Category Archives: GSTT

Viva la Vedo

Monday 15th April 2019 – Guy’s Hospital – Gastroenterology

The Vedolizumab Decision

(This post records an important discussion prior to the next stage of my Crohn’s treatment)

The gastro clinic at GSTT is a victim of its own success. Once a patient gets referred there they invariably don’t want to return to their original hospital. As a result clinics run late. I guess they must be overbooked to cope with the numbers. But forewarned is forearmed so I always take something to read. Having registered with reception I settled down with my book. A nurse appeared and apologised that the doctors were running 75 minutes late. I wondered if there would be time to go and get a chest x-ray (booked some while ago). It was worth a try. Ten minutes later I was back in the outpatients’ waiting area with the x-ray complete. Excellent service.

When you get called into the “inner” waiting room you know it won’t be too long until you see the consultant. I asked the nurse to put a note on my folder that I wished to see my usual doctor. After a few minutes he was calling my name. As I entered the consulting room I had a list of questions in my hand as an aide-memoire.

Capsule Endoscopy Report

He asked if I had received a copy of the capsule endoscopy report. Yes, but didn’t know what I was looking at. He worked his way through the document stopping at any frames of interest – “that looks like an ulcer, and there, and that’s one…..” – the conclusion was mild to moderate inflammation in my small bowel. I asked whether it was possible to work out location of inflammation as I get a pain across my midriff,  just above my belly button. He did not expect that to be where pain would be apparent. I mentioned it seemed worse when wearing a tight belt and explained about the hernia that had been found a couple of weeks previously and how it hurt more since surgeon had “poked around”. Normally a hernia would be put right in a simple operation but due to varices growing in my abdomen the surgeon was not happy to proceed. I had added it to my “on-hold” list – cholecystectomy; hernia repair.

Next he ran down the results of my recent blood test. “You’ve had chickenpox but not glandular fever as no antibodies are present, oh and you haven’t got AIDS but you probably knew that”. I replied that I had a very bad bout of glandular fever at the beginning of my ‘A’ levels, which accounted for why I did so badly. Maybe antibodies disappear over time. I was pleased to see that my Hb had now risen to 11.8. There was another test, looking at protein bands, one of which was marked “insufficient sample provided” which I thought strange as the phlebotomist had taken nine, full to the top, phials last time. I would need need to give a further sample after the appointment.

I outlined my reticence about starting Vedo :

  • Having been Crohn’s drug free for nearly 8 years I was hesitant to re-start
  • Side effects
  • Co-morbidities
  • Infusions. Whilst I like trips to London (at the moment) I might not do so as I get even older

What could happen if I decided not to start Crohn’s drugs? The worst outcome would be the inflammation becoming so advanced that the bowel could perforate or form fistulas and result in emergency surgery. Given that I should try to avoid surgery this sounded like a risk not worth taking.

The side effect profile of Vedo is very good and it is proving very successful. A recent study into its use with Ulcerative Colitis showed better results than expected. I said that I had seen some slides from that presentation as a member of the audience had posted them on Twitter. He seemed a little surprised at this but added “I do talk a lot!

Is Vedo compatible with my co-morbidities – bile acid malabsorption; portal hypertension; thrombocytopenia; gallbladder issues? I do have rather a lot of them. He told me not to be concerned about them and that I must be made of stern stuff as there were many patients at my age who were in a considerably worse state!

With regards to travelling for infusions, a self administered version of Vedo, using compressed air rather than a needle, has been developed and will undergo 2 years of trials. It should be available in 3 years time then no more infusions.

I asked in light of the calprotectin tests, suggesting the inflammation started early in 2016,  if I should have had a capsule endoscopy sooner than October 2018 ”  His response was that the first place to look following raised calprotectin results is lthe arge bowel. My colonoscopies showed nothing. The subsequent small bowel MRI also showed no inflammation. However given my experience he was now favouring earlier intervention with a capsule for other patients.

How would we measure the efficacy of the drug? Regular calprotectin tests throughout the year and at the end of the first twelve months a capsule endoscopy and small bowel MRI. The one thing I didn’t clarify is whether Vedo is taken to get one into remission and then continues as a maintenance dose or if another drug is then substituted.

I said that I wanted to discuss the situation with my wife before making a final decision but was leaving the consultation with a lot more positive thoughts about Vedo than when we started. How would I give the go ahead? “Contact the IBD Helpline and take it form there“. With that we shook hands,  I bade him farewell and headed for the blood test room.

Having weighed up the pros and the cons, and with the additional imperative of avoiding surgery (if at all possible) it would seem to be a no-brainer that I should at least try Vedo to get me back into remission before serious damage is done to my gut.

Now where’s that IBD Helpline number……

 

Pre-MAB

I need some help from my fellow IBD patients. I had a phone call from one of the IBD nurses at GSTT explaining that they wanted to start me on Vedolizumab. The last time I was in this situation was August 2009. I was being given the choice – Infliximab (Remicade) as a “final, last chance, before surgery”. A real no brainer and no need for a long list of questions before making the decision. Who would choose the knife over a drug? (That would make a good subject for a new post)

Now, nearly a decade later, I’m being offered another MAB. (I won’t go into the reasons why but if you are interested this link opens a post, explaining the issue and what it’s like to have a capsule endoscopy, in a new tab – http://www.wrestlingtheoctopus.com/fantastic-voyage/).

I won’t make any decision until I have spoken to my gastro consultant – appointment set for 15th April.  Ahead of my meeting I need to get a list of questions together, usually a fairly simple task, but this time it is uncharted territory…..and that’s where I could do with your help. Have you had to make this decision? What questions did you ask/wish you had asked?

Here’s my latest list (26th March). Are there any glaring omissions? I’ve split them into categories :

Blood test results
  • What did the nine phials of blood taken recently show?
Capsule endoscopy results
  • What exactly did the capsule endoscopy show in the way of severity of inflammation and locations? Was it confined to the small bowel?
  • Would it account for pain around midriff? (Could be the hernia that the upper GI surgeon identified a few weeks ago, or maybe adhesions or scar tissue from laparotomy)
  • Was there anything else of note from the capsule endoscopy? Could anything account for my low Hb?
History
  • Looking at the calprotectin levels it suggests that inflammation started somewhere between November 2015 to June 2016 but was not apparent on other tests
  • It has been 6 months between having the capsule endoscopy mid-November and the appointment.
  • The above suggests that there is no urgency to start on treatment. Is this right?
  • My QOL is good apart from an ache on my right side which the Upper GI surgeon has diagnosed as a post-operative hernia at the site of my ileostomy
  • Surgeon does not want to carry out cholecystectomy or even hernia repair due to varices growing around gallbladder and elsewhere within abdomen. This suggests that I should try and avoid any colorectal surgery at all costs.
Vedolizumab
  • What was the gist of the discussion that resulted in proposing Vedo?
  • How will Vedo help me now? …and in the long term?
  • Are there any side effects I need to know about? Are any of these relevant to my other conditions? (BAM, PVT, splenomegaly, thrombocytopenia, gallstones)
  • Ongoing monitoring regime? Frequency?
  • How good a measure would calprotectin be for progress in treating small bowel Crohn’s?
  • Does the efficacy of Vedo differ as one gets older? Do the side effects change?
  • Reason for needing chest x-ray
  • Haematology suggesting another bone marrow biopsy. Do we need to wait for result before making decision?
Alternatives
  • What if I decide not to go back onto Crohn’s medication at present?
Reasons for not wanting to go onto Vedolizumab
  • Side effects of Vedolizumab.
  • Long term commitment to an infused drug
  • Trips to London (I love London so you would think a few more trips would be welcome but as I gel older will I really be so keen?)
  • Is there the opportunity to have infusions at a local hospital?
Iron levels/Hb
  • What can we do about Hb level and long term use of Ferrous Fumarate? Would an iron infusion be the answer?

 

Call My Bluff

It started with a routine calprotectin test in November 2015. The result came back at just over 100, which equates to “mildly elevated”. Subsequent tests continued the upward trend. A graph (I do love a good graph) is the best way to show the issue.
Calprotectin Test Values

To try and explain this ever rising trend I underwent a number of MRIs and colonoscopies but nothing untoward was seen and my gastros were stumped. Life continued as usual and my remission appeared to be continuing despite the confusing calpro figures. Could there have been something causing a false positive reading? I set about trying to find a plausible answer (that didn’t involve inflammation) but without success. In the meantime I was wondering why my Hb level was on the low side. Cue another graph…

Hb Values

It wasn’t until late 2018 that I went to see my gastro again, ostensibly to discuss the Hb level and a recent bout of “bathroom dashes”. Was it time to re-investigate the calprotectin issue. There was one section of my gut that hadn’t been seen by camera, namely the small bowel between duodenum and the anastomosis site (where my terminal ileum had been). I was booked in for a capsule endoscopy on 18th November. The full description of the procedure and the wait for the results can be found here (opens in a new window) – http://www.wrestlingtheoctopus.com/fantastic-voyage/ .

When the report was finally available my consultant emailed me to say that “there is some inflammation in the small bowel – it’s not terrible but it must be the source of the calprotectin. I  think it is probably enough to warrant treatment which we should discuss. Shall I arrange an appointment?” Yes, that would be a good idea. The date has come through for mid-April. A few more weeks wait before finding out the way ahead….

Then, last Thursday, I was rather surprised to get a phonecall from one of the IBD nurses. She told me that it had been decided, at the weekly virtual clinic (which I think must be like an MDT), to start me on Vedolizumab and they needed to book me in for a blood test and chest x-ray prior to my first infusion. I explained that this would be a major decision, as I had been Crohn’s drugs free for several years. My preferred option was to stay that way. I would want to discuss any new drug/treatment, at the forthcoming gastro appointment, prior to starting. (I have subsequently had an email from my consultant agreeing with this course of action. It appears that the IBD nurses had been very efficient in trying to arrange approval for the drug prior to the appointment)

Bluff

I’m now in a position that many other patients are confronted with – the end of remission. I’ve written many times about maintaining a laid back, positive attitude. Now my bluff is being called and I need to prove to myself that I can continue being calm and unstressed about my health.  So far so good. If my quality of life was being seriously compromised and I was unable to function properly then the decision to restart medication would be a simple one…..but it isn’t apart from…..

….an ache in my right hand side (URQ). It’s more annoying than being anywhere near painkiller territory. What could be causing it? As with most things #IBD related there is always a high degree of uncertainty. I consider this to be one of the major psychological burdens we bear.

I’m currently testing an IBD Self Help programme. It is broken down into modules which are completed over a number of weeks. I haven’t reached the “Pain” section yet so I’ve been relying on the old technique of visulaising the pain in an attempt to lessen its impact. That’s easier to do if you know there is only one cause but in my case it could be : the recurrence of the old ache around my anastomosis due to adhesions/scar tissue; gallstones; getting the balance of Loperamide/Colesevelam wrong; or the new kid on the block – inflammation. (“New” may be an incorrect description given that the first high calprotectin values showed up in May 2016).

Jump

You might think that I would jump at the chance of starting treatment but I’m not so sure. If inflammation did restart in 2016 then I have thrived so far without medication, do I really need to start now? I don’t want to be dogmatic and take a “I’ve been taking no drugs so I’m not going to start now” stance without good reason. A fellow Crohn’s patient asked what made me hesitant? I suppose the answer is “side effects”. I have not needed to educate myself on the progress of the MABs/biosimilars and their potential downsides. I have a lot of catching up to do and need to understand how the benefits would outweigh the risks.

I have however had experience of drugs damaging other systems or not working. I took Azathioprine for 9 years, with no apparent side effects, then my platelet count suddenly plunged. The concensus was that the Aza had attacked and permanently damaged my bone marrow which in turn reduced its ability to produce platelets. No more Azathioprine. I then tried Infliximab but after 3 doses my symptoms showed no improvement and I went under the surgeon’s knife (2010).

Platelet Count

Before the mid-April appointment I need to research Vedolizumab; ask other Crohn’s patients for their experiences and come up with a list of questions for my gastro. I’ve made a start……

Questions, questions….

I would usually leave my list until a couple of days beforehand. Given that this will be a major decision point in my Crohn’s experience I thought it best to start writing now.

  • What exactly did the capsule endoscopy show in the way of severity of inflammation and locations? Was it confined to the small bowel?
  • What was the gist of the discussion that resulted in proposing Vedo?
  • My QOL is good apart from an ache on my right side
  • Looking at the calprotectin levels it suggests that inflammation started somewhere between November 2015 to June 2016 but was not apparent on other tests
  • It has been 6 months between having the capsule endoscopy mid-November and the appointment. That suggests it does not need immediate treatment.
  • What if I decide not to go back onto Crohn’s medication at present?
  • How will Vedo help me now? …and in the long term?
  • Are there any side effects I need to know about? Are any of these relevant to my other conditions?
  • Ongoing monitoring regime? Frequency?
  • How good a measure would calprotectin be for small bowel Crohn’s?
  • Does the efficacy of Vedo differ as one gets older? Do the side effects change?
  • Is there the opportunity to have infusions at a local hospital?
  • Was there anything else of note from the capsule endoscopy? Could anything account for my low Hb?
  • What can we do about Hb level and long term use of Ferrous Fumarate? Would an iron infusion be the answer?

(If I have missed something obvious or you have beem in a similar situation then please leave a comment or respond on Twitter @crohnoid – Thanks)

Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage – 1966 Sci-Fi Film

A New One On Me

Over the years I have undergone many different tests but the one that had eluded me to date was the Capsule Endoscopy. Maybe that’s the wrong to put it. Might be better to say that “so far I hadn’t needed one”.

So what changed? The last time I saw my gastro we discussed the apparent conflict between my feeling fit and well (good QOL), clear colonoscopies & biopsies but test results suggesting the opposite – calprotectin = 1300 ; Hb = 11.0 ; gradual weightloss >15kg. We had discussed this before. He had even asked a colleague to carry out a second colonoscopy in case he had missed something. Both of them were stumped so we agreed to park it. I thought now was the time to ask for it to be investigated further. The only part of my digestive tract that hadn’t been seen through a lens was the small bowel between duodenum and the point where my large and small intestines had been rejoined. He agreed.

We had previously discussed using a self-propelling endoscope but a “pill cam” sounded a less daunting solution. The concern about using a capsule was the risk of it becoming stuck at a narrowing. A radiologist would be asked to review my last MRI scan for strictures before the endoscopy was ordered. The cost of the capsule endoscopy procedure to the NHS is approx. £500.

All must have been well as I got a call from Endoscopy Appointments to agree a suitable date  for the procedure. A couple of days later the instructions arrived in the post. Very similar to having a colonoscopy but with none of the dreaded prep solution needed. The leaflet also listed the medications that would have to be put on hold. These included stopping iron tablets and Loperamide 7 days out. Iron tablets – no problem, but Loperamide – that would be the one instruction I wouldn’t be following. The thought of taking a trip to London having not taken Loperamide for 7 days was not even worth considering and would have put in jeopardy attending the Big Bowel Event at the Barbican on 16th November.

Monday 19th November 2018 – GSTT Endoscopy Department

After the glorious weather over the weekend it was a disappointment to arrive in London on a dull, rainy day.  The walk to the hospital took me past a number of foodstalls that simply reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since 8:30 the previous morning or drunk anything since 22:00.

Food Stall
One of the food stalls that have sprung up along the South Bank

I arrived at St.Thomas’ Hospital and, after a few minutes’ wait, was collected by the specialist nurse. She asked the usual questions :

“When did you last eat?” “8:30 yesterday”

“When did you stop taking iron tablets?” “7 days ago. Why is it so far in advance?” “They blacken the walls of the intestine and can give patients constipation”

I explained that I hadn’t stopped taking Loperamide as, for someone who relies on it every day, any thought of stopping for 7 days was a definite non-starter.

“What other medications are you on”  I went through the list

She outlined the procedure and I was able to ask the questions. The main one was “can the capsule be used to judge the condition of esophageal varices? If it can then should I cancel my conventional Upper GI endoscopy booked for the week before Christmas?”.  She explained that a capsule can be used to look at varices but it would need to be a different type from the one I would be swallowing today.

She then ran through the risks of the procedure. The main one being the capsule becoming stuck and the possible means required to extract it, the worst scenario being surgery. I signed the consent form.

There are several different makes of capsule system available which all work on similar principles. There are also different types of capsule for specific tasks. There is even one with a camera at both ends.

The more advanced ones have higher resolutions & frame rates and some communicate with the recorder unit wirelessly, without the need for sensors. St.Thomas’ employ the MiroCam system which  uses an array of sensors to pick up the signal from the capsule and send it to the recorder. (It’s the same unit that the BBC used for the live endoscopy that they broadcast as part of their “Guts: The Strange and Mysterious World of the Human Stomach” in 2012.)

MiroCam receiver and sensor array

The first task was to attach the numbered sensors in the correct positions around the abdomen. I can see why wireless communication is the future. (I wouldn’t normally post a selfie of my abdomen, in the interests of good taste, but to illustrate…..)

It’s not until you see a photo of your abdomen you realise the marks that have been left by surgery, laparoscopic not keyhole

Once they were in position the nurse produced the capsule and asked me to hold it between my fingers then pass it in front of the recorder unit. A bleep showed that they were now paired. As she had already input my information into the unit the display showed my name, hospital number etc.

The capsule – measuring 25mm long x 11mm dia.

It was time to see how easy swallowing a capsule would be. The answer – very easy. At 11:40 I took one gulp of water and it was on its way. The nurse switched on the live monitoring function and we watched it enter my stomach. To save battery power she then switched it off and I didn’t have the courage to try it myself in case I ruined the whole procedure. (…and what if I had seen something that, to my eyes, looked wrong? A surefire way of inducing stress)

As the unit has a 12 hour battery life she said the unit would switch off at 23:40 and I could then remove the sensors. The recorder unit would then need to be returned to St.Thomas’. I explained I was not available the following day so we agreed that I would take it back on Wednesday. Two weeks later the results should be available. When would I be able to eat and drink again? Coffee two hours after swallowing the camera and then a light meal after another two hours.

If it had been decent weather I would have set off on a long walk around London, as light exercise helps the transit of the capsule, but I decided I would rather get home in the warm. I took a short walk to College Green (the area outside the front of the Houses of Parliament) to see if there was a media scrum due to some new development with Brexit but there wasn’t so jumped on the Tube to Blackfriars and took the train home.

From Platform 1 at Blackfriars there’s a good view of the City and the new buildings going up

True to the nurse’s word the unit switched itself off at precisely 12 hours from the start of the procedure and I was able to peel off the sensors with remarkably little pain. The camera is not retrieved after the procedure (although there are some types that do rely on the patient “collecting” it and returning it  to the hospital for analysis).

Wearing the receiver unit took me back to having a stoma as it was hanging in the same position as the bag and the adhesive on the sensors gave a similar sensation to that of the stoma backplate.

Partial Update

The analysis of the video was due to take 2 weeks from handing the recorder unit back but nothing was forthcoming. I contacted my gastro consultant who said he would chase it up but after 4 weeks still nothing. I knew I would be visiting the Endoscopy Dept. again on 18th December, for my annual Upper GI scope (looking for esophageal varices related to portal vein thrombosis)  so I would ask then.

The endoscopy was being carried out by the head of the Gastro Dept. so I asked him whether he could find my video results on the system. He went off to check the status. By the time he returned I had been prepared for the scope – xylocaine spray (burnt bananas) to back of throat; mouthguard in position; Fentanyl injected. I was unable to speak. Luckily they had held off with the Midazolam so I was, at least, still conscious!

He told me that the video was being checked now but he had seen the first half of it and appeared to show Crohn’s in my small intestine. A nice Christmas present! I would have to await the full analysis before discussing the way forward. I emailed my gastro consultant to tell him the news. He replied that he would keep an eye out for the report.

…and with that the Midazolam was injected….zzzzz

When Will It Be Resolved?

The report took a long time to finally emerge and in another email my gastro said that it did indeed show that Crohn’s had re-surfaced in my small bowel in the form of mild to moderate inflammation. This was a disappointment as I had been in remission since 2011. An appointment has been arranged for 15th April to discuss the treatment options. If feasible I would favour the “do nothing” option. My thoughts on the end of remission and the questions I have for my gastro are in a separate post (opens in a new window) – http://www.wrestlingtheoctopus.com/call-my-bluff/

The Report Finally Arrives

In mid-March a printed copy of the endoscopy report, in glorious living colour, arrived in the post. Whilst I found it fascinating I struggled to understand exactly what the images were showing.

I was intrigued by the transit times : 15 minutes to make it through the stomach; 2 hours 52 minutes travelling through the small bowel; and 8 hours 51 minutes in the colon. These were classed as being “within average range”.

Luckily there was a summary report; unluckily there it was in black and white “…with a background of Crohn’s these are in keeping with mild to moderate active disease“.

Capsule Endoscopy Report – from esophagus to ileo-caecal valve

The Importance of Follow-up Letters

Follow-up letters from appointments are an important part of your health records. They should contain what was discussed with your consultant, any conclusions arrived at or changes in medication etc. By default Guy’s and St.Thomas’ write to your GP after each appointment and copy in the patient under cover of a note that states “this is primarily a communication between medical professionals” (which I think is another way of saying “you probably won’t understand all the words we use”).

Now it has to be said that not all Departments stick to the “default” and I have had a couple of occasions (both with the same department) where the lack of letters caused issues. This is where my blog posts recording the latest appointment have proved more than just an exercise in self indulgence and why I read them prior to my next hospital visit.

The first time this happened was in March 2013 when I attended a regular appointment and was greeted by a doctor I hadn’t met before. We went into one of the side rooms where my notes were open on the desk. He introduced himself and said that he had been reading the notes to familiarise himself with my case. I had been hoping to see my usual consultant as I liked continuity and had issues with the lack of follow-up letters that I needed to raise with them. Unfortunately they were unavailable for that day’s clinic.

The new doctor said that, having read my notes, it was apparent that the condition I was suffering from was rare and started to discuss my low platelets. He noted that I had last been seen in October 2012. I stopped him in his tracks and said this was a clear reason why up-to-date notes and follow-up letters were so vital. There had been two further appointments since October and the platelet issue had been “parked”. A new, far more serious, condition had arisen – PVT (Portal Vein Thrombosis). This was now the priority.

I explained that this was an important appointment for me as I was expecting to run through my risk profile and at the end of it make the decision on whether to start blood thinners. My regular consultant had said they would discuss my case with th Department’s Warfarin expert, one of the professors.

At that point I started to think that this was all going to end up badly. I needed to kick start a reaction so I asked whether the professor was in the unit that day and what I needed to do to see her. Clearly this was never going to happen but it was worth a try! The doctor said that he would see if he could speak to my original consultant.

A few minutes later he returned with another consultant. I recognised her name as my clinic letters always stated that I was under her ultimate care. Putting two and two together she must have been the next one up the food chain from the doctor I usually saw. I went back over my expectations from this consultation. She explained that she worked closely with the “Warfarin Professor” and they jointly reviewed patients.

She ran through the risk factors and having looked at my notes and results, on balance, she would not recommend Warfarin yet. As far I was concerned it was the “right” answer. If there was a low risk of clotting then I was prepared to take that risk to avoid having starting yet another medication. Decision made, no Warfarin.

A month later I was still awaiting the missing follow-up letters. Time for some further action. I sent an email to the head of department (whose address I found on their web page). I apologised for contacting her directly but explained that raising the issue in clinic was having no effect. I added: “I thought it was therefore best to go straight to the top so that you can delegate any necessary actions…….” and briefly explained what had happened at my last appointment.
I hit the send button and got a very prompt response, 20 minutes later, apologising and saying it would be looked into.

The four missing letters arrived shortly afterwards, with an apology. I checked their contents against my blog and they were accurate records of the appointments.

From the above I’d like to pass on two thoughts : 1) that keeping your own record  is important and can prevent a waste of your time and a waste of NHS resources going over old issues that are already “parked”; 2) if you are having a problem with getting follow-up letters then go to the top and ask for their help. I have found those four little words “can you help me?” have opened up many situations whilst negotiating the pathway s through the NHS.

(I’ll leave the account of the second missing letter issue for another time. Suffice to say that I could have ended up having a third bone marrow biopsy! Not something I would recommend)

Haemophilia Clinic

I have found writing a short account of my outpatient appointments has been hugely beneficial as the doctor’s follow-up letters cannot cover everything we discuss and I will certainly have forgotten it by the next appointment. (I’ve also included some photographs from the walk I took through the City of London after the clinic)

Wednesday 7th February 2018 – Guy’s Haemophilia Clinic

A fairy early start to get to Guy’s Hospital by 9:35am for a visit to the Haemophilia Clinic, even though I’m not a haemophiliac. I had first been alerted to this appointment when I received a text message, before Christmas, followed a few days later by a confirmation letter. On arrival I had my blood pressure and pulse rate taken then settled down into a comfy chair, expecting a long wait. Guy’s have adopted the same large TV screens as St.Thomas’ for alerting the patient when its their turn to see a doctor. I watched for my name to appear then I heard it being called out.

I was greeted by a doctor I hadn’t met before. After the initial pleasantries she asked “Do you know why you are here?” Tempting as it was to reply “Do any of us know why we are here? Are we the creation of some omnipotent deity or the product of thousands of years of evolution?”, I opted for “No”. Although I tempered this with “…it’s probably to do with a bleeding management plan”. Correct, and brought about because of my low platelet count.

I don’t want to sound dextraphobic but when I saw that the doctor was left handed I knew it would be a good consultation. We went through my medical history. She was under the impression that I had undergone a major Crohn’s flare in 2012 so I was able to correct her and explain that in June 2012 my esophageal varices burst. She asked how I discovered the problem. I replied “Sitting surrounded by a pool of blood”.

I had previously been told that Crohn’s patients undergoing a flare are more susceptible to blood clots but not why. She explained that when undergoing a flare the blood becomes extra “sticky” to combat the inflammation. The portal vein carries blood from the gastrointestinal tract so is a common place for a clot to form. The body compensates for the blockage by growing new veins (varices) around the clot but a back-pressure can build up which in turn causes the spleen to enlarge and, in my case, varices to grow around the gallbladder. They would be an added complication should I need to have a cholecystectomy.

This enlarged spleen stores more platelets rather than release them into the bloodstream. Combine this with the damage to my bone marrow, probably due to Azathioprine, and it explains why blood tests show my platelets as below the optimum range. Many patients with low platelets do not notice they have a problem until the platelet counts falls to single figures. My count, between 60 and 80, is perfectly respectable for surgery or dental work so there would be no need for pre-surgery bleeding plan but post-surgery I would be prescribed a blood thinner for six weeks as this is the highest risk period for developing clots.

We then covered my decision not to take Warfarin which was reached by looking at the risk factors versus my wish not to take yet more medication. She thought I had made the right decision but noted that treatment has moved on and there are now medications that are much easier to take. Fine tuning dosages to achieve an acceptable INR was no longer an issue.

Up until now the concensus of opinion was that the clot in my portal vein resulted from peritonitis caused by a perforated bowel in 1979. I’ve always struggled with this explanation as a 30 year gap between cause and effect seems, to a non-medically trained brain, implausible. She thought it more feasible that it was caused by surgery in 2010. I accept that trying to get a definitive answer will not change anything but I would like to know, purely out of curiosity. I mentioned that whilst I would not wish to take up any NHS time on answering such a question I do happen to have a 2009 CT scan. I would need to find a “friendly” radiologist who would be prepared to have a look at the images and tell me if there was any evidence of a clot in the portal vein. Something to work on.

I then remembered to ask what the Upper GI doctor had meant by “if he can tolerate it” which was written on the prescription upping my Propranolol from 80mg/day to 120mg/day in an attempt to stop my spleen growing larger. What side effects should I be looking out for?  The answer – breathlessness and generally feeling unwell. So far I was coping OK.

She said she would like to see me again in 12 months rather than completely discharge me from the clinic. My next general haematology appointment was in March so she suggested it be put back 6 months. I thanked her for an enlightening consultation. We shook hands and I headed off for London Bridge..

The Long Walk

I had planned to take a brisk walk up to Finsbury Square for a coffee but it turned out to be anything but brisk. It took a lot longer than it should have done because I kept stopping to look at all the new buildings that have sprung up since I last went that way. I’m a sucker for glass facades.

Police sniffer dog patrolling around Guildhall
The wonder of computer designed structures
More architectural details
Salter’s Hall – one of the Great 12 Livery Companies
More steel and glass

After coffee I headed for Holborn and, again, made slow progress. On to Denmark Street to browse in the few, remaining guitar shops. then down to Trafalgar Square stopping briefly at The National Portrait Gallery to use their facilities.

Trafalgar Square – National Gallery

Total distance covered = 13.4km. I would have gone further but the cold was starting to get to me.

Next appointment – Gastroenterology at Guy’s on Monday 12th Feb

Loose Ends

It’s time to try and tie up the loose ends so that I can start 2018 with a clean slate. Where to begin?

Bile Acid Malabsorption – my pet subject. A much under-discussed issue that affects those of us who have had their terminal ileum removed. Having resisted starting yet another drug I finally decided to give in and try Cholestagel (Colesevelam) to give added control of the condition. Loperamide, on its own, seemed to be struggling. Apart from the odd set back the new tablets are working well and have topped up my confidence level. I’m only taking one with breakfast and one with dinner and matching that dose with Loperamide.

Calprotectin Testing – I was in two minds whether to even bother with another test as the last few results have been very high even though I’ve been feeling fine. My consultant said that I might as well be tested so I dropped a sample into the path lab with supporting paperwork. Two weeks later I contacted him to see if the result was back. He checked my record and all it said was “sample unsuitable”. What did that mean? I contacted the path lab and eventually was told that my sample was “unsuitable” because I hadn’t put my first name on the phial! Really? I am always very careful about putting ALL the relevant information of the label and that includes full name, Hospital No. & DOB. This was their reply :
 
“The following is the outcome of our investigation, our Central Specimen Reception (CSR) team only process samples following the Sample Acceptance Policy. Section 5.1 that states “The following minimum data set must be given for ALL laboratories: The mandatory three unique identifiers are: First Name, Family Name (Surname), Date of birth.”, and “Samples that fail to meet the mandatory criteria represent a significant risk to patient safety and raise serious concerns of sample integrity”.
 
They also stated that due to the “limitations of the IT system” it was only possible to mark a sample as “unsuitable”, not provide an explanation as to the reason. What I fail to understand is – if they didn’t know who I was then how come they knew it was my sample that was “unsuitable”. I would have thought that the combination of surname, DOB and unique Hospital No. should be sufficient for the testing to proceed. Normally I would take this further but, quite frankly, I don’t think they are worth wasting my time on. In the meantime I have provided another sample and handed it in to the IBD Nurses. I wonder whether that will be tested without issues.
MRI Pancreas Report – I had requested a copy of the last MRI report (October) but was starting to wonder if it had been such a good idea. Phrases such as “there is evidence of progressive portal hypertension with splenomegaly and upper abdominal varices” do not make for good reading to the untutored eye. Something to quiz the doctor about before the endoscopy.
 
Upper GI Endoscopy – 19th December 2017 – St.Thomas’ –
“Stick a camera down the oesophagus to see what’s occurring” day had arrived. The appointment was at 13:00 so plenty of time beforehand to visit a gallery (Dali/Duchamp at the Royal Academy) and do some Christmas window shopping (Fortnum & Mason).
Dali/Duchamps at the Royal Academy
Fortnum & Mason – Food Hall

 I arrived at the hospital early and took a seat in the Endoscopy waiting area, watching the boats passing up and down the River Thames. After a while a nurse appeared and explained that they were currently running about 15 minutes late but had four rooms in operation.  Each was doing a different type of procedure, some of which were a lot quicker than others. This was the reason some patients appeared to be jumping the queue. If only other clinics would adopt the same “keep the patient informed” approach. He then called my name to do the necessary safety questionnaire and give me a hospital gown to don.

 
I put it on over my clothes and sat in the inner waiting room. Another nurse appeared and explained that the Head of Department wanted to carry out my procedure (ominous) and they were waiting for him to arrive.  After a while a registrar appeared and took me into a side room to run through the procedure, the risks involved and to get me to sign the consent form. We then discussed my current health conditions and I gave her a copy of the MRIP report. I thought it was highly likely I would need variceal banding. She responded “Oh good, I enjoy banding” . I pointed out that I’d rather not need any as I didn’t want the 4 days of “sloppy” food that would neccessarily follow.
We discussed my ever enlarging spleen and I asked her what we could do to stop me becoming one large spleen on legs. She proposed upping my beta blockers (Propranolol) to the next level . I commented that given these other medical conditions, Crohn’s was the least of my worries. She concurred and with that we went into the theatre where the team, and the “top man”, were waiting.
Usually just the thought of the xylocaine (throat numbing spray ) makes me gag but this time I was fine. I didn’t even worry about the mouthpiece that guides the endoscope. A shot of fentanyl and the next thing I knew was waking up in Recovery being told by the nurse that I didn’t need banding. Result!
 ..but there is still one large loose end – cholecystectomy. I’ll defer thinking about that until the New Year

Christmas Treat

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.

Next update after the meeting with the surgeon.

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

Friday 22nd September 2017 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

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

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

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

St.Thomas’ Hospital – opposite the Houses of Parliament

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

40 Years of Medical History – on a page

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

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

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

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

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

I had some final questions :

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the follow-up post please click the link below :

Next appointment – Friday 10th November

It’s in the blood

As a precursor to seeing a surgeon this Friday I booked an appointment with Haematology. It was only after making the booking that I read their last follow-up letter which said they had discharged me from their care. So it was with a certain amount of doubt that I approached today’s trip to London. Would I be wasting their time?

The waiting room at Guy’s was very quiet. Ominously quiet. Half a dozen patients at most. I had never seen it that deserted. The phlebotomist took blood samples and after a short wait, once the results were available, I was called in by one of the haematologists. I had not met her before and so as the consultation proceeded I needed to fill in some of the details.
I explained that since being discharged a new medical issue had arisen – a bout of jaundice. As a result I would be going to St.Thomas’ to see an upper GI surgeon to discuss having my gallbladder removed. She noted that gallbladder removal, by keyhole surgery, is a fairly simple operation on the surgery scale so I explained there were other complications and that my local hospital felt unable to cope with them, hence my referral to GSTT.
We went through the complications and their history :
Keyhole surgery unlikely to be an option due to previous adhesions/scar tissue
Portal Vein Thrombosis/portal hypertension
Low Platelets – would need to be over 80 or might need infusion
Liver cirrhosis
Co-ordinating consultants across two hospitals and four departments
As we covered each topic she used their eNote system to record her recommendations and these would be available for the surgeon to read. The follow-up letter itself would take a while to be issued.
The conclusion was that they would need to write up a plan for the surgery and would also refer me to their thrombosis unit to review my case. I came away feeling justified in requesting the appointment. I wanted to be better informed for Friday’s appointment and now felt armed with additional questions to ask. It can sometimes be a danger sounding quite well informed and having picked up some of the medical terms (the consultants version of polari) as you may get the answers back at a level higher than your actual knowledge! Never be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something.
Yes, I could have left all the above to chance but if I can help the process along, make sure the various parties are communicating and minimise risks then I’ll do whatever it takes. Roll on Friday…
I spent the rest of my time wandering along the banks of the River Thames, taking in the sights and ended up at Tate Modern.
Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and a new berthing partner
Tate Modern – Installation by Magdelena Abakanowicz