It’s no secret if you know me or have read this blog that I live in a world of high stress most days. I work in the world of emergency services and, this year in particular has been hell on my personal life. When you’re stressed and doing shift work you don’t often find time to eat healthy, exercise properly or do the things you need to do in order to relax and let go of the burden of life that has built up on your shoulders. Add my own personality to the mix and you have a perfectly horrible situation building. See, I am the sort of guy who assumes he can do it all for everyone. I offer to help friends and family with everything, thinking that having time to vegetate on Facebook and watch schlocky horror movies on my PC equates to proper rest and recuperation. I was always taught to put my own needs second for the good of the ones I cared about and I really thought I was doing a great job at that. Man, was I wrong.
So Wednesday night, after working shift with the worst back ache and heart burn I’d ever had in my life, I went to my grandmother’s house for the night. Since my grandfather’s passing last month the family has been taking turns staying with her at night and, despite my fears of being in that house without him there, I finally sucked it up and volunteered. She was asleep when I got there and I was content to let her stay that way. I took a hot bath and enough antacids to turn a vat of hydrochloric into drinking water in the hopes that the steadily growing pain and nausea would vanish. By one o’clock I was hugging the toilet watching what little I had eaten purge itself from my body as quickly as it could. Food and bile quickly gave way to mucous and blood and then nothing but dry heaves until I finally passed out in a heap on the floor around 4AM hoping and praying it was over. By ten the next morning I was still doubled over in pain, knives clawing through the burning inferno of my belly and went to my regular doctor expecting to hear that I had the worst stomach virus in human history.
Sitting for two hours in the waiting room, curled in a near fetal position in an incredibly uncomfortable, tiny chair staring at the enormous fish tank, I wondered if I made the right decision going to the doc and not the ER. I chalked the thought up to being a bit of a wuss when it comes to doctors and waited patiently as I could. Finally, they called me back, weighed me, took my vitals and sat me on an equally uncomfortable table where I waited another 45 minutes before the doctor came in, listened to my gut and began feeling around. As if we were having a leisurely chat about the weather and the time of year he pressed his fingers into the lower left section of my stomach very gently but with great enough pressure to push in as deep as he could. After a few seconds chatting, holding my gut towards my spine, he suddenly released. Pain raged through my whole body, like a boot kicking straight into my gut. A torrent of obscenities cascaded out of my mouth and flooded the room as I nearly threw myself off the table.
Within minutes he had me on my way to the hospital, convinced without any other testing that my appendix was inflamed and ready to burst. More waiting ensued as I sat in admitting for the radiology department to run me through a CT scan. It was nearly twelve hours now since I passed out in the floor at my grandmother’s and I still hadn’t eaten or drank a thing. Of course, the doctor at the hospital was more than happy to hand me two of the largest, most disgusting “Berry Flavored” contrast smoothies I had ever had to choke down without vomiting. Next came the IV. Folks, I have been sliced, impaled and beaten but I would gladly open a vein with a Bic pen than let you stab me with a needle. Still, the tech made it seem effortless as I lay on the thin table with my pants around my ankles ready to ride the giant metal doughnut. Whispers followed. The tech and the radiologist seemed concerned but genially returned me to the waiting area where, before I had a chance to sit down, I was whisked off to the emergency room.
Never in my life have I ever been admitted to a hospital. It has to be, single-handedly the most terrifying experience of my life. For the first time since the whole forsaken mess began, they finally started giving me pain killers. Suddenly, relief was everywhere. I was still hurting but not as badly as I had been. After more blood work, more scans and tests the final decision was made. I had pancreatitis. Apparently, the enzymes produced by the pancreas are supposed to level off in the mid-fifties. As of my admission Thursday night, my levels were at 875. The swelling and inflammation of my pancreas had caused everything else inside my abdomen in agony. After several days in hospital, taking in nothing but liquids, IV solutions and pain killers, the doctor released me to go home on Monday morning. His instructions were simple: take a week off work, stay relaxed and don’t eat anything more substantial than soup or mashed potatoes. Lots of liquids and plenty of rest. Now, the most common cause of pancreatitis in a man my age is alcoholism but, since I have less than a beer every few months, that was ruled out. My cholesterol, shockingly, was fine and there were no signs of infection so, ultimately, the cause was ruled as “unknown” but was suggested heavily to me that poor diet and high stress could be the culprit.
That’s right, 28 years of being me resulted in my internal organs rebelling against me in what I have dubbed the Pancreas Spring or the Pancreatic Revolution. Friends, family, lovers, doctors and coworkers alike have told me the same things for years. “You need to take care of yourself.” My response has always been the same: I’m alive and healthy so I’m doing okay. I always assumed that just because I could deal with the pains I felt (in this case for over a month before last Wednesdays magnum opus of agony) that I was doing what I needed to do. It took my internal organs trying to explode out of me to make me realize that I wasn’t as okay as I thought.
No doubt there will be a lot more blog posts and writing to come this week. Laying here with a huge glass of Gatorade and a lot of time to be introspective I am looking for what I need in life to be happy and to take care of myself, ways to channel my stress and find a way to be healthy, truly healthy, again.
So, coming to you live from the satellite of love, this is Danno, the unwitting victor of the Pancreatic Revolution.