Acute Pancreatitis (And Greetings!)

I found this fine forum while I was stuck in a hospital bed with acute pancreatitis, so I thought I’d offer my experience as an introduction.

I’m in my late 20’s. I drank heavily from the age of 18 until recently when I woke up in the worst pain of my life.

If you’ve never had pancreatitis the pain would be difficult to relate to. I’ve had broken bones, a dislocated shoulder, herniated discs, broken nose, etc. and I would describe my pain tolerance as high. Prior to that day, I believed I had the will to force myself through just about anything.

I woke up with a nagging pressure in my gut. I was hungover from the night before and assumed I’d feel better soon if I drank some beer. Drinkers have absolutely no sense. I drank the beer and within about 30 seconds I knew something more was wrong with me.

It started to feel like my stomach, and progressively my entire abdomen was on fire. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that normally stay in your stomach. When you have pancreatitis, those enzymes leak out of the pancreas and begin dissolving the surrounding tissues.

It felt like someone was pouring acid all over my insides, and that’s basically what was happening. There wasn’t any break from the pain - I was writhing on the floor trying to find some position that offered even the slightest amount of relief. Swallowing my saliva intensified the pain in my stomach so much that I started spitting it out instead.

Every other pain I’ve had has plateaued. From the moment it began until I was shot up with dilaudid in the ER, the pain from pancreatitis grew more and more intense. Each wave of pain was successively worse, and each felt like it was right at the limit of what I could take. I didn’t know the human body could hurt like that, and I have a new appreciation of what suffering is.

Because the pancreas is being inflamed in part by its own enzymes and eating triggers the production of more enzymes, you can not eat while you have acute pancreatitis. I consumed no fluids or solids for the first 3 days of my hospital stay; all of my hydration was provided by IV.

By the fourth day in the hospital I hadn’t eaten anything in 5 days. Until your blood work has been cleared you remain on IV only. I. Was. So. Hungry! People in hospital beds around me were getting pancakes for breakfast, chicken noodle soup, soda - it was torture. When they finally let me have a Sprite it felt like drinking an orgasm. Food never tasted better and eating never felt so good.

I weighed in at 148 pounds when I checked in to the hospital. I’m six foot three so I was skinny as hell. I was exhausted all the time, and I was constantly sick but since I was always hungover I didn’t care or notice. I ate because I knew I had to, but it made me feel sick so I avoided it.

In the last 5 months since I quit drinking I’ve gained nearly 25 pounds. I’m in the best shape of my life and I feel so damn clear headed I can’t believe it :smiley:
If anyone has any questions about my experience with pancreatitis or drinking, please feel free to ask.

Welcome aboard this Ship of Fools, TP. :slight_smile: Glad you’re on the mend and feeling good. What a harrowing experience.

Some random questions… I’m up in the wee hours, too…can’t sleep. Feel free to ignore some or all.

Did/do you have health insurance coverage for that extensive hospital stay? (Are you in the US?)

Do you think the memory of the agony you went through will keep you from drinking like that in the future?

Did you go into AA and/or a treatment program, or are you counting on the previous question to have solved your drinking problem?

Do you know why you drank so much at such an early age? I’m not asking why, just if you know why. Is the reason still there (in your life)?

Did you do permanent damage to your pancreas such that you’re now a candidate for type 1 diabetes?

Were you ever in danger of dying? Did you have any near death experiences?
After surgery one time, the nurse brought me a popsicle-- I love your metaphor, “like drinking an orgasm.”:smiley: Best thing I ever had in my mouth!

All the best to you. Sounds like you dodged a bullet and learned a hard lesson relatively early in life.

Yes I am in the US and yes I did have (private) health insurance that covered nearly all of my stay.

Yes. Try to express to people just how painful it was and I always end up feeling like they under appreciate it. They say things like “oh yeah, I broke my leg one time and I almost passed out from the pain” to try to relate, but really that type of thing doesn’t compare at all to the level of misery that pancreatitis put me through. Despite how much I craved food, for the first few weeks after being in the hospital I was afraid to eat because I was terrified it’d send me back in to the type of pain I was in before. I was told by my doctors that because I’m young and lucky, my body fully recovered and I could even go back to drinking (in moderation of course), but really the anxiety of developing pancreatitis keeps me from doing this. It’s pretty hard to kick back and enjoy a beer when you know it might kill you in one of the most agonizing ways possible.

I did not attend AA or a treatment program. While the pain of pancreatitis in itself is enough for me to never want to drink again, how much better I feel not drinking in general is an even stronger motivation right now.

I dealt with a string of problems very poorly. I started drinking regularly at the end of a relationship, and continued drinking in to and through most of the next one. I was pretty stressed out with work too. But because I was in pretty good shape (I’ve been an athlete most of my life) up until the very end, I genuinely believed that drinking really wasn’t harming me much and that I’d just quit once I’d “figured things out.”

I was very lucky to have not done permanent damage to my pancreas.

I never had a doctor walk in and explicitly say “you might die.” However, my bloodwork and other symptoms revealed I had a relatively serious case of acute pancreatitis. It’s the type of condition that can go one way or the other easily, and there were times when I knew, based on the results of certain tests, whether I was going to live or die. For example, I knew if the CT scans of my pancreas came back showing necrotic tissue(which was likely) I’d probably end up dead or at best stuck with debilitating diabetes.

Don’t get me wrong, this was scary, but not like I thought it’d be. When you’re in that much pain, on that many drugs, and just that out of it in general it’s like you just don’t care anymore. Just kind of like “well, I guess this is happening now.” I would definitely say that it “broke” me.

On the other hand, I had acute pancreatitus when I was around 15. I’m not sure that at that age I have ever tasted alcohol. Maybe a sip of Passover wine, but that would have been all. I don’t recall any pain, though there might have been some. The main symptom was a fatty stool. I spent two weeks in bed eating no fat at all, the infection cleared and that was the end of it. Sixty four years later, there are no consequences.

I knew someone who had no pancreatic function. He could eat no fat. Once I went to dinner with him. He convinced the waitress to prepare him a large plate of rice to which he added a pile of sugar. That’s the way he had to eat. I guess the insulin producing part of the pancreas was still working. Despite this, he lived till 81. I don’t know how long he lived without the pancreas–at least 20 years.

Thanks for that detailed response. Now that everyone knows you’re healthy, they won’t mind kicking you around a little (in other forums, of course). (You won’t get bashed on spelling or grammar, however, so bravo on that one.) I don’t think there is a board like this one anywhere else. Grab a [del]beer[/del] sarsaparilla and pile on! :slight_smile:

That’s a harrowing account! And you told it very well! I’m so glad to hear you’re recovering and well. To go through such a thing, so young, is the sort of experience that can separate you from your peers.

It’s not just memory of the pain that’s keeping you from drinking, I think. It’s partly from facing such harrowing circumstances and making it through to the other side. And the maturity that is the natural result of facing life’s fiercest challenges.

You’re right, your friends likely don’t understand the kind of thing you’ve been through. Because what you’re struggling to communicate, I think, is that you had a life altering experience. You’ve been gifted some maturity and wisdom beyond your years, it could take some time for your peers to catch up, is all.

Wisdom IS a great gift however and should serve you well in the years ahead of you!

And welcome! We’re happy you’re here!

I’ve treated a lot of cases of acute, alcohol-induced pancreatitis in my multi-decade career. Many of them in the same patients more than twice, too.

Drinking alcohol again after a case of alcoholic pancreatitis is pretty much diagnostic of alcoholism, in my estimation. Drinking after a 2nd case of it removes the words ‘pretty much’ from the equation.

Glad you survived, some of my patients didn’t. Despite state of the art care. Complete cardiovascular collapse due to pancreatitis is really, really ugly.

I put it to people like this sometimes - if my house had been on fire that morning I would have just laid there because the pain from the fire would have felt better.

My doctors mentioned this. It really speaks to the strength of addiction that people put themselves through this misery more than once for the sake of a buzz.

This may not have been true of you (and it sounds like it wasn’t), but serious, hard core addicts aren’t using to get a buzz. They don’t use to feel good, they use not to feel bad. The pain of living is so great that they self-medicate even if it means inflicting terminal damage on themselves, in an effort not to feel that deep pain.

I worked for over 20 years writing grant proposals for two drug treatment programs (one of them was inpatient for indigent men) and believe me, these people weren’t having any fun using. They were anesthetizing inner demons.

Been there, done that, pancreas died, now diabetic. WHEE!!!

I wish I could make pamphlets of that pain description for every patient who tells me their pain is “more than 10” while flipping through Facebook on their phone and eating potato chips.

Bitch, THIS is a 10!

But it would probably affect my patient satisfaction scores…

Good lord! I feel so ignorant. I had no idea alcohol could damage the pancreas. As a gallbladderless one I knew a loose stone could cause pancreatitis, or how (roughly) diabetes happens.

Can we live without a pancreas?

Yeah, but you’ll be a diabetic who needs insulin and also need to take digestive enzyme capsules every time you eat, to break down your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to be able to absorb them.

How interesting. Thanks.

I had it about five years ago. It hurt so much I could only breathe shallowly, so my blood oxygen level went way down. I was in the emergency room for six hours before they would give me anything for the pain, too, I think they said because they weren’t sure it was pancreatitis. Nothing by mouth for five days, then had to have an emergency ERCP because my liver shut down too. I thought I was in an episode of House.

Mine wasn’t from drinking, but I still can’t even drink the occasional beer like I used to.

I did have some permanent damage, but I still have some insulin and enzyme production, so I just have to keep the fats and carbs down.