Category Archives: MRI scan

The Difficult Patient

I like to think that I’m a good patient. I very rarely forget to take my medication; I always turn up for appointments; I try to enter the consulting room with a positive attitude and clutching a list of questions.

…but I’m also a difficult patient. I think it’s true of any IBD patient that we are “difficult” because it is likely that on first presentation to our GP our symptoms could have a number of possible explanations. At least more doctors are becoming aware of IBD as an avenue for investigation. It took 8 months for my positive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, via “nerves” and “spastic colon” along the way.

The difficulty continued. My platelet count dropped dramatically (thrombocytopenia). The most likely explanation? “It was the azathioprine.” So I stopped the azathioprine, my platelets showed no improvement and I ended up having surgery to remove a stricture.

Azathioprine is known to potentially affect the blood which is why we should have regular blood tests when taking it. Although my platelet count was around the 70 mark (usual range 150 – 400), I was asymptomatic. If I cut myself I didn’t bleed any more than usual and after several visits to see the haematologist it was decided to park the issue as it wasn’t affecting any other treatment. I had been in remission and Crohn’s drug free since surgery.

But what if the Crohn’s started to flare again and my gastro consultant decided the best treatment would be to restart the Aza? I put this to him and he agreed that we should un-park the question and try to find out whether the drug was to blame.

Off to see the haematologist again and two bone marrow biopsies later it was decided that Aza was the probably the guilty party, had attacked my bone marrow which in turn suppressed platelet production. (…..not everyone agrees)

The second “difficulty” was when I started vomiting blood, an incident that I have mentioned many times before. Into our local A&E and then admitted as an in-patient. The consultants there were expecting to find an ulcer. To confirm their suspicions they shoved a camera down my throat and were surprised to find esophageal varices. A simple-to-treat ulcer was actually something a lot more sinister.

One ultrasound scan later and it was identified as portal vein thrombosis. Time to pass me back into the care of my usual hospital. Treatment would involve both a hepatologist and haematologist. At my first meeting with the hepatologist I asked what could have caused the blood clot in my portal vein. He said that the most likely explanation was that it resulted from peritonitis brought on by a perforated bowel over 30 years previously. I have to admit I still struggle with this explanation. Why did it take 30 years to come to a head? Result – beta blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

The haematologist suggested that I started taking blood thinners to combat the threat of further blood clots. I really didn’t want to take any more medication than strictly necessary so we did a risk analysis and concluded that it was 50/50 for and against. Result – no warfarin. Another issue successfully parked.

Then came the jaundice as a result of gallstones. I met with upper GI surgeons at both my local and Kings College hospitals. The usual treatment would be to whip out my gallbladder using keyhole surgery but, of course, my case is not so simple. Previous laparotomies have left scar tissue and adhesions that would preclude a keyhole operation. Then an MRCP scan showed that the varices, that had grown down my throat, had also grown around my gallbladder.  Aaah!

What have we concluded? The choices are to operate now to prevent a problem in the future “that might never happen” or to postpone the decision and review again in 6 months time. He was minded to go with this second option. I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

…and finally there’s the little matter of conflicting test results. As it was the subject of my last post I don’t intend to repeat it here but it leaves me with questions. Is the “wait and watch, let’s park that issue” a valid strategy or best option in this instance. If I asked for further investigations to be done would I simply be using up valuable NHS resources carrying out tests that might make no difference to, or even worsen, my QOL? Would it even be clear which further tests could be carried out? As I said in that previous post, curiosity is getting the better of me but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That’s one of the advantages of writing a blog. You can get all your thoughts down in one place and then, you guessed it, park them.

Maybe there are no clear cut answers but I’m starting to feel that my “difficult patient” status can only get worse as the ageing process kicks in. Oh for a simple life.

IBD Knowledge and Curiosity

They say with age comes wisdom. I fear I am the exception to that rule. What doesn’t come with age is knowledge. I proved this by spending the first 20 years from my Crohn’s diagnosis knowing very little about the condition. You could sum it up as : nobody knows what causes it; it’s incurable; you take steroids to keep it under control and get on with life; not many people have heard of it.

In 1998 there was the first mention of possible surgery to remove a stricture. I now needed to know what “stricture” meant and its implications. I started to take a little more interest but once I was safely weaned onto an immunosuppressant, and back to some sort of equilibrium, then my interest waned and life quickly returned to “normal”.

Another decade passed and then a routine blood test showed my platelets were dropping. As this was a known side effect of the immunosuppressants they were stopped.

In May 2009 a CT scan painted a complicated picture of both ileal disease and the suspicion that I was fistulating into other parts of the small bowel, possibly the sigmoid. My consultant put it in simple terms: “It looks like you’ve got an octopus in there”.

Fistula? I had no idea what that meant. It certainly sounded somewhat unsavoury. I started, again, to resign myself to surgery. After a brief, expensive, unsuccessful flirtation with Infliximab, the knife became inevitable.

As it approached I was confronted with new medical terms and there would be new skills to learn, for instance changing a stoma bag, but the knowledge I sought was still confined to my immediate needs.

Some of the basic information, that I’m assuming (hoping) newly Dx’d patients nowadays take for granted, had sadly passed me by. It wasn’t until 2012 that this was remedied by a couple of things, the first being my increased awareness of SoMe which lead to reading other patient’s stories. The second started a little more dramatically.

In mid-2012 I was rushed into our local hospital leaking upper GI blood. Once stabilised, given my history of Crohn’s, I was placed on the gastro ward. It was an eye opener. There were patients there who had admitted themselves as they were having a flare-up! Really? That was new to me. I had never even considered doing that. Could things really get that bad?

I became reacquainted with my old IBD Nurse who, sadly, had returned to being “just” a ward sister as she wanted to reclaim her private life. One quiet afternoon she sat on the end of my bed and we started chatting about Crohn’s disease.

She was surprised at my lack of knowledge and quickly realised that nobody had ever talked me through the basics. It was assumed that someone who had experienced the condition for so long must know all about it by now. I was guilty of this assumption myself as I knew no better. Our conversation was a wake up call to become better informed. Now my curiosity was awakened.

Six years on my curiosity is stronger than ever but I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall. It’s been the subject of previous posts and many, probably too many, Tweets. Although I’ve been in remission for several years I still undergo regular monitoring and this is where the problem lies. As usual I’ve drawn a diagram that represents my take on the situation..My case has been discussed at the Multi Disciplinary Meeting of one of the country’s leading gastro teams and the conclusions were : the colonoscopy findings outweigh the MRI findings in the colon. The small bowel was reassuringly uninflamed. There is no explanation for the raised calprotectin in terms of Crohn’s disease. Watch and wait.

From a health point of view I’m happy to “watch and wait” but my curiosity is sufficiently piqued that I would like find a logical explanation. It’s difficult to know what to do next. I’m rather hoping that by putting the details of my case out into the big world of SoMe it might just strike a chord with somebody – a fellow patient, an HCP or even a testing lab – and they will be able to point me towards a solution. Until then I have a feeling I will be returning to this subject on a regular basis.

 

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.

Medical Records

A subject I’ve written about before but always worth revisiting. These are my experiences within three UK NHS Hospital Trusts and span 40 years.

Ideal World vs. Reality

In an ideal world each of us would have our full medical record available in a universally readable format that could be easily accessed by any medical professional that is treating us.

Now let’s look at the real world. If you are a relatively new patient who hasn’t moved hospital and not had an in-patient stay then you may indeed have a complete record, held electronically, on an IT system. If, however, you are a long term patient who has moved between GPs and hospitals and spent time as an in-patient then the situation is far more complicated. You are likely to have a mixture of hand written notes and observations, type written letters and, more recently, computer generated letters and test results. There are also x-rays and scans to consider.

The above does not address the issue of universal access. The last attempt in the UK to implement a system was NpFIT (The National Programme for IT in the NHS), a project initiated by the Labour government in 2002 and cancelled some years later having spent in the region of £12bn and having delivered very little. Government backed IT projects are notorious for being disaster areas.

Patient Rights

Where does that leave the patient?

In the UK you have a right to access your medical records. Since 2000 onwards I have received copies of the follow-up letters from outpatient appointments  that the consultant sends to my GP. This may be sufficient for your needs but I needed to fill in a lot of missing detail for the book I was writing. For the payment of a fee you can obtain copies of all your medical records . Requests forms are available online for each Healthcare Trust and as I had been treated by 3 different Trusts I filled in 3 different forms and sent them off with the relevant payments (between £20 and £50 depending upon whether you just require medical notes or want copies of x-rays and scans as well).

A series of packets duly arrived and I was amazed to find they really  did contain ALL my medical notes from October 1977 to the present. Two Trusts chose to send hard copies whilst the third had scanned the notes to a pdf file of over 700 pages. I also had loadable files for CT, MRI and US scans. The only things missing were certain early x-rays.

Information Overload?

My initial reaction was “information overload” but over the space of a few nights I sorted the documents by type and date order and picked out the “juicy bits”. Those bits that explained some long, unanswered questions about my treatment. Probably the most fascinating were the ward notes from the times I spent in hospital. These are not usually documents that you get to read.
The discs containing CT and MRI scans looked a bigger challenge but I found a great piece of software called Horos which opens and views the files.. Hours of fun looking at 3D visualisations of your innards.

What use are they?

What can you do with, potentially, a huge amount of very detailed medical notes? Whilst they might be of academic interest to the patient and provide a fascinating insight into how you arrived at your current state they are not a lot of use to your medical professionals due to the sheer bulk of the information. This is especially true if you are seeing a new consultant who needs a succinct overview of your medical history and current issues or if you end up in A&E (ER) where they need to start treatment as soon as possible.

It gets considerably more complex if you are suffering from multiple conditions. Initially I put together all the major events into a spreadsheet table. Going through the process certainly gave me a good grasp of my overall health and I have ended up a much better informed patient. This helps greatly when you need to take decisions about the course of future treatment. It helps clarify the most important issues.

If you still find it difficult to work out how your health threads come together then draw a diagram. I’ve tried a number of different format. There are a couple of examples below :

In Practice

In February I ended up in our local A&E (ER) Department as I had turned yellow. The first person I saw was a triage nurse who asked lots of questions about health conditions, history  and medications. When we had finished running through the various ailments she complimented me on my knowledge. (Definitely a result of researching and tabulating my health records)

Next I saw an A&E Registrar. Who asked the same questions but what would he have concluded if I hadn’t been able to fill in the details? He would have been confronted with a patient with a large scar up the midline and an appendectomy incision. He wouldn’t have been aware why the large scar was there and would have assumed my appendix had been taken out. He would be unaware that I had Crohn’s disease, that there were additional veins growing in my esophagus (varices), that my spleen was enarged or that my platelet count of around 60 was normal for me. Valuable time could have been lost trying to investigate the wrong problems.

Do It Yourself

As a result of my A&E visit I wondered – is there was a standard, minimum set of data that should be available? Is there a standard format for the data? I searched the internet and could find nothing. I suppose a good starting point would be the questions the triage nurse had asked – personal details; current medication; current medical conditions; and any known allergies.

There are, of course, the likes of SOS Talisman bracelets which have some very basic information engraved on, or contained within, them. There are several subscription services which will hold your medical information and can then be accessed via a unique code you wear on a bracelet or dog tag, but these appear to be US based only and the data held was not in sufficient detail.  How feasible would it be to produce a standalone, wearable device?

I had a go at making one using a USB bracelet. I settled upon two top level documents – i) a simple, overall summary plus ii) a detailed table that recorded each appointment or procedure. These documents are stored as pdf files and linked to various back-up documents such as laboratory or histological reports.
I

USB Bracelet

There is one problem. Security. Does an NHS computer allow the reading of an external USB stick or is access restricted to protect from viruses etc? (Particulary relevant since the recent cyber attack). I have a feeling this is a non-runner so I’m favouring storing the files on a secure server and potentially accessing them via a QR code on a dog tag (or even a wrist tattoo)

Future Developments

There are more references appearing where patients are recording their consultant appointments or having consultations via Skype. Would these audio and video files need to be kept as part of your medical record? Do medical professionals expect to have access to any recordings you make?

Watch this space…..

Fifty Shades of Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Shades of Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do you mind an audience?

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital – 20th February 2017

I knew this was going to be an “interesting” consultation and it even started in a strange way. Would you expect to be greeted by a live violinist in the waiting room? Whilst I applaud the hospital for trying something different I’m not sure what it did for other patient’s stress levels. It didn’t help mine.

Having been waiting for over an hour a nurse appeared and announced the clinic was running 90 minutes late. Maybe she had made an earlier announcement but was drowned out by the violin. I knew I would be in for an even longer wait as I had requested to see my usual Consultant.

When I was finally shown into his room, he apologised for the delay and we started working through my list.

1 – Calprotectin result – previously 512. Had now risen to 895. I thought this was not unexpected as I was starting to feel a certain amount of pain when food passed across my anastomosis and through the transverse colon.

2 – Dependent upon the above – have you discussed further investigation? Barium enema? We had agreed before Christmas that, dependent upon the calprotectin result, further investigation could be needed. He favoured doing another colonoscopy.

3 – Run through the last follow-up letter with translation. What are implications of fistulas and adhesions?  We went through the letter and made sure I understood the medical terms. I was concerned that the mention of fistulas, strictures and adhesions meant only one thing – surgery. He responded that the possibility of fistulas was the most concerning; adhesions were to be expected but he was still was struggling to understand the apparent differences between the MRI and what he had physically seen during the colonoscopy. Strictures should have appeared on the camera.

I asked if it was possible for the Crohn’s to have moved from my small intestine to my colon. He said that it did not usually happen. A repeat colonoscopy would look for this. He asked if I minded having an audience as they were running a visit for ten overseas gastroenterologists to show how endoscopies were carried out at St.Thomas’. I really wasn’t fussed and it meant that I had the date set there and then. (Wonder if they will film it for YouTube. Would be taking selfies to another level).

4 – Plan for treatment – start Crohn’s medications. The most likely treatment would be one of the “MABs”. We discussed my previous experience with Infliximab and that was duly noted on my medical file. I wondered if I ended up needing regular infusions whether these could be carried out locally rather than needing a trip to London each time. He said they would encourage that but would still keep control of my case.

5 – Recent trip to A&E with jaundice. Violent shivering. Nausea. Turning yellow. Ultrasound scan 21st February. Need to make sure results are passed on. I quickly ran through my recent trip to our local A&E. He was surprised that during the whole incident I felt no pain. I mentioned I would be having an ultrasound scan the following day. (See below)

6 – Did East Surrey liaise with St. Thomas’? Did blood test results get passed over from East Surrey? There had been no contact with East Surrey. Something for me to chase up when I went there for the ultrasound.

7 – Hb looked low to me. He was not concerned about my Hb

8 – Do the treatment pathways change with age ie. over 60. Have any studies been done into the needs of the “older” patient? The main consideration would be the type of drugs used and their effect on an immune system that weakens with age.

9 – Opportunities for doing some more public speaking. Taking year off of work, maybe longer. There were plenty of opportunities. The danger would be becoming overused! I explained that I wanted to do something that would help the cause of Crohn’s patients.

10 – Not felt well for last 2 days. ED. Taking more Loperamide to try and combat. Have any patients reported that Loperamide from different manufacturers having varying levels of efficacy? I had been suffering bouts of having to rush off to the bathroom and it was the uncertaintity of the cause which I struggled with – virus, crohn’s, BAM or dodgy food. He suggested that I should go and see my GP to arrange a prescription for Questran (a bile acid sequestrant) so that it was available should I decide to start taking it. I had wondered if it was possible that different Loperamide makes could be causing my present problem? This rang a bell. He suggested I put it to the test by using the different makes in turn and noting the outcome.

I then went off to find the Endoscopy section to try and pick up the colonoscopy prep but would first need a time and date for the procedure. After a lot of ringing around the very tenacious nurse managed to get it all sorted out. Colonoscopy planned for 10:00am Saturday 11th March. The Endoscopy Unit were currently reviewing how the prep would be dispensed so I was given a prescription to take down to the Outpatient Pharmacy.

Roll on 11th March……

Ultrasound Scan – East Surrey Hospital – 21st February 2017

In complete contrast to yesterday’s delays, I arrived at the Imaging Unit early, waited five minutes and was then shown into the ultrasound suite.

They had the luxury of warmed lubricating gel! The scan took around 10 minutes during which I discussed with the sonographer what I would expect her to see – a large gallstone (first seen in 2014) and an enlarged spleen. At first the gallstone wasn’t apparent but when she applied the scanning head from a different position it appeared, except it was now a group of small stones. She wanted to see if they were mobile so got me to stand next to the US unit and then jump up and down. (I’m pleased they don’t get you to do this during a colonoscopy.) The stones had moved to the bottom of the gallbladder. The whole procedure was completed before my due appointment time.

I mentioned that I needed to get a copy of the report sent to my consultant at St.Thomas’. The sonographer asked me to return to waiting area and she would print off a copy of the report for me to take away.

Next steps

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

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital 12th December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should be an interesting session on 12th.

 

A little further down the road?

5th September 2016 – Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital – 10:20am

…the story so far can be found in the post “Crying Wolf”

Today’s appointment was to get the results of the MRI scan I had five weeks, or so, ago and then work out the way forward to get my health back on track.

It was the first appointment following my retirement so no chance to just leave the office for an hour to attend. It would need a special trip and chance to suffer the reduced timetable operated by Southern Rail. Having left home in plenty of time I arrived at Guy’s only two minutes before the due time. Almost immediately my name was called for me to be weighted. I had lost around 6 kilos since my last appointment. I asked the nurse to put a note on my records that I wanted to see my usual doctor. “No problem”.

Being weighed allows you into the inner sanctum, the inner waiting area, from where you are collected by your consultant. A student approached me and asked if I would be prepared to take part in some genetics based IBD research. I’m always more than happy to help so he left me a document to read and would talk to me after I had seen the consultant.

The waiting area was remarkably quiet. It’s been jam packed on previous visits and I’ve waited over an hour to be called. I’ve been preparing to give a talk on “Living with IBD” as part of a lecture for undergraduate nurses on chronic conditions. I had intended to do it completely off the cuff but I have come to the conclusion that is unrealistic. I’ve written out what I want to stay and the software has then converted it to speech so that I can listen to it on my iPod. This seemed like a good time to give it another listen.

I was miles away, submerged in the narrative about weight loss and fatigue in IBD, and then realised my name was being called. It was my consultant. I apologised for appearing to be on another planet and we made our way into the consulting room. By now it was 10:50am.

I had my obligatory list of questions with me :

  1. Results of colonoscopy 13th July 2016 – “ongoing mild colonic Crohn’s Disease. Previous colonoscopy” – 25th February 2015 – “mild, patchy erythema throughout the colon, however no ulceration seen”. Has there been a change? Does it need to be treated?
  1. Results of MRI scan?
  1. BAM – could this be causing weight loss etc. Treatment – Questran (low tolerance) Colesevelam.
  1. Blood test organised for 2 weeks. Have asked for cholesterol to be checked

Starting with the 1) it did suggest that the Crohn’s has returned albeit mildly. I mentioned that my last calprotectin level had been elevated – around 425. He called up all my results and drew a graph which showed that the last result did not follow the trend. “Collect a sample pot on your way out and we’ll re-run the test in case that was a rogue value. Let me know when you drop the sample in so that I can keep an eye out for the result.”

I asked about potential drugs to treat the inflammation. (Usually I would have been kept on a maintenance dose of Azathioprine but the onset of thrombocytopenia back in 2008 had made this a non-starter). He explained that there were drugs that specifically targetted the colon that were used to treat ulcerative colitis. He mentioned a form of Budesonide. I have subsequently looked this up and found a NICE document about Budesonide multi-matrix (MMX/Cortiment). It is formulated to release at a controlled rate throughout the colon to minimise systemic absorption. The licensed dose is 9 mg in the morning, for up to 8 weeks. It was licensed in October 2014 for inducing remission in mild to moderate active ulcerative colitis in adults for whom aminosalicylate treatment is not sufficient.

2) What did the MRI scan show? Strictures in my colon but they hadn’t shown up on the colonoscopy. Usually a colonoscopy trumps an MRI scan so this was an unexpected result. He proposed to take the results of both to the next MDM (multi-disciplinary meeting) to try and come up with an explanation.

It also showed adhesions but the fact they existed was not news. Since shortly after my reversal I had been complaining of an ache around the anastomosis .

3) Given the very variable nature of my digestive system and my recent weight loss I wondered if it was finally time to bite the bullet and start taking a sequestrant to treat my severe bile acid malabsorption. I had been fighting shy of taking yet more drugs and have been controlling it Loperamide.

I asked if it would be possible to prescribe Colesevelam (the tablet form) rather than Questran (powders) as I had read many reports of the former being easier to tolerate. I was aware of the cost differential, a factor of 10. He said that for the good of the health service budget I should try the Questran first but this would be a discussion for me and my GP.

4) I mentioned that I had a blood test organised for a couple of weeks time and would send the results through to him. I had asked for a cholestrol check to be carried out.

He would organise my next appointment once the MDM had discussed my results. He then took me back to the student doing the genetic study and I spent 10 minutes answering questions and spitting (saliva into a sample tube).

Where did that get me?

I’ve learnt about the possibility of a new drug to treat the inflammation in my colon and I’ve set in motion potentially directly treating the BAM. I think I’ll leave the decision on that one until my next appointment when we have an answer on colonoscopy/MRI scan conflict.

…and in the meantime an old client has called me up to see if I would be free to do some work for them. Retirement will have lasted precisely 5 weeks…

Crohn’s Disease – Testing Time

Apart from the physical and psychological effects of Crohn’s Disease there’s one aspect that I don’t see mentioned that often – the huge amount of time that patients can spend attending appointments and undergoing tests or procedures. Just how disruptive this can be was brought home to me after my ileal re-section in October 2010.

To give you a flavour of the types of tests and procedures Crohn’s (and related conditions) can require I have pulled together all the different types I’ve been through over the years. Apologies if this rather labours the point. As with all things Crohn’s related these are my experiences, yours may be completely different.

BARIUM MEAL AND FOLLOW THROUGH
18th May 1999  – Mayday Hospital

I can still clearly remember this test at Mayday Hospital as if it was yesterday. As with many of the procedures there was the prep to take the day before which effectively emptied my digestive system. I arrived at hospital and changed into one of those backless gowns that are impossible to fasten properly without help. It was then back to the waiting area. Just putting on the gown already lifts the stress levels and sitting like that in a waiting area just makes it worse.

The first problem was swallowing the barium meal – a thick, off-putting, tasteless sludge. Having downed the final mouthful there was then a wait whilst it made it way slowly round my digestive system. I was taken to a bed and told to lay on my right hand side for 45 minutes as this would aid digestion. When the time was up I was shown into the x-ray room.

I lay face up on the x-ray table whilst the radiographer took a preliminary scan but was not happy with the result. He was having difficulty in getting the barium meal to move around my system due to a stricture. He produced a rubber beachball which he placed between the x-ray head and my abdomen. He then proceeded to bounce it up and down and it slowly did the trick. The x-rays showed that the terminal stricture was as bad as ever. My bowel was down to the size of my little finger. Unfortunately the x-rays taken at the time are no longer available.

As a result my consultant gave me the choice of starting Azathioprine or having surgery. I chose the drug route.

BARIUM ENEMA
March 1978 – Mayday Hospital

I haven’t had one of these for a long, long time. I thought they had probably been phased out by the introduction of CT and MRI scans but I believe they are still used.

Of all the procedures I’ve been through I think this is the most undignified. Having taken the usual purging prep the previous day, arrived at the hospital and changed into a gown, I ended up on a bed with a tube stuck where the sun don’t shine and barium liquid being poured down it. Once I was “full” the instruction came “to try and to hold it all in” whilst the tube was removed and the x-rays taken. Just writing this I am clenching my buttocks as I remember that feeling of the tube being gently withdrawn and then it’s all down to muscle control.

Once the x-rays were done, there was the dash to the nearest bathroom to allow what went in to come out, rapidly. I think I’d sum up the whole experience as unpleasant and the most likely to end in a very messy situation involving embarrassment, mops, buckets and cleaners.

BONE MARROW BIOPSY
2nd October 2012 – Guy’s Hospital

The procedure was planned for the afternoon so I went into work as normal. That morning I had told various colleagues that I wouldn’t be around after lunch and explained why. Every single one of them uttered the same 3 words “that sounds painful”. After you’ve heard it for the umpteenth time a few nagging doubts set in. The previous week I had asked the haematologist if it hurt to which  she replied “you’ve got Crohn’s and had surgery. You’ve dealt with pain! This will be nothing by comparison”.

I checked in to the clinic and given an identification wristband as the procedure would be carried out in the Day Hospital section.

When the doctor appeared her first reaction was “have you come alone?” That sounded a bit alarming. I asked why I would need to be accompanied and she replied that most patients were nervous about the procedure and liked to have someone with them. Whatever.

She showed me into a treatment room. I took my shoes off and then lay on my right hand side on the bed. She explained what she was going to do, where the needles would be inserted and then did the usual risk assessment talk. There was not a lot that could go wrong as the needles go straight through the skin into the hip bone and nowhere near any vital organs. I signed the consent form and we were ready to start.

I asked how long it would take for the results to be available as my follow-up appointment was planned for mid-December. She replied that they should be available in 4 or 5 weeks and they would contact me if anything untoward showed up. I asked to be informed even if nothing showed up as I didn’t want to wait until the appointment to find out.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and adopted a foetal position. She felt around to find the best location for the needle and then cleansed the area. This was followed by a series of shallow injections of local anaesthetic and was the most painful part of the whole experience but really not too bad. Certainly nothing to get hung up about. Some deeper injections were made but by now the first set of injections was working so I felt very little. A few minutes later it was time for the first sample needle to be inserted.

Instruments of Torture
Bone marrow biopsy slides

The aim is to get a liquid sample that can then be spread onto microscope slides for an initial examination within the department. She was having problems getting a good sample that wasn’t contaminated with blood as it kept clotting (which goes against what you would expect from low platelets). Because I was tolerating the needle so well she took some more samples but explained that the as long as she could get a good core sample then the quality of the liquid samples wasn’t important.

Time for the coring needle, which is quite a bit larger than the previous one. If you’ve ever seen one of those food programmes about cheese no doubt there will have been a scene where the cheese-maker inserts a tool into the cheese and pulls out a nice sample. Same principle here!

It takes a fair amount of force to push the larger needle through the outer layer of the bone. I could certainly feel it as it went deeper in. It wasn’t so much pain as a dull ache that traveled into the leg. After a couple of minutes of pushing the needle into the right depth it was withdrawn and the sample released. She was very pleased with the resulting core and set about dressing the puncture wound.

Bone marrow core

I then had to lie on my back for 15 minutes whilst the blood clotted and sealed the wound. I was told that a nurse would come and tell me when I could go. After 20 minutes or so she came in and looked at the wound. It was fine so back on with my shoes and down to the station to catch the train home.

CALPROTECTIN – I’ve kept this one in for completeness. The procedure is very simple – collect stool sample; send to path lab; wait  to see if they have managed to lose the sample or come up with a lame excuse for not processing it. If they have then repeat procedure; if they haven’t then wait at least 10 days for result. Research has shown there is a good correlation between the calprotectin result and what would be seen by a colonoscopy. I am very definitely the exception to the rule.

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

This wasn’t going to be a “normal” colonoscopy but I knew what was involved and the lure of having a procedure within two weeks was enough to secure my agreement to what followed.

The preparation in the lead up to the scoping followed the usual pattern of fasting and drinking Citrafleet. The advice leaflet suggested taking the second dose on the morning of the procedure but if they thought I was going to make an hour’s journey on a train within a couple of hours of drinking the solution then they were wrong. I took the second dose late the previous night.

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. (Of course I put them on the right way round first time!) 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, hard. 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 gastroenterology students 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 calprotectin result. We will have to wait for the biopsy results to be certain.

Endoscopy Report

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.

CT SCAN
20th May 2009 – East Surrey Hospital

This CT scan took place before I started blogging in earnest so I don’t have a full account of what went on. It is, however, a very significant test in my history of Crohn’s and is the procedure that confirmed surgery was inevitable. I can remember I was desperate to have the scan as I knew things were going very wrong internally. Rather than just book an appointment I explained my predicament to the appointments clerk and said that I could be available at fairly short notice should a cancellation arise. It worked and I was seen within a few days.

I don’t remember much about the actual procedure apart from sitting in the waiting room having been told to arrive an hour early to drink some liquid. The liquid turned out to be water and I was presented with a litre jug and a glass. I wasn’t sure how I would get through it all so decided to set myself a target of downing a glass every so many minutes. It was a good plan until a very apologetic nurse appeared with a second litre jug and said I should have given you this one to drink as well. Daunting.

When I went for my next outpatient’s appointment in June the radiologist’s report was not available. The scan itself was on the system so my consultant opened up the file and we watched it on his computer screen. The first thing that struck me were the large areas of solid black that appeared. To my untrained eye they looked serious and I wondered if they represented growths in my abdomen. Luckily they were just air pockets which show up as black voids.

My consultant explained that the scan needed an expert to fathom out what was going on. He was not knowledgeable enough to be able to interpret what we were seeing. I was booked in to see him again in another two months time.

It wasn’t until that next appointment in early August that I was told the CT report was now available. The delay was because of the complicated picture with both ileal disease and the suspicion that I was fistulating from there into other parts of the small bowel, possibly the sigmoid. The suggestion was that I may have a localised perforation “with no definitive collection”. My consultant put it in layman’s terms – “It looks like you’ve got an octopus in there”, hence the name of this blog (and book).

FIBROSCAN
12th November 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

Fibroscan of the liver. This is the non-invasive alternative to a needle biopsy. To quote from the unit manufacturer’s literature – “a mechanical pulse is generated at the skin surface, which is propagated through the liver. The velocity of the wave is measured by ultrasound. The velocity is directly correlate to the stiffness of the liver, which in turn reflects the degree of fibrosis – the stiffer the liver, the greater the degree of fibrosis.”

For this procedure you lie on a bed with your right side exposed and right arm above your head. Some jelly is applied to the probe and then it is placed against your side and triggered to send a pulse. This is repeated 10 or so times.

The machine then aggregates the scores and gives you a value. My value came out as 7.2. The nurse said that up to 5 was normal and above 12 would cause concern therefore my value showed that there were some fibrosis.

FLEXI-SIGMOIDOSCOPY

Just like a colonoscopy but with a smaller, shorter endoscope and I don’t remember taking any prep.

LIVER BIOPSY
Wednesday 12th December 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

The day of the liver biopsy had finally arrived. I’d covered all the bases so it should all go smoothly. This is a standard procedure that is done every day but for some reason I’ve found the thought of it quite daunting. Not the actual procedure itself (although this is what Patient.co.uk says on the matter – “Although liver biopsy may be an essential part of patient management, it is an invasive procedure with a relatively high risk of complications“) but, in my case, the variables brought about by the low platelet issue.

Start time was set for 9:30 at St.Thomas’ and the letter said be there 30 minutes early to get prepped. I’m not allowed to drive for 48 hours after the procedure so organised a lift down to the station. I also needed to be escorted on the journey home so my long suffering wife accompanied me.

We arrived at St.Thomas’ well before 9:00 and made our way into the warren called Interventional Radiology. I booked in with one of the nurses and we were shown to a waiting room. The nurse came back with the consent form to start filling out and then disappeared. About ten minutes later I thought I heard my name mentioned together with “Where is he? They’ve been looking for him for 20 minutes”. A little bit disconcerting. We sat tight and the administrator appeared and said “Your platelets are very low and they are concerned about the procedure. You were expected in last night to get prepared. Did anyone call you? They’re going to try and ring you on your mobile”. I checked my mobile but hadn’t missed any calls.

At this point I could see the wheels coming off the wagon. Luckily I had brought with me a copy of the email trail which explained who I had spoken to and what I had done to make everything, supposedly, go smoothly. I explained all this to the administrator. She disappeared for a while and then returned to say that they were waiting for a call from one of the doctors to see how they wanted to proceed. By now we were approaching 9:30 so I could see my “slot” disappearing.

After a few more minutes the nurse re-appeared and put on my patient wristband. This was a good sign and then another nurse appeared with hospital gowns and slippers but told me not to put them on until the doctor had run through the consent form and I had signed it.

A few more minutes and the doctor appeared. Good news. The procedure was going ahead and because of my platelet count they were going to do a standard, “plug”, biopsy, not use the transjugular route. (The standard route takes the needle directly into the liver and, when withdrawn, a plugging agent is introduced to block the puncture)

She went through what they were going to do during the procedure and what the various risks were. The main ones being bleeding from the puncture wound, damage to the biliary ducts and not getting sufficient of a sample therefore needing a further procedure at a later date. I signed the form and then changed into the gowns. Being an upper body procedure you only have to strip to the waist.

I said goodbye to my wife and she set off to visit the National Gallery and go shopping in Oxford Street. By now it was one of those cold, crisp winter days that makes London look even better.

I went into the preparation area to have a cannula inserted. Straight into the vein in one go. At 10:10 I was taken down to the theatre and lay on my back on a trolley with my arms over my head. Two doctors introduced themselves and proceeded to scan my liver area with an ultrasound probe. They discussed the best entry point and route for the needle. Once they were happy with where it was going one doctor took over and it was time to get the area ready for introducing the biopsy needle. The area was cleaned down and a sterile sheet stuck in position with an opening at the puncture site. Ready to start.

First, local anesthetic was injected around the area. The biopsy needle was then slowly introduced through the skin, guided by the ultrasound scan. There was one point which sent a short, sharp pain through my lower abdomen and that’s when the needle passed through the outer membrane of the liver. I was expecting the needle to go straight in, take a sample, and then quickly withdrawn but the process actually takes a lot longer as it is slowly guided into position. Every so often I was getting another sharp pain in my shoulder. I’ve learned not to “be brave”, and keep quiet, as the pain may indicate a problem. I told the doctor what was happening and she adjusted the needle position accordingly. I don’t know exactly how long the whole thing took, probably 50 minutes all up. It was quite a relief to hear the words “All finished”.

I was told to roll onto my right side as this applies pressure to the wound and helps it seal. I was wheeled back into the Recovery Room and the nurse explained that I had to stay on my side for 2 hours. After that I would be able to lie on my back and eat and drink but would need to spend a further two hours in Recovery before I could go home. I was wired up to a blood pressure/heart rate monitor and every few minutes one of the nurses would check to make sure everything was OK. I rang my wife to tell her what time I could be collected and then settled down for the two hour wait before eating.

Once the two hours were up I was allowed to roll onto my back and sit up. I was presented with an NHS Snack Box – sandwiches, crisps, yogurt, fruit juice and a chocolate biscuit. Never seen one of those before. I had some questions, mainly to do with what to look out for that would indicate if something was going wrong. The nurse patiently explained the potential signs of trouble and answered my more general questions.

The next two hours passed fairly quickly and just before 15:00 the doctor, who had carried out the procedure, came to see me to make sure everything was OK and sign me off. My wife had turned up so it was a quick change out of the gowns and we set off for the station. By 16:30 we were home and I had another test under my belt to add to my growing list.

I’m full of admiration for Interventional Radiology at St.Thomas’. Apart from the small hiccup at the start (which was nothing to do with them) everything ran very smoothly. The nurses were fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble. They kept me informed at every stage along the way and answered all my questions with patience and good humour. 10 out of 10. My last task will be to ring them in the morning to let them know if I’m OK.

I never got to the bottom of “we were expecting him in last night”. Will ask my lead consultant when I see him for the final planned test for 2012 – a colonoscopy next Thursday. An 8:30 start for that one but hopefully don’t need to be accompanied.

MRI SCAN
Monday 30th April 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

I hadn’t had an MRI scan before so wasn’t sure what to expect. The main thing I’d been told was that some patients found the whole process claustrophobic. Because the scan was concentrating on the digestive system I wasn’t allowed to eat for the 8 hours prior to the test and was asked to arrive 1 hour early to drink a “special fluid”. This fluid looked very much like wallpaper paste but was lemon flavoured. There was a litre to drink and as I got closer to the bottom of the jug the consistency felt like wallpaper paste. Next time I have to drink MRI prep I’ll make sure I keep stirring it throughout. (….except the next time I had an MRI they had changed the prep solution to a disgusting tasting clear liquid called Mannitol)

When it had had time to move into my system I was taken into the scanner room. You’re confronted with a large, ring doughnut shaped bit of kit with a trolley that slides in and out. I was asked to lie face down on the trolley with my arms above my head. Not the most comfortable position when you’ve just drunk a litre of liquid. The radiographer explains what to expect and tells you that at various points within the test process you will be asked to hold your breath. Didn’t sound like a problem but you have to exhale first and that makes it a lot more difficult. You are given a set of headphones to wear as the machine is “quite noisy”. At least I didn’t get claustrophobia as I went into the tunnel feet first.

She wasn’t kidding about noisy. The best way I can describe it is being caught in the middle of a game of space invaders. The machine makes some very loud sounds and then, towards the end of the first test session, the table you are lying on starts to vibrate. A very strange feeling. The contrast dye is then introduced via a cannula and the whole test sequence repeated.

When the tests were completed and I was off of the table and another nurse asked me how I was getting home. I said by public transport. He replied that the litre of liquid that I had just drunk was specially formulated not to be absorbed by the body and that I might want to wait around a bit before catching a train. I then realised the significance of his comment but not being one to shy away a challenge, decided to jump on the train and see what happened.

I’m pleased to say that nothing happened, not even a hint of having to rush off to the loo. In fact the effect of the prep liquid was very short lived.

The results have to be interpreted by an MRI radiologist so there’s a three week wait before you get them.

SeHCAT SCAN
29th July 2014 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

A simple procedure for measuring bile acid malabsorption. It involved a trip to St.Thomas’ Nuclear Medecine Dept. to swallow a radioactive pill and then return three hours later for scans – 5mins lying on back and then repeat lying on front. Then a further visit, one week later, for follow-up scans. The system then compares the two and works out how much of the radio active tracer has remained in the system and from that the bile acid absorption.

UPPER GI ENDOSCOPY AND VARICEAL BANDING
3rd September 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital

Off to St.Thomas’ Hospital, this time for an endoscopy……at least that’s what I thought. Of all the tests I’ve had I find endoscopies the worst to deal with and would always choose to be sedated. The implication of sedation is not being able to drive for 24 hours afterwards and I really needed the car the next day so I took the decision before I went in that I would only have the throat numbing spray and nothing else.

I had assumed that the doctor would just be having a look down my upper GI tract to see what state my varices were in. Wrong! She explained that the intention was to have a look down there and then, if necessary, treat the varices by banding, and for this I would need to be sedated. I would also need to have the whole procedure repeated in another three weeks and then again in a further three weeks.

She went through the risks associated with the procedure and got me to sign the consent form. I then had a cannula inserted in the back of my hand and I was ready for the procedure. After a few minutes I was wheeled into the testing room, connected to a blood pressure monitor and an oxygen supply. Then it was the xylocaine (burnt banana flavoured) spray that numbs the back of your throat, and finally a sort of gag is placed between you teeth and this helps to guide the endoscope. It’s the gag that I really don’t like so I was pleased that the doctor injected the sedative straight away with the words “you’re going to feel a little drowsy”.

Next thing I knew I was lying in Recovery. When I had woken up sufficiently I was given a copy of the endoscopy report that would be sent to my GP. The doctor had found three large varices with high risk stigmata and had applied 6 bands to them. The nurse told me that I must only have liquids for the next 24 hours and then three days of “sloppy” food. Now maybe it’s a man thing, but the sandwiches I had brought with me looked very appetising, so I waited a while and then tucked in, ignoring the nurse’s advice. Maybe stupidity is a better description because it did hurt swallowing and I knew not to do it again.

When we got back from London I did the second stupid thing – got in the car and drove home from the station. It was only afterwards that I read the leaflet I had been given at the hospital that pointed out that my insurance would be invalid during the 24 hours following sedation. I wouldn’t do that again either.

That evening I was in quite a lot of discomfort and took a couple of doses of Paracetamol. It was certainly a lot more painful than before but I noticed that the report for this session actually says “May experience some mild chest discomfort” so I’ll grin and bear it.

When I wrote up yesterday’s events for my blog I found that each time I thought about the burnt banana spray and the mouth gag I’m getting a slightly sick feeling in my stomach and at the back of my throat. I needed to address the issues there and then that I would be over it in time for the next banding. I surprise myself how laid back I am about hospitals, procedures and appointments so I don’t want to spoil that for the next one.