Category Archives: Crohn’s Disease

Now or Later?

Are you a “Now” or “Later” person? When you’ve undergone some test or maybe an MRI scan do you prefer to get the result/report as soon as it is available or do you prefer to wait until you see your consultant?

I’m definitely the former. I like to know what could lie ahead so that I can come to terms with the worst scenario and then, if reality is actually not as bad, result!

When it’s something like a calprotectin test then it’s simple to compare the new value to previous ones and identify the trend. (I dropped a sample into the Path Lab for analysis just before Christmas and should be able to get the result soon).

The problem comes when you read a report that is well beyond one’s own limited medical knowledge or experience. I had such a report arrive in the post last week. The MRI scan itself was carried out at the end of last July but if you’ve read my previous couple of posts you’ll see that there was an apparent conflict between it and a subsequent colonoscopy. I had asked my consultant to send me through the text and he duly obliged.

Before we go any further here it is :

“MRI Small bowel study :

Comparison is made with the previous MR in April 2012. Previous ileocolic resection again noted.

There is stricturing seen in the proximal and distal sigmoid colon as before, with relative sparing ol the midsigmoid colon. As before there are adhesions between the rectosigmoid, proximal sigmoid and the dome of the bladder which is tented upwards and slightly thickened, suggestive of developing colocolonic and colovesical fistula formation. No intravesical gas is however seen at present. There is moderate prestenotic dilatation with the descending colon measuring 6.1 cm in diameter

As before a further stricture is seen in the proximal transverse colon measuring 10 cm in length, with slightly less mural thickening than before. Moderate prestenotic dilatation of 4.8 cm is seen. There is further stricture seen in the ascending colon over a length of 5 cm. Mild mural thickening and oedema is noted in the caecum and distal 5cm of the terminal ileum as previously.

The small bowel loops are suboptimally distended, with the impression of adhesions between the small bowel loops and anterior abdominal wall. No definite further strictures or active small bowel disease is seen. Mild splenomegaly is demonstrated at 15 cm as before There is a mild atrophy of the pancreas. Gallstones noted within a slightly thickened gallbladder as previously. Solid organs otherwise unremarkable.

No intra-abdominal collections. Small trace of fluid within the pelvis.

Conclusion: Appearances are similar to previously with stricturing seen within the colon, associated prestenotic dilatation, and evidence of penetrating disease as before.”

I mentioned this to another IBD patient to which they replied :

“This is exactly the reason why I don’t like getting copies of blood results or test reports as it always throws up questions that would not otherwise be there (particularly if you are feeling well). And it creates a feeling of unwelcome uncertainty when there is not a medical person to explain it….”

I can understand this reasoning and, having read the above I’m starting to think that maybe that’s the way forward.

There are four words in particular make me wonder what lies ahead – “stricture”, “fistula”, “adhesions” and “penetrating”. I’ve experienced them all before and it ended up with surgery. If I need further episodes under the knife then it’s not really a surprise. My consultant quotes the average time between surgeries for Crohn’s patients as 10 years. I’ve reached six and a half from the ileostomy, but before then (perforated bowel) it was 30 years.

Surgeon’s drawing of surgery – October 2010

Next time I see my consultant it should be an interesting conversation. How much of the report could have been expected given my past history? Are there any pointers to the progression/reawakening of Crohn’s disease? What next? Does it point to surgery sooner rather than later?

Once I have my latest calprotectin results back then I must get a date for that next appointment……

Until next time

 

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.

Where do we go from here?

At the moment it makes a change to write a post not connected to the #HAWMC (Health Activist Month Writer’s Challenge) that I’ve just completed. Having said that, there is still a link because I have mentioned in a couple of those posts that I find blogging therapeutic. It helps me to be objective and get things straight in my mind.

This post is therefore primarily for my own benefit but any thoughts/comments/questions welcome.

Background

I’m off to see my gastro consultant at Guy’s Hospital in just over a weeks time (12th December). I’ve already started getting my list of questions ready but I want to make sure I capture all the relevant details. I’m expecting us to agree next steps given my recent test/procedure results.

Since my reversal operaion in June 2011 I’ve been taking no Crohn’s drugs at all and everything has pointed towards me being in clinical remission. I really don’t want to take any more medication than the current Omeprazole, Propranolol, Loperamide and iron tablets  that I am on for PVT (Portal Vein Thrombosis).

When I my consultant, almost a year ago I said “I feel fine. I can’t see why we shouldn’t stretch these appointments out to yearly intervals.”  I don’t know exactly how long it was before I started to regret it, probably about three months, as the bathroom dashes had returned. As ever, with IBD/Crohn’s, it’s not easy to pinpoint what has caused the change and now that I have the addition of Bile Acid Malabsorption to consider it makes it even more difficult.

I tend to discount stress as I like to think I manage it quite well. At that time I was commuting to London, or more precisely Canary Wharf, and the travelling was always unpredictable, mainly due to the truly appaling service provided by Southern Rail and the frequent RMT strikes. To be sure of getting a train meant getting up at five o’clock in the morning. Maybe stress did play its part this time. My wife has said I seem a lot more relaxed now that I’ve given up work. (I decided to semi-retire at the beginning of November but I’m open to offers for short term assignments.)

The upshot was that I emailed my consultant and explained the problem. He suggested a calprotectin test (stool sample) and we would decide what to do next depending upon the result. After three weeks (28th May) the test report came back showing a considerable jump upwards to just over 400, suggesting active inflammation.

A colonoscopy was arranged – 13th July – and the finding was “ongoing mild colonic crohn’s disease. No evidence of crohn’s recurrence in the neo-terminal ileum.” The previous scoping (February 2015) noted “mild, patchy erthema (redness) throughout the colon” but concluded “quiescent (inactive) crohn’s disease.”

Because a colonoscopy can only just reach into the small bowel an MRI scan was booked  to look at my small bowel. I didn’t have to wait long – 29th July with a follow-up appointment on 5th September to discuss the results. Suprisingly, the MRI showed a stricture in my colon even though the scope didn’t. Very strange. This conundrum would be put to the Gastro Dept’s next MDM (Multi Disciplinary Meeting).

The MRI scan also showed adhesions, which are usual after surgery, but I would like to know a bit more about locations. I’ve been getting an ache around ny anastomosis for a number of years but it seems to be worse in the last week or so. This may be down to lifting a couple of “heavier than they looked” objects. Yes, I know it was stupid but male arrogance etc…..

I’m intrigued to know how the MDM reconciled the apparently contradictory colonoscopy and MRI scan results? I would have thought the camera results would take precedence. I also need to understand if the adhesions, on the scan, are just confined to my rejoin (terminal ileum). We’ll talk about their conclusions on 12th December.

We also discussed the large jump in calprotectin level and he asked me to repeat the test to check whether this was a rogue result. Unfortunately the result, when it came back, was even higher.

Looking at the calpro graph it’s apparent that somewhere between November 2015 and May 2016 the inflammation restarted.

calproI mustn’t forget to mention that a few weeks back I was having a “do I call an ambulance” moment when I started loosing some blood from where the sun don’t shine (no, not Manchester). I concluded that due to the fact it was bright red it must be very fresh and the result of surface injury and did not warrant 999. By the next day I was fine again.

Over the last few weeks my digestive system seems to be back on an even keel so is it possible/advisable to continue without medication even though mild inflammation is present? Is any damage done by not taking medication for such a long time? Does the calpro trend suggest that the inflammation is getting worse? I have noticed that I can sometimes feel the action of peristalsis across my middle which I’m assuming is matter passing along the transverse colon. Maybe this ties in with the mild inflammation.

I will mention that I have not talked to my GP about Bile Acid Malabsorption as my digestive system seems to have returned to normal with just the odd blip every 10 days or so. Is this return to normality as a result of no longer commuting to London?

I’m booked in for an upper GI endoscopy on 21st December to monitor the growth of varices in my esophagus.  I’m wondering if we should be doing any further monitoring of my liver to look for worsening of the cirrhosis. Add it to the list.

I just need to turn the above into a succinct list  and I’m ready for the appointment. I just hope the newly announved ASLEF ovetime ban doesn’t stop the trains from running.

It should be an interesting session on 12th.

 

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

day_28

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!

Living with a timebomb

I’m not trying to scare anyone with this story. It is very unlikely you will experience the same but it is worth being aware of yet another part of the rich tapestry that Crohn’s Disease can weave for us.

This is what happened…..

Monday 28th May 2012 – Outpatient Appointment at Guy’s.

The original intention was to go into work as usual then catch the Tube down to London Bridge in time for my 10 o’clock appointment. I wasn’t feeling so good so decided to catch a later train and go direct to the hospital. I’m used to an early start with virtually no traffic so rather underestimated how long it would take to get to Redhill station from home. By the time I got to the station I could hear the train pulling into the platform. I didn’t realise that it would wait there 5 minutes before leaving so I tried to run and realised just how bad I felt. My chest started heaving and my heart pumping. I really thought I was having a heart attack. Once I was on the train I managed to take some deep breaths and gradually return to some type of normality.

I made my way to the Outpatients Dept. in time for my appointment but then had a long wait before seeing my consultant. When I was finally called in I was relieved to find that I was seeing the top man, not one of the registrars. He did apologise for the long wait.

We went through my list of queries and eventually discussed  the issue I was having with passing a jet black liquid from my back end. He asked me to get a sample for analysis which I thought would be easy but no luck. He also asked me to make an appointment to repeat the colonoscopy to verify the results of the MRI scan.

Eventually I was on my way home and by now the temperature was high. I bought a bottle of cold drink and then boarded the train back to Redhill. By the time I got home I was feeling pretty exhausted and went to have a lie down to recover. Around six o’clock I started to feel sick so disappeared into the toilet and then it happened… (don’t read any further if you are squeamish)

I brought up a large amount of what looked like redcurrant jelly but was clearly freshly congealed blood. I must have gone into shock for a few minutes, thinking “What do I do now?” (Not like me at all. I usually come quickly to terms with what is happening, decide the best actions to take and get on with it but this was like nothing I had experienced before and for a while I couldn’t cope).

I came to the conclusion that this was definitely a 999 moment. I heard my wife coming back from feeding our ponies so called out to her to ring the number. She made the call and then responded to the long series of questions that you now get asked by the operator. The decision to send an ambulance was made and my wife then hurried herself to get together some things into a bag before the ambulance pulled up our sideway. She didn’t quite finish as the ambulance arrived incredibly quickly. When she opened the door she recognised the paramedics as the ones who had taken me into hospital the last time we had reason to call 999 (see “Post Op – Back Home” page – 12th November). They came in to see what state I was in, took one look at the blood surrounding me and, to put me at ease, told me that it was only a small amount!

I was loaded into the ambulance and then went through various tests before we set off. They were obviously concerned at my state and said that my blood pressure was very low. They put me on a drip and the driver said “I think we’ll go for the siren”…….

A few minutes later we arrived at East Surrey Hospital and I was taken straight into the Accident and Emergency assessment area and was immediately seen by a doctor to make sure I was stable. Over the next hour or so I was seen by a couple more doctors whilst they decided the best ward for me to be sent to. Their decision was to admit me to the Medical Assessment Unit where I underwent further assessment. By this time my sister had turned up to take my wife home so we said our goodbyes and I waited to see where I would end up.

My wife returned home and had to clear up the blood from the floor. I’m so lucky to have someone so tough to support me when things are going wrong.

The decision was taken to send me to the ward which specialises in gastroenterology and I was duly taken to this new ward. I then saw the doctor on duty who made sure I was comfortable and worked out what drips I needed to be on.

Tuesday 29th May 2012 – the rest of the night was spent undergoing regular checks on my blood pressure and temperature. I didn’t get much sleep but was just happy to be in the best place, given the condition I was in.

During the day I saw various doctors who were trying to decide which tests I should undergo. The immediate priority was to have an endoscopy (camera down throat) to see where the blood had come from. They tried to get me onto that day’s list and so I wasn’t allowed to eat anything. Unfortunately an emergency case took priority and at six o’clock I was told that I could eat some supper. Apparently the doctor was very surprised at how calmly I took the fact that I wouldn’t be having the test done that day and said she wouldn’t have been so laid back.

They decided that I needed to have a blood transfusion as my blood count had fallen to 6.6. The normal figure for a man is around 14. I therefore had two drips going into the cannula in my left arm.

Wednesday 30th May 2012 to Monday 4th June  – The blood transfusion had brought my blood count up to 8.6, still very low. Over the next few days I had the upper GI endoscopy. I think the doctors were expecting it to show that I had an ulcer, which had burst, or that the Crohn’s inflammation had spread into my stomach. What they actually found were esophageal varices, prominent veins in the lower third of the esophagus and usually related to alcoholism! I looked them up on the internet and found that there is a possible link between them and the Azathioprine drug that I had been on for seven years.

The next step was therefore to have an ultrasound scan to look at my liver as sometimes damage to one of the large veins could route the blood supply into the esophagus causing the varices. I asked what the outcome of this test was and it sounded like nothing particularly untoward showed up apart from a gall stone and a slightly enlarged spleen. I would ask again later, just to make sure I got that right.

The whole ward then went into a sort of 4 day limbo as it was the extended holiday weekend to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The number of doctors was greatly reduced and were only seeing patients by exception. I resigned myself to not progressing any further with an explanation of my problem until the following Tuesday.

The phlebotomists did their usual rounds every day and I later found out that my blood count had dropped to 8.0 from 8.6. Not good and would prolong my stay in hospital. The ward sister said that the doctors would be doing a proper ward round on the following Tuesday so I had plenty of time to get a list of questions together. I resigned myself to not progressing any further with an explanation of my problem until then.

Tuesday 5th June 2012 – I knew at some point I would encounter the consultant that I had emailed around a year ago saying that, basically, I was now being treated by St.Thomas’ so not to bother to make any further appointments for me. I had a very good reason for doing this and it is recorded in my book (when it finally gets published).

I’m not going to go into all the details of this encounter but suffice to say that initially he would not look me in the eye and my decision, a year ago, was clearly still bugging him. I reiterated my original reason for leaving his care and this may not have helped the situation. (My decision to move to St.Thomas’ was not taken lightly as it is far easier for me to get to East Surrey Hospital from home, approx. 10 minutes, than it is to get to St.Thomas’). At one point it was suggested that maybe it would be best for me to be put in an ambulance and transported up to London.

I was now in the position that I was under the care of East Surrey for my emergency admission but the long term treatment of Crohn’s was still with St.Thomas’. At the end of a long and detailed discussion on what my current situation was caused by, whilst the junior doctors listened on, we ended up shaking hands and agreeing that we should do what is best for my long term health. Enough said on this matter, let’s move onto possible diagnosis, tests required and best place to have them carried out. So clearly I was not in a position to think about discharge yet.

The recurring terms he used were primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and portal hypertension. He thinks that these are symptoms of a malfunctioning immune system and are also linked to my thrombocytopaenia (low platelet count) and enlarged spleen. I had thought that this last condition had been brought on by the use of Azathioprine but he was sceptical at this.

After the ward round was complete I called one of the junior doctors over and asked how to spell “that primary thing the consultant mentioned” so I could look it up. She replied that it might not be a good idea at present. I decided to park the research for the day but happened to mention it to my sister who immediately looked it up and rang me back. It was all a little scary. Ultimately, if PSC was diagnosed, the long term prognosis – liver transplant! The only way of getting a definite diagnosis would be to carry out a liver biopsy.

With regards to where the tests should be done and the subsequent treatment – I’m not sure what we concluded. I think that we agreed that due to the complex nature of my Crohn’s I would be better remaining under St.Thomas’ as they have more extensive facilities than East Surrey. I wouldrevisit this subject tomorrow on the ward round.

I try to keep a cool head at all times and remain rational so I thought I’d taken the above information in my stride but a little voice at the back of my head kept saying “you’re only keeping calm because you don’t understand the full implications of what you’ve just been told”. When I caught sight of the IBD Nurse I asked her if she could answer some questions, including what were all the long words the consultant were using. She could tell by some of my questions that no one has ever sat down and gone through some of the basic concepts of Crohn’s and its implications.

I got to thinking about this later and she had hit the nail on the head, one of her many skills! (which also includes an encyclopaedic, some might say Wikipedic, knowledge of medical terms and conditions).

No one has ever talked through the bigger Crohn’s picture. For years I thought it was simply an inflammation that caused diarrhea and some pain for which you took steroids. Some years later I ended up with a stricture so I was then aware of another possible complication. The results of the CT scan that I had done three years, or so ago, then introduced me to the concept of fistulas and having to have a stoma. It would be good to be able to spend some time talking this through with a specialist and understanding other possible symptoms and potential effects on other parts of the body. Ultimately I would like to get a clear understanding of the likely effects on my potential life expectancy or quality. I could then use the information to decide when to retire. Maybe I should talk to an actuary.

Back to the ward – it was decided that I should be given another 2 units of blood. Since I hadn’t had any for a week they needed to do another “crossmatch” as they only last 7 days. (All part of ensuring you get the right blood type).

Wednesday 6th June 2012 – that must have been the quietest night so far on the ward. I slept until about 3:00am but then couldn’t get back to sleep until around 7:00am.

The phlebotomist turned up to take more blood samples and she was followed by the registrar and junior doctors on their round. I had quickly made a list of things to ask them – the top question was “plan for escape”.

I was somewhat taken aback when the Registrar said that as long as today’s blood test showed an Hb of over 10 then I could go home. Today! I really wasn’t expecting that. I had told everyone I was in until at least the weekend or possibly would be transferred to St.Thomas’. I’ve now had to wait until around 1 o’clock for my score.

I discussed various things with the Registrar, including going over again what the endoscopy and ultrasound tests had shown. For my long term care they are suggesting that I remain under St.Thomas’ and would be liaising with my specialist there to make sure the necessary test results were passed over. One of the junior doctors was tasked with making this contact.

Thursday 7th June 2012 – back home. My first good night’s sleep for 10 days. Time to take stock. The discharge letter made interesting reading but took a fair amount of translation. The bulk of it listed what they didn’t find so I was rather confused as to what I have actually got wrong with me. The only definite observations were an enlarged spleen and a gallstone.

I read through the leaflets that came with the new drugs. They’d given me – Propanolol – a beta blocker used to prevent stomach bleeding in patients with high blood pressure in their liver or swollen blood vessels in their gullet; and Omeprazole – a proton pump inhibitor to reduce the acid in one’s stomach. Reading through the possible side effects of these two drugs I could end up with insomnia and nightmares. Fingers crossed.

…and since then? – I was put under the care of a liver specialist and underwent a liver biopsy to check for cirrhosis. The result showed mild stiffening, something to keep in mind. I now have yearly visits to the endoscopy dept to check out the varices. If they have regrown then the first visit is followed by another two or three when they “obliterate” the veins with rubber bands. Next visit January 2017.

I inevitably turned to the internet. The first page I found, when I searched for PVT and Crohn’s, started with the words “if the patient survives….” Another one said “inevitably fatal”. Not a good start and I was only partly comforted by realising that the articles were written many years ago and by hoping that treatment must have moved on leaps and bounds. If I was to suffer another major bleed from the varices it’s a question of how quick I can get to a hospital and have a transfusion.

It’s like living with a timebomb.

Crying Wolf

Crying Wolf (or maybe not)

I started writing this post a while ago but for one reason or another didn’t get round to finishing it. (My wife would say it’s a “man thing”). I’m not sure it will add greatly to the body of knowledge about Crohn’s but, from a purely personal level, it allows me to keep a record of my appointments and procedures.

I’m returning to a subject I’ve written about before but this time the effects are worse and have lasted longer, sufficient to make me very concerned.

On 5th May I had an annual check-up with my GP and had pre-empted the appointment with a full blood test. The results came back OK except for lymphocytes and platelets (expected). I emailed a copy to my gastro consultant and mentioned that I had been getting abdominal pain for the last few weeks and rushing off to the bathroom. He replied that I should have a calprotectin test and would have a sample pot sent to me (hopefully).

The symptoms are a pain around the midriff; extreme tiredness – so much so that I can get in from work, have dinner, then collapse on the sofa and wake up at eleven ready to go to bed; but most worryingly, and not wanting to get too graphic in a blog that may be read by non-IBD sufferers, let’s just say the phrase “through the eye of a needle” comes to mind.

I’ve been told told that if you can visualise  pain it is much easier to deal with. Mentally I lined up the suspects. The “upset stomach” could be from :

i) a virus picked up on the train up to London
ii) eating something dodgy (I did eat out in a restaurant in Highcliffe one day and the food was pretty disgusting)
iii) wearing a very tight belt whilst doing a lot of physical work

or the one that constitutes the “elephant in the room” – five years of Crohn’s remission was at an end

Ironically the last time I saw my Gastro consultant I had told him I felt very well and couldn’t see why we didn’t extend the gap between appointments from six to twelve months. I was now regretting it and had started to notice my weight was dropping and the ache around my anastomosis was getting more frequent.

I would have to see what the calprotectin test showed. The sample pot had still not arrived so I took it upon myself to get one from my GP, fill it with the “necessary” and drop it into the IBD Nurses at Guy’s Hospital.

The result came back on 14th June. My consultant emailed “Interestingly it has risen to 436” (previously 179) and suggested that a colonoscopy ought to be the next step. “Would I be OK with that?” Not a problem but I was starting to wonder if I was “crying wolf” as ever since I had dropped the sample in, I had started to feel a lot better. I think this must have been wishful thinking. Something had caused my calpro result to keep rising and my weight was still falling (down to 82kg from a high of 91kg).

The colonoscopy was duly booked – 12th July. I wondered how that would allow my small intestine to be seen. My consultant wrote back  that the colonoscopy would be able to reach just past the anastomosis, the most likely place to find inflammation if it had restarted. If the scope showed nothing then I would need further tests by which I assume he meant a scan. I’m sure he would not want to risk a Pillcam.

This post will continue after (tomorrow afternoon’s) scoping. One more sachet of Citrafleet to take………

The Colonoscopy

I’m not going to describe the whole colonoscopy process, just the things that made this one slightly different and the conclusions.

Firstly taking the prep timing has changed at St. Thomas’. For an afternoon procedure instead of taking both lots of prep solution on the previous day they are now split and the recommendation is to take the second sachet at 9:00am on the day of the procedure. This didn’t seem like a good idea, especially with a travel time of nearly two hours on public transport, I decided to take that second dose at 5:30am and I’m glad I did. It had only just finished “taking effect” at 10:30am when I was due to leave home.

Secondly, and this one would make a good subject for a fashion blog, the very flimsy paper briefs that one previously had to put on have now been replaced with some very stylish dark blue paper boxer shorts with a large slit up the back. Modesty prevented me from taking a selfie and posting it.

For the first time ever the nurse had problems finding a vein for the cannula. After two attempts with my right arm she handed me over to her colleague. Luckily she tried the other arm and was successful.

cannulaOne of the doctors came in to get the consent form signed and I explained that I wanted to keep alert throughout the procedure, so that I could ask questions, and mentioned that my weight was a lot lower than previous scopes. He decided to give me less sedative than usual and that worked fine.

Whilst my main GI consultant watched on, the doctor I had seen earlier started the scoping. As the camera made its way ever onwards it started to show mild inflammation in the colon but when it reached the anastomosis the inflammation disappeared. The doctor decided to see how much further he could get the scope into the small intestine, made possible by my ileocaecal valve having been removed during my ileostomy

Normally I don’t notice the movement of the camera, the air to expand the gut or the liquid used to clean the lens but that final push was the exception. I ended up being asked to roll onto my back which made it a little  easier. Once again there was no inflammation and with that the scope was withdrawn.

The conclusions were : ongoing, mild colonic Crohn’s disease but no evidence of recurrence in the neo-Terminal Ileum (the most likely place for it to reappear following surgery).  My consultant said that colonic Crohn’s would explain the high calprotectin result but he was clearly most concerned about the weightloss (down below 80kg for the first time since before my ileostomy) and sent off a request for an MRI scan.

By 15:30 it was time to leave St.Thomas’, clutching a copy of the report and accompanied by my escort , a fellow GSTT IBD patient who gave up her afternoon to help. Thank you. (I have since been able to repay the favour by agreeing to talk to some undergradute nurses about “Living with IBD”).

On the way out we called into the  MRI unit to see if it was possible to book a date there and then. Unfortunately bookings were done from a different location but the receptionist confirmed that the request was already on the system and marked “Urgent”. I should be seen within 2 weeks.

The Scan

After a couple of days I tried ringing the MRI Unit to find out if they had allocated a date yet, after all, if I was to be seen inside two weeks, surely I would need to be on the schedule by now. Disappointingly the answer I got was that they were working through the bookings “in order”. It didn’t make a lot of sense.

I left it over the weekend then tried again. This time the person I spoke to must have realised the urgency and I was given a date of Friday 29th July, at Guy’s, 12 days from the request going in. I would not need to be accompanied this time as there would be no sedation involved. I then received a letter for a follow-up gastro appointment to discuss the results – 5th September.

The day of the scan arrived. I made my way into the unit. It was newly refurbished and extended and had only been open a few days. The number of scanners fhad been increased from two to four.

You are asked to arrive early as there is a prep solution to drink. I knew what to expect – a thick, lemony liquid with the consistency of wallpapaer paste. I must remember to keep stirring it. But no, it was all change. I was given a one litre bottle of a clear fluid and a glass of water as a “chaser”. The nurse told me to drink a cup of the liquid every 5 minutes. She mentioned that it wasn’t that palatable and she was right. I must have managed to drink about three quarters of the bottle before it was time to be cannularised.

prepFor the second time in 3 weeks the nurse had difficulty in finding a good vein that would take the cannula tip all the way in. On the third attempt, using the other arm, it was finally in place.

I’ve described MRI scans, in detail, elsewhere in this blog so won’t repeat it all here. They are noisy machines so I was rather surprised to have fallen asleep towards the end of the procedure. I think it shows just how tired I have been recently.

A radiologist would interpret the results and have the report ready for my gastro appointment.

Harmatology

Just a routine, 12 monthly Haemo appointment. I didn’t have a list of questions because nothing had changed since my last visit. The doctor called up my records on her screen and said, in passing, “just to put your mind at rest – the MRI scan didn’t show anything unexpected, just some mild stricturing in the small bowel which had been seen before.” Interesting. I wasn’t aware of the strictures. Something to discuss on 5th September. To be continued…..

IBD Awareness, Stomas and Nursing Heroes

The theme for this year’s “World IBD Awareness Day” on 19th May was “Improving quality of life for people with IBD” and in particular the importance of Specialist IBD Nurses who can make such a big difference to patients’ lives.

My own experience of IBD Nurses is fairly limited. I have been lucky enough to only need to contact them with simple questions by ‘phone or email. I know, from conversations with other IBD patients, just how much support some get when they need help. I say “some” because not all patients have access to a specialist nurse and/or a helpline. A fellow IBD’er ran a poll on Twitter and as you will see from the results a significant percentage of patients are missing out.

Poll_1I’ll return to this point at the end of the post.

Last week saw “International Nurses Day” (12th May). It was an opportunity for patients to take to social media to express their thanks, publicly,  to nurses for the care they have received. (I would hope that patients thank their nurses face-to-face anyway).

I would usually fight shy of naming my nursing heroes. Patient confidentiality works both ways but there are two nurses who made a huge difference. If you will indulge me over the next few paragraphs I will explain their significance.

I’ve broadened the definition of “specialist IBD nurses” slightly to include stoma nurses as it neatly allows me to combine both the subjects of this post.

Whilst stomas are not the sole preserve of IBD patients it is a sad fact that many of us will end up with one, temporarily or permanently, at some point. I’d like to explain how the right support at the right time made a real difference to what could have become a very difficult period of major adjustment – getting stoma’d.

In August 2010 I had already been warned that I might come out of the operating theatre with one and to that end I had met with Fiona, the first of my nursing heroes, one of the stoma nurses based on the 12th floor at St.Thomas’ Hospital. She had spent time with me during the pre-op period explaining just what wearing a “bag” involved, some of the challenges I would face, answered my many questions and then marked the optimal site on my abdomen for the surgeon to aim for.

Coming round in Recovery, post-op, it wasn’t a great surprise to find the worst had happened. For those first couple of days after surgery you are so high on a cocktail of drugs that seeing your own, living stump of intestine poking its way through your abdominal wall is somewhat surreal. It’s at the point when your consciousness returns to some form of normality that reality hits and you need all the support you can get to start coping with this alien being and alien lifestyle. The thought of carrying round a bag of s*** fixed to your waist…..

Calmness and confidence are the order of the day. Fiona provided both in pouch loads. Nothing flustered her and that positive attitude transferred across. (Well, I like to think it did, but reading her ward notes from the time proved that reality may have been slightly different). She patiently visited me each day until she was confident that I could manage on my own.

Wind forward to the day of discharge and suddenly you’re home, alone (metaphorically speaking). It’s down to you to manage without the immediate support available on the ward. Fiona gave me a follow-up call to make sure everything was going OK and at this point my care was handed over to the local stoma nurse. This was Julie, my second nursing hero, based at East Surrey Hospital. She made contact shortly after my discharge and came to see me a couple of days later. She immediately put me at my ease and like Fiona was calm and unflappable.

I saw her on several occasions, not always in the best of circumstances. There was the time when my bag started filling with bright red blood, and the time when the stoma started prolapsing, oh, and the odd leak. Each of these problems could have knocked my confidence for six but each time Julie had a solution and some comforting words. By the time I was ready for the reversal operation I had become completely at ease with my lot.

There was never any question of a stoma nurse not being available either in person or at the end of a ‘phone. Why should it be different for Specialist IBD Nurses? I wonder if it comes back to the old idea of IBD being the “invisible” disease. Stomas are visible; tangible. For many IBD patients, those who have not undergone surgery, you really wouldn’t be able to tell they were suffering from IBD just by looking at them. Maybe that’s why IBD is not given a universal high importance.

You would think that providing these services would be a “no brainer”. Even if we ignore the advantages to the patients themselves then surely they must make sense on purely economic grounds. They act as a filter between the patient and the consultant. This will alleviate some of pressure on consultants’ time and potentially avoid the need for booking short notice outpatient appointments which inevitably means overloaded clinics. They may even reduce the number of visits made to the frequently beleaguered Accident and Emergency Departments.

I guess that it is all down to squeezed budgets and IBD not being sufficiently high profile to make it a political “hot potato”. This is why we need IBD Awareness Day.