One night in May, Klara went to bed in agony. The pain was like nothing she'd felt before. She shares her journey to receiving a diagnosis of pancreatitis.
Tell us a little about yourself
“I’m Klara and I’m 48 years old. I am one of 11 children and I’m the youngest girl. My parents are polish, but I grew up in England and now live with my partner in Wales. I’m an artist and I used to be a teacher. I love running, football and I’m a massive tennis fan. I also love music.”
Can you describe the symptoms you first began experiencing?
“It all started about eighteen months ago. I thought it was indigestion, a pain in the middle of my chest that went on for hours. On some occasions, I just had to lay down as nothing helped.
In January 2023, I was at a wake. I was eating food and within ten minutes, I felt like my chest was being crushed. I was desperately trying to hold it together. I went to a shop to get some heartburn medication and it took a few hours before my symptoms subsided and disappeared again.
One night in May, from the moment I went to bed, it was agony. The pain was like nothing I’ve felt before and travelled right up into my ribcage. I felt like I was getting ready to vomit, but it never happened.
The next morning, I struggled to the pharmacy and was given tablets. That evening, I took some digestive salts and immediately vomited green. I was doubled over on the floor at the top of the stairs. I felt so helpless.
My partner rang the non-emergency line and was advised to get me to hospital immediately. I couldn’t stand due to pain. Initially, I had a few tests. Doctors were constantly asking “are you an alcoholic?” and this made me feel shame. I have never drunk alcohol in excess. Then, I overheard the doctors say, “have you seen Klara’s bloods?” Something was going on.
A doctor told me “I think you’ve got acute pancreatitis.” He explained the risks, which include death. I was completely in shock. I was on painkillers and hooked up to a drip. I went for more scans to check for gallstones which revealed nothing. I was then taken to a ward. Several doctors asked me about my diet and whether I was an alcoholic, again. It was all a whirlwind.
Talk us through your time in hospital
“The other people on my ward were lovely and supportive. Some of the night staff were also so funny, which helped distract me from the numbness I was feeling. The care itself was incredible. I was so up and down emotionally, and I was so sick of being in pain and in hospital. I stopped eating out of fear and the food that came would cause pain. This all happened around the King’s coronation, and it just felt like I was in a whole different world.
When it came to discharge, I had no warning. I stood in the discharge lounge in my pyjamas with all my things in a plastic bag. A doctor listened to my stomach and told me I could go. The discharge was a horrible experience.”
Do you feel you and your family were supported before and after diagnosis?
““Change what you’re eating and stop drinking alcohol” was the only advice I got. I was Googling everything.
At home, I reached out to find a dietitian after hearing one talk to someone on my ward. I kept a food diary. After being out of hospital around a week, I had no interest in anyone or anything. I was really punishing myself and I felt really exposed.”
How are you doing more recently?
“I’m really good. I took it on myself to take charge. I have seen a consultant and got a dietitian’s appointment which was brilliant. I’m now managing to maintain my weight. I know what to eat now and don’t need to constantly look at labels. I’ve got back into running and this helps me to remain positive.
There needs to be more awareness of pancreatitis’ impact. A lot of people may be abusing their bodies but don’t know until it’s too late. Prevention is so important. There also needs to be an emphasis on pancreatitis not just being related to alcohol.”
Why are you supporting Guts UK?
“I found Guts UK at the time I needed support the most. I feel like I’ve got a new life because of them. The graphics and language used on Guts UK’s social media caught my eye, being an artist myself and I felt an instant connection. Going forward, I’d like to fundraise for Guts UK through my running and help others. I’d love to give something back.”
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.