06 December 2011

I'm having a whinge. A winjer today.

Be warned, epic whinge ahead.

"How are you?" is a much tricker question to answer than you might suspect.

< begin whinge >

When people ask me how I'm doing, my normal response is to say that as long as I'm not in hospital I'm basically doing fine. For the most part this is a pretty sufficient and truthy explanation, but unfortunately it is not entirely accurate. There is a line Al Gore uses in An Inconvenient Truth (and probably at the start of an awful lot of after-dinner speeches) that goes, "you win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category", and this third-category is a close enough approximation of where I've been spending my time health-wise these last few weeks.

I have Chronic Pancreatitis. I had Pancreatitis, then it got much, much worse and I graduated up to Acute Pancreatitis with a month or two in hospital along the way, followed by a fairly major operation that removed a hefty chunk of my innards, and when six weeks later it all started over again I went to the top of the class, graduating summa cum laude with Chronic Pancreatitis, "chronic" being a fancy way of saying "the type that doesn't go away".

With Pancreatitis the enzymes produced in the pancreas that normally travel into the small intestine to help digest food activate while they are still in the pancreas, and start to digest the pancreas itself, which is the opposite of nice. It is in fact incredibly painful, one of the most painful conditions you can experience according to my occasionally too-helpful surgeon. In the hospital they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, my pain dial now goes up to eleven. It normally occurs in heavy drinkers, alcohol having a very debilitating effect on the pancreas, however in about 20% of cases no cause is ever found. As I was at best an occasional drinker before all this kicked off (and a complete tee-totaller during and after), alcohol was quickly ruled out followed less quickly by gall-stones, auto-immune problems, hypertriglyceridemia and scorpion bites, leaving me happily in the middle of that magical 20% category of unknowns.

For those of you who don't know me in the Really Real World my life effectively disappeared down a dark hole the week after the February election and only just about emerged six or so months later. With no discernible cause all that could be done for me was to treat the pain, which involved being fed through a tube for a month to ease the pressure on my innards and a heavy regime of pain-killers. There were a lot more other yicky things going on but we don't need to go into those here, but I was in and out of hospital for many months, and the times in between visits were no less unpleasant. I lost a quarter of my body-weight in the space of about four months, and even now when I put on my old clothes I look like a child playing dress-up in his father's suit.

It was scary, and the whole experience still unnerves me, more so because it hasn't gone away. When I showed no signs of major improvement my surgeon suggested surgery (handy for me that he was surgeon so, and not an iron monger, for I could have ended up with a nice new set of gates instead), and while it all worked like a charm, six weeks later another part of my pancreas went kaput, and I was left with the news that a) nothing more could be done, b) I would probably suffer attacks periodically for the rest of my life and c) some would be light, some would require hospitalisation, and some could kill me.

I wasn't too pleased with that last one.

Since the cause was never discovered, I'm still in the dark as to what I can do to prevent attacks from happening again. Alcohol and caffeine (including coffee, cola, Mountain Dew etc) are completely gone as they can trigger an attack even if they weren't the original cause, and thanks to my messed-up and rearranged innards fizzy-drinks of any kind are out, as are most fatty foods (mainly because I can no longer digest fats properly), which coupled with my own preexisting vegetarianism makes me really excited about Christmas! Aside from removing all the fun from my life in this way there is nothing more that I can do about it all other than sitting back and waiting for the next attack to happen.

Which has happened about once every eight weeks since my surgery back at the end of May.

I have a deal with both my surgeon and doctor now that when an attack happens I take mild pain killers at home for two days, and if either the pain killers don't do the trick or the pain lasts more than two days, then its off to hospital for me. This is the origin of my whole "If I'm not in hospital I'm doing fine" line, but the trouble is that my pancreas went to the Vladimir Putin school of time management and has decided that "more than two days" means "more than two consecutive days", and is now playing a game of poking me with a sharp stick for two days then disappearing off and leaving the intestinal equivalent of Dmitry Medvedev to pick up the shattered remains of my digestive system before magically reappearing a few days later, stripped to the waist with a salmon firmly clenched between its magnificent white teeth and ready to take over the pokey-stick of power once again for another two days.

It is in this Chekhovian twilight that I have found myself these last two weeks, going to bed at night positive that the next day will see me in hospital, then relieved when dawn comes and the pain has passed, only to repeat the cycle of panic three or four days later with nothing to be learned from the first time around as in truth each attack could be the start of something very unpleasant indeed. And unfortunately my Doctor agrees, his only advice on what I could do differently is to take more drugs earlier and more often. Each attack weakens me, my digestion goes haywire for a few days with an underlying accompanying pain that while not as bad as the stabbing Putin-sticks of my pancreas is still rather unpleasant and something I could do without.

I'm sore, tired and worn out, and the constant spectre of another month-long visit to hospital looming over me like a ravenous ECB approaching our Budget with a magnifying glass and a scalpel is altogether quite unnerving. Luckily (but unfortunately for you, and if you've actually made it this far congratulations and I'm so very sorry) I find that writing about it makes me feel a whole lot better.


< /end whinge >

However all of this falls, I believe, into the category of Too Much Information which is why I reply, like most people, "Fine, just fine", when asked how I am.



At 1:19 am, Anonymous steve said...

shit buzz indeed :(

At 1:24 am, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@steve cheers man, as I said though I'm just having a bit of an aul moan. It's been a tough week or two but compared to earlier in the year it's nothing really.

At 10:32 am, Blogger Aidan said...

Hey Dave it's nice to get a update and hear how you're doing even if it isn't sunshine and roses. Well done for maintaining good spirits and your many activities and campaigning throughout the year.

Trying not too sound too patronizing there. Not sure if I pulled it off

At 12:55 pm, Blogger copirineo said...

Thanks for that piece Dave. You're a brilliant writer and the way you are able to take us inside your experience of ill-health is very special. Here's wishing you as many pain free days as possible.

At 5:02 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@Aidan - cheers for all your support throughout the year, it has been very much appreciated.

@copirineo - thanks for the kind words, my head is now as swelled as my pancreas!

At 10:43 am, Anonymous Niall said...

I'm so so sorry Dave. The relative inability of your friends to do anything for you is also terrible.

At 12:43 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

You moaning never seems like moaning Dave, filled with witty insertions as it is.
Like Aidan says, its amazing how much you have managed to do this year despite the rancidness of having pancreatitis.
Its totally shit though. Wish we could get together and somehow make it all better...
We are all rooting for you, and the ma is praying fiercely as usual.


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