Rabia kept experiencing regular attacks of pain and vomiting, which would calm after a few days. But one day, the pain was so bad she couldn't pick herself up from the floor.
Tell us about you
“I’m Rabia, I reside in Dublin but was born in South Africa. I moved to the UK to study in my 20s, and work in finance. I have a 12 year old son, Adam, and in my free time I run, and love Zumba. I have ran a marathon and a few half marathons.”
Talk us through what you experienced in your 20s
“As a student, I was always very petite. I developed issues in keeping down food but because I modelled part time, everyone assumed I was making myself sick. This went on for quite a few years coupled with immense pain in my abdomen.
In the year 2000, whilst on holiday in South Africa I had a takeaway meal and started vomiting and sweating profusely. I was in terrible pain. The doctor thought it was food poisoning, but the following day when I became jaundiced (skin turned yellow), my parents took me to hospital. The tests came back normal, and I was advised to return home as there was nothing they could do further.
A doctor walked by and saw me cringing with pain, examined me and admitted me for appendicitis surgery. After four hours in surgery, I woke and was advised that they removed my appendix, gallbladder and two huge gallstones!”
When did you begin experiencing symptoms of pancreatitis?
“22 years on in August 2022 I developed a rash on my face. This was followed by agonising pain and vomiting. These episodes would last a few days, and then dissipate.
In November 2022 it happened again, the familiar rash, then pain underneath my breastbone and the vomiting. My ex-husband is a doctor, and he came to examine me. I was given pain medication which helped a little each time. The exact same thing happened in the December, too.”
Talk us through your first hospital admission with pancreatitis
“On Friday 20th January, I had a takeaway meal. It was the evening, and I started vomiting, but this time I couldn’t pick myself up from the floor. This went on throughout the night and as before, I let it ride. The pain was worse than ever before. My ex-husband examined me on the Sunday. When he pressed down on my stomach, I didn’t feel any pain, but as soon as he pulled away it was like something stabbed me! He thought I had sepsis, but I said “Let’s just try the pain medication again instead of going to hospital, and hope it gets better like usual”.
By Monday, my heart was beating out of my chest and the pain was excruciating. I was admitted to hospital and tests showed my heart rate was sky high, as were the enzyme levels in my blood, indicating acute pancreatitis. They took me in for an emergency endoscopic procedure (ERCP).
They found four stones that they are calling ‘gallstones’ that were blocking my bile duct, causing my pancreas to inflame. They’re still not sure how this happened, given that I’ve not had a gallbladder for decades! They removed three of the four stones, and fitted a stent to widen my bile duct. I was very unwell, which was worrying for my family. The hospital team kept me in because my blood markers weren’t stable. The care I received was brilliant.”
How long were you in hospital?
“I spent almost three weeks in hospital, and upon discharging me on the 9th February, the doctor told me that climbing the stairs would feel like running a marathon. I didn’t believe them at first, but that quickly changed. I could barely muster the energy to move, and I had lost around two stone. I was on sick leave from work for weeks and all I did was sit with a hot water bottle pressed on my stomach.
By April, I could walk a maximum of 2,000 steps per day. But I was awaiting what was supposed to be an imminent call to go in for another endoscopic procedure (ERCP again). This was to break down and remove the final gallstone, but the call didn’t come until September. I call this procedure my ERCP-baby because it took nine months to have one! The ERCP managed to break down the final stone but not remove it entirely.”
How are you now?
“I’m awaiting hopefully a final ERCP to remove all remaining stones/fragments. But I’m still in a place where I have lots of questions, like how do I have gallstones without a gallbladder? Are they even gallstones? Why did the hospital team keep asking me about the COVID-19 vaccine that I’d just had? Will I live with a bile duct stent, and symptoms forever? Why am I not having periods?
Sharing my story will, I hope, raise awareness of pancreatitis. Everybody’s story is different, and I hope that doctors and the healthcare system find better ways to diagnose and care for various abdominal cramps and pains. Someone could benefit from reading my story, or might think, ‘that sounds like me!’”
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.