Out of the hospital but not the woods
This is some journey I’ve started, which I detail with my previous posts on my first visit to an emergency room and my surgery and subsequent discharge from the hospital. I didn’t choose to have pancreatitis, and yet at the same time I did. The instigating factors like diet, excess weight, not getting sufficient and regular exercise, not keeping myself sufficiently hydrated — I made choices over the years with all of these.
Well, pain has a way of changing your perspective on things. I’ve become serious about those instigating factors I just named in a way I never was before. I thought I was serious before, but the truth is I wasn’t. I never attacked those issues with the same type of determined action as I have the past several days.
I started by doing some research on pancreatitis and the diet that promotes recovery. I was right to suspect that the advice I received to eat smaller meals of non-fatty foods wasn’t quite complete. Apparently this is not something that resolves itself in a day or two. It often takes months and sometimes years for the pancreas to heal completely. There is no magic drug or procedure to heal the pancreas. The pancreas must heal itself.
To help the pancreas do that, I have to reduce the demand for the normal function of the pancreas as much as possible. The pancreas provides two things for the body. First, the pancreas provides digestive enzymes to aid digestion. When the stomach can’t handle the job of digestion, which it typically can’t when high amounts of fat are present, the pancreas steps in to lend a hand by providing digestive enzymes. The passage of those enzymes through an inflamed pancreas causes pain, so I can avoid pain by avoiding high-fat foods.
This is also the reason for eating smaller meals. Too much food at once means the stomach can’t handle the job, and so the pancreas steps up to help. The pancreas can heal itself, but it must be left alone to do so.
In addition to digestive enzymes, the pancreas provides insulin, so anything that will spike blood sugar is out. I’ve actually weened myself off a lot of sweets over the years, so this is not much of a problem for me (though I’m not certain how I will celebrate my upcoming birthday, but that’s a different story). My bigger problem is the high-fat foods. My absolute favorite food to eat is sausage biscuits and gravy. I could eat that all day every day and not get tired of it. And then there’s all the things you can do with cheese. I absolutely love cheese.
But now, there’s no more pizza, no more lasagna, no more cheddar sausages, no more bacon cheeseburgers — and I just said bacon. There’s so much you can do with bacon, including eating it by itself. Now that’s all out. I’m reminded of something my grandfather once said. He said, “The only thing better than butter is more butter.” I agree completely, but I also accept the need to refrain while I’m in recovery. And I don’t know how long it will take.
It’s not all bad, though. When I look at my new low-fat, low-sugar diet, what I see is roughly 80% of the diet I’ve been moving myself towards before pancreatitis took center stage. I’ve been moving in slow increments mostly because I didn’t want to give up the foods that now are completely off limits because now my body will not tolerate incrementalism. Now I have to be all the way there and nowhere else. That wouldn’t be agreeable if I had to be this way forever. But I won’t be, or at least that is my intention. Yes, this recovery period will be slow and long. But it will also end. And when it does, I will keep the diet I’ve developed because of it and slowly add an occasional delight, like biscuits and gravy or pizza or a bacon cheeseburger or butter on homemade white bread.
But for now, the time is to hunker down and devote myself to healing. And it’s more than my pancreas that needs a long recovery to heal. My pulmonary embolism will not heal any time soon. That’s going to take months of blood thinners and more movement every day during those months to increase circulation in my blood vessels.
And who knows what else may be lurking inside of me? This past week I’ve been tracking my weight and noticed I’ve been losing 1-3 pounds a day. In fact, I’ve lost around 25 pounds since my first visit to the ER a little more than two weeks ago. At present, I’m not greatly concerned about the weight loss because I’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time, and now it’s going. Granted this isn’t my preferred method of weight loss, but it’s going all the same, and I’ve got plenty left in store for this to continue over the next couple of weeks. That said, a part of me does wonder whether this weight loss is a leading indicator of some other health issue that I’ll need to add to the mix.
We will have to wait and see. One thing I have quickly learned from pancreatitis is the need to take one day at a time. One moment you could feel you’re doing fine, as I did earlier this week, and then the next you have another pain episode followed by fasting for a day or two and then starting over again on a liquid diet. It’s hard to see what or even if anything is coming over the horizon. So you have to focus on what you can do with what is right in front of you today and trust that all will somehow work out for the best. And so I follow the advice of Rocky Balboa at the end of Rocky III — “Just keep punching.”
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