This is Susannah's pancreatitis story, told by her husband, Andrew and her sons, Colin and Greg.
The morning of 9th August began like any other summer morning. Susannah had spent the morning in the garden and was due to visit some friends for the afternoon. She began to feel unwell, just a little queasy at first. Then quite quickly her stomach pains seemed to become extreme, followed by her becoming increasingly short of breath. This escalated very quickly to the point that an ambulance was called and she was admitted to hospital. I don’t think at that point any of us really considered that this would be the last time she was at home.
The next few days were ones of confusion. Susannah had been fine. It had been a very hot day – was she simply dehydrated? Did she have heatstroke? We were unable to see her due to COVID restrictions, which only heightened our uncertainty and worry.
Eventually, A&E diagnosed Susannah with pancreatitis and said that she would be kept in overnight. This was a term we were vaguely familiar with. A quick online search seemed to suggest that these things were sorted out pretty quickly, whip the gallbladder out and back home to recover soon.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. We only became aware much later that it could be touch and go as to whether Susannah would make it through these first few days. Although she did, it was just the beginning of her ordeal.
We became aware that Susannah’s pancreatitis was acute and ‘necrotising’ – the pancreas had essentially started to destroy itself (seemingly for no apparent reason). More alarmingly, there was nothing that could be done to cure it. All the doctors could do was try to create optimal conditions for the pancreas to heal itself.
The following months were awful for all of us but most of all, of course, Susannah. Her body was regularly drained of copious quantities of fluid, she was unable to eat or drink properly and, ultimately, none of us knew what was going to happen. There had been positive signs of improvement, but these would slow to nothing. This of course took place against the backdrop of COVID with virtually no visiting allowed. At one point, we were called to say she was being taken into intensive care and ‘things were not looking good’. Susannah rallied in ICU and was discharged back on to the main ward.
There were signs of improvement, at one point even talk of a return home. Susannah was now much-weakened state, she had lost a lot of weight and her mental health was deteriorating.
In the days before she was due to be discharged home, Susannah contracted COVID. The pancreatitis had weakened her to the point that it had all become just too much for her body. Our wife and mother passed away on 17th December. She had battled for over four months. In the end, it happened so fast we were not even able to get to the hospital in time.
A year on, it still feels slightly surreal to write about. Susannah was 64, which is no age at all. She loved art, music, literature, travel. She was a friend to everyone and had enjoyed making the most of her retirement up until this point.
Susannah’s pancreatitis literally came out of nowhere – there were no signs at all until that morning. Throughout her time in hospital, she was adamant she hadn’t missed any signs. The most frightening thing was how little control anyone really had. When the word ‘pancreatitis’ first appeared, we naïvely assumed there must be at least something that someone could do. We hope that, one day, families won’t have to go through what we and most importantly, what Susannah went through.
Susannah’s loved ones came together to support Guts UK in her memory. Together, they raised over £3,000 for Guts UK’s information, awareness and research into pancreatitis."But there is still so much more we need to understand about this disease. That’s why we would like to support more research into diagnosis and treatment of this awful condition." - Andrew, Colin and Greg, Susannah's husband and sons.
There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure.
Guts UK is the only UK charity funding a research fellowship into pancreatitis. We are dedicated to finding an effective treatment, a cure for this misunderstood and underfunded condition.
People are suffering, people are dying, all because of a lack of knowledge about our guts. Join our community and champion our cause by donating to our life-saving research today.