Category Archives: gsttnhs

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

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

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

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

St.Thomas’ Hospital – opposite the Houses of Parliament

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

40 Years of Medical History – on a page

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

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

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

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

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

I had some final questions :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elective or Emergency?

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

Why?

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

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

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

Preparing to meet the surgeon for the first time

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

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

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

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

What Shall We Talk About?

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

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

Risks and Benefits of Surgery

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

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

Likelihood of liver damage?

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

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

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

My Preferred Way Forward

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

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

Anything Else?

Next upper GI endoscopy/variceal banding due December 2017

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

…..should be an interesting meeting

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

(In my experience this was not a typical colonoscopy. If you are about to undergo a similar procedure don’t let this post put you off. There is always the option of more sedation)

I said in a previous post that my last gastro appointment had been “interesting” but the offer of a colonoscopy “with an audience” would take that to the next level.

The last one was in July 2016 so why another one so soon?  I had also undergone an MRI scan and the results were very definitely at odds with the scope. There was also the little matter of the latest calprotectin test which showed a value of 896 (high). It was all pointing to my 6 years of drugs free remission coming to an end. I had resigned myself to restarting a drug regime and repeat surgery drawing closer.

Saturday 11th March 2017 – St.Thomas’ Hospital, Endoscopy Suite

The day of the scoping arrived. By 10:30 I was wristbanded and cannulated. I went off to change into a pair of very stylish paper boxer shorts  with a velcro flap up the back. Once I had donned  hospital and dressing gowns it was into the male waiting area until they were ready for me.

Eventually the Gastro registrar appeared and went through the procedure. He explained that he would start off and then hand over to the lead consultant when we were joined by the audience (via a video link). We agreed I would have minimal sedation as I wanted to be able to watch the images and ask questions.

He lead me down to the procedure room where I was greeted by the nurses. Whilst I was being prepped we discussed the use of azathioprine and potential bone marrow suppression. We also touched on Crohn’s and the link to portal vein thrombosis. I hadn’t realised that patients with active disease are more prone to clots such as DVT. Everything was now ready. The lead consultant came in and introduced himself.

I was asked to adopt a fetal position and, with a liberal handful of KY jelly, the scope started it long journey northwards. The image appeared on  a large screen above us. In the bottom left hand corner there was a feature I hadn’t seen before. The consultant referred to it as the “sat nav” and it showed the position of the endoscope in the colon.

It was not an easy journey as my sigmoid was tending to loop as the scope attempted to pass through. There was a lot of changing position – lying on my right side, left side or back – and lots of pressure put on my abdomen by one of the nurses pushing down. It was also a long journey as the aim was to go a short way into the small intestine past the anastomosis (the rejoin after my temporary ileostomy).

In the room next door my regular consultant was acting as chaperone to the group of international gastroenterologists who had come to St.Thomas’ to see “how we do it” in the UK. The screen on the wall flickered into action and two way communication was established. He briefly outlined my Crohn’s history and I was able to fill in some of the details. He explained the MRI issue that needed resolving and called up a copy of the report from my electronic file.

With a lot of perseverance, and gas to inflate the gut, the scope had reached the rejoin. I wonder whether the distraction of the video link caused me to relax and let the scope pass more easily. From then on the consultant gave a running commentary on what appeared on the screen. It was fascinating and informative. There was a debate between the 3 gastros as to which Rutgeerts score they would give my anastomosis. Was it i0, i1 or i2? The conclusion – i0 – no signs of ulceration.

Next they went through the MRI report and the scope was moved to the locations identified to see if any strictures were present. None found. One of the consultants remarked – “Scope 1 – MRI Scan 0”.

One thing that was apparent throughout my gut was a slight reddening (erythema). The scope was zoomed in to examine it and to look for any tell tale signs of active Crohn’s but found nothing.  The consultant decided to take a few biopsies. I had never seen this done on previous scopings so watched with a mixture of interest and cringing. What looked like a small crocodile clip appeared from the end of the scope and, under voice control, nipped into the wall of my gut. I waited for the pain but nothing, just a small trickle of blood. I suppose that is why you are given a mild sedative. He decided to take a deeper sample so the device went back into the same location and took a further bite.

By now the scope had been in for about 45 minutes and it was finally time for it to be withdrawn. Always a relief. But what about the raised calprotectin level? They would have to come up with a non-Crohn’s explanation for it. The lead consultant bade farewell and I was wheeled out to Recovery. Experience over. When else would you get a chance to listen in to 3 leading gastros discussing your case and with the evidence before your eyes?

Before leaving the unit I was given a copy of the Endoscopy Report, which I have reproduced below, and it included a possible explanation for the callprotectin result. We will have to wait for the biopsy results to be certain.

Endoscopy Report

I had started my journey (real journey so acceptable use of word) this morning expecting to be starting medications or at worst seeing surgery on the horizon. I was leaving for home with a much more positive outcome, hence the title of this post.

The only downside was the length of the procedure. Usually I suffer no side effects from a scoping but this time I ached a fair amount for the next 24 hours.

Two days later I went to see my GP to arrange for a bile acid sequestrant to be prescribed to treat BAM. I arrived expecting to take away just a prescription and ended up being referred to a surgeon, but that’s for another time…..

In Case of Emergency

A few months back I ended up in our local A&E (ER) Department as I had turned yellow. The first person I saw was the triage nurse who asked me lots of questions about health conditions, history  and medications. When we had finished running through the various ailments she complimented me on my knowledge but it struck me that it would have been a different story if I had been admitted unconscious or in a confused state.

Next I saw an A&E Registrar. What would he have concluded if I had been unable 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 platelets would show up around 60, rather than 150+. Valuable time could have been lost trying to solve the wrong problems.

What actually happened it that I handed him a copy of a chart I had drawn up showing the key events in my medical history over the last 7 years. The doctor thanked me and used it as the basis for the questions he then asked.  He then added it to my medical notes. Here’s the diagram :

In the ideal world the NHS would have a comprehensive medical record for each patient, held on a central system, that could be accessed by any doctor when required. A patient’s unique identifier, probably their NHS number, could be used as the reference code. The NHS tried to implement such as system (NpFIT). It didn’t work and there’s a link to the 2014 Report at the bottom of this post.

There are, of course, the likes of SOS Talisman bracelets which have some very basic information engraved on or contained within them. Then 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 all appear to be based in the US.  What I wanted was a standalone device that would be easily wearable and accessible. A bracelet with built-in USB memory seemed to be the ideal solution. The next challenge would be how to record the information.

I searched to see if there was a proposed standard data set for NHS use but could find nothing that displayed more than the most basic data. Certainly nothing that was suitable for a patient with long term, multiple conditions. There was nothing for it but to produce my own format. I settled upon two documents – i) a simple, overall summary plus ii) a very detailed table that recorded each appointment/follow-up letter; each procedure undergone and associated report; and any other relevant items such as emails.

Key Medical Details (with links)

I had already obtained hard copies of all the medical records from the three health authorities I have been treated under and had started the task of entering the relevant sections onto a computer. The thought of entering 40 years worth of notes from scratch would have been just too daunting.

The detail (geeky) bit : initially the bulk of the data was put into a spreadsheet (Excel) using a combination of a simple scanner and text recognition software. As the task neared completion it made sense to convert from Excel to Word as this would allow me to save the document as an html file that could be read by any web browser. The external documents (reports, emails) were scanned or saved as either jpg or pdf files and then linked back to the main document.

Detailed Medical Record

Job done. I can now wear all the relevant my medical details on a simple, universally accessible wristband, rather like a tortoise carrying everything with them wherever they go.

USB Bracelet

There are issues that I haven’t addressed :

Privacy – I don’t have any issues with allowing access to my medical records confidential (if I did I wouldn’t write a blog) but I can understand that some patients would want some type of password or lock on the files.

Security – does an NHS computer allow the reading of an external USB stick or is access restricted to protect from viruses etc?

Since originally publishing this post a fellow patient suggested using a QR code to link to a remotely held copy of relevant medical details. The QR could be engraved on a pendant or bracelet but would it be obvious to medical staff how to use it? How about a QR tattoo in a prominent position? More thinking to be done…..

The 2014 Report on NpFIT failure :

*NpFIT – this proposal has been around for several years but proved impossible to implement. The link below will take you to the report outlining why the £6billion project failed.”

https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/npfit-mpp-2014-case-history.pdf

 

 

 

Next steps

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

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital 12th December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Consultants and Appointments

What follows is based on my experience being treated by the UK NHS as both an in-patient and an outpatient, mainly with gastroenterologists but more recently haematologists and hepatologists as well. The dynamics described may be different where you are funding your healthcare privately and paying a consultant directly or via an insurance company.

If this post seems rather analytical and cold, with few emotional considerations, it is because I have found this “matter of fact” approach has made the Crohn’s, other minor annoyances such as PVT, potential PSC, BAM, hospital stays and consultants, a lot easier to deal with.

I thought long and hard about how I could encapsulate my attitude in the length of a Tweet and came up with this :

I AM THE EXPERT IN MY HEALTH

MY CONSULTANT IS THE EXPERT IN MY CONDITION

For old hands at the “health game” most of this will probably seem blindingly obvious so it’s aimed at newer patients, ones that become tongue tied in front of their consultant or that find appointments difficult to handle.

1)  Making Lists – Definitely in the “blindingly obvious” category. This has to be the best thing I’ve ever started doing. I used to go into the consulting room with the attitude “of course I’ll remember all the things I want to ask.” It was a male arrogance thing. I’d then arrive home and my wife would say “and what about x?” Blank stare. “Why didn’t you write a list?” Another blank stare. This went on for many years (male arrogance is a long term condition) until the penny finally dropped. Nowadays I start preparing a list several days before the appointment date. (The one shown below was compiled in preparation for seeing the haematologist prior to weighing up the advantages/disadvantages of starting Warfarin).

 

Once you’ve written it out talk it through with someone close to you as they may have spotted things in your appearance or behaviour that they are concerned about but “didn’t like to mention” or didn’t think were significant.

Nowadays, I print out the list and make a point of having it in my hand as I enter the consulting room and after the initial pleasantries explain that there are a number of questions I want to get answered and point to the list. This sets the scene for what follows i.e. don’t expect to finish this consultation until we’ve been through it all.

It is worth noting down the answers, although these should be covered in the follow-up letter that you get sent a few days later. (Or rather SHOULD be sent –  more about that further on). Another advantage of having a paper list is that if you print it, or write it out nice and legibly, and then become emotional or tongue tied you can hand it over and let the doctor work their way through it.

2)  Manage Your Appointments – This may or may not be necessary depending upon how your hospital works. I get treated by two different departments in the same hospital. One of them will make the next appointment for you there and then so that you leave the hospital with the appointment letter in your hand. The other department says they will contact you closer to the time but there is always that doubt at the back of my mind that the request will get lost somewhere in the system and by the time I realise there’s a problem the appointment gets delayed.

Nowadays I set a reminder in my calendar, two months before the appointment is due, to contact the consultant’s secretary just to remind them and that does the trick. Two months is the right length of time for me but it may differ in your area. For Guys and St.Thomas’ (GSTT) it’s usually between 3 and 6 weeks to get an appointment with a particular consultant or to book up for a procedure such as an endoscopy.

3) Continuity – Generally I like to see the same consultant each time so there is continuity in approach and it is not necessary for them to go through my whole medical history before starting the consultation. I didn’t used to question it when I was seen by different registrars or junior doctors but as my health worsened I really felt it could become a matter of life or death (maybe slightly over dramatic!) that I saw the person with the most experience/expertise and who understood my case.

The best way to approach this is to tell the nurse that weighs you that you need to see a particular consultant and they can then put a note to that effect on the front of your file or make sure your notes get put in the right pile. Occasionally it doesn’t work and you end up being called in by another doctor. At that point I politely explain that I’m not doubting their medical knowledge but I do need to see my usual doctor. This has always worked OK.

All the above goes out the window if I’m just having a routine, follow-up appointment where no important decisions need to be made. If that’s the case I’m happy to see any of the doctors. I do actually question whether this type of appointment has any value and would be quite happy to do it by email, Skype or even an old fashioned telephone call. The only advantage of the face-to-face contact that I can think of is the doctor being able to spot something of concern that you haven’t noticed or the ability to carry out a physical examination.

4) Medical History – important if you are seeing new doctors or consultants. If you’ve only been suffering from Crohn’s, or whatever disease you’ve got, for a short period then it’s likely that you can remember all the key dates and events that have brought you to this particular appointment.

If you’ve always been treated by the same hospital then your medical history should be available to any of the professionals treating you via their records system but if you’ve moved around between hospitals, health authorities and consultants then it is likely that there won’t be one single, unified set of records.

When moving to a new consultant and/or hospital, or if you are unfortunate to have been admitted to a new hospital as an emergency, possibly unconscious, then a brief outline of your history can save a lot of time in the early stages of working out what has gone wrong or which will be the best area to start investigations or treatment.

35yrs_MedRecs35 years of medical records

[For years I was always being asked when was my first Crohn’s operation and what exactly the surgeon did at that time. I knew it was an emergency admission to Croydon General Hospital sometime in 1979 (suspected appendicitis) and that it turned out to be a perforated bowel, but I couldn’t say whether any gut had been removed or if it had simply been repaired. It was only in 2011, when I obtained copies of all my medical records from Croydon Health Authority that I could finally give the definitive answer.

Since then I’ve painstakingly, some would say anally, extracted all the key points from consultation notes and follow-up letters and summarised the whole lot, in date order, onto a spreadsheet. This is my “back-up” evidence from which I have then drawn up a simple, one page chart representing my full Crohn’s history and a second, more detailed one, covering the last 6 years. My current set of consultants seem to approve of this approach and have put copies into my notes.

Click here to open pdf – “Health Record 1977 to 2015”

Click here to open pdf – “Health Record 2010 to 2016”

Unfortunately very few x-rays were still available but I consoled myself with a couple of more recent CT scans which I can view using Osiri-X Lite (available as a free download). I find them fascinating but my work colleagues are not quite so sure.]

Maybe a step too far! Scenes from CT scans on my ‘phone

5) Contacting your consultant between appointments – Some consultants are happy for you to email them directly when you have a query or a problem or there may be a dedicated, condition specific, helpline that you can use as the first point of contact. It really does seem to vary. I have read of other patient’s experiences where the “patient confidentiality card” is played to avoid email contact. I’ve never come up against this. So far so good. You should be able to work out an individual email address as organisations like to follow a particular format or you could simply ring up their secretary and ask for it straight out. Nowadays many hospital websites clearly display the consultants contact details.

This doesn’t come without some responsibility from the patient’s side. I make sure that I only contact the consultants directly if I have something that is urgent and only they can answer or they’ve asked me to report back about a problem. I was being treated by three different specialities during 2012/3 so I usually copied any emails to all three consultants as it helped to maintain the co-ordinated care.

It is worth keeping copies of the emails as I found out when I went to have a second bone marrow biopsy and the doctor performing the procedure was not aware that she needed to use a blood thinner to get usable samples (which is why the second biopsy was required). I was able to show her, on my phone, the email trail that explained it all after the previous biopsy.

6) Follow-up letters – shortly after an appointment or procedure your consultant should write a letter to your GP – secondary care provider to primary care provider. These letters are important to keep your GP up-to-date with your condition and a copy should also be sent to you, normally with a caveat that it is a communication between medical professionals.

This system of follow-up letters has always worked smoothly for me with gastroenterology and hepatology issuing them a couple of days after the appointment but then I came up against Haematology. The appointments were fine. Lots of good, open discussion but no follow-up letters. Four appointments and no follow-up letters. I did query this a number of times but still no letters, just apologies.

A few months on and guess what, still no follow-up letters. In the end I looked at my hospital’s website and found the name and email address of Haematology’s head of department. I contacted her, explaining the situation and suddenly I had four, retrospectively written, follow-up letters.

Are there lessons to be learned? I think so.

Lesson 1 – If you are not getting the service you should expect then go to the top and explain the problem. Will this always work? No, but might at least set the wheels in motion to getting a solution.

Lesson 2 – Keeping your own record of what gets discussed and agreed during a consultation is worthwhile if you end up in a similar situation to the above. I use a blog to record what goes on but if you don’t want to share your experiences with others then keep your own private health diary for future reference.

7)  Manage Your Appointments 2 – er, haven’t we already done this one? Yes, but this is managing how the actual appointment goes. I’ve left this one almost until the last as it’s fairly new territory for me. I hope to develop the theme in the future to reinforce the notion that the patient should actively manage how the appointment goes and make best use of the resources available i.e. your consultant’s experience and advice.

This train of thought was triggered by a visit to, yes you guessed, Haematology when things started to go very wrong. My usual consultant wasn’t available so I was being seen by a new doctor. The lack of follow-up letters meant that he started discussing a subject that had been “parked” a year previously.

At that point it struck me that going into the appointment I had a very clear idea of the outcome I was expecting and of the information/areas/risk factors we needed to discuss to arrive at a conclusion. (The decision was whether to start Warfarin or not). Clearly my issue wasn’t with the new doctor, as he had simply referred to the latest notes, so I asked to see the Head of Department. I knew this would never happen, but at least it had the effect of getting the appointment back on track with the appearance of one of the senior consultants who had been a party to reviewing my case at a recent MDM (multi-disciplinary meeting). I ended up with the decision I had been expecting.

I’m wondering if it would be worthwhile starting the next appointment by explaining where I want to be the end of the appointment and how I see us getting there. Would that be too pushy?

8) and finally – as always – keep a sense of humour if you can – useful in surviving ALL medical encounters but I accept this is not easy if you feel really terrible; you’ve been waiting an hour to be seen; the phlebotomist has made several attempts at finding a vein; that person who arrived after you has just been called in before you; etc. – I’m sure we’ve all been there.

Sometimes humour doesn’t work. A few of the doctors I have met do seem to have had a “humour bypass” (I’d just like to make it clear that this doesn’t apply to any of the fine doctors who are treating me at Guys and St.Thomas’, especially the ones that drive the endoscopes or biopsy needles). I have however been left in the situation in other, lesser establishments where my witty remark has gone down like a lead balloon and I’m left staring at a doctor who is clearly thinking “should he be in the psychiatric ward?”.

..and remember if you’ve been kept waiting longer than you were expecting it’s probably because your consultant has spent more time with preceding patients than the allotted 10 minutes. This works both ways. You may also need more than your ten minutes.

IBD Awareness, Stomas and Nursing Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should we expect as NHS patients?

Starting with a blank piece of paper I put down the most important things I require and, where applicable, what I consider to be acceptable timescales. I concentrated on my needs as a hospital outpatient with a chronic illness/multiple chronic conditions because this is a situation of which I have recent, first hand knowledge. (I’ve excluded GP’s, as I very rarely see them, and I’m hoping that hospital stays are few and far between).

Before reading the list below you might like to have a go yourself and then see where we agree or what additional items you’ve come up with. I’ve ended up with 12 key items. Here they are, in no particular order :

  1. Easy to book appointments/tests/procedures and carried out within a reasonable or appropriate time frame (4 weeks)
  2. Consultants that make you feel welcome and are prepared to spend sufficient time to answer your questions
  3. Consultants who communicate at the appropriate level of detail. (Communication includes the ability to listen and “hear” what is being said)
  4. Consultants who take joint decisions with the patient. (You are the expert in YOUR health, they are the experts in their chosen fields and provide the knowledge to inform decisions)
  5. Good co-ordination between multiple consultants if more than one condition is being managed and a named lead consultant
  6. Ability to make suggestions to / ask questions of / get responses from consultants by email
  7. Follow-up letters sent out promptly
  8. Test results communicated promptly (or appointments organised to go through results as soon as they are available)
  9. Appointments that start on time or if they are delayed good communication as to why they are running late and the likely delay
  10. Provision of a disease/condition specific help line with prompt response time (within 24 hours)
  11. Routine appointments over the ‘phone or by Skype (to save on hospital trips and consultant’s time)
  12. Electronic, transferable, whole life health records with electronic patient access

11) and 12) are more long term aims and probably the remit of the NHS as a whole rather than an individual hospital. If there are any blindingly obvious omissions please let me know. You can tweet me at @crohnoid

My original list (now slightly modified)

…and how does my treatment measure up?

St.Thomas’ new Outpatients’ Department

Having established the list (and the two aspirations) I thought I’d see how my current treatment measures up against each of them.

1) Appointments are easy to book either on the ‘phone or in person. Not all departments are consistent in their approach to routine, six monthly appointments. Some give you the appointment letter there and then; others won’t book further than six weeks ahead so I always make a note in my calendar of when I need to make sure I’m on the six week radar. So far (in three years) I haven’t had any problems. The longest wait of all was getting a slot to see the Dietician – but I was warned that the demand on that Department is particularly heavy and, for me, it’s not exactly a matter of life and death.

2), 3) and 4) The communication with the various consultants has always been excellent. I’ve never felt I’m being hurried out the door. We always have a full and frank discussion at a level of detail I can cope with.

5) Co-ordination works well. Letters and emails are always copied between the three main consultants and there is a MDM (Multi Disciplinary Meeting) were patients with multiple conditions are discussed.

6) I’ve always received prompt responses to my emails. If I have a question that I think may have implications across disciplines then I copy it accordingly.

7) I did have one particular issue with follow-up letters from one particular department but a simple email to the Head of Department sorted that out. It’s all resolved now and we’re back on track.

8) OK so far.

9) Mostly pretty good. My last Haematology appointment started 15 minutes early! There have been occasions where the clinics are running late but nobody kept the patient patients informed. The new Outpatients Dept. at St.Thomas’ has large screens all around the waiting area and these carry messages if any clinics are running more than 30 minutes late.

10) I’ve only had reason to contact the IBD and Stoma helplines. Both have replied very quickly. When I had a problem with my stoma I was able to go and see one of the nurses that lunchtime.

11) This is more an aspiration than something I think will happen in the very near future. I don’t know at what level the decision can be taken to implement it – individual consultant; Department; Hospital Trust; or from the NHS on high.

12) I thought this was going to happen a few years back but the plan faltered rather badly (NHSIT Project). The system works within the Guys/St.Thomas’ (GSTT) itself but they do not have access to my previous records. I’ve taken it upon myself to collate this information but don’t know if there is any opportunity for getting the key records added to my GSTT file. (Something to ask at my next appointment)

Conclusion

I’m very impressed with the treatment I receive from the NHS at GSTT. If I had to give them a score, judged on the first ten items, it would be 9 out of 10. I have had the odd hiccup along the way but by taking an active role in managing my treatment they have quickly been sorted out and never caused a problem.