A chance to combine the World Cup, gardening, Crohn’s Disease and colorectal surgery all in one post or maybe just a chance to do some navel gazing.
With the World Cup upon us once more my memory has been drifting back to when it was held in South Africa eight years ago and the situation I found myself in at the time.. A couple of posts ago I wrote about things I don’t/didn’t know about IBD and my unsated curiosity. Here’s some other things that I’m curious about, bear with me.
In 2010 I knew I was heading for surgery. The pain in my abdomen/back was stopping me from getting a good night’s sleep. In May my consultant told me to expect to go under the knife within 4 weeks at our local hospital. Preparations to get my life in order went into overdrive only to come to an abrupt halt when my wife and I were invited to attend an impromtu MDM with my consultant, his boss and their colorectal surgeon. The upshot was that the operation, or more specifically the recovery, was too complex for them to contemplate. They were referring me to St.Thomas’ in Westminster. You can imagine it was a bit of a bombshell.
A meeting with the surgeon at St.Thomas’ resulted in the date for the operation being set for the second week in October. (It couldn’t be September as he always went on holiday for the month!)
Strangely I started to feel a lot better and the pain improved greatly. I decided that one of the projects that had been on hold could go ahead – the construction of a pergola. It may not sound very exciting but it was quite a challenging piece of work, especially for someone about to undergo surgery.
Having designed the structure, ordered and collected the timber I spent many happy days and evenings digging the holes, cutting the joints and assembling the structure. It helped take my mind off the forthcoming operation. Although it was physical work it was also relaxing and, of course, tiring. Getting to sleep was not a problem.
A few daysafter starting….
The finished job
My constant companion throughout that period was the World Cup on the radio so when I heard the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia today (14th June) I was immediately transported back to that hot summer, balmy evenings and re-ignited the questions…
In 2010 my guts were in a pretty bad way – there were loops, fistulas and, probably most worryingly, my intestines had started to attach themselves to my back muscles (hence the back pain) and to vital organs.
One of the surgeons very kindly drew this diagram for me
The questions : If I was in such a bad way how did I manage to complete a physically demanding project. How much longer could I have continued without the “elective” surgery becoming “emergency” surgery. It was five months from when I had expected to have surgery to actually entering the operating theatre. It seems like a long time to wait.
I know I will never get an answer to my musings but once again curiosity is getting the better of me. I’ll just keep them on my lengthening list of “nice to knows“. Tune in next week for some more navel gazing (I’d like to commend the skill of the surgical team for still having a navel to gaze at.)
I like to think that I’m a good patient. I very rarely forget to take my medication; I always turn up for appointments; I try to enter the consulting room with a positive attitude and clutching a list of questions.
…but I’m also a difficult patient. I think it’s true of any IBD patient that we are “difficult” because it is likely that on first presentation to our GP our symptoms could have a number of possible explanations. At least more doctors are becoming aware of IBD as an avenue for investigation. It took 8 months for my positive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, via “nerves” and “spastic colon” along the way.
The difficulty continued. My platelet count dropped dramatically (thrombocytopenia). The most likely explanation? “It was the azathioprine.” So I stopped the azathioprine, my platelets showed no improvement and I ended up having surgery to remove a stricture.
Azathioprine is known to potentially affect the blood which is why we should have regular blood tests when taking it. Although my platelet count was around the 70 mark (usual range 150 – 400), I was asymptomatic. If I cut myself I didn’t bleed any more than usual and after several visits to see the haematologist it was decided to park the issue as it wasn’t affecting any other treatment. I had been in remission and Crohn’s drug free since surgery.
But what if the Crohn’s started to flare again and my gastro consultant decided the best treatment would be to restart the Aza? I put this to him and he agreed that we should un-park the question and try to find out whether the drug was to blame.
Off to see the haematologist again and two bone marrow biopsies later it was decided that Aza was the probably the guilty party, had attacked my bone marrow which in turn suppressed platelet production. (…..not everyone agrees)
The second “difficulty” was when I started vomiting blood, an incident that I have mentioned many times before. Into our local A&E and then admitted as an in-patient. The consultants there were expecting to find an ulcer. To confirm their suspicions they shoved a camera down my throat and were surprised to find esophageal varices. A simple-to-treat ulcer was actually something a lot more sinister.
One ultrasound scan later and it was identified as portal vein thrombosis. Time to pass me back into the care of my usual hospital. Treatment would involve both a hepatologist and haematologist. At my first meeting with the hepatologist I asked what could have caused the blood clot in my portal vein. He said that the most likely explanation was that it resulted from peritonitis brought on by a perforated bowel over 30 years previously. I have to admit I still struggle with this explanation. Why did it take 30 years to come to a head? Result – beta blockers and proton pump inhibitors.
The haematologist suggested that I started taking blood thinners to combat the threat of further blood clots. I really didn’t want to take any more medication than strictly necessary so we did a risk analysis and concluded that it was 50/50 for and against. Result – no warfarin. Another issue successfully parked.
Then came the jaundice as a result of gallstones. I met with upper GI surgeons at both my local and Kings College hospitals. The usual treatment would be to whip out my gallbladder using keyhole surgery but, of course, my case is not so simple. Previous laparotomies have left scar tissue and adhesions that would preclude a keyhole operation. Then an MRCP scan showed that the varices, that had grown down my throat, had also grown around my gallbladder. Aaah!
What have we concluded? The choices are to operate now to prevent a problem in the future “that might never happen” or to postpone the decision and review again in 6 months time. He was minded to go with this second option. I wholeheartedly agreed with him.
…and finally there’s the little matter of conflicting test results. As it was the subject of my last post I don’t intend to repeat it here but it leaves me with questions. Is the “wait and watch, let’s park that issue” a valid strategy or best option in this instance. If I asked for further investigations to be done would I simply be using up valuable NHS resources carrying out tests that might make no difference to, or even worsen, my QOL? Would it even be clear which further tests could be carried out? As I said in that previous post, curiosity is getting the better of me but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That’s one of the advantages of writing a blog. You can get all your thoughts down in one place and then, you guessed it, park them.
Maybe there are no clear cut answers but I’m starting to feel that my “difficult patient” status can only get worse as the ageing process kicks in. Oh for a simple life.
I’m convinced that blogging is good for you. It helps get some order into your thoughts by trying to write a coherent post.
My challenge today is to link (in no particular order) : an unresolved medical test; distinguishing between the effects of long term medication and the ageing process; another meeting with the surgeon and overcoming the stomach churning effect of burnt bananas.
Last week I emailed my gastro consultant to ask if I ought to have another calprotectin test as the last one was in January. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even need to ask the question but there is an issue regarding this particular inflammatory marker. The last result was high (896), a continuation of an ever upward trend over the last two years. The “issue” is that there is no explanation for this trend. I am feeling well and two subsequent colonoscopies have shown no inflammation. Is there any point in having a further test if we don’t understand the result? My gastro responded that I might as well go ahead but agreed it did seem slightly illogical.
I’ll drop the calpro sample in at St.Thomas’ next Friday (10th November) when I’m off to see the Upper GI surgeon to continue our discussion on having my gallbladder removed. By then the results from my recent MRI Pancreas scan should have been discussed at their Multi Disciplinary Meeting with a recommendation on whether to go for surgery as soon as possible or leave it until it becomes neccessary. Surgery will not be straight forward for various reasons, one of which is portal hypertension/portal vein thrombosis.
The monitoring process for this last condition consists of an annual Upper GI endoscopy(ies) to look for any esophageal varices that have grown and then obliterate them with “banding”. For the last three years the procedure has been carried out in the week before Christmas so it seemed a shame not to continue the tradition. This year’s scoping is therefore booked for Tuesday 19th December. That gives me seven weeks to try and get over my aversion to burnt bananas. Just the thought is now making me feel queasy.
(If you’ve had an endoscopy you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t then I’d better explain that the Xylocaine spray, used to numb the throat prior to introduction of the camera, tastes of burnt bananas. Feeling queasy again!)
The “banding” is complemented by medication. Omeprazole – a proton pump inhibitor – to help protect the esophageal lining by reducing stomach acid. Propranolol – a beta blocker – to reduce blood pressure. This latter drug has a number of potential side effects including tiredness, cold hands, feeling breathless, impotence.
In an ideal world I would be totally drug free but the next best thing would be reducing down to the bare minimum. I’ve already turned down Warfarin to thin the blood and not yet stared Colesevalam for bile acid malabsorption. I would like to stop or reduce the Propranolol if at all possible.
The above raises a number of questions. If I am generally feeling OK should I even be concerned that one marker is giving an unexplained result? Should I pursue it and ask for further investigation to be done to resolve the issue or should I just accept it as one of “life’s little mysteries”? How do I tell the difference between the side effects of Propranolol and the natural ageing process. Can I reduce the dosage from 80mg/day? What new questions should I be asking the surgeon? This should become more obvious once I know what the oucome of the MDM was. Unfortunately my gastro didn’t atted the meeting so couldn’t give me a heads up.
…and finally I must use my will power to overcome the burnt banana feeling.
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 test 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.
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?
For nine years between (1999 to 2008), taking Azathioprine (Imuran) in varying doses between 150mg to 200mg/day successfully kept surgery at bay. Any Crohn’s flare-ups were dealt with by short courses of steroids. Then a series of routine blood tests showed that my platelets were dropping and it was concluded that Azathioprine was the most likely cause. I stopped taking it and within 2 years was undergoing major surgery.
I drew a graph to try and spot any correalation between the drug dose and the platelet count. I was expecting to see the count bounce back once I stopped taking Azathioprine and it did so the first time but when I started/stopped for the second time the platelets remained low. I’m guessing at that point the bone marrow was already damages. The only way to investigate further was to have a bone marrow biopsy.
In 2012 I went to see a haematologist and she explained some possible causes of a low platelet count :
increased destruction – the body is producing sufficient but something is destroying a number of them, possibly drug induced
decreased production – the body isn’t producing the right number in the first place which could be down to bone marrow failure.
We also discussed another factor – the implication of my enlarged spleen. Enlarged spleens can hold increased numbers of platelets and therefore the number released into the bloodstream is lower hence the lower count.
I had the bone marrow biopsy and afterwards received an email saying: “your bone marrow is being discussed with the histopathologist and we will write to you with the results. We will see you in clinic later in the year.” (I had to look up histopathologist – someone who carries out microscopic examination of tissue in order to study the manifestations of disease.)
I replied asking for an indication of what they had found. The response was that it would be easier to discuss the findings in clinic.
What did that mean? Nothing to worry about, it can wait, or it’s serious and we want to tell you face to face? Time for another short email along the lines “…I wonder if you could at least put my mind at rest that you haven’t found anything too serious….”
Within a few minutes this came back :
“We have reviewed your bone marrow in our multi-disciplinary meeting and there is nothing sinister to report. The findings suggest that your marrow is underproducing platelets rather than it being an immune cause that we had presumed secondary to your longstanding history of Crohn’s. This may be due to previous azathioprine use. We can discuss this in person and in more detail at your next appointment. In the meantime – I hope this reassures you.”
The appointment duly arrived. The haematologist started our conversation with: “Yours is not a simple case…..”. She had printed out the biopsy report that had been discussed at their MDM and the initial conclusion was that they were “in keeping with early/low myelodysplastic syndrome, histologically suggesting MDS-RCMD.” She knew that I would have looked this up on the internet and would have spotted the potential links with leukemia. That’s why the report hadn’t been emailed to me. [If I had Googled MDS I would have found the following – “The disease course is highly variable, from indolent to aggressive with swift progression to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 30% of cases.” I think she was right to want to discuss it in person.]
She was not completely happy with this MDS conclusion because a bone marrow biopsy looks at two substances – the marrow itself and the aspirate (fluid). When the procedure was carried out the doctor was unable to obtain good aspirate slides as the blood in the samples kept clotting. After several attempts, but with little success, they had decided to concentrate on obtaining a good bone marrow core.
She described it as “like having a three piece jigsaw from which two of the pieces are missing.” At the next MDM they had discussed the results again and decided that, in my case, it was unlikely to be MDS but would recommend a further biopsy to get useable aspirate samples. “How would you feel about this?” I replied that I really wasn’t fussed. If it would help narrow down the diagnosis then the sooner the better. Next time they would use heparin, a blood thinner, with the sample needle as it should prevent the blood from clotting.
If the diagnosis wasn’t MDS then why the low platelets? The most likely cause was a combination of long-term Crohn’s and taking azathioprine. The biopsy had shown that the marrow was under-producing platelets rather than being over active and eating them up. I had been unaware that there was a potential link between Crohn’s and bone marrow.
The MDM had then gone on to discuss what the implications for treatment would be if it was/was not MDS. In either case the preferred course for treatment, at this stage, would be “do nothing” unless I was to have any procedures that could cause bleeding or that required surgery. A supply of platelets should be made available if either of these were needed. The difference in approaches would be in the monitoring regimes and we would discuss this further after the next biopsy results were available.
Back to reception to book up another biopsy and a three-month follow-up appointment.
In the meantime I had a routine gastroenterology appointment and I mentioned the need for a second bone marrow biopsy. Now you would think that a doctor who doesn’t bat an eyelid when sticking a camera up a patient would be pretty much hardened to all medical procedures, but the mere mention of the bone marrow biopsy was enough to make him squirm. He asked me if I was OK having the biopsy as it was the one test he really wouldn’t want to undergo himself! Strangely enough he wasn’t the first person to express that emotion.
A couple of weeks after the second biopsy I was back to see Haematology. When I went in for the pre-appointment blood test the phlebotomist asked me if I knew why she was also taking an “histological” sample. Since I didn’t know what “histological” meant I was of little help. (Of course I know now! It’s the anatomical study of the microscopic structure of animal and plant tissues).
The haematologist explained that one of the biopsy samples, which should have gone for histological testing, had either been mislaid or mislabelled so did not make it. This is why she had rung me a few weeks back to explain the situation. I’d forgotten about this. She had, however, looked at the other slides from that second biopsy and these were fine.
The missing sample had been discussed with the chief histologist and he suggested doing a specific type of blood test which had proved to be 60% effective in spotting problems, if there were any. The results would be available in a week’s time. The alternative was to have a third bone marrow biopsy but they didn’t want to put me through that again. I suppose I could have made a fuss about the missing slide but I couldn’t see what good it would do.
When I saw the haematologist in February 2015 she described my bone marrow as being “a four cylinder engine running on only three” and therefore not delivering the right quantities of platelets.
What is the long-term prognosis for the thrombocytopenia? It should not affect the other issues I have – Crohn’s, potential PSC, PVT, but I must avoid the use of azathioprine in the future. It’s important not to get hung up on the numbers as I am asymptomatic and do not bleed profusely if I cut myself.
What could have caused the low platelets? There are no signs of marrow abnormalities that could point to a more sinister conclusion (leukaemia), therefore the cause is most likely to be drug-induced long-term use of azathioprine. The official description was “asympomatic thrombocytopenia. Therapy related secondary dysplasia on bone marrow morphology – most likely due to Azathioprine”.
Do I need treatment? No, but must look out for any signs of starting to bleed more easily. Monitoring? Six-monthly blood tests and outpatient appointments (which subsequently became annual and then dischargeded).
A couple of new issues have arisen – borderline thyroid level + possibility of cholecystectomy – so it seemed like a good idea to book another appointment with Haematology to discuss further. Watch this space
This post was prompted by a #patientchat on Twitter about “Medical Records”. I have touched on this subject before but it’s always worth revisiting. These are my experiences within three UK NHS Hospital Trusts and span 40 years.
The topics set for the #patientchat discussion were :
T1: Do you have access to your Electronic Health Records (EHRs)? If so, does that info help you actively share in your healthcare decision making?
T2: What are benefits to patients being able to view the notes that doctors, nurses and other clinicians write after a visit?
T3a: Do you sometimes find the amount and type of info available in your EHRs overwhelming and/or incomprehensible?
T3b: If so, what are some ways to make it easier to decipher and use in your decision making?
T4: What are your tips for keeping your healthcare records organized? Do you use any resources?
T5: Is it important to request past medical records from your doctors and keep copies for yourself?
T6: What do you think some of the barriers are to implementing EHRs? How can we work together to overcome them?
Ideal World vs. Reality
In an ideal world each of us would have our full medical record available in a universally readable format that could be easily accessed by any medical professional that is treating us.
Now let’s look at the real world. If you are a relatively new patient who hasn’t moved hospital and not had an in-patient stay then you may indeed have a complete record, held electronically, on an IT system. If, however, you are a long term patient who has moved between GPs and hospitals and spent time as an in-patient then the situation is far more complicated. You are likely to have a mixture of hand written notes and observations, type written letters and, more recently, computer generated letters and test results. There are also x-rays and scans to consider.
The above does not address the issue of universal access. The last attempt in the UK to implement a system was NpFIT (The National Programme for IT in the NHS), a project initiated by the Labour government in 2002 and cancelled some years later having spent in the region of £12bn and having delivered very little. Government backed IT projects are notorious for being disaster areas.
Where does that leave the patient?
In the UK you have a right to access your medical records. Since 2000 onwards I have received copies of the follow-up letters from outpatient appointments that the consultant sends to my GP. This may be sufficient for your needs but I needed to fill in a lot of missing detail for the book I was writing. For the payment of a fee you can obtain copies of all your medical records . Requests forms are available online for each Healthcare Trust and as I had been treated by 3 different Trusts I filled in 3 different forms and sent them off with the relevant payments (between £20 and £50 depending upon whether you just require medical notes or want copies of x-rays and scans as well).
A series of packets duly arrived and I was amazed to find they really did contain ALL my medical notes from October 1977 to the present. Two Trusts chose to send hard copies whilst the third had scanned the notes to a pdf file of over 700 pages. I also had loadable files for CT, MRI and US scans. The only things missing were certain early x-rays.
My initial reaction was “information overload” but over the space of a few nights I sorted the documents by type and date order and picked out the “juicy bits”. Those bits that explained some long, unanswered questions about my treatment. Probably the most fascinating were the ward notes from the times I spent in hospital. These are not usually documents that you get to read.
The discs containing CT and MRI scans looked a bigger challenge but I found a great piece of software called OsiriX which opens and views the files. (The Lite version of the software is available as a free download). Hours of fun looking at 3D visualisations of your innards.
What use are they?
What can you do with, potentially, a huge amount of very detailed medical notes? Whilst they might be of academic interest to the patient and provide a fascinating insight into how you arrived at your current state they are not a lot of use to your medical professionals due to the sheer bulk of the information. This is especially true if you are seeing a new consultant who needs a succinct overview of your medical history and current issues or if you end up in A&E (ER) where they need to start treatment as soon as possible.
It gets considerably more complex if you are suffering from multiple conditions. Initially I put together all the major events into a spreadsheet table. Going through the process certainly gave me a good grasp of my overall health and I have ended up a much better informed patient. This helps greatly when you need to take decisions about the course of future treatment. It helps clarify the most important issues.
If you are still find it difficult to work out how your health threads come together then draw a diagram. I’ve tried a number of different format. There are a couple of examples below :
In February I ended up in our local A&E (ER) Department as I had turned yellow. The first person I saw was a triage nurse who asked lots of questions about health conditions, history and medications. When we had finished running through the various ailments she complimented me on my knowledge. (Definitely a result of researching and tabulating my health records)
Next I saw an A&E Registrar. Who asked the same questions but what would he have concluded if I hadn’t been able to fill in the details? He would have been confronted with a patient with a large scar up the midline and an appendectomy incision. He wouldn’t have been aware why the large scar was there and would have assumed my appendix had been taken out. He would be unaware that I had Crohn’s disease, that there were additional veins growing in my esophagus (varices), that my spleen was enarged or that my platelet count was around 60. Valuable time could have been lost trying to investigate the wrong problems.
Do It Yourself
As a result of my A&E visit I wondered – is there was a standard, minimum set of data that should be available? Is there a standard format for the data? I searched the internet and could find nothing. I suppose a good starting point would be the questions the triage nurse had asked – personal details; current medication; current medical conditions; and any known allergies.
There are, of course, the likes of SOS Talisman bracelets which have some very basic information engraved on, or contained within, them. There are several subscription services which will hold your medical information and can then be accessed via a unique code you wear on a bracelet or dog tag, but these appear to be US based only and the data held was not in sufficient detail. How feasible would it be to produce a standalone, wearable device?
I had a go at making one using a USB bracelet. I settled upon two top level documents – i) a simple, overall summary plus ii) a detailed table that recorded each appointment or procedure. These documents are stored as pdf files and linked to various back-up documents such as laboratory or histological reports.
There is one problem. Security. Does an NHS computer allow the reading of an external USB stick or is access restricted to protect from viruses etc? (Particulary relevant since the recent cyber attack). I have a feeling this is a non-runner so I’m favouring storing the files on a secure server and potentially accessing them via a QR code on a dog tag (or even a wrist tattoo)
There are more references appearing where patients are recording their consultant appointments or having consultations via Skype. Would these audio and video files need to be kept as part of your medical record? Do medical professionals expect to have access to any recordings you make?
At the end of April I recorded a visit to London to see my gastro consultant (see post “50 Shades of Grey”). We discussed the “blip” last February when I turned yellow. The keywords being – local A&E, jaundice, gallstones. There was the added complication that my local hospital was taking care of this issue. Split responsibilities and patient records tend to slow the treatment process down.
Back in November 2016, at my annual Upper GI endoscopy, I had asked if it would be a good idea to have another Fibroscan, a specialist ultrasound scan that measures liver stiffness (cirrhosis). The last one had been in November 2012 and it would be nice to know if there had been further deterioration. It was agreed that it would be a good idea but the request form was never issued.
The need to know about worsening cirrhosis had now become more urgent. My gastro filled in the request form as I watched. A few days later the appointment came through – 4th September. That long? Four months just for a very simple 5 minute test?
Friday 7th July 2017 – East Surrey Hospital Outpatients
When the “blip” happened I had gone down to our local A&E and spent the night there being monitored. Afterwards there was a follow-up appointment with an upper GI consultant locally (see post called “Time Bomb No.2, please” – April 2017). A further ultrasound scan was ordered and he said he would be happy to see me again to discuss the results. The scan took place on 12th May, the day NHS IT systems were hit by a virus. Usually I would expect to take a copy of the report away with me but not this time. I let a month go by then asked my GP surgery if they had seen the missing report. No, but a day later they had obtained a copy and rang me to let me know. (They provide an exceptional service)
The report stated “could suggest chronic cholecystitis” (inflammation of the gallbladder). Dr. Google was divided upon this condition. Some sites declared it serious and in need of treatment straight away; others said that if the patient was asymptomatic then it could be left alone. I rang the consultant’s secretary and she organised the follow-up appointment for 7th July.
(I had been under the impression, after the first appointment, that the consultant was going to discuss the case with my “doctor” (gastro consultant at GSTT) and would make a direct referral to Kings College Hospital Liver Unit. Wrong on both counts. The “doctor” he meant was my GP and the referral would be made via the GP after the follow-up scan. Doh! I had assumed that the process was already under way.)
I asked him specifically what concerns he had that would require surgery to be carried out in a specialist liver unit. He replied that they were : liver cirrhosis, low platelets, the adhesions from previous laparatomies and a possible bleed. No arguing with that. He also said that if I had a recurrence of the jaundice or pain in a specific area then I should go to our local A&E and they would take the decision on whether to treat me or transport me to London. We left it that a letter would be sent to my GP asking him to make the necessary arrangements. I thought it might be best to discuss it with my GP rather than just let the process take its course.
In the meantime I wanted to find out if there were any other hospitals I should consider along with KCH so I posted a question on FB in the PSC and BAM support forums. A number of other units were suggested but KCH came out well and it would be easier for me to get to. Then I was recommended a consultant who works between St.Thomas’ and KCH. This would be the best of both worlds as they would have access to all my medical notes. I now had a name and contact details for the doctor I want to be referred to.
Tuesday 19th July 2017
My GP rang this afternoon and we agreed that he would put the referral process in motion. He was of the opinion that this could have been done hospital to hospital.
Whilst I’m feeling fit and in no pain then I’m quite happy to leave the gallbladder well alone but I want to be prepared in case it all starts to go wrong. It should be an interesting conversation with the consultant/surgeon as to his recommended way forward, especially when we start to discuss complicating factors – the minor annoyances of PVT, PSC, Splenomagely, thrombocytopenia and BAM. I’m sure he would be interested in the results of the Fibroscan.
(That’s quite a list of complicating factors. As I’ve mentioned before it could well be a winning hand in “chronic condition top trumps”)
It doesn’t seem a year ago when we were all wishing each other “Happy World IBD Day” (however inappropriate that may sound to non-IBDers).
To mark the day I’ve been inspired by last night’s (18th May) excellent #IBDHour chat very ably hosted by Richard Harris (@doobarz) and Shell Lawes (@shelllawes). The topic was the medications that we take or are offered for treating IBD. I’ve really taken to the format of TweetChats, the only downside being the constraint of trying to do justice to complex issues in just 140 characters. (That’s also an upside because you have to think more carefully about what you are typing)
One thing that was clear from last night is how differently we all react to the “common” drugs – salazopyrin, prednisolone, azathioprine, Remicade etc. There was some shock that I had prescribed steroids for twenty years but that wasn’t the whole story. The very first drug I was given was “Nacton”. “Nacton?” Yes, a drug for peptic ulcers. Things could only get better…
I thought I might tell the story of my diagnosis and first surgery without the 140 character constraint. If you click on the image below it will open the first chapter from my book – “Crohn’s Disease – Wrestling the Octopus”, as a pdf, in a new window. (It is still draft at this stage and the eagle eyed will notice some punctuation that needs changing)
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”
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.