Shelley is a paramedic for the Scottish ambulance service and has experienced pancreatitis herself. Here she shares her story as part of Guts UK's Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign, Kranky Panky.
My name is Shelley, I am 33 years old and I am a paramedic for the Scottish ambulance service. I want to share my story to raise awareness of this awful illness, pancreatitis, which is life changing for many, myself included. This short story only skims the surface of this disease.
On 13th Aug 2019, I collapsed at home with severe central abdominal pain that was radiating to my back (classic symptoms of pancreatitis). I knew I had a gallstone, so I thought something was seriously wrong. I thought my gallbladder had ruptured – little did I know that the gallstones had caused severe necrotising pancreatitis. This was what was causing me the problems.
I was transferred by my colleagues to the emergency department and quickly transferred to critical care. My diagnosis was on admission, but looking back from all the months prior to my collapse, the abdominal symptoms I had were my pancreas screaming for help!
Now I know my experience was similar to many, although pancreatitis can be well-managed at home with pain relief and careful monitoring, it can cause so much more issues to the internal organs by the inflammatory response that it causes. There is no known reason as yet as to why this happens. Guts UK’s current pancreatitis research fellow Dr James O’Kelly is investigating why and how this inflammatory reaction occurs.
In critical care, my body began to shut down with numerous complications caused by the pancreatitis. I was so ill and unaware of just how serious it was at that time. It’s a hard story to write and accept. My time was horrid. I had so many traumatic procedures and surgeries (8 drains in total, 3 corrective surgeries, daily bloods and cannulas and 16 CT scans). The pain was extreme. My body became so sensitive to pain that you couldn’t even touch my skin.
I think my main issue apart from the pain and illness was the fact I lacked control. In order to cope, my brain switched off, to protect my mind and body for it to heal. In hospital, the physical and mental side of the illness was such a struggle for me. I now suffer with PTSD due to the events. I was extremely sick and lost over 4 stone in weight, to the point I couldn’t even look in a mirror it was so upsetting.
My life had changed dramatically from being generally fit and well, to being unable to care for myself in anyway; to copious medications, diet changes, and the newly diagnosed type 3c diabetes, because my pancreas was so badly damaged. I didn’t come out of hospital fully until January (5 months on from being admitted).
But there was light at the end of the tunnel. For that, I can only thank the amazing specialist pancreatic team for their time and commitment to my care. Thank you to the nurses for their personal touches, they made such a difference on those down days. Of course, thank you to my family and friends who were a big part of my recovery. I was lucky enough to give my bloods for pancreatic research whilst I was in critical care. As I’m based in Scotland, where Guts UK’s pancreatitis research fellow Dr James O’Kelly is, I suspect these bloods were taken as part of Guts UK-funded research. For that I am grateful. Hopefully, it will help with diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic illnesses.
It so important to be health aware and know when to seek advice. Over a year on, I’m still recovering and adjusting to all the changes, but the support I receive is great. Let’s talk all things pancreatitis and make people aware just how damaging this illness can be! I was lucky to survive, some people don’t. Raise awareness of pancreatitis by sharing Guts UK’s Kranky Panky campaign, fundraise for Guts UK’s life-saving research into pancreatitis and share pancreatitis patient information far and wide!
There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure.
Guts UK is the only UK charity funding a research fellowship into pancreatitis.
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