Pain In Right Side?
Do you have a dull ache in your right abdomen? If the answer to that question is yes then keep reading, I have some important information for you.
In Alcohol Lied to Me, I told the story of how my drinking ended up putting me in hospital. I didn’t go into too much detail because I thought the problem had been relatively unique to me. What I have since discovered from helping thousands of drinkers to also escape the trap of alcohol addiction is my symptoms are extremely commonplace in heavy drinkers.
Perhaps my story resonates with you?
In January 1997 after a particularly heavy festive season, I started to get a dull ache in my right abdomen just under my right rib. I dismissed it as a hundred different minor, insignificant medical problems from a bit of food poisoning to an intolerance of wheat; I even considered paying £300 for a food allergy blood test.
In summary, I considered everything apart from the obvious, that the 140 units of alcohol a week were destroying my insides the same way alcohol destroys all life at a cellular level.
In February 1997, the dull ache was preventing me getting to sleep and I started searching the Internet for my symptoms. As I scanned the possible reasons for a pain in this region I suddenly became genuinely scared. Website after website suggested liver cancer, liver failure, liver cirrhosis, pancreatic failure, alcohol-induced gallbladder disease.
The lists went on and on, all horrific illnesses, all caused by alcohol, and many were irreversible.
I made an appointment to see my doctor.
In my lifetime I have never had anything seriously wrong with me; I have only ever been to the doctor for a cold or simple chest infection. My past experiences with the medical profession mean I always confidently expect to be told that the condition will clear up on its own, or that a short dose of antibiotics would be all that is needed. This time was different.
I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, shaking with fear. I walked in and explained my symptoms. He asked how much I was drinking, I lied and said I used to drink a lot but now I have no more than a glass of wine a night. Can you believe that even at this point I still lied? Of course, you can – you still do it all the time!
This is the power of this drug we freely hand out to children at celebrations as a ‘treat’ to make them feel grown-up.
I was afraid
In honest fear for my life, face to face with a medical professional who was there to help me, I still lied to protect my opportunity to drink. Despite the fact that it was slowly killing me, I couldn’t cope with the possibility that it would be taken away from me, so I lied to the doctor.
If you are not from the United Kingdom, let me explain that doctors in England are normally seen at the cost of the state via the National Health Service. Doctor’s surgeries are usually over-subscribed and getting an appointment is sometimes difficult.
My allocated time with Doctor White was five minutes, behind me there were another seven patients all waiting for their own five minutes.
After 35 minutes of examinations and questions, I knew this was going to be a very different experience than I was used to at the doctors.
This was not supposed to happen
I still expected, even after all the fuss, for the doctor to nod reassuringly and say “well, I’ve checked you over and you seem fine, come back in a month if it doesn’t improve”.
Dr White had a concerned but kind face, he looked up from his notes over his small round glasses and said “there is a very real possibility there is something serious behind your pain.
I don’t have the facilities here to examine you to the level I need to, so I am having you sent to the gastroenterology department at the hospital”.
Hospital! Surely not!
That is where sick people go; the health service is overstretched as it is, surely they wouldn’t waste a valuable bed on someone young and healthy like me?
As I walked home, neither cured nor reassured, this was the point when I realized this was not a figment of my imagination. I had possibly seriously damaged my body by selfishly drinking my attractively packaged poison.
I sat at home and watched my children play, and it felt like my heart had been ripped out. Knowing how much I love my family, how could I do that to them?
How could I leave my children without a dad?
How could I be so selfish that I would make my children go through the pain of watching their dad’s funeral?
How could I be so pathetic that I would risk making my wife a single parent, with two devastated children to look after and no income? I am not ashamed to tell you my world was ripped apart that evening, and I cried myself to sleep in a world of self-pity, regret, and guilt.
Before, during and after my hospital visits I spent a lot of time on Google trying to prove that my health problems were not the result of my drinking. I wanted a ‘get out of jail free’ card that would allow me to continue drinking.
I point blank did not want to accept the possibility that I had damaged myself with alcohol and worse than that I might have to quit drinking altogether if I wanted any chance of recovery.
Fighting against the obvious
I would search for hours until I found a benign disease that roughly matched my symptoms. I diagnosed myself with dozens of different illnesses from simple muscles strains to irritable bowel syndrome. I was willing to consider everything and anything except the most obvious and likely culprit.
This is a well-documented behavioural pattern of human beings. It is called confirmation bias and has been proven time and time again to be the primary cause of many poor judgments.
Essentially confirmation bias is the process of searching for evidence to back up your current beliefs and then stopping when you find the ‘proof’ required to support your original position.
We close our eyes to what we are doing and ignore the obvious fact that pretty much anything can be ‘proved’ with supporting evidence found online today.
Pure confirmation bias
For example, if it is my profoundly held belief that ghosts exist then my online search criteria is likely to be looking for examples of past ghost sightings and not a more open-minded and objective approach to the subject.
Google being the giant that it is will no doubt furnish me with millions of websites to back up my beliefs and bingo I have my proof and because it doesn’t make any waves in my current belief structure I am willing to overlook and ignore the blatant confirmation bias.
If you are routinely drinking alcohol to excess and you have a ‘dull ache’ in your right flank that may even be radiating around to your back then you need to stop drinking immediately and see a doctor. Pain or discomfort in this area of a problem drinker is likely to be associated with distress to the liver and or pancreas.
You may be tempted to think that if it was a serious problem then the pain could not be described as a dull ache, surely you may postulate that serious damage would result in serious pain? In my particular case, I could never honestly describe myself as being in pain but more that I was conscious that something was wrong.
Delusion and denial
For example, I would always sleep on my left side because it was uncomfortable to lie on my right, it felt as though there was a hard lump in the mattress. Would you believe I even considered buying a new bed, despite the screamingly obvious fact that it was only comfortable when I lay on one particular side?
How about that for confirmation bias?
The reason the mildness of the pain is not a reason for reassurance is down to the composition of the liver. This amazing organ is the most forgiving of the human body, if you treat it with respect it will filter the toxins out of your body and even repair itself when it gets damaged. Unless you drink poison for decades and then it gets to the point where it says ‘enough is enough – I give in’.
When your liver says ‘I give in’ that’s it I am afraid, its game over you are a dead man or dead woman walking.
But wait, Craig, I think you are being a little melodramatic there are you forgetting about liver transplants. No, my friend, I have taken into consideration the possibility of a transplant and you are still done for.
You are doomed by the math;
by the time you realize you have destroyed your liver, you will be given between three and six months to live. There are currently eighteen thousand people in the United States awaiting a liver transplant and the average wait time is around three hundred and thirty days, long after you are in the ground I am afraid.
The liver doesn’t complain about the vast amount of abuse you are throwing at it because it contains virtually no nerve endings. The dull ache you feel is not coming from the liver, as it is unable to detect pain. However, as the liver becomes inflamed and swells and deforms it presses on other nearby sensitive organs in the abdomen.
If you are experiencing the dreaded drinker’s dull ache it may mean that your liver is now so swollen that it is applying enough pressure on other parts of your body to cause you pain.
Pain In Right Side: Ready to take action?
I am telling you from experience, don’t waste time trying to find an alternative explanation online and do not miss what might be your last chance to act before you do irreversible damage and become person 18,001 waiting for a liver that will never arrive.
I could be the most important decision of your life.