Alison’s story: “I’ve been given a second chance and by God, I intend to take it’

Alison experienced pain that was so extreme that it made her throw up repeatedly. After a visit to A&E she discovered that a gallstone was to blame. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Alison 

I stood up in the mailroom at work and could not sit down again because the stabbing pain in my lower abdomen was shocking and unbearable. It was so bad it made me sick, every time.

The pain had been moving around for two weeks, one minute under my breast, one minute in my breast, more recently it appeared to have settled, but not in a good way.

How I got the bus home I will never know. I was in agony. I took more useless ibuprofen which no longer worked and went straight to bed. My husband is a nurse and he thought it was liver pain. I rang the GP and was crying down the phone to the receptionist, who said there were no appointments for two weeks and I should ring the out-of-hours service. She said she would text me the number, but never did. I later found out I would have to ring the GP again the next morning to get an appointment.

My nose started to run – or so I thought. Imagine my surprise and devastation as the blood flooded out all over my beautiful bedding. I managed to sleep through the night but woke up screaming in pain. I kept ringing the GP service but getting no reply. 9am came, as did 10 and 11am and by this point we were both trying the out-of-hours service, the GP and the health centre. It was Good Friday and we all know that people do not take sick or die on a Bank Holiday, do we not?

I was screaming in agony and my husband rang 111 who advised us that an ambulance would be with us in two hours, asked if there was angina in my family and if I had any aspirin. They thought I was having a heart attack.

I ended up in A&, shaking with pain. I thought I was having the DTs

The ambulance actually came in ten minutes. They examined me and asked if I was normally yellow, if I needed a stretcher and did I have a bag, which I thought were strange questions for someone who only needed a painkiller. I ended up in Fairfield A&E in Bury shaking with pain. I thought I was having the DTs (delirium tremens). When I explained to the nurse about the pain in my back, she said the doctor would see me straight away. The doctor looked about 10 years old, maybe 20, but he was very nice. He asked the million-dollar question – how much I drank a week or a night.

“Too much” was my clever reply, thinking I’d got out of that nicely.

“How much is too much?”

My jaw dropped. Now I would have to tell him the truth, well sort of. It was two to three bottles of wine on a Saturday and six to eight cans of cider during the week.

I asked him if I was going to die and he said the words I will never forget: “No, not tonight, but if you keep this up you’ll be dead in two years.”

Because I wasn’t sleeping and in so much pain, I didn’t really take in what he said. I didn’t realise until I came out of hospital how poorly I had actually been.

I later had a chest Xray and a cat scan and was so tired I nearly fell asleep. Then I finally got my painkillers – two tiny codeine tablets that turned out to be better than sex…well, nearly.  I was asked if I was having regular periods and they insisted on a pregnancy test.

The doctors said I had hepatitis caused by drinking, but kept changing their minds and I was given three antibiotics via a drip.

My husband thought I had cirrhosis because I'd been scratching, waking up with bruises and would be drunk after a glass of wine

I was taken to Oldham hospital via the medical and surgical team – they thought I had an infection and something else with my gallbladder. When I rang my husband, he said he thought I had cirrhosis because I’d been scratching, waking up with bruises and would be drunk after a glass of wine. He said he’d seen it coming and it was his fault. Because I was on codeine, gas and air I just laughed at what should have been devastating news. I found out later that I had cholecystitis which is inflammation of the gallbladder.

Unbeknown to me I had started going yellow, but two ECGs showed I wasn’t having a heart attack – so every cloud! At 3am I was admitted onto a ward and I lay there frightened, alone and back in pain. In the morning I was told I would be on clear fluids, with nothing to eat. I would have water through a drip and to a jug and coffee, but no milk and apple juice.

I stayed in hospital for a week. The nights were the worst – the drips beeped at each other and some patients had the TV on dead loud, but all I cared about was the pain. The tablets knocked it on the head for a couple of hours, but I always knew when they were due. I called the staff nurses my drug dealers as they gave me my pain killers.

The doctors said they wanted to do more tests and one of the nurses said I should drink more fluids otherwise I would end up looking like a character from The Simpsons.

Then everything changed. The doctor told me my rubin levels were up but all I cared about was the pain. How hard could it be to get more painkillers! The jaundice was in my eyes by now – when my husband saw me I thought he was going to burst into tears. An ECRP specialist nurse told me the radiology team would put a camera down my throat and if they found a gallstone they would remove it. The pain was so intense that I wasn’t really listening. Thankfully my husband Sean was there and he asked all the questions.

I was allowed to eat up to 3am before the procedure at 9am – I had visions of patients stuffing their bellies at 2am, but that didn’t happen! I was asked about a pregnancy test and I told her I was 52! I was injected with a very strong painkiller and sedative and they put something in my mouth and on my hip. I shut my eyes as I didn’t want to see what was going on. I burped and burped while they did the procedure – that was gross but I was told this was normal. Then I heard them say it’s massive and something about a balloon, I was sick and the gallstone came out. When they took out the tube I think I started crying. Back on the ward I was told I could only have a light diet of soup and jelly.

I was told the procedure had gone well and that they’d found a 15mm gallstone and that I was young, fit and healthy but if it happened again, I would need to have my gallbladder out. I later found out that if they hadn’t removed it I would have been dead in 48 hours.

I was no longer a luminous yellow, but more of a magnolia colour. I asked the consultant if I could go home, he said yes, but on the understanding that I went to my GP and got my bilirubin levels checked.

A lady from the alcohol unit came to see me as I was being discharged. She was fuming because she said she should have been told about me when I was brought in, but that had been Good Friday and the hospital was understaffed. I wasn’t really listening to her because I just wanted to go home, but she talked about pathways and getting a sponsor.

My mum later asked me if they would let me keep the gall stone in a jar like they did in her day. Why would I want to look at it, much less keep it? It had tried to kill me after all.

I went home with the biggest antibiotics I’ve ever seen in my life. I kept coughing after taking them and something like a foam bubble bath was coming out of my mouth. I also had a rash all over my tummy and arms and later my legs. The GP’s nurse told me to get antihistamines and asked if I’d changed my washing powder. Of course I hadn’t, I’d been in hospital! I think it was an allergic reaction, but the nurse didn’t seem to be worried and the rash went away.

I do feel like a ticking time bomb because it could happen again at any time and the pain is worse than having a baby, but have I had a drink since? Yes, but not nearly as much as I used to. I’ve been given a second chance and, by God, I intent to take it!


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