunch was duly eaten, wine drunk, christmas pudding with lashings of cream to finish off. Along with the rest of the country we adjourned to the sitting room so that everyone else could fall asleep in front of Wallis & Gromit's 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit' which I watched (I can't do that falling-asleep-on-the-sofa-after-a-large-meal-in-front-of-the-telly-and-a-roaring-log -fire, more's the pity), followed by the (frankly a bit disappointing even though I love me a good stampy Cyberman) Dr Who xmas special. I was still too full to eat a tea but managed to wrestle a decent portion of M&S's trifle down my neck before we headed off home in time to watch the new Wallis & Gromit - 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' - on the box. About 10.15pm I was climbing the walls for something savoury - crisps, peanuts, anything like that - but all we had in the house was marmite, so that was added to toast.

We went to bed at about 11.45pm, and that's when the pain started. Under my right shoulderblade, it felt like a muscle going into a spasmy cramp. This then radiated around to the front of my ribcage and, indeed, to my solar plexus (the bit at the bottom of the breastbone where the ribcage divides into two halves). It was hurting my right shoulder joint. It even made my right breast hurt. I was desperately hoping this was just cramp from sitting awkwardly at C's house but, in my heart of hearts, I knew I'd felt this before and it was Not Good.

I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to breathe through the pain. P stroked my back as I explained what was happening, but I had to get him to stop as it was too annoying. This felt ominously like the beginnings of an attack of Pancreatitis. A proper, full-blown attack can be so painful it is often mistaken for a heart attack. In the case that this might actually be a heart attack I asked P if he knew where the aspirin were and to be prepared to call for an ambulance.

To explain, throughout 2005 and 2006 I used to get these extremely painful attacks which eventually turned out to be caused by two quite large gallstones. In September 2006 I had my gallbladder removed but it was inflamed and took longer to extract than usual. Within 24 hours I was in the middle of a full-blown infection - I have NEVER experienced pain like it - I couldn't breathe, I couldn't walk, I nearly passed out from the pain. I ended up having an ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) where, under sedation, they stick an endoscope down your throat to see what's going on. They couldn't find anything but stuck a stent into my bile duct in case that might help. I was in hospital for a week fighting the infection and, although I can't remember the exact names of the various drugs, morphine, antibiotics, etc, they gave me, I can remember I counted that 23 different types of drugs had found their way into me during that week. It was not a good week.

Six weeks later, about November 2006, I went back into hospital as an outpatient to attend the Endoscope Suite again to have the stent removed. This should have been a relatively quick stay for a morning. This time they didn't give me enough sedation and I woke up halfway through the procedure and could feel them fiddling around down my oesophagus, and it hurt. The sedation they give doesn't completely anaesthetise you because they need to communicate with you while you're 'under', but it is an amnesiac which means that even if you do wake up (like I did) once you go back to sleep afterwards, when you next wake up, in the recovery bed, you won't remember a thing. Only I didn't go back to sleep again, so I still remember. Anyway, we went home, had soup for lunch and, literally, 2 hours later I was back in A&E again in excruciating agony, much like with the infection. Turned out I had ERCP-induced Pancreatitis. Cue another week's stay in hospital, completely nil-by-mouth for 5 days, an IV drip for fluids, a catheter to measure urine levels and talk of giving me a morphine pump! It was not a good week.

It took a good year to get over all these problems and for my innards to settle down again. From time to time, my pancreas would occasionally rumble a little to remind me of its presence but nothing like the pain before. That is until this christmas.

To go back, I walked around the bedroom, went hot and sweaty, cold and clammy, lost the colour from my face but I could feel that it wasn't actually getting too much worse. It gradually lessened and wore off enough for me to lie comfortably in bed and go to sleep. The attack lasted all of about 20 minutes or so. I woke up feeling fine, was a bit unnerved but decided not to worry too much about it.

We went back to C's house today for Boxing Day lunch which was basically a repeat of Christmas Day lunch. Wine, pudding, cream, the lot. I started to get a twinge at the table and decided to walk it off outside, under the pretext of being hot and needing to cool down (it was bleedin' cold today, only about 3 degrees and with a biting wind to boot). P came to join me and explained that I was having pains again, like last night but not as bad. He was a bit concerned but I thought it was best to keep him informed in case it all got really bad and I needed him to get me to the hospital urgently. As it had worn off we went back in. By now it was just after 3pm so we decided it would be best to get me home in any case, so we said our farewells as his Ma and Pa are going home tomorrow and left them none the wiser (they'd only worry).

We got home and plonked ourselves down in front of the telly to play with our new freesat box and HD channels and all was fine until about 5pm when I started to get the telltale cramping under my right shoulder blade again. I decided I'd tough this one out and didn't tell P before he went downstairs to the study to play his new computer game. This attack waved back and forth and round and about for about an hour before wearing off.

At the time of writing, it's been about 6 hours since the start of the last attack and in the meantime I've had a white bread turkey sandwich with the mearest scraping of butter on the bread, and precisely 4 crisps. Plus about a pint of water. I've been taking it easy, surfing the web and watching the box. So far so good, nothing else has happened. I've been looking up 'pancreatitis' on the web just to remind myself, and it does really seem to fit the symptoms. For some reason my innards decided that they were not going to deal with a heavy fatty meal with lashings of alcohol properly anymore.

Hopefully it won't wake me up in the very early hours of the morning (which is something that happens with gastrointestinal problems specifically focusing on the liver/gallbladder/pancreas) but I think I'll have to have a bland, low fat diet with plenty of water for the next few days just to settle things down a little.

Extreme bodily pain is a very weird thing - in my 45 years on this earth I've suffered from migraines, debilitating toothache from a cracked tooth, severe period pains, an ectopic pregnancy with subsequent post-operative pain, plus the above mentioned infection and pancreatitis. That's quite a lot of pain and when you're in the middle of it, everything turns inwards, you can't focus on what's happening beyond the boundaries of your own body - god help you if you haven't got anyone with you who can help. I'm eternally grateful for P being there and getting me to the hospital in a timely manner.

Anyway, I had kind of intended this post to be a rant about Christmas but my internal organs barged their way in instead. I hope this finds you in better health than me....

No comments: