Jamie had stomach pains for 6 months, which he believed was trapped wind. It wasn't until the intense pain and vomiting started when he realised something was really wrong.
“My name is Jamie. Like others, over lockdown I got a dog. Our black Labrador is called Kai and he helped me with my recovery. I also spend my spare time coaching my son, Logan’s, football team.
It was Wednesday night in October 2019 when I experienced tremendous abdominal pain. I’d been having these pains every few weeks for around 6 months, which lasted about thirty minutes. When they first happened, I thought it was a heart attack, but it subsided so I believed it was trapped wind. I now know this was pancreatitis attacks and I wish I consulted the professionals rather than doing the male thing and thinking it will pass. Believe me, you will know when you are having these attacks as the pain is unbearable.
On this October occasion, it was different, I was vomiting, sweating and the pain was intense. I thought it was food poisoning. Turned out the pain was my pancreas failing. It is thought that a gallstone blocked my bile duct (which takes digestive enzymes from your pancreas to your small intestine). This caused the pancreas to effectively digest itself. After three days of writhing in pain I swallowed my macho persona, and I went to A&E. That night I was admitted, where it took hours for the pain to be controlled. I was told I was in a bad way.
I was put on oxygen as my lungs were failing. My pancreas was virtually dying. A few days later I was in an induced coma. I was critically ill, and sepsis was overtaking my body. I had a cardiac arrest which also led to a stroke, luckily, they were able to restart my heart. I had a tracheostomy (an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe to help you breathe). This meant I was unable to talk, but the hardest part was when the nurses had to perform suction to remove the mucus from my windpipe. This could happen up to ten times a day. This is very intrusive, and it feels like you are vomiting. I spent two months in intensive care while they tried to control the infection. I lost 4 stone in total.
My boys were just 13 and nine years old at the time. I missed both of their birthdays and Christmas. I didn’t want them to see me this way and didn’t get to see them for two months.
I was then moved to another hospital on a high dependency unit. I had surgery to remove part of my pancreas. I spent a further month there. I was in a dark place, and at times wanted to give up. Between the sepsis and the medication, I experienced delirium. There are a lot of things which I will never know whether they were real or not.
My stomach was extremely swollen due to pseudocysts, my skin broke down and was peeling off. I couldn’t move and nurses had to roll me to prevent bed sores. I couldn’t communicate with anyone, as I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t even lift my arm to write either. I remember asking if I was going to die, and doctors couldn’t answer me. But I survived.
I had to learn to stand and walk again. I left hospital in March, five months after being first admitted, but the recovery was a long haul and I had about 15 months of rehabilitation. Once home I was vomiting daily. I wondered if this was normal, as I felt I had no support or answers. This subsided after two months, but the joint pain and general body pain remained. Getting upstairs was like climbing Mount Everest but did become easier each time.
Some days are better than others and I am waiting for my appointment to remove my gallbladder. This feels like the final part of a long difficult journey. A journey that has needed tremendous courage and resilience both physically and mentally. As a result, I am diabetic. I take pancreatic enzymes when eating. I am blind on my right side because of the cardiac arrest and stroke. I take daily medication to prevent further strokes and medication for blood pressure.
I got through it thanks to my partner Donna, friends, family and some very kind and talented hospital staff. I feel guilt for what I have put my loved ones through, though I am very happy and thankful in life to have been given a second chance. If I could give one bit of advice it would be – don’t ignore your symptoms, like a lot of men do. Talk to your doctor.
There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure.
Guts UK is dedicated to finding an effective treatment, a cure for this misunderstood and underfunded condition. We are building a community affected by pancreatitis, comforted in knowing they’re not alone.