Category Archives: BAM

Gallbladder Surgery? It’s Not That Simple In Your Case

My second outpatient trip to London in a week and, unlike Wednesday, a beautiful clear morning without a cloud in the sky. I needed to be at St.Thomas’ by 9:00 to see a surgeon about having my gallbladder removed. It was an early start and my first waking thought was to wonder if eating a complete can of baked beans for dinner the night before had been such a good preparation for a journey on public transport. Hopefully a couple of extra Loperamide would do the trick.

It wasn’t until I parked my car near the station that I remembered where my mobile ‘phone was – on the dining room table. Was this going to be a liberating or frustrating experience? How was I going to let my wife know what the surgeon had said? How was I going to let my brunch companion know where and when we should meet? (At least I had my camera with me).

Having spent the train journey pondering this dilemma I arrived at St.Thomas’ outpatients’ department without having reviewed my list of questions or the copies of the ultrasound scans and follow-up letters I took with me. After a few minutes my name appeared on the laser display board and I made my way to the room indicated.

St.Thomas’ Hospital – opposite the Houses of Parliament

I had been expecting to meet the surgeon himself but was met by his registrar. I explained to her that I really wanted to see the surgeon and she said she would ensure I could spend a few minutes with him before I left. She started to go through my medical history. To speed up the process I produced a copy of the diagram I had drawn showing the key points in 40 years of Crohn’s and its companions. She was very impressed and no doubt I started beaming like a Cheshire cat. That soon stopped with the next set of questions.

40 Years of Medical History – on a page

I thought I was there to discuss whether surgery was a good idea, or not, and the possible complications. She was clearly running through the standard pre-operative assessment checklist – “Are you mobile? Can you wash and dress yourself? Can you manage household chores on your own?” I answered “Yes” to all the above but of course the answer to the last one was “No, I can’t. That’s why I got married”. (I’m joking!). I told her that my preferred option was no surgery until absolutely necessary as it would be too disruptive at present.

We then started to discuss my medical history in detail. She examined my abdomen and complimanted me on the quality of my scars. At this point it was obvious that surgery wasn’t going to be simple. She went off to see if the surgeon was available, taking the diagram with her. I think they must have then discussed its contents as about 10 minutes later they both returned and the surgeon introduced himself. He also liked my diagram and quickly ran through the key points.

He asked me to describe the circumstances that led up to me being there. I recounted the incident of violent shivering and turning yellow that occured at the end of January. He asked if I felt any pain (everyone has asked that one) and I was able to say I felt nothing at all. From that he concluded that a small gallstone must have temporarily lodged in my bile duct, long enough to cause the symptoms, and then quickly passed through before the pain started.

I went through the discussions I had had at my local hospital (East Surrey) and their suggestion that I needed to be seen by a specialist liver unit. I wondered why one of their concerns was liver cirrhosis? He replied that whenever a patient appears with esophageal varices / portal hypertension / portal vein thrombosis then it would be assumed that liver cirrhosis was the most likely cause. My latest Fibroscan result was 7.8 suggesting that cirrhosis was at a low level. I explained the hepatologist’s theory that the PVT had been caused by peritonitis following perforated bowel surgery in 1979. He thought this was very feasible.

Usually gallbladder removal is a same day operation using keyhole surgery. In my case it would be a lot more complicated. He noted my wish to delay surgery for as long as possible and was minded to agree with me. He wanted to present my case to their departmental review meeting to get other opinions. In the meantime they would arrange for me to have an MRCP scan (magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography), a targetted MRI scan that looks at the biliary and pancreatic ducts. This would determine if any other gallstones were lodged in the bile duct. He asked me to book a further appointment for 6 weeks time so we could discuss the results and the meeting’s conclusions.

I had some final questions :

Will a cholecystectomy make my bile acid malabsorption worse? “We simply don’t know”.

Am I likely to suffer from post operative ileus (lockdown)? “Possibly”.

If we leave surgery until it is absolutely necessary what could the consequences be? “Anything from pain to having to prepare one’s relatives for bad news”.

Timescales for elective surgery? “Surgery would be carried out in the specialist Liver Unit at Kings College Hospital so the timescales would depend on their waiting list”.

I left any further surgical questions for our next meeting. His final action was to introduce me to their senior nurse co-ordinator who acted as a single point of contact for their patients. If I had any questions or concerns then I should call or email him.

….and my ‘phone predicament? Don’t bother with BT public telephone boxes – they take your money and then don’t work. When I arrived at St.Thomas’ I explained my problem to a very helpful guy behind the Patient Transport desk who allowed me to use his extension to make the necessary calls after my appointment.

….and so to brunch and a discussion on topics for the next #IBDHour Tweetchat.

Next appointment – Friday 10th November. Watch this space….

Elective or Emergency?

I’ve often mentioned that I find blogging a great way of keeping objective about the various medical issues I encounter, hence this post which is a prelude to a meeting with a new Upper GI surgeon in London next Friday.


At the end of January I had a bout of jaundice. Whilst I turned yellow there was never any of the pain that usually accompanies it. I was in two minds whether to go to our local A&E but eventually gave in and made my way down there. To cut a long story short, a few weeks later I had a follow-up appointment with Upper GI consultant who suggested cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal). He was, however, concerned about some possible complications and for this reason recommended the surgery be carried out in a hospital with a specialist liver unit.

I exercised my patient’s right to choose which NHS hospital to be referred to and in my case the choice was simple – Kings College Hospital. I asked around and was given the name of an Upper GI surgeon who is highly recommended and has the added bonus of also working at St.Thomas’ and therefore access to my notes.

(There was a similar situation in 2009 when I found out I needed an ileostomy. The colorectal surgeon did not consider East Surrey Hospital had the facilities to cope with recovery from such a complex operation and so was sent to St.Thomas’ . I moved my outpatient care there in 2011.)

Preparing to meet the surgeon for the first time

The appointmet is set for 9:00am next Friday (22nd September). Before then I need to have a list of questions and any relevant documents. I am expecting to meet the named surgeon.

Just to complicate matters I will be seeing Haematology at Guy’s Hospital on the preceeding Wednesday. Will my medical file make it back to St.Thomas’ for Friday?

I have printed out the relevant documents from East Surrey Hospital- 2 x ultrasound reports + 2 x follow-up letters + last blood trest results.

I’ve also included my “jigsaw” diagram which shows the various conditions we need to consider and the dates they were diagnosed or last tested – Crohn’s, PVT. BAM, thrombocytopenia, potential PSC + last blood test showed borderline thyroid.

What Shall We Talk About?

Reason for referral – the consultant at East Surrey was concerned that, in my case, cholecystectomy ran the risk of liver damage due to cirrhosis. He also noted my low platelet count and thought that keyhole surgery may not be feasible due to the scarring/adhesions from two previous laparotomies.

Latest test results – Fibroscan (testing for liver cirrhosis) – 2012 was 7.2; currently 7.8. Platelets – 96 (but have been as low as 56). Ultrasound scan showed one large gallstone but made up from many small ones. Weight – 78kg

Risks and Benefits of Surgery

Type of surgery – Keyhole or laparotomy? What factors will decide

Timescales – waiting time for operation; how long for surgery and recovery for either keyhole or laparotomy

Likelihood of liver damage?

WIll bile acid malabsorption become worse if gallbladder removed? (SeHCAT in 2015 showed severe BAM. I keep it under control with just Loperamide but have Colesevelam ready should it be required).

Likelihood of post-operative ileus? After two previous operations I experienced it badly?

Do I need to have reached a particular weight prior to surgery? (Prior to my ileostomy I was given 3 x Fortisip/day to reach a target weight of 85kg)

My Preferred Way Forward

To have surgery when it becomes necessary not as pre-emptive measure. “Emergency rather than elective”. Maybe that’s over dramatic and should read “Just-in-time rather than elective?” What are the risks of this approach? What signs will indicate that an operation is needed? How soon does action need to be taken once the signs appear?

The consultant at East Surrey Hospital said if I get jaundice again I should go to their A&E and then they will decide whether to  transport me to London by ambulance.

Anything Else?

Next upper GI endoscopy/variceal banding due December 2017

Bloating – have been like this since ileostomy/reversal. Any thoughts on likely cause? One or more of the 5 F’s?

…..should be an interesting meeting

Fifty Shades of Grey

Let’s get my latest appointment out the way…….

Monday – 24th April 2017 – Gastro Appointment, Guy’s Hospital

I hadn’t planned this appointment, neither had my gastro consultant but the booking system had other ideas. It must be set to auto repeat every 6 months and doesn’t take into account any ad-hoc appointments in between. I had intended to cancel but I’m pleased I didn’t as there were things that needed talking through. I produced the obligatory list of questions (responses in red) :

1.    Biopsy results (from 11th March colonoscopy) – the report from the path lab said that the biopsies were consistent with “quiescent” Crohn’s disease. This result was about as good as it could get. Once you have the disease there will always be some signs of it, even when in remission.

2.    Explanation of rising calpro levels given result of recent colonoscopy?       – to be honest, he simply did not know what was causing the raised calpro levels. He had been concerned that something had been missed during a previous colonoscopy hence the repeat, in March, carried out by his trusted colleague (and watched by an audience of trainee, international gastroenterologists).

3.    If calprotectin tests not giving meaningful pointer to Crohn’s activity what monitoring regime should we adopt? – I had anticipated what the answer would be and I was right. If you start to feel the Crohn’s is becoming active then we’ll take it from there.

4.    The upper GI surgeon (Professor), who I saw locally (see previous post) regarding gallbladder removal, was talking about referral to a specialist liver facility “in case of needing a transplant” arising from complications during the  cholecystectomy (sounded very drastic) – my gastro agreed that I should be referred to a specialist unit in view of my concurrent conditions. The most likely unit would be the one at Kings College Hospital. The issue of needing a transplant would be a last resort if something went very wrong during the operation. He typed a letter to the Professor suggesting that the referral should go ahead.

5.    Awaiting ultrasound appointment (locally) to look at liver, gallbladder, bile duct and portal vein – noted. No date as yet.

6.    Pros and cons of having gallbladder removed? – to be discussed with specialist liver facility. Even if I decide not to have surgery I would at least be on their radar so that should I end up having another jaundice incident, that needed urgent resolution, they would already be aware of my case.

7.    Fibro-scan to see if liver cirrhosis progressing – he filled in the online booking form to request the scan. (Date now through – 4th September)

8.    Current weight 78.2kg. The target weight set prior to my ileostomy (October 2010) was to get UP to 90kg, which I achieved with the aid of 3 x Fortisip (300 calories each) per day. My subsequent decline by 12kg has been quite a loss – whilst I felt fit at this reduced weight it was a lot lighter than the previous target weight. I thought I had better point it out. We would continue to monitor.

9.    Next steps – ultrasound scan; fibro-scan; no further colonoscopies at present; follow-up appointment in 6 months time (the booking system should already be doing that); yearly endoscopy at Christmas to check varices + appointment with specialist liver unit.

50 Shades of Grey

For 30 years I really didn’t want to delve too deeply into my health. It was clear, black and white, I had Crohn’s Disease (after the usual “is it IBS debate” within the medical profession). It was centred mainly around the join between my small and large intestines (a common location) and had caused a stricture. Despite this I spent many years in remission.

In the last few years my medical life has become more complex with new issues arising. Most of them  are very definitely not black or white.

It started with the dramatic fall in my platelet count that has never recovered (thrombocytopenia). Was it really as a side effect of the Azathioprine I had been taking for 8 years? You would expect it to have bounced back when I stopped the drug. Is it related to my spleen becoming enlarged? Could this be the cause of the platelets issue instead? Two bone marrow biopsies later and there is still no definitive answer.

Next there was the incident where new blood vessels had grown in my esophagus and then burst. A subsequent x-ray showed a blood clot had formed in my portal vein (thrombosis) which had increased the pressure in the veins higher up. Most likely cause of the clot? The current theory is it’s the result of peritonitis following a perforated bowel operation in….1979! Really? That long ago? Apparently there is always a risk of PVT during any surgery. I’ve also seen research that once you have Crohn’s patients you are more susceptible to clots.

As a result of the above incident it was suggested that I might have Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) I had a fibro-scan on my liver which showed signs of cirrhosis. What caused that? It certinly wasn’t alcohol related as I drink very little. Is it linked to that blood clot? I then had a liver biopsy and, thankfully, it showed no PSC.

What caused my recent jaundice incident last January? I felt no pain whatsoever only violent shivering and turning yellow. It must have been gallstone related but this is usually accompanied by the most excruciating pain. Again there is a potentially a link between Crohn’s and the increased likelihood of developing gallstones.

…and so to my latest consultation. Yet another puzzle – how to explain a rising calprotectin level with a colonoscopy, and biopsies, that showed I’m in remission.

…and not forgetting the reason I had that second colonoscopy – to see if there was any evidence of the strictures which showed up on the MRI scan, which there wasn’t. Another conundrum and one that had also happened back in 2012.

…and, of course, there’s the biggest grey area in the room – what causes Crohn’s Disease?

I’m not going to lose any sleep over the above. What’s done is done. It’s more out of curiosity that I would like definitive answers. In an ideal world I’d get a gastroenterologist, a hepatologist and a haematologist in a room together and let them reach a concensus on likely causes. That isn’t going to happen anytime soon…….

…but maybe the combination of conditions would at least give me a winning hand playing “Illness Top Trumps”


Next steps

This is the follow-up post to “Where do we go from here?” posted on 3rd December 2016. (…and my record for future reference….)

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital 12th December 2016

As the date for the appointment drew closer my stress level increased. Not from the potential medical implications (though some might doubt this!) but the pure logistics of getting to London by 10:20am. It shouldn’t be a problem until you realise we have to rely on Southern Rail actually running a train. As it turned out my train was exactly on time but afterwards there were no more heading to London for 2 hours.

Having arrived at Guy’s Hospital with five minutes to spare I was greeted by a nurse who explained that the clinic was running 45 minutes late. I asked her to put a note on my file that I wanted to see my usual consultant (the top man). The wait increased to just over an hour when I heard my consultant calling my name. TIme to see if there were some answers. I produced my list of questions/comments.

We started out by discussing the outcome of the MDM. Had they been able to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the colonoscopy results and the MRI scan? No, they were at a loss to explain the differences.

The MRI report noted a 100mm stricture in the transverse colon and another in the ascending colon. Neither had been apparent from the scoping. The scan also showed adhesions, one of which was between  intestine and bladder. This could potentially lead to a fistula developing between the two. The tell tale sign would be gas when passing urine. That was a new one on me and certainly not something I had experienced so far.

The word that worried me was “fistula” but he pointed out that it was a possibility not a certainty.

The options left were to repeat the colonoscopy, or the MRI scan, but a barium enema, which is a test designed to look at the colon, would be preferable. (Not sure for whom. I still remember the last one over 30 years ago.) Rather than going straight to another procedure he suggested that we carry out a calprotectin test and if the result was the same or higher than last time (512) then it would be time to start practicising the buttock clench, so vital for the enema.

He asked how I felt generally. My answer was “very well” apart from every 10 days or so getting an upset stomach for half a day then back to normal. There was also an incident when I seemed to be leaking fresh blood but it only lasted a day and I concluded it was purely mechanical, maybe a burst blood vessel. He agreed with my conclusion.

I explained that I was keen to remain drug free having been taking no Crohn’s medication since 2010 (post-ileostomy). Was that an option with mild inflammation? Yes. The aim would be to start treatment early enough, to avoid surgery, should the inflammation worsen. (The knife is always a threat though). In line with my aim of not taking any new drugs I hadn’t been to see my GP about starting Questran for Bile Acid Malabsorption. I would remain on just Loperamide and adjust the dosage accordingly.

The one question I forgot to ask was “Does my reaction to Azathioprine (bone marrow suppression) suggest that some of other common drugs may be unsuitable?” That will have to wait for the next appointment.

I would be having my annual upper GI endoscopy at St.Thomas’ the following week and was wondering if we should also be monitoring my liver for stiffening (PSC). He said I should ask the endoscopist as it was their specialist area. The visit would also give me a chance to drop off the calprotectin sample to the path lab. I would then need to email my consultant in mid-January to get the results. Fingers crossed for <512. Clench.

At the end of the appointment I mentioned that I had eliminated a major element of stress by no longer commuting to London and have virtually retired. As I now had time in my hands I would be keen to do something for the IBD Community.

What is so nice about these appointments is that you never feel rushed. Every question gets a considered answer and all decisions are made jointly. Excellent.

After the appointment it was off to have lunch with a fellow IBD sufferer and then on to meet up with an old colleague for a coffee before attempting to get a train home.

Donald, no not THAT one

As part of last year’s Health Activists Writer’s Challenge we were asked to find a “quotation that inspires you”.

The quotation I chose is probably not an obvious one for a health blog. You might have been expecting me to have trawled through the “inspirational” websites to find some relevant, life affirming words. I hope you’re not disappointed. I actually used this quote….

Here goes. Over to that well known US philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld. It’s the quote he was ridiculed for it at the time, unfairly in my opinion, as it makes perfect sense. In case you don’t remember what he said :

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Bear with me, it will become clear. To illustrate the point I’m using one of my favourite subjects – bile acid malabsorption (BAM). Maybe “favourite” isn’t the right description, make that “a subject I have felt the need to write about several times before”. There’s barely a day goes by when I don’t see a comment, on one of the IBD or BAM forums, from someone who has just been diagnosed with BAM and many times the post goes on to say that their doctor had never heard of the condition before. That’s the first hurdle to overcome.

Walk up to St.Thomas' from Waterloo
St.Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster

I am a fellow sufferer as a result of losing my terminal ileum. (I had an ileostomy back in October 2010). Before the operation I was offered the chance to take part in an Enhanced Recovery Scheme at one of the top London hospitals. Part of the ethos behind this regime is to fully inform the patient of what will happen at all stages of the process – pre-op, during the hospital stay and beyond. Was I told about BAM before the operation? I’d have to answer “maybe” and this brings us to the point of this post. Let me explain….

I was told that after the operation absorption of vitamins and salts would be much reduced due to lack of a terminal ileum. The surgeon repeated this message on his ward round post-op. If someone told you that your body wouldn’t absorb salt properly what would you take that to mean? I took it at face value, I would need to up my intake of salt to compensate and take supplemental vitamins. I didn’t see the need to question the statement as it seemed very clear.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with BAM (4 years after the ileostomy) that I found it has an alternative name “Bile SALT Malabsorption”. Suddenly the comment about not absorbing “salt” took on another meaning. You can see the problem.

This is where Donald Rumsfeld comes in. I heard what the Enhanced Recovery Nurse and the surgeon told me. I understood what the words meant – to me. I didn’t know that I didn’t understand what the words meant to them. From their point of view – they were using their everyday, medical terms to describe a potential problem to a patient.

From this experience I have learnt that you must always question what you are being told and do your best to get the doctor or consultant to explain, in simple terms or non-medical terms, exactly what they mean and what they perceive the implications to be.

I keep coming back to those particular words in the quote “there are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Try repeating them to yourself as you enter the consulting room…..

#HAWMC – Day 28 – 5 Challenges & 5 Small Victories


Five Challenges

Challenge #1 – Crohn’s – this time last year a regular calprotectin test showed that my Crohn’s disease looks like it has reactivated after 5 years of drug-free remission. This summer I had a colonoscopy and an MRI scan which have given slightly contradictory results. I have a gastroenterologist’s appointment on 12th December at which we will discuss the evidence and the way forward.

I am reluctant to restart drugs for the Crohn’s, unless absolutely necessary, but it may become inevitable. The biggest challenge I face, healthwise, is to make the right, informed decision on what is best for my future.

Challenge #2 – BAM (Bile Acid Malabsorption) – an ongoing problem which resulted from losing my terminal ileum (ileostomy surgery) 6 years ago. So far it has been kept under control bytaking 2 Loperamide (Imodium) capsules each day but if that stops working I have the option of going to see my GP and asking him to prescribe a binder (Questran).  Yet more drugs. I came close to it earlier this year.

Challenge #3 – PVT (Portal Vein Thrombosis) – the ticking timebomb. Yearly upper GI endoscopies look for the regrowth of  (varicose) veins in my esophagus. It has worked out that every second year the veins require ligation (having rubber bands around them). The issue is that should they regrow quicker and then burst I have a finite time to get to hospital and a blood transfusion hence the ticking timebomb.

Challenge #4 – Reducing my use of SoMe – it’s very easy to become addicted to the likes of Twitter and Instagram. I intend to limit my time online which should help my mental rather than physical wellbeing.

Challenge #5 – Gain weight – over the last 12 months or so I’ve lost around 10kg (maybe as a result of #1). I would like to put on 5kg back on if possible.

Reading the above you may think I take a very gloomy attitude to life. I don’t but I do like to be realistic and to have a clear understanding of the possible issues that will arise and what is going on inside my body.

Five Small Victories

Victory #1 – Achieving a good, long walk of 10km or more, especially exploring London. It help clear the  mind.

Victory #2 – Finishing a blog post. The process of writing a post is another “good for the mind” exercise. I like to think about what I write rather than just put down the first thing that comes into my head. By being analytical it helps to come to terms with health issues and get them into perspective.

Victory #3 – Medication. Remembering to take the right tablets at the right time and to re-order in time not to run out.

Victory #4 – Encouragement. Being able to give encouragement to other IBD patients when they are going through an uncertain or bad patch.

Victory #5 – Waking up and knowing it is going to be a good day as far as Crohn’s/BAM is concerned. Can usually tell within the first 10 seconds the state of my digestive system!

My blog is in remission…..

19th May – IBD Awareness Day – and my blog is in a sort of remission. It’s not cured as we all know there is no cure for blogging. Achieving the next big milestone of 50k hits may prove difficult if it goes into deep remission although the steady stream of Russian porn site spiders searching for “anaesthetic fetish” stories (yes, honestly!) may help get there.

The days of weekly, sometimes daily, updates seem like a distant memory. Clusters of outpatient appointments and procedures have been thinned out to 6 monthly intervals. The next scoping session will be  late October and there maybe a colonoscopy just before Christmas.

How does this make me feel? Mixed emotions oddly enough. I am obviously pleased to have reached some stability healthwise but I’ve grown so used to having to think about medical matters, given 2 or 3 years of intense medical activity, that it feels strange to have more time to devote to other aspects of life. Producing this blog has greatly helped me to get my health issues into perspective and the very regular appointments/procedures have proved to be a rich source for writing posts. This blog was set up for the specific purpose of recording “the rich vein of experiences along the Crohn’s highway and some of its detours.” I’m hoping that some of the content might just strike a chord with other Crohn’s sufferers and they will realise others understand what they are going through or maybe give them some warning of what could lie ahead.

My health related creative efforts have now been redirected into writing a book based on this blog. It’s nearing completion which, as my wife would point out, is the status of most things I start. (Anyone familiar with the Belbin Theory will understand the problem – low score in the Completer/Finisher category)

I still have some health concerns. The diagnosis of severe Bile Acid Malabsorption late last year has given a name to, and a reason for, the continuing dashes to the bathroom. Now I have this explanation I can visualise what the problem is, what is likely to exacerbate it and what can be done to manage it. I’ve become strangely relaxed about the issue.

My other health concern is keeping fit. Statistics show that if you’ve already had surgery for Crohn’s it is likely that you will end up under the knife again. The speed at which you recover is, in part, helped by being fit and up to weight at the time of the operation. My first operation was 1979, the second 2010 – a 31 year gap – who knows when it will happen again but I want to be as prepared as possible. My chosen regime is to walk whenever possible. I’m trying not to become too obsessive about the distance I walk each day but it does feel good when the app on my phone announces “All-Time Record” (currently 17.6 km).

A days walking – from the Moves App

The impetus to keep walking is helped considerably by working in London. There are so many possible routes to get to and from work that it never becomes routine or boring. There is always something new to see and photograph. At 7:00am there are very few people about. I’ve set myself a challenge of posting at least one Instagram photo a day (account name = crohnoid) with either a new angle of an existing view or something transitory or a new experience.

Having rambled on so long it’s time for another appointment……………

Tuesday 5th May 2015 – Gastroenterology – St.Thomas’ Outpatient’s Clinic

The forecast said 50 mph winds and I could vouch for that. Crossing Westminster Bridge was “interesting” and made more so by the polar bear halfway across. I think it was the continuation of the PR stunt for SkyTV.

The Sky TV polar bear

This was to be a routine, six monthly appointment. I had prepared a short list of questions to ask.The visit started as normal. Get weighed. Wait. Go to Room 18 – see Registrar. Explain that I would like to see usual consultant for the sake of continuity. Return to waiting area. Wait for new message to appear on laser display screen. Go to Room 19. (Appointment time 2:50pm, in with the “right” doctor by 3:20pm. Not bad).

I knocked on the door, list at the ready, and entered. I got a warm welcome from my usual doctor who had a medical student sitting in with him.  My notes were on the desk. The file was so thick it looked like it couldn’t take one more sheet. “We need to get a new one of these”. I replied that I might just have the solution as I had written a book covering my medical history and experiences including the treatment at St.Thomas’. He seemed genuinely surprised. I assured him it was for real and that I was currently going through the final stages of editing and proof reading. I reassured him that he wasn’t mentioned by name and that it was all positive anyway!

That prompted a discussion on doctor/patient communication and how patients react to what they are told. He considered himself to be a good communicator (I’ll second that) but was concerned that without him realising it a seemly innocuous remark, made in passing, could take on far more significance to a patient. We then went on to discuss when and where it is appropriate to tell patient potential bad news. I mentioned that there were two things I wish I had been told about prior to surgery, and that they were on my list…….

1) I had been quite tired over the last couple of months and even the B12 injection three weeks ago didn’t seem to have made a difference. He suggested that next time I had a blood test I should get checked for iron and vitamin D levels. I did mention that last week I had walked nearly 50km to and from work and at lunchtime, so maybe I should be cutting back a little. That lead off at a tangent to the merits of exploring London early in the morning, or on a Sunday, when the streets were quite deserted. I couldn’t resist mentioning the Sky Garden (at the top of the WalkieTalkie building) that we had visited a few weeks ago. (There are a few photos at the bottom of the post).

2) As ever the ache around my anastomosis (join) comes and goes. It was worse after physical work or with a full gut. We had previously agreed it was probably just a mechnical issue as the recent colonoscopy had shown no sign of inflammation. He wondered if there might be some inflammation in a part of my small intestine that neither the colonoscopy or the previous endoscopy had reached. There was a technique, called a balloon assisted enteroscopy, that allowed the scope to propel itself right through the small bowel…….that’s enough thinking about that one. I asked if a capsule endoscopy would be better but he replied the disadvantage for some patients was the possibility of the capsule becoming stuck if there was a stricture along its path.

Maybe it was time for another MRI scan as the last one was three years ago. He recalled that it had suggested inflammation but the subsequent colonoscopy had shown nothing. He said that sometimes you could get conflicting messages with no explanation as to why the difference.

3) The plan going forward. The current monitoring regime consisted of six monthly calprotectin tests (with possibility of a colonoscopy if high reading), yearly upper GI endoscopies to check for growth of esophageal varices and six monthly appointments with haematology to keep an eye on my low platelet count/PVT. Were there any other tests I should be having that might be age related? “No.”

He set the next appointment or six months but I will fine tune the actual date, nearer the time, so that it is after the annual endoscopy. It will also be down to me to make sure the results of the calprotectin test are available.

4) BAM. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Bile Acid Malabsorption is a subject that not enough patients, who have been through IBD surgery (ileal resection), know sufficient about. This was one of the two subjects I wish had been discussed prior to surgery.  It could be part of the pre-op assessment with either the Enhanced Recovery Nurse or the surgeon.

Bile Acid Malabsorption

The other thing I wish I’d been warned about was ileus, or the lockdown of the digestive system, following surgery. I explained that unless you have suffered intense nausea you have no idea how bad you can feel. I wasn’t joking when I said that it was a good thing the windows on the 11th floor surgical ward at St.Thomas’ were non-opening. I really would have jumped! Both of them looked surprised.

5) This one was more out of curiosity – is there a link between shingles and having an IBD flare-up? In preparing my book, I had found a reference to the bad attack of shingles I suffered in 2005. As I read on I realised that a flare-up started shortly afterwards, breaking the remission I had been in for quite a while. He wasn’t aware of any link, in his experience, but there were common factors such as stress that might cause a trigger.

6) Getting involved. I’ve been cutting back on work recently. For the last six months I’ve only working three days most weeks. Whilst I have plenty to keep me occupied in my spare time I felt I could at least use part of it to give something back to the IBD Community but wasn’t sure how I could help. He ran through a number of ideas that they had been discussing at Guy’s/St.Thomas’ – research, patient panels – where they would like to include “lay” representatives. I asked him to bear me in mind for such an opportunity.

Appointment over and a chance to brave the high winds again. By now they had died down a little and the sun was shining so I decided to take a slight detour on my route back to Victoria and walk down the Albert Embankment. It’s not a walk I often do but will certainly repeat it.

A popular location for oriental pre-wedding photos
Film Crew
Film crew reporting on Election 2015
View from Lambeth Bridge, looking East

If all goes to plan the next post should be to announce the completion of my book. Still need a decent title though. Suggestions welcome.

Sky Garden  – photos

View of The Shard from the SkyGarden
View up the River Thames towards Westminster
The Gherkin from the Walkie Talkie
View of St.Paul’s Cathedral


Crohn’s Disease and Bile Acid Malabsorption (BAM)

I have covered this topic a couple of times before. Recently I have seen an increase in the number of questions and comments on IBD forums relating to BAM. I believe that increased awareness would help many Crohn’s and IBD patients.

I produced this simple slide, aimed at one particular group of at-risk patients. It’s self explanatory.

Bile Acid Malabsorption

Here is an extract from a document published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)  – “Crohn’s disease is sometimes treated by ileal resection. The prevalence of bile acid malabsorption in people with Crohn’s disease in clinical remission who have had ileal resection is high (97%)“.

My own situation : ileal resection and stoma – October 2010; reversal – June 2011 and clinical remission ever since, confirmed by colonoscopy a fortnight ago. I had expected after the operation, and being in remission, that my digestive system would have returned to pre-Crohn’s normality. No. I would often suffer from an “upset stomach” with its attendant rushes to the bathroom. I kept asking myself, and questionioning on this blog, had I eaten something dodgy; picked up a virus or was I undergoing a Crohn’s flare?

I mentioned it at each outpatients appointment but it wasn’t until Autumn 2014 that my consultant suggested I should undergo a test to confirm if I was suffering from BAM. Of all the tests we get put through this must be one of the easiest. It’s called the SeHCAT test and involves swallowing a capsule containing a mildly radio active substance which dissolves and becomes a marker absorbed by your digestive system. You then have two x-rays, one week apart, and the x-rays the analysed to see how much marker remains in your system.

Anything less than 15% of the marker remaining is considered to be malabsorption. My own reult was under 1% which is classified as “severe”. There are drugs available to treat the condition. The most common appears to be Questran but some patients find it diificult to tolerate taking it. So far I have managed to keep it under control with good, old Loperamide.

However, since being diagnosed I have found my symptoms have greatly improved, not because of taking new/additional drugs but because I now know what my digestive system is up to and it’s not a sign that I’m about to descend into a flare. I feel a lot more relaxed if I do have an upset stomach for a couple of days.

My understanding of the BAM mechanism is that during the digestive process your stomach uses bile acid to break down the food you eat. When the acid/food mixture reaches the last section of the small intestine, the ileum, the acid is reabsorbed and passes back into the biliary system. If you no longer have an ileum the acid passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, causing diahorrea. (The ileum also absorbs vitamins, which is why it is important to supplement them, for instance having regular B12 injections)

I hope, by writing the above, I’ve managed to convince you to add BAM to the list of questions you ask your consultant/surgeon next time you see them. This is especially important if :

a) You have had an ileal resection and suffer from chronic diahorrea
b) You are about to undergo surgery which could involve ileal resection, especially the removal of the terminal ileum

Please feel free to copy the slide above and pass it on as widely as you can. It might just help fellow Crohn’s/IBD patients gain a better quality of life.

When I was doing the research for this post I came across this Research Proposal from Guys and St.Thomas’ Hopital. Maybe BAM really will achieve greater awareness in the not too distant future.

SeHCAT Study


Crohn’s Disease – DIARY – Starting 2015 as we mean to go on..

I’ve been trying to think positive thoughts. A new year; a new opportunity to put Crohn’s on the back burner, or maybe not….

Thursday 15th January 2015 – St.Thomas’ – the first appointment of the year. Not one I had been expecting until the letter came through the post. I was in half-a-mind to cancel. It was the follow-up to seeing the dietician in October 2013 to talk through the benefit of low FODMAPs.

Since our last meeting I had a new diagnosis to contend with – Bile Acid Malabsorption. We spent about 40 minutes discussing many different aspects of diet. She recommended that I try and increase the amount and variety of fruit and vegetables in my diet. She also suggested taking multi-vitamins each day as the loss of my terminal ileum would mean not absorbing them properly from normal food.

I seem to be unable to get my BMI out of the overweight range (currently 26.1). She told me not to get too hung up by the numbers. Whenever I’m working in London, generally three days a week, I try and walk at least 10km during the day. I’m trying to achieve the balance between keeping fit and keeping the weight on, which may sound a little odd. My gastro consultant likes his patients to be on the slightly heavier side in case there is the sudden need to undergo an operation. (I lost around 5kg after my last one).  I want to keep fit for the same reason. As you get older the recovery process takes longer so the fitter you are at the start, the better.

Tuesday 27th January 2015 – St.Thomas’ – first gastro appointment of the year was originally planned for 13th January but I had, stupidly, taken my calprotectin sample into the pathology lab too late. A quick email to my consultant’s wonderful secretary and she slipped my appointment back two weeks so the results would be available.

I arrived shortly before my allotted time and waited for my name to appear on the “laser display screen”. It must have been about 15 minutes before it appeared – “Go to Room 17”. When I opened the door one of the registrars greeted me and introduced herself. I didn’t stand on ceremony. I explained that  I really wanted to see my usual consultant, for continuity’s sake, and was prepared to wait accordingly. She was fine with that.

Back to the waiting area. Before now I’ve had to wait anything up to another hour but this time it was only ten minutes – “Go to Room 18”. When I entered the room my consultant had two other doctors sitting in with him, one visiting from Greece; the other a junior doctor working within the department.

I produced the list and my GI explained to the others that I always had a list and that he liked working that way.

1) What did the calprotectin result show? 188. Not good. Previously I had been around the 50 mark. This new result suggested that inflammation had returned. Bugger!

2) Blood test results? All OK except platelets, although these had now risen to 86, up 20 points, so actually an improvement.

3) Do I need a colonoscopy? Yes. Given the elevated calprotectin level the only way of checking for inflammation was to go in with the camera. I noted that, thankfully St.Thomas’ use Citrafleet which only requires drinking 300ml of liquid and a small bottle of senna. The thought of drinking 4 litres of Klean Prep, as used by some other hospitals (and in Greece BTW), filled me with dread. Request typed into computer with note about Citrafleet. Just need to wait for appointment to come through. My consultant would be driving the camera.

We then had a short discussion on how much sedation patients are given. I like to be as awake as possible so I can ask questions there and then and not have to wait for the follow-up appointment to get any bad news. The Greek doctor said if he was having it done he would want to be out cold!

4) I mentioned that over the Christmas period I had felt really rough – lower back pain extending down the backs of my legs; and ache around my midriff and very tired. As always with Crohn’s it was difficult to know if it was the Crohn’s itself, a virus I had picked up or overdoing sweeping up leaves.

5) We then had our usual conversation about the ache around my anastomosis, which comes and goes, especially after physical exertion. He said that after surgery it is entirely to be expected and that hard, physical effort would probably aggravate it. One to park I think.

6) I ran through my discussion with the dietician – see above.

7) More an observation really – I am very surprised that two capsules of Loperamide are controlling the Bile Acid Malabsorption and that I currently don’t need to take Questran or similar.

8) My other observation was the lack of discussion (as far as I can see) of BAM given the prevalence in patients after ileal resection. I felt that it really should have wider coverage and that the SeHCAT test should be routine given the severe diarrhea it can cause and that the symptoms may appear to be the Crohn’s itself and get treated as such. I quoted the NICE statistic that I had found.

9) I asked him to pass my thanks on to his secretary. She really is exceptional and always goes the extra mile to get things sorted out. He agreed and said how pleased he is that she works with him.

10) I wondered if the Gastro department ever held open Q and A sessions that enabled patients to come along ask general questions about Crohn’s/IBD to increase their own understanding of the disease. He replied “not at present” but they had been discussing ways of engaging better with their patient base. He would pass my name onto the person charged with the task.

I explained that I’m getting to the stage where I would like to give up work and devote some time to helping the Crohn’s community although I felt I knew very little about Crohn’s and in the grand scheme of things had escaped very lightly compared to those who had had 20+ operations. He felt I was doing myself a dis-service.

And that was it. Follow-up appointment for six months time but, as he pointed out, the next time he saw me would be from the wrong end of an endoscope. His “list” had now been moved to the new Endoscopy Suite at St.Thomas’ which pleased him as the equipment was better than his old clinic.

I walked back to Victoria Station somewhat disappointed. I had hoped the calprotectin level was still around 50. If the colonoscopy does show that the inflammation is returning the next question will be how to deal with it. We know Azathioprine isn’t an option.

Next planned appointment – Haematology at Guy’s – 11th February 2015….or will the colonoscopy come along first?

Ignorance is Bliss

Having read a good number of tweets and forum posts I’ve come to realise my level of ignorance. I wonder how many facts about IBD, that are blindingly obvious to others, have simply passed me by or if the various consultants that I have seen over the years haven’t thought it necessary to discuss because they assumed I already knew them.

You may be surprised at my level of ignorance, as I approach 38 years of coping with Crohn’s, but I have excuses. Firstly, with no internet for many of those years there was little opportunity for sharing experiences and knowledge so easily. Secondly, during the long period when Crohn’s was pretty much under control, I really didn’t need or want to think about it too deeply. Ignorance genuinely was bliss.

There are some things I wish I had discovered/been told about sooner. Forewarned is forearmed. It’s just possible that they might help someone in a similar situation to myself.

What I’d Like To Share (WILTS) and apologies if they are blindingly obvious :

1) We’re all different. Probably the most important thing I have learnt from posts and tweets is that whilst there are some common threads, such as fatigue, it is amazing just how different each of our overall experiences of Crohn’s can be. I knew it could affect any area from mouth to anus but it wasn’t until I had read other patient’s stories that I realised just how debilitating and disruptive it can be both physically and, just as importantly, mentally. My own experience, up until 2009, was that it was unpleasant and annoying but didn’t affect my lifestyle very much. Taking everything into consideration I’ve escaped pretty lightly.

I wasn’t aware that bad fatigue is so common. It’s only in the last few years I have been having B12 injections to try and help with this.

I knew surgery was a possibility but not that some patients would have their complete colon removed……the list goes on…….

WILTS – especially for the newly diagnosed – if you are reading forum posts etc. then please remember that whilst there are some effects we all suffer from – fatigue, for instance – other symptoms or reactions to drugs will be specific to that particular patient and it doesn’t mean you will necessarily experience the same. By the nature of forums people post questions usually when they have a problem, not when they are feeling great. If you keep that in mind then you’ll understand why forums are heavily skewed to the negative end of the scale. I can’t remember how I felt when I was told “you have Crohn’s Disease” but I would imagine that nowadays, for the newly diagnosed, the amount of information on the internet is overwhelming.

2) Stomas. Not something I had even thought about as a possibility. In fact something I didn’t want to think about at all, let alone how to deal with one. Definitely a lot of stigma attached and only something that affected “old people”.

Reality didn’t kick in until I had my first meeting with a Stoma nurse (the lovely Fiona at St.Thomas’) who marked a large, black cross on my abdomen so the surgeon knew the optimal position “if a stoma was required“. At that point I couldn’t ignore it any longer and the doubts began.

After the operation the surgeon’s first word was “Sorry” and I knew when he lifted the blanket what I would see attched to my abdomen. I was so high on all the drugs at that point that I just took it all in without reacting. Over the course of the next few days Fiona showed me what I needed to do to change the bag and built up my confidence for “going solo”. She told me that, at 54, I was one of her older patients. So much for stomas only happen to oldies.

I can’t mention stomas without also mentioning the #Get Your BellyOut campaign. They have really helped with getting stomas out in the open, literally, and lifting some of the stigma attached.

WILTS – the thought of having to have a stoma is a lot worse than the reality. Once you get into the routine of dealing with it, it can give you a lot more confidence going out and about and not having to worry about dashing off to the nearest bathroom IMMEDIATELY. A real life changer in a positive way. If you have any problems (and I had a couple) your stoma nurse will know what to do. Stoma nurses are heroes.

3) Lockdown. Before my elective surgery in October 2010 I had a meeting with the Enhanced Recovery Nurse who she went through the pre and post operative phases in great detail – what I should expect, timescales etc. The one thing that wasn’t mentioned was “lockdown”. At least that’s what the surgeon called it. The medical term is “gastric statis” or “post operative ileus”.

After both the ileostomy and reversal operations my digestive system stopped working and I suffered very bad nausea and hiccups. I hadn’t realised just how low nausea can make you feel. It wasn’t until the surgeon was doing his weekly “follow-up” round that he explained it was normal in approximately 25% of patients and it would eventually pass. I wish I had been forewarned so at least I would have known why I felt so bad straightaway rather than wait a few days before having it explained.

WILTS – if you end up having surgery for your Crohn’s (and it is by no means certain that you will) then you may be one of the unlucky 25% to suffer from this “lockdown”. It is unpleasant, very unpleasant, but it’s made a lot easier if you know why you feel bad and that you are not the first to have suffered it. The preferred option is to let natue run its course but there ae things that can be done to try an alleviate the problem. One way or another the feeling WILL pass and your appetite WILL return.

4) BAM – Bile Acid Malabsorption. I’m probably starting to sound like a cracked record on this one (see several other posts). It does appear to be a condition that should be far more widely known about and discussed. After I had my stoma reversed I couldn’t understand why I still needed to take Loperamide capsules to regulate output. I had assumed, wrongly in my case, that reversal meant the digestive system returned to normal. Every so often I would get a bout of the runs and my first thought was it must be the beginning of a Crohn’s flare; mayve I’ve eaten something that diasgreed with me; or could I have picked up a virus? I asked my consultant about it a couple of times and he mentioned something to do with absorption. As an extra capsule of Loperamide would quickly bring it under control I took it no further.

I mentioned it to him again earlier in 2014 and he decided to book a SeHCAT test. The result came back – severe Bile Acid Malabsorption. Having now got the proper term for the problem I was able to look it up and understand what was going wrong. I’ve explained it in another posts so won’t cover old ground here.

WILTS – if you have had surgery that involved removing your terminal ileum then, from what I have read, it is highly likely you will suffer from BAM and unless you are taking medication to combat it, or its side effects, you will be making frequent bathroom dashes. If you haven’t discussed it with your consultant then ask the question. The SeHCAT test is simple and painless.