Monday, 16 May 2016

The Grønmark Blog's handy "cut out 'n' keep" guide to relieving acute pain

It was the nuts that did it. Specifically, two small bowls of Sainsbury's finest mixed nut selection every day for the past twelve months. They're recommended on the high fat/low carb Paleo (or Stone Age) diet which I embarked on exactly a year ago in an attempt to alleviate the effects of ME: nuts stave off hunger by slowly releasing energy over several hours rather than in one big rush. Unfortunately, they also annoyed my pancreas to such an extent that I've had four attacks of acute pancreatitis in the last year - including two during the past month. To be fair to myself, I wasn't on a particularly high fat diet: I know the pancreas finds fats hard to cope with, so I wasn't regularly wolfing down bacon and eggs, tubs of Häagen-Dazs and platefuls of pork crackling. But the nuts proved such a splendidly effective low-calorie replacement for late-afternoon and late-night snacks that I decided to throw caution to the wind. Bad move. Very bad move.

The only reason I've managed to identify nuts as the main culprit is one of the many blogs about pancreatitis, of whose existence I'd been unaware until my wife did some online trawling (thank you, Mrs. G). One of the bloggers has chronic pancreatitis (which doesn't hurt), but suffers from frequent bouts of acute pancreatitis (which does - and how!) He listed the foods which he had identified over the years as triggering his numerous attacks. Nuts were at the very top of the poor chap's list - and appear in most online lists of food to avoid if you suffer from pancreatitis.

Anyway, the first of my two recent attacks, which made the last week in April a particularly memorable one, proved to be the worst I've ever had. Once I'd figured out that I wasn't suffering from mild dyspepsia, I slung one 30 mg dihydrocodeine tablet and one 30 mg CoCodamol down my throat and lay back and waited for the pain to ease. It did. 90 minutes later. In other words, the opioids hadn't made a blind bit of difference. At that point, I should have gone straight to hospital, because that's where they dispense real painkillers, via the tip of a needle. But, for some odd reason, it was only on day three of the attack that it even crossed my mind - by which time the thought of having to go anywhere wasn't particularly appealing. I'd pretty much stopped eating anything by then - apart from clear soup, green tea and no-fat jelly - and had identified some marginally effective means of pain relief. (In any case, the hospital can't do anything to stop the attack itself - they starve you and dope you up so you don't care about the pain and occasionally give you MRSA as a leaving present.) The following methods won't work for all types of acute pain, I'm sure, but they certainly helped with mine:

(1) Immersion in a properly hot bath. This had a miraculous effect. No matter how much pain I was in, it all but vanished when I lay back in a steaming bath - as long as the water was hot enough. This would work for up to 30 minutes.

(2) Reading books about Hollywood. Fiction requires too much concentration - it's hard to suspend disbelief when demons are jabbing at open wounds in your insides with fiery pokers dipped in sulphuric acid. You need something to read that is utterly absorbing and requires no mental effort whatsoever - i.e. the sort of thing you'd feel guilty about reading under normal circumstances. During a break in the pain, I scooted upstairs and downloaded the first volume of  Hollywood Warts 'n' All by Alan Royle, which is absolutely stuffed with salacious stories about Hollywood's Golden Age (although, as the Australian author thinks there's a store in London called Harrad's and an American religious sect called The Hamish, I'm not sure how accurate his endless accounts of sexual shenanigans and substance abuse actually are). I also downloaded Billson Film Database: short reviews of over 4000 films, which was utterly unsalacious, but which not only made me think that staying alive might be worth it because there still a lot of good films I haven't seen, but made me feel relieved that I'd never pursued my teenage dream of becoming a film critic, because it would have meant sitting through thousands of hours of spectacularly abysmal drivel created by conscienceless, talentless morons for tasteless, cultureless droolers with the attention span of gnats. The Anne Billson book came in handy whenever the pain temporarily abated and I could handle something slightly meatier. During the second, less severe attack, I devoured Roy Pickard's enormous The Hollywood Studios, a superb history of the major studios from their beginnings up until 1978, the year this wonderfully informative book was published. (It isn't available on Kindle, so I ordered a second-hand copy for a whopping £1.50.)

(3) Playing Solitaire on an iPad. Like reading books about Hollywood, this is an activity which tends to ease pain by using up just enough mental bandwidth to ensure that the whole of one's concentration isn't focussed on the vicious little sadists conducting a painathon in one's gut.

(4) Vaping. God bless the man who invented e-cigarettes (a Chinese pharmacist and inventor called Hon Lik, apparently). My favourite flavour currently is Vapemate's Vanilla Custard, which is ironic as it was probably a bowlful of Sainsbury's finest vanilla custard (plus - I'll admit it - a dash of cream) that helped precipitate the second attack. Vaping is a solace which would have been denied me in hospital, along with privacy and constant hot baths.

(5) A very hot hot water-bottle, resting on the area from which the pain is emanating - presumably working on the same principle as a very hot bath. Heat is definitely the pancreatitis sufferer's friend.

(6) Swearing. Occasionally, nothing would help but an outburst of truly obscene language (and I presume you can't do that in hospital too often - at home, you can do it whenever you like, as long as there aren't guests round). I may even have addressed Him Upstairs in rather intemperate terms on one or two occasions, for which I am heartily sorry. Given that even his very own Son gave way to the same temptation, I am hoping for forgiveness. (There was quite a lot of asking very, very nicely as well, of course.)

(7) A sweet-natured wife (or husband). I know this isn't really an option for many people - you've either got one, or you don't. I do - and thank God for that! I promise not to eat any more nuts or vanilla custard, darling. Honestly.

The only good thing I can say about having an inflamed pancreas is that it certainly puts ME into perspective.


  1. I was very relieved to hear that you are getting some respite from your pancreatic attack. A very nasty business.
    While filling out my application for a new driver's licence I have managed to donate my pancreas to the NHS [ like Diane Abbot's brain it has hardly ever been used as I am a tee-totaller ], but one cannot nominate a recipient like the captains on University Challenge. Anyway, this has left me basking in a warm glow possibly like the one Saint Lenworth of Dudley experiences when he is striding through an African village with his red nose.
    Talking of organs I now have "Hollywood Warts 'n' All" on the Kindle, but disappointingly there is no reference to Roddy MacDowall in the index. Perhaps he puts in a cameo later? It promises to be a very good read.

    1. You are indeed proof of the benefits of clean living, SDG, and whoever receives your pancreas will undoubtedly deserve congratulations (and might possibly require prayers).

      While the fluting-voiced McDowall may not appear in the index he has a VERY large part to play in the book (along with anyone who was ever hitched to Elizabeth Taylor, apparently - which may explain her otherwise baffling choice of construction worker Larry Fortensky as her final husband).