This story is part of the Guts UK Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign.
My journey began around 18 years ago with my first surprise attack. And what a surprise that was! I was holidaying in Tenerife when pains from hell appeared from nowhere. A doctor was called, and €80 later he simply said you need an ambulance. The paramedics turned up with an outstretched hand, and consequently, €200 later I was taken to hospital. After the usual blood test for alcohol, the wait began. It was a long wait where I passed out from the pain. That got me seen! After a week in a rather plush private room with aircon, remote blinds and windows and Sky TV, they announced they wanted to remove the ole pancreas. In hindsight I should’ve let them…
A battle commenced between those in the know both on the island and back home in Blighty and I was eventually flown back home. (Which involved my first incident of filling my pants unavoidably!)
As the years went by, another 7 or 8 acute attacks ensued, all involving lengthy hospital stays and the typical nil by mouth for a week or so and another week under observation, before being released to “crack on”.
June 8th 2016, I had a day off of work and offered to take my niece home to Bristol from where we had recently moved to, a 200 mile journey
I had been feeling pretty rough for a few days and all the tell tale signs were there of another impending attack. I’ve always just put up with the pain and just integrated it into my life as one of those things. I settled down for the long journey to Bristol. As the journey went on, I was feeling worse and worse, with this worrying new pain in my chest. I had my then 15 year old daughter Shannon, with me also and she was getting increasingly worried.
With my niece dropped off, the journey home began, but ended rather quickly. I thought I was having a heart attack the pain was so intense in my chest. I managed to swing the car over from lane 3 to the hard shoulder, opened the door and fell out into lane 1, narrowly avoiding becoming road kill by a quick thinking van driver who thankfully swerved. He saw something wasn’t right and pulled over to assist. My daughter had run off to an emergency phone post on the side of the motorway whilst this guy dragged me out of the road.
Luckily, I was in-between the off and on slip road and just 2 miles from in my opinion the best hospital in the country! Bristol Southmead.
2 ambulances, 2 police cars and a closed motorway saw me rushed to hospital. I remember nothing after that except phoning my wife 200 miles away at 5am 2 days later to say “They’re putting me into a coma, don’t worry love, I need the sleep!”
A month passes in the heaviest induced coma possible. Zombies had eaten my pancreas. Well it had digested itself. Necrotised. I had complete organ failure, and was on full life support. They restarted my heart 3 times. I caught pneumonia. I was clinically dead. Dialysis was cleaning my blood of fat and infections, life saving transfusions kept me topped up.
When I was stable enough to be brought out, my sense of humour still got the better of me. My wife Charlotte was rushing across the country to see me, which gave me time to plan my first joke. She nervously poked her head around the corner and I just looked at her blankly. She asked “Do you remember me?” I just shook my head. When her expression changed to one of sadness I thought I’d better stop and just pulled a stupid “thicko” face and wiggled my head! Luckily she saw the funny side!
The coma itself was the worst experience of my life. I had the worst nightmares and dreams imaginable. I spent a further month in ICU in a bad way. The problem I had was that I had a trachea in so couldn’t talk. I had complete muscle wastage so couldn’t write. I had no way of communicating my bad time across to get help or reassurance. I couldn’t work out what was reality and what was a dream. It was all good when visitors were around, I could distract myself by getting them to scratch my bum or wipe dribble from my chin. It was when I was alone the horrors came back. 3 years on I’m still affected.
A month after I left hospital, I was reading a Guy Martin book, and felt inspired by his bike-packing adventure across the Rocky Mountains. I decided I needed to say to thank you to the team that saved my life, so I conjured up a scheme of my own. I learned to walk, eat, talk and wipe my own bum again and 11 months later I set off on my own 750 mile bike packing fundraiser. It took 16 days and I raised £2000!
Over the next 3 years, unfortunately, my health has deteriorated somewhat, and I’m finding life more and more difficult. Since my recovery, I’ve had a 10cm pseudocyst drained internally, gallbladder removed, 2 endoscope treatments, an almost continuous migraine and constant weight loss on top of the horrendous continuous pain. But, life goes on. I have an upcoming appointment at hospital where I’ll hopefully be discussing TPIAT procedure to remove the remaining 15% of my pancreas and hopefully live a pain free life!
What you can do:
Join our community, champion our cause and help us fight pancreatitis. Guts UK is the only UK charity funding a research fellowship into pancreatitis, and we can’t continue to do this without your kind support. If you’re feeling inspired but don’t know how best you can help, read some fundraising ideas here or contact team Guts UK today – we’d be delighted to lend a hand.