Life just hit me a hard one. A couple of days ago I began having an incredible abdominal pain like I had never before experienced. I wasn’t sure where it came from. It seemed to die down towards evening, so I thought that perhaps I could sleep it off.
I had no idea what I was thinking or dealing with. I awoke in the early morning with the pain just as strong as ever. It was a debilitating pain, but it was certainly more than a mere annoyance or irritant. I looked at the clock and wondered if I could stand it for another 3-4 hours until the clinic opened, because that would certainly cost less than the emergency room. But it didn’t take long for me to choose the emergency room. Accordingly, I got dressed and drove myself to the nearest hospital.
My first visit to the emergency room taught me, among other things, that no one working in the emergency room has any sense of emergency. Unless you’re bleeding profusely or crying out in agonizing pain, they’ll “give you a number” which they don’t tell you and then get to you when they get to you. I have to say, not ever witnessing anything like this for myself, I was a little taken aback.
The benefit of the early morning hour is that there weren’t that many others waiting to be seen, so it didn’t take long for a doctor to assess me. I did have to wait for blood work and a urine sample, but all the doctor needed after that was some answers to some very brief questions, which I happily answered. The resulting diagnosis was pancreatitis caused by gallstones. My gallbladder would need removal.
I spent the rest of yesterday in the ER being moved between two different rooms until I could get the admitted into the upstairs room I now occupy. I’m not sure how this is going to pan out. And I certainly never gave much thought to my pancreas before any of this came upon me. But apparently it’s quite the essential organ. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes to help with digestion in the stomach and intestines. It also produces insulin to help manage blood sugar levels. But if it becomes inflamed, that inflammation results in the abdominal pain I experienced earlier for the first time.
The leading cause of inflammation in the pancreas is excessive drinking. Alcohol causes a narrowing of the bile duct in the pancreas, which limits the amount of digestive enzymes that leave the pancreas at one time. Those that get held back end up eating the pancreas, leading to inflammation and pain. I’ve never had a drop of liquor in my life, so my pain, the doctor theorized, likely comes from gallstones. Gallstones blocking the bile duct can block the flow of digestive enzymes, which then leads to inflammation and pain.
Obviously the gallbladder needs removal. As if that isn’t enough, an MRI image taken yesterday appears to show a gallstone in the bile duct itself somewhere between the gallbladder and the pancreas. Thus, I will need two surgeries: the first to remove the gallstone, and the second to remove the gallbladder. The gallstone will be removed with a procedure called ERCP. A doctor will insert an endoscope down my throat, into my stomach, and from there travel up the bile duct to remove the gallstone. Then I can have the gallbladder removed.
Removing the gallbladder will be an important step toward preventing future pain, but for the present there isn’t a magic solution. The pancreas can heal itself, but it must be given time and space to do so. That means lowering the demand on the pancreas as much as possible. I’ve been on a liquid diet so far and uneasy with the antibiotic the doctor gave me to prep for surgery. It has nausea as a side effect, which the doctor says affects only 2% of people. I guess I’m part of that 2% because I’m super queasy inside.
I’m also uncertain about the future. But I intend to take everything one at a time and deal with each as best I can, working in the hope that all will be well in the end.
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