When Jim entered the doors of A&E, the doctor took one look at his tests and told Jim, "It's serious". But Jim already knew, because the pain he felt was like nothing he'd experienced before.
Tell us about you
“I’m Jim, I’m 66 years old and live in Kent with my wife Julie and our children, 17-year-old Sam and 23-year-old Joe. I have two other children from my first marriage, 38-year-old Tom and 41-year-old Chris, and three wonderful grandchildren.
I recently retired after a long career on Fleet Street as a journalist, though I remain very busy. Whether it’s tennis, gym, golf, cycling, doing DIY or walking the dog, Ralph, I am always doing something. I’ve always been very fit and healthy, and our household has always eaten well.”
Can you remember when you first experienced pancreatitis?
“I remember it clearly. One evening in September 2014, I was due to go into work to do a night shift to cover the Scottish Independent Referendum. I mistook indigestion for hunger, and I had a bite to eat. That’s when the pain started, and worsened as the hours went on. By midnight I was in agony. The pain was unbelievable, a driving force through the abdomen and I was on all fours, vomiting non-stop.
An ambulance finally arrived at around 4am and once at hospital, I was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. Though the doctor sternly told me, “It’s serious”, I simply nodded. I already knew it was serious. The pain told me everything I needed to know.
I spent 11 days in hospital. Whenever I’d try to eat or drink again, one sip of water felt like I’d demolished a three-course-meal. I was in disbelief and completely shaken, as I didn’t drink or smoke, and the doctors couldn’t find a cause for my pancreatitis (idiopathic pancreatitis). As each day went by, the pain gradually subsided until I could eat again, and they allowed me to return home.”
How were you after your first attack?
“I was back to normal quite quickly. And I wouldn’t hear the word pancreatitis for nearly five years.
In 2019, I had my second attack which was more severe and I was in hospital for 12 days. This time, the team had wanted to transfer me to intensive care but the beds were full, so the intensive care team monitored me on another ward. The staff were wonderful and faultless, but I was being poked and prodded all day. I had drips, a PICC line, a tube down my nose, cannulas, a catheter and more. I couldn’t move. Slowly but surely, I got better and I could eat again. They make the most fantastic fish pie at the hospital, and the day I could finally eat it felt euphoric.
Since then, I’ve had two more attacks, making it four acute pancreatitis attacks in total. These were less severe, and there were more familiar faces of the staff in the hospital this time. But I did experience a period of being completely paranoid about having another attack. I’d panic about every tummy grumble and for years I had a hospital bag packed, ready to go at the drop of a hat. At this time, I reached out to Guts UK Charity and I found the response and their information absolutely fantastic.”
How are you more recently?
“At the moment, I’ve been on quite a long waiting list to see a gastroenterologist, but my last attack was almost exactly one year ago. I’m pleased to have been able to become less paranoid about the pancreatitis, and more philosophical. I am very well in-between the attacks I experience, though I don’t feel as finely tuned as I once was! Pancreatitis hasn’t taken over me. If it is going to happen again, it’s going to happen again. I’m at peace with that, and I will take it in my stride. I don’t consider myself unlucky. Pancreatitis won’t dictate my life.
Until I experienced pancreatitis myself, I knew very little about the pancreas and what it did. Everybody I tell about pancreatitis are equally as clueless as I once was. I am keen for more awareness, which is why I’m sharing my story, and welcome more research from Guts UK on the different causes of pancreatitis. Perhaps one day, science can figure out what caused my own attack.“
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.