Goodbye 2015

It was a quiet year, in fact I’d go so far as saying a very quiet year from a health point of view. That’s why these posts have become less and less frequent. During November, however, my stress levels were rising and not because of the imminent upper GI endoscopy.
One of my clients decided to move office from Central London to Canary Wharf. No staff consultation. It was a fait accompli. In November the move took place. I find the new office soulless, lacking in atmosphere and more importantly, for a Crohn’s sufferer, the bathroom facilities are unpleasant, insufficient for the number of employees and made worse by being often out of order. Oh, and the coffee tastes funny which I can only put down to the water!

…and as for Canary Wharf. I would describe it as a culturally barren, corporate windtunnel, full of expensive food outlets and poncey clothes shops. (Would anyone really buy an outfit comprising a green tweed jacket with pink collar and matching pink moleskin trousers?)

Getting there means relying on either the Docklands Light Railway (bearable) or the Jubilee Line (no seats after 6:30am). In Central London I used to be able to walk to the office from any of the major stations – Victoria, London Bridge or Waterloo – my choice. It meant less stress, more exercise, better chance of weight loss. The only redeeming feature of Docklands are the photo opportunities, as long as you like modern, glass facades and super yachts.

Happy New Year 2016

What better way to start than a visit to the hospital? In this instance it was for a planned, routine, gastro appointment. I had been putting it off until I had the results from an upper GI endoscopy. The scoping was carried out on 14th December and I had emailed the gastro secretary the next day asking if she could arrange an appointment. Bearing in mind we were close to the Christmas break I was expecting a date some time in late February or March at the earliest. I was amazed when 5th January came through. I produced the obligatory list of questions/topics for discussion.

My appointment was booked for 4:00pm but I didn’t make it into the consultation room until gone 5:00pm. My consultant did apologise for the delay. I know that it’s the price you pay for having a consultant that isn’t trying to hurry you out of the door when your ten minutes are up. The large waiting room is a lonely place when you have one of the last appointments of the day.

empty_waiting
The empty waiting room in Gassiot House

After exchanging a few pleasantries he asked me how I was feeling. I said generally OK but over Christmas and the New Year both my wife and I had been suffering from some digestive bug that rather put a dampener on the festive season. As we were both suffering the same symptoms I was sure it was nothing to do with Crohn’s. He said that I was the best person to judge if I was having a flare-up. I didn’t agree as I honestly can’t remember what it was like. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve ever had a really bad flare. I have never felt the need to go into hospital as an inpatient to sort one out.

One thing I did not understand – the operation I underwent in 2010 was described by the surgeons as “one of the most complex ever”,” very difficult”, “enjoyable”. If my Crohn’s was that bad how was I surviving at the time. He replied that there was not necessarily a correlation between the complexity of the surgery and the acuteness of the Crohn’s. The operation may have been difficult because of the involvement of other parts of the body. This rang true as one of the surgeons had told me that my intestines were starting to adhere to my back muscles.And so to the list…..

Monitoring Regime

With the Crohn’s still in a quiescent state my main concern was how we should structure an ongoing monitoring regime and set some provisional dates. The last tests/procedures were as follows :

Last Colonoscopy – 25th February 2015. Mild inflammation in colon

Last blood test – 12th August 2015. Low platelets, so no change there then

Last calprotectin test – 12th November 2015. Just over 100 but showing downward trend

Last Upper GI endoscopy – 14th December 2015. No variceal banding required

From the above we were able to set the schedule

Next colonoscopy – February 2017 unless calprotectin gives any concern. “From a bowel cancer monitoring point of view I was getting more frequent screening than the recommended norms.”

Next blood test – at Haematology appointment in May

Next calprotectin test – in time for results to be available for next Gastro appointment. I asked if I should stop taking Omeprazole before the test. “Ideally, yes. It would be a good idea as it can slightly raise the test results.”

Next upper GI endoscopy – December 2016. “This would remain annually and exact timing would be dependent upon whether banding was required or not.”

Next Gastro appointment – I suggested we slipped it to yearly. “Yes. Happy with that on the basis that if you are having problems in the meantime we are always there to assist.”

Bile Acid Malabsorption

I appeared to have it well under control with Loperamide and wondered why other drugs used such as Cholestyramine? No straight answer. If you can control with Loperamide then do so.Are there any implications of BAM on the biliary system? If, under normal circumstances, a large proportion of bile acid is recirculated into the system does a patient with BAM then produce more bile acid to make up the shortfall? If so does this put a greater strain on the biliary system and could affect a condition such as PSC? “The body will produce additional bile acid but no link has been identified with PSC.”

Next B12 injection – 8th January 2016

If you have severe BAM does this also mean that absorption of other vitamins and minerals will be affected to the same degree? If yes then should you have B12 injections more frequently than the usual 3 months? Absorption of vitamins is not confined to the area you had removed. B12 is absorbed in the same area as bile acid. I said that I was having B12 injections at the standard 3 monthly intervals but had not found them as effective recently. “You may want to reduce this to two monthly intervals and see if that helped with tiredness/energy levels.”

Continue with six monthly appointments?
See above

Putting something back into IBD community

Having lived with Crohn’s disease for nearly 40 years I was sure that I could help other patients or the IBD community as a whole. As I have been toying with the idea of retiring I should have some time on my hands. That triggered a discussion on the factors I was considering in my decision. I mentioned health issues. He hoped that I wasn’t putting too much emphasis on those issues.The Dept had become a victim of its own success because once a patient had been referred there they frequently asked to transfer their care permanently. He had a number of possible areas where patient representatives could help. I won’t go into them here at present until/if they progress further.

As I was leaving I was asked if I would mind helping out with a research project. I said of course I didn’t mind and was introduced to a medical student who was looking for Crohn’s markers in saliva. I spent the next ten minutes spitting into a phial whilst discussing various aspects of IBD. Someone’s got to do it.I walked back over Westminster Bridge towards the Tube station and it started to rain. Don’t think I would have enjoyed riding a horse in the dark, over the river and with the rush hour traffic just starting to build up.

Crossing Westminster Bridge
Crossing Westminster Bridge

Guilt, Research and Planning

Guilt

I feel kind of guilty writing this post as it finds me laid back and generally at one with the world whilst I know there are many fellow IBDers who are really suffering at the moment. You only have to dip into the Crohn’s Community on SoMe to read some sad , harrowing tales.

I’ve come to terms with this guilt by telling myself that my current situation may help others realise that there will be times when life returns to relative normality. As I approach the fifth anniversary of having an ileostomy my memories of that event are starting to fade which is why………

Further Research

Have I mentioned before that I am in the process of writing a book? It will explain the route from diagnosis, in the dim and distant past, to my current state. It has a target readership of, er, one. Obviously I hope it ends up with a few more and proves of help/interest to other sufferers or even medical professionals who want to understand the patient experience from the other end of the endoscope but having said that, I am writing it primarily for…. myself. The reasons?

1)   A new challenge; something to keep the brain functioning; a chance to be creative. I want to see if I am capable of producing something that is half readable?

2)   To achieve a sort of “closure” up to this point, on the basis that once I have everything documented I can put the eBook on a virtual eShelf and leave it there

The book is nearing completion. As part of the process I have been re-reading the posts on this blog. Those covering the period from August 2010 were written as they happened. This re-visit has thrown up a few gaps in my account or need further examination. One passage in particular piqued my interest. It was a comment made by one of the team of surgeons who carried out my ileostomy almost 5 years ago. I saw him at the local hospital a few weeks after the op and he remarked on how well I looked considering “what they had done to me”. Sounded sinister. He went on to describe the operation as a “classic” and one of the “most complex they had ever carried out”. In a game of operation top trumps I’m sure this would score quite highly although the whole thing only took four and a half hours which is relatively quick compared to others I have read about. Maybe the fact it was done using open surgery, as opposed to keyhole, sped things up.

But what exactly had they “done to me”? I emailed the surgeon a few weeks ago to see if he kept records of each operation. He replied that I would need to get access to my patient file from St.Thomas’ and find the Operation Note. As he no longer worked there hospital he had no access to their system but he kindly offered to “translate” the document should I get hold of it.

Up until recently I hadn’t bothered obtaining copies of my St.Thomas’ notes as I had been studiously filing all follow-up letters as I received them and writing up accounts of appointments/procedures for this blog. However it struck me that, for completeness, I should try and get hold of the notes as they may add some detail to the narrative. I filled in a request form and took it, together with the £20 fee and proof of ID, to the Information Governance Department at St.Thomas’. I requested the complete file, with the exception of follow-up letters, and for any x-rays or scans that were available. The hospital’s target was 40 days to produce the requested information but it only took 30 days before it was ready for collection. The packet contained four CDs.

I was eager to find out exactly what was on them. Three discs contained imaging and x-ray files in a format I was unfamiliar with, DICOM. I found a software package on the web, OsiriX, that would open the files and, for non-commercial use, the Lite version could be downloaded free. The software translates the scans into 3D images. Fascinating, almost artistic. Like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Did I understand what I was looking at? To be honest, no, and I am still trying to find the optimum software settings that will make things clearer.

On the final disc was one large pdf file made up of scans of all my notes but in no particular order. 730 pages covered just under 5 years of treatment. On closer inspection there were many blank pages, mainly the back pages to reports, but even with these deleted the page count was around 650. It took a couple of evenings work to get them into some semblance of order.

I eventually found the Operation Note from October 2010 and decided to take the surgeon up on his offer to “translate” it. I hope he doesn’t regret it. I am awaiting his response so maybe he has thought better of it.

The other pages that immediately grabbed my interest were the Nurses’ notes and observations from my two in-patient stays. It was interesting to compare the nurses’ accounts with my diary entries for each day.The process of revising my original posts is taking a while. As the nights draw in it should focus the mind better.

Haematology II Guy’s Hospital – 25th August 2015

As part of my “closure” I had a routine, six monthly Haematology appointment, or Harmatology as my spell check insists. For the first time I struggled to come up with any questions to ask. I eventually managed the following :

  • Latest platelet count? Just out of curiosity as I knew it would be well outside the normal range
  • Do we need to revisit the Warfarin decision at some point in the future?
  • Do I need to continue with iron tablets?
  • Should I be prescribed more vitamin D capsules?

Answers – 56; No; ask GP to check iron and vitamin D levels

On the basis of the above we agreed that appointments could now be yearly and that suits me fine.

Planning Ahead

Time to think about what’s on the horizon. Following the pattern of the last couple of years there will be the yearly upper GI endoscopy in late October with the possibility of further procedures if they find I need variceal banding. The lead time for booking an endoscopy is six weeks. If the system is working correctly then the appointment should automtically get booked but I never leave it to chance and normally give Endoscopy Appointments a ring. I half minded to leave it this time and see what happens.

Then there’s the six monthly gastro appointment in early November for which I need to make sure I’ve got the results of a calprotectin test back….and, depending upon the result, potentially a two yearly endoscopy to see if I have managed to remain in clinical remission and to have a look at my anastomosis.

…but hold on. I’ve just realised I had a colonoscopy in February this year. Have I really managed to put Crohn’s so far to the back of my mind that I have forgotten havng a camera stuck where the sun don’t shine? Maybe it’s because I was given a larger dose of sedative than usual and was out cold for the procedure.

My blog is in remission…..

19th May – IBD Awareness Day – and my blog is in a sort of remission. It’s not cured as we all know there is no cure for blogging. Achieving the next big milestone of 50k hits may prove difficult if it goes into deep remission although the steady stream of Russian porn site spiders searching for “anaesthetic fetish” stories (yes, honestly!) may help get there.

The days of weekly, sometimes daily, updates seem like a distant memory. Clusters of outpatient appointments and procedures have been thinned out to 6 monthly intervals. The next scoping session will be  late October and there maybe a colonoscopy just before Christmas.

How does this make me feel? Mixed emotions oddly enough. I am obviously pleased to have reached some stability healthwise but I’ve grown so used to having to think about medical matters, given 2 or 3 years of intense medical activity, that it feels strange to have more time to devote to other aspects of life. Producing this blog has greatly helped me to get my health issues into perspective and the very regular appointments/procedures have proved to be a rich source for writing posts. This blog was set up for the specific purpose of recording “the rich vein of experiences along the Crohn’s highway and some of its detours.” I’m hoping that some of the content might just strike a chord with other Crohn’s sufferers and they will realise others understand what they are going through or maybe give them some warning of what could lie ahead.

My health related creative efforts have now been redirected into writing a book based on this blog. It’s nearing completion which, as my wife would point out, is the status of most things I start. (Anyone familiar with the Belbin Theory will understand the problem – low score in the Completer/Finisher category)

I still have some health concerns. The diagnosis of severe Bile Acid Malabsorption late last year has given a name to, and a reason for, the continuing dashes to the bathroom. Now I have this explanation I can visualise what the problem is, what is likely to exacerbate it and what can be done to manage it. I’ve become strangely relaxed about the issue.

My other health concern is keeping fit. Statistics show that if you’ve already had surgery for Crohn’s it is likely that you will end up under the knife again. The speed at which you recover is, in part, helped by being fit and up to weight at the time of the operation. My first operation was 1979, the second 2010 – a 31 year gap – who knows when it will happen again but I want to be as prepared as possible. My chosen regime is to walk whenever possible. I’m trying not to become too obsessive about the distance I walk each day but it does feel good when the app on my phone announces “All-Time Record” (currently 17.6 km).

17km
A days walking – from the Moves App

The impetus to keep walking is helped considerably by working in London. There are so many possible routes to get to and from work that it never becomes routine or boring. There is always something new to see and photograph. At 7:00am there are very few people about. I’ve set myself a challenge of posting at least one Instagram photo a day (account name = crohnoid) with either a new angle of an existing view or something transitory or a new experience.

Having rambled on so long it’s time for another appointment……………

Tuesday 5th May 2015 – Gastroenterology – St.Thomas’ Outpatient’s Clinic

The forecast said 50 mph winds and I could vouch for that. Crossing Westminster Bridge was “interesting” and made more so by the polar bear halfway across. I think it was the continuation of the PR stunt for SkyTV.

Bear
The Sky TV polar bear

This was to be a routine, six monthly appointment. I had prepared a short list of questions to ask.The visit started as normal. Get weighed. Wait. Go to Room 18 – see Registrar. Explain that I would like to see usual consultant for the sake of continuity. Return to waiting area. Wait for new message to appear on laser display screen. Go to Room 19. (Appointment time 2:50pm, in with the “right” doctor by 3:20pm. Not bad).

I knocked on the door, list at the ready, and entered. I got a warm welcome from my usual doctor who had a medical student sitting in with him.  My notes were on the desk. The file was so thick it looked like it couldn’t take one more sheet. “We need to get a new one of these”. I replied that I might just have the solution as I had written a book covering my medical history and experiences including the treatment at St.Thomas’. He seemed genuinely surprised. I assured him it was for real and that I was currently going through the final stages of editing and proof reading. I reassured him that he wasn’t mentioned by name and that it was all positive anyway!

That prompted a discussion on doctor/patient communication and how patients react to what they are told. He considered himself to be a good communicator (I’ll second that) but was concerned that without him realising it a seemly innocuous remark, made in passing, could take on far more significance to a patient. We then went on to discuss when and where it is appropriate to tell patient potential bad news. I mentioned that there were two things I wish I had been told about prior to surgery, and that they were on my list…….

1) I had been quite tired over the last couple of months and even the B12 injection three weeks ago didn’t seem to have made a difference. He suggested that next time I had a blood test I should get checked for iron and vitamin D levels. I did mention that last week I had walked nearly 50km to and from work and at lunchtime, so maybe I should be cutting back a little. That lead off at a tangent to the merits of exploring London early in the morning, or on a Sunday, when the streets were quite deserted. I couldn’t resist mentioning the Sky Garden (at the top of the WalkieTalkie building) that we had visited a few weeks ago. (There are a few photos at the bottom of the post).

2) As ever the ache around my anastomosis (join) comes and goes. It was worse after physical work or with a full gut. We had previously agreed it was probably just a mechnical issue as the recent colonoscopy had shown no sign of inflammation. He wondered if there might be some inflammation in a part of my small intestine that neither the colonoscopy or the previous endoscopy had reached. There was a technique, called a balloon assisted enteroscopy, that allowed the scope to propel itself right through the small bowel…….that’s enough thinking about that one. I asked if a capsule endoscopy would be better but he replied the disadvantage for some patients was the possibility of the capsule becoming stuck if there was a stricture along its path.

Maybe it was time for another MRI scan as the last one was three years ago. He recalled that it had suggested inflammation but the subsequent colonoscopy had shown nothing. He said that sometimes you could get conflicting messages with no explanation as to why the difference.

3) The plan going forward. The current monitoring regime consisted of six monthly calprotectin tests (with possibility of a colonoscopy if high reading), yearly upper GI endoscopies to check for growth of esophageal varices and six monthly appointments with haematology to keep an eye on my low platelet count/PVT. Were there any other tests I should be having that might be age related? “No.”

He set the next appointment or six months but I will fine tune the actual date, nearer the time, so that it is after the annual endoscopy. It will also be down to me to make sure the results of the calprotectin test are available.

4) BAM. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Bile Acid Malabsorption is a subject that not enough patients, who have been through IBD surgery (ileal resection), know sufficient about. This was one of the two subjects I wish had been discussed prior to surgery.  It could be part of the pre-op assessment with either the Enhanced Recovery Nurse or the surgeon.

BAM BAM
Bile Acid Malabsorption

The other thing I wish I’d been warned about was ileus, or the lockdown of the digestive system, following surgery. I explained that unless you have suffered intense nausea you have no idea how bad you can feel. I wasn’t joking when I said that it was a good thing the windows on the 11th floor surgical ward at St.Thomas’ were non-opening. I really would have jumped! Both of them looked surprised.

5) This one was more out of curiosity – is there a link between shingles and having an IBD flare-up? In preparing my book, I had found a reference to the bad attack of shingles I suffered in 2005. As I read on I realised that a flare-up started shortly afterwards, breaking the remission I had been in for quite a while. He wasn’t aware of any link, in his experience, but there were common factors such as stress that might cause a trigger.

6) Getting involved. I’ve been cutting back on work recently. For the last six months I’ve only working three days most weeks. Whilst I have plenty to keep me occupied in my spare time I felt I could at least use part of it to give something back to the IBD Community but wasn’t sure how I could help. He ran through a number of ideas that they had been discussing at Guy’s/St.Thomas’ – research, patient panels – where they would like to include “lay” representatives. I asked him to bear me in mind for such an opportunity.

Appointment over and a chance to brave the high winds again. By now they had died down a little and the sun was shining so I decided to take a slight detour on my route back to Victoria and walk down the Albert Embankment. It’s not a walk I often do but will certainly repeat it.

Bride
A popular location for oriental pre-wedding photos
Film Crew
Film crew reporting on Election 2015
Lambeth
View from Lambeth Bridge, looking East

If all goes to plan the next post should be to announce the completion of my book. Still need a decent title though. Suggestions welcome.

Sky Garden  – photos

Shard
View of The Shard from the SkyGarden
Westminster
View up the River Thames towards Westminster
Gherkin
The Gherkin from the Walkie Talkie
St.Paul's
View of St.Paul’s Cathedral

 

Crohn’s Disease and Bile Acid Malabsorption (BAM)

I have covered this topic a couple of times before. Recently I have seen an increase in the number of questions and comments on IBD forums relating to BAM. I believe that increased awareness would help many Crohn’s and IBD patients.

I produced this simple slide, aimed at one particular group of at-risk patients. It’s self explanatory.

BAM BAM
Bile Acid Malabsorption

Here is an extract from a document published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)  – “Crohn’s disease is sometimes treated by ileal resection. The prevalence of bile acid malabsorption in people with Crohn’s disease in clinical remission who have had ileal resection is high (97%)“.

My own situation : ileal resection and stoma – October 2010; reversal – June 2011 and clinical remission ever since, confirmed by colonoscopy a fortnight ago. I had expected after the operation, and being in remission, that my digestive system would have returned to pre-Crohn’s normality. No. I would often suffer from an “upset stomach” with its attendant rushes to the bathroom. I kept asking myself, and questionioning on this blog, had I eaten something dodgy; picked up a virus or was I undergoing a Crohn’s flare?

I mentioned it at each outpatients appointment but it wasn’t until Autumn 2014 that my consultant suggested I should undergo a test to confirm if I was suffering from BAM. Of all the tests we get put through this must be one of the easiest. It’s called the SeHCAT test and involves swallowing a capsule containing a mildly radio active substance which dissolves and becomes a marker absorbed by your digestive system. You then have two x-rays, one week apart, and the x-rays the analysed to see how much marker remains in your system.

Anything less than 15% of the marker remaining is considered to be malabsorption. My own reult was under 1% which is classified as “severe”. There are drugs available to treat the condition. The most common appears to be Questran but some patients find it diificult to tolerate taking it. So far I have managed to keep it under control with good, old Loperamide.

However, since being diagnosed I have found my symptoms have greatly improved, not because of taking new/additional drugs but because I now know what my digestive system is up to and it’s not a sign that I’m about to descend into a flare. I feel a lot more relaxed if I do have an upset stomach for a couple of days.

My understanding of the BAM mechanism is that during the digestive process your stomach uses bile acid to break down the food you eat. When the acid/food mixture reaches the last section of the small intestine, the ileum, the acid is reabsorbed and passes back into the biliary system. If you no longer have an ileum the acid passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, causing diahorrea. (The ileum also absorbs vitamins, which is why it is important to supplement them, for instance having regular B12 injections)

I hope, by writing the above, I’ve managed to convince you to add BAM to the list of questions you ask your consultant/surgeon next time you see them. This is especially important if :

a) You have had an ileal resection and suffer from chronic diahorrea
b) You are about to undergo surgery which could involve ileal resection, especially the removal of the terminal ileum

Please feel free to copy the slide above and pass it on as widely as you can. It might just help fellow Crohn’s/IBD patients gain a better quality of life.

When I was doing the research for this post I came across this Research Proposal from Guys and St.Thomas’ Hopital. Maybe BAM really will achieve greater awareness in the not too distant future.

SeHCAT
SeHCAT Study

 

Crohn’s Disease – DIARY – Starting 2015 Take 2

…and for my next appointments – Endoscopy Suite, Haematology then Endoscopy Suite again. I really could do with a gap year from Crohn’s. This was going to be one of my shorter posts but as I use them for jogging my memory before the next appointment it has ended up with a bit more detail than I had originally envisaged.

Just a quick recap. I’ve had three calprotectin (stool) tests over the last 12 months or so and whilst the first one gave a good result the other two have shown a rising trend suggesting there was inflammation in my gut. My consultant thought it would be prudent to have a colonoscopy as I hadn’t had one for just over two years. Just to complicate matters I’ve been taking Omeprazole which has been shown to give elevated calprotectin levels but I think that’s clutching at straws. If it’s the Omeprazole then why weren’t all the results elevated as I started taking it in 2010?

Recently I’ve been feeling very well. No abdominal pain. No bathroom dashes. Even the ache around my anastomosis has been far less frequent. When in London I’ve been walking around 10km a day for exercise. I was curious to know what the colonoscopy would show. I will admit to being a little concerned as the findings would have a big effect on how 2015 went……

Monday 9th February – St.Thomas’ Endoscopy Suite – they work on the principle that before you have a colonoscopy you are required to go in and personally pick up the preparation tablets/sachets so that they can run through exactly when you need to take them for a “successful evacuation”.

Unfortunately I had a long wait but when the nurse eventually appeared she did apologise. I recognised her from my very first colonoscopy at Guys/St.Thomas’ several years ago.

As an old hand at these things I went prepared with the timings already in my calendar. But no, since the last one I had in 2012, they’ve changed the regime. Instead of taking all the prep on the day before the procedure you now take the final sachet on the morning. I was wondering how that works for the train journey up to the hospital?

The advice leaflet has been rewritten and answers a question I have long wondered about – why do some patients get given 2 litres of Klean-Prep to drink whilst others have 2 x 150ml of Citrafleet? The answer : if the doctors are concerned about your kidneys or you have kidney disease they may choose Klean-Prep or Movi-Prep as these are less likely to affect your kidney function.

..and why do they tell you to avoid drinking red juices or cordials? Something to do with fibre content? No, it’s because they don’t want any residues of red coloured liquid in the gut that could be confused with blood. Obvious really.

As I was leaving, clutching some senna tablets and two sachets of Citrafleet in my hand, the nurse advised me to arrive early as my consultant always like to start on time and it takes a few minutes to attach the wristband/insert the cannula.

Wednesday 11th February 2014 – Guys Hospital Haematology 2 – Not much to say, for a change. This turned out to be a routine appointment and I didn’t have a long list of questions. The obligatory blood test showed all my levels were OK except platelets. No surprise there then. My consultant reiterated her advice “not to get hung up on numbers” ie. platelet count. She repeated her description of my bone marrow as being “a 4 cylinder engine running on only 3” and therefore not delivering the right quantities of platelets. Next appointment – 6 months.

Countdown to Colonoscopy – a brief description of the lead-up to the procedure just in case it might help others who have not experienced the delights before. (Old hands please skip down the page)

Saturday 21st February 2015 – 4 days to go – stopped taking iron tablets. Didn’t make a lot of difference.

Sunday 22nd February 2015 – 3 days to go – stopped taking Loperamide. I wondered how long it would take for the effects of the drug to tail off. Could be an interesting train journey into work tomorrow.

Monday 23rd February 2015 – 2 days to go – stopped eating anything with fibre in ie. fruit, vegetables, nuts etc. Drank lots of fluids. Train journeys to and from London were fine.

Tuesday 24th February 2015 – 1 day to go – worked from home. Light breakfast and then nothing after 9am except lots of fluids. Had a phonecall from Endoscopy Appointments saying that 4 patients had all been booked in for 1:00pm for Wednesday so they were putting me back to 2:00pm. This was a bit annoying as I had carefully worked out who was going to collect me from the hospital after the procedure. Had to rethink my plans.

At 4pm – took 4 senna tablets; at 5pm – took first sachet of Citrafleet dissolved in 150ml of water and stood by for its effect.

Prep then kicked in, yu can guess the rest. Coughing to be avoided at all costs. 

Wednesday 25th February 2015 – St.Thomas’ Endoscopy Suite – at 7:30am took the second sachet of Citrafleet and drank lots of fluid until 11:00am then nothing. 12:30pm down to Redhill Station, which luckily has toilets on the platforms, and then the train journey to Waterloo and a ten minute walk to St.Thomas’. All achieved without a problem. I think next time I will take the second sachet a lot earlier. Suprisingly I didn’t feel that hungry. I know on previous occasions I have been absolutely famished and that was the abiding memory of having a colonoscopy. The procedure itself is a piece of cake (not literally of course).

EndoSuite
View from GSTT Endoscopy Suite waiting area

Arrived at the Endoscopy Street at 1:45pm and booked in. At around 2:30pm was still sitting in waiting room when the fire alarm started sounding. One of the nurses announced that it was a fault and there was no need to move. The alarm finally stoppped but it was now gone 3:00pm. My consultant appeared, greeted me and said “I hope you bought something to read with you”. I knew then it would be a lot longer before it was my turn to be scoped. He made some comment about having to leave the building to which I replied “that would have been the second evacuation of the day for me”.

Finally, at 4:00pm, the nurse called my name and it was time to get changed into a surgical gown. I’m pleased I took a dressing gown with me because I can never get the tie-ups to knot properly. A cannula was inserted into my right hand, for a change, and it was off to the pre-procedure waiting area.

Cannula
Obligatory selfie of cannula

I was the only one in there so at least there wasn’t a queue. A doctor working on a IBD research project appeared and asked if I would be prepared to take part. She would like a blood sample and some biopsies. She gave me a leaflet to read about it and said she would be back shortly with a consent form.When she came back I said that I was happy to help with the research but it was not certain that I would need any biopsies done and that I didn’t want to risk upsetting my gut unnecessarily. I agreed that should routine biopsies be required then she could take additional ones otherwise I would prefer not to. I signed the consent form on that understanding.

Magazine
Reading material from the waiting room

Shortly afterwards my consultant appeared and explained that he had a young Registrar training with him who was showing a particular apptitude for scoping. Would I mind if the Registrar did the colonoscopy whilst he watched. I didn’t mind, it was just another procedure. Of more interest was how much longerI would need to wait? They were just finishing up. He went off to get a consent form and when he came back was happy to answer a few questions. The main one was “can there be a long period between the calprotectin test showing a rise in inflammation and a flare occuring”. Yes and that’s why they use the calprotectin tests to show if intervention is needed and allow medication to start before the patient is ever aware of any symptoms. It could be described as over treating but it is preventative rather than reactive.

He mentioned he had been interviewed by BBC2’s Newnight on the subject of fecal transplants for combating C diff, for which it had a high success rate, and the discussion had also turned to IBD. He did not know when the report would be shown. He described a fecal transplant as being like giving a giant dose of pro-biotics but it’s use to help IBD patients was still in the research stage. I also asked if the camera did show inflammation was there an alternative to Azathioprine. Yes, there were lots of alternative drugs now available and they worked in a more targeted manner.

Just before 4:30pm it was time to enter the procedure room, quite a familiar environment as I had had a couple of upper GI endoscopies in there last year. There was a team of six, maroon clad doctors and nurses, three of each. I got onto the trolley and had the oxygen feed attached. I was asked to roll over onto my left side and bring my knees up to my chest into the best position for introducing the camera.

Endoscope
Endoscopy Equipment

Did I want sedation? Yes please. The same amount as last time which would leave me sufficiently awake to watch the images in glorious, living colour and ask “what’s that?” as the camera traveled ever onwards. Whilst the sedatives were being prepared I saw the opportunity to discuss Bile Acid Malabsorption (BAM), a subject now close to my heart. I explained that after my operation, back in 2011, I had expected my digestive system to return to normal. I had no knowledge of possible BAM and its side effects (chronic diarrhoea). From the posts I have read on various IBD forums and FB pages many others are in a similar position. It really is a subject that needs much wider awareness within the IBD Community. I’ll keep plugging away at this one.

Time to put the soap box away. Four syringes of sedative injected into the cannula and we were ready to go. It was time to find out what state my guts were in. The sedative had taken away any sense of foreboding that I might have had. After the initial sensation of the camera being inserted I felt nothing. We were all looking at the images on large monitors as the camera started its journey. From that point I cannot remember the the rest of the procedure or asking any questions. I don’t know whether I was conscious but the sedation has dulled my memory or if I lost consciousness so there is nothing to remember anyway. I vaguely recall discussing what we were seeing with my consultant and whether the camera had made it to my anastomosis but it is very hazy. Maybe I’ll ask for a little less sedation next time.

I woke up in the Recovery Room where my blood pressure and oxygen levels were monitored. Once they could see my readings were OK I was allowed to get dressed and make my way to the Discharge Lounge where I was given a cup of coffee and some biscuits. At that point my brother-in-law arrived to accompany me home. I just needed to have the cannula removed and to be given a copy of the report. I was disappointed that the report was in black and white but it did show that there was no significant signs of inflammation. I was given a Rutgeert’s Score of i0. Very goods news and I was free to go. We left St.Thomas’ just gone 5:30pm and walked the 3 km back to Victoria Staion via the backstreets of Westminster.

Cambridge Tower as the sun sets
Cambridge Tower as the sun sets

Whilst I was having dinner I re-read the colonoscopy report and it struck me that it wasn’t very clear. I emailed my consultant asking for clarification :

“Please pass my compliments on to your Registrar as he drove the camera very well and I have felt no after effects. I think the sedation must have taken over at some point because I don’t remember asking how what you saw on the scope squares with the rising calprotectin values. Also having now got a copy of the Endoscopy Report I’m puzzled by the first sentence in FINDINGS. Should “with” read “without”? Was there anything unusual at the anastomosis?”

The next morning I received a response :

“Oh dear – that’s not the best written report. I will get it amended. Apologies
The terminal ileum was entirely normal as was the anastomosis.
There was some mild inflammation in the colon – not impressive enough to treat to be honest, but this is probably the cause of the mildly raised calprotectin.
I’m glad the experience was acceptable and will pass on your comments – thanks for the feedback.

Conclusion

I had half been expecting the scope to find nothing but, as with all health matters, you can never be certain. I’m not going to tempt fate by predicting a quiet year bit, here’s hoping…..

Next GI appointment  – 6 months time and no need to re-start Crohn’s medication.

Crohn’s Disease – DIARY – Starting 2015 as we mean to go on..

I’ve been trying to think positive thoughts. A new year; a new opportunity to put Crohn’s on the back burner, or maybe not….

Thursday 15th January 2015 – St.Thomas’ – the first appointment of the year. Not one I had been expecting until the letter came through the post. I was in half-a-mind to cancel. It was the follow-up to seeing the dietician in October 2013 to talk through the benefit of low FODMAPs.

Since our last meeting I had a new diagnosis to contend with – Bile Acid Malabsorption. We spent about 40 minutes discussing many different aspects of diet. She recommended that I try and increase the amount and variety of fruit and vegetables in my diet. She also suggested taking multi-vitamins each day as the loss of my terminal ileum would mean not absorbing them properly from normal food.

I seem to be unable to get my BMI out of the overweight range (currently 26.1). She told me not to get too hung up by the numbers. Whenever I’m working in London, generally three days a week, I try and walk at least 10km during the day. I’m trying to achieve the balance between keeping fit and keeping the weight on, which may sound a little odd. My gastro consultant likes his patients to be on the slightly heavier side in case there is the sudden need to undergo an operation. (I lost around 5kg after my last one).  I want to keep fit for the same reason. As you get older the recovery process takes longer so the fitter you are at the start, the better.

Tuesday 27th January 2015 – St.Thomas’ – first gastro appointment of the year was originally planned for 13th January but I had, stupidly, taken my calprotectin sample into the pathology lab too late. A quick email to my consultant’s wonderful secretary and she slipped my appointment back two weeks so the results would be available.

I arrived shortly before my allotted time and waited for my name to appear on the “laser display screen”. It must have been about 15 minutes before it appeared – “Go to Room 17”. When I opened the door one of the registrars greeted me and introduced herself. I didn’t stand on ceremony. I explained that  I really wanted to see my usual consultant, for continuity’s sake, and was prepared to wait accordingly. She was fine with that.

Back to the waiting area. Before now I’ve had to wait anything up to another hour but this time it was only ten minutes – “Go to Room 18”. When I entered the room my consultant had two other doctors sitting in with him, one visiting from Greece; the other a junior doctor working within the department.

I produced the list and my GI explained to the others that I always had a list and that he liked working that way.

1) What did the calprotectin result show? 188. Not good. Previously I had been around the 50 mark. This new result suggested that inflammation had returned. Bugger!

2) Blood test results? All OK except platelets, although these had now risen to 86, up 20 points, so actually an improvement.

3) Do I need a colonoscopy? Yes. Given the elevated calprotectin level the only way of checking for inflammation was to go in with the camera. I noted that, thankfully St.Thomas’ use Citrafleet which only requires drinking 300ml of liquid and a small bottle of senna. The thought of drinking 4 litres of Klean Prep, as used by some other hospitals (and in Greece BTW), filled me with dread. Request typed into computer with note about Citrafleet. Just need to wait for appointment to come through. My consultant would be driving the camera.

We then had a short discussion on how much sedation patients are given. I like to be as awake as possible so I can ask questions there and then and not have to wait for the follow-up appointment to get any bad news. The Greek doctor said if he was having it done he would want to be out cold!

4) I mentioned that over the Christmas period I had felt really rough – lower back pain extending down the backs of my legs; and ache around my midriff and very tired. As always with Crohn’s it was difficult to know if it was the Crohn’s itself, a virus I had picked up or overdoing sweeping up leaves.

5) We then had our usual conversation about the ache around my anastomosis, which comes and goes, especially after physical exertion. He said that after surgery it is entirely to be expected and that hard, physical effort would probably aggravate it. One to park I think.

6) I ran through my discussion with the dietician – see above.

7) More an observation really – I am very surprised that two capsules of Loperamide are controlling the Bile Acid Malabsorption and that I currently don’t need to take Questran or similar.

8) My other observation was the lack of discussion (as far as I can see) of BAM given the prevalence in patients after ileal resection. I felt that it really should have wider coverage and that the SeHCAT test should be routine given the severe diarrhea it can cause and that the symptoms may appear to be the Crohn’s itself and get treated as such. I quoted the NICE statistic that I had found.

9) I asked him to pass my thanks on to his secretary. She really is exceptional and always goes the extra mile to get things sorted out. He agreed and said how pleased he is that she works with him.

10) I wondered if the Gastro department ever held open Q and A sessions that enabled patients to come along ask general questions about Crohn’s/IBD to increase their own understanding of the disease. He replied “not at present” but they had been discussing ways of engaging better with their patient base. He would pass my name onto the person charged with the task.

I explained that I’m getting to the stage where I would like to give up work and devote some time to helping the Crohn’s community although I felt I knew very little about Crohn’s and in the grand scheme of things had escaped very lightly compared to those who had had 20+ operations. He felt I was doing myself a dis-service.

And that was it. Follow-up appointment for six months time but, as he pointed out, the next time he saw me would be from the wrong end of an endoscope. His “list” had now been moved to the new Endoscopy Suite at St.Thomas’ which pleased him as the equipment was better than his old clinic.

I walked back to Victoria Station somewhat disappointed. I had hoped the calprotectin level was still around 50. If the colonoscopy does show that the inflammation is returning the next question will be how to deal with it. We know Azathioprine isn’t an option.

Next planned appointment – Haematology at Guy’s – 11th February 2015….or will the colonoscopy come along first?

Ignorance is Bliss

Having read a good number of tweets and forum posts I’ve come to realise my level of ignorance. I wonder how many facts about IBD, that are blindingly obvious to others, have simply passed me by or if the various consultants that I have seen over the years haven’t thought it necessary to discuss because they assumed I already knew them.

You may be surprised at my level of ignorance, as I approach 38 years of coping with Crohn’s, but I have excuses. Firstly, with no internet for many of those years there was little opportunity for sharing experiences and knowledge so easily. Secondly, during the long period when Crohn’s was pretty much under control, I really didn’t need or want to think about it too deeply. Ignorance genuinely was bliss.

There are some things I wish I had discovered/been told about sooner. Forewarned is forearmed. It’s just possible that they might help someone in a similar situation to myself.

What I’d Like To Share (WILTS) and apologies if they are blindingly obvious :

1) We’re all different. Probably the most important thing I have learnt from posts and tweets is that whilst there are some common threads, such as fatigue, it is amazing just how different each of our overall experiences of Crohn’s can be. I knew it could affect any area from mouth to anus but it wasn’t until I had read other patient’s stories that I realised just how debilitating and disruptive it can be both physically and, just as importantly, mentally. My own experience, up until 2009, was that it was unpleasant and annoying but didn’t affect my lifestyle very much. Taking everything into consideration I’ve escaped pretty lightly.

I wasn’t aware that bad fatigue is so common. It’s only in the last few years I have been having B12 injections to try and help with this.

I knew surgery was a possibility but not that some patients would have their complete colon removed……the list goes on…….

WILTS – especially for the newly diagnosed – if you are reading forum posts etc. then please remember that whilst there are some effects we all suffer from – fatigue, for instance – other symptoms or reactions to drugs will be specific to that particular patient and it doesn’t mean you will necessarily experience the same. By the nature of forums people post questions usually when they have a problem, not when they are feeling great. If you keep that in mind then you’ll understand why forums are heavily skewed to the negative end of the scale. I can’t remember how I felt when I was told “you have Crohn’s Disease” but I would imagine that nowadays, for the newly diagnosed, the amount of information on the internet is overwhelming.

2) Stomas. Not something I had even thought about as a possibility. In fact something I didn’t want to think about at all, let alone how to deal with one. Definitely a lot of stigma attached and only something that affected “old people”.

Reality didn’t kick in until I had my first meeting with a Stoma nurse (the lovely Fiona at St.Thomas’) who marked a large, black cross on my abdomen so the surgeon knew the optimal position “if a stoma was required“. At that point I couldn’t ignore it any longer and the doubts began.

After the operation the surgeon’s first word was “Sorry” and I knew when he lifted the blanket what I would see attched to my abdomen. I was so high on all the drugs at that point that I just took it all in without reacting. Over the course of the next few days Fiona showed me what I needed to do to change the bag and built up my confidence for “going solo”. She told me that, at 54, I was one of her older patients. So much for stomas only happen to oldies.

I can’t mention stomas without also mentioning the #Get Your BellyOut campaign. They have really helped with getting stomas out in the open, literally, and lifting some of the stigma attached.

WILTS – the thought of having to have a stoma is a lot worse than the reality. Once you get into the routine of dealing with it, it can give you a lot more confidence going out and about and not having to worry about dashing off to the nearest bathroom IMMEDIATELY. A real life changer in a positive way. If you have any problems (and I had a couple) your stoma nurse will know what to do. Stoma nurses are heroes.

3) Lockdown. Before my elective surgery in October 2010 I had a meeting with the Enhanced Recovery Nurse who she went through the pre and post operative phases in great detail – what I should expect, timescales etc. The one thing that wasn’t mentioned was “lockdown”. At least that’s what the surgeon called it. The medical term is “gastric statis” or “post operative ileus”.

After both the ileostomy and reversal operations my digestive system stopped working and I suffered very bad nausea and hiccups. I hadn’t realised just how low nausea can make you feel. It wasn’t until the surgeon was doing his weekly “follow-up” round that he explained it was normal in approximately 25% of patients and it would eventually pass. I wish I had been forewarned so at least I would have known why I felt so bad straightaway rather than wait a few days before having it explained.

WILTS – if you end up having surgery for your Crohn’s (and it is by no means certain that you will) then you may be one of the unlucky 25% to suffer from this “lockdown”. It is unpleasant, very unpleasant, but it’s made a lot easier if you know why you feel bad and that you are not the first to have suffered it. The preferred option is to let natue run its course but there ae things that can be done to try an alleviate the problem. One way or another the feeling WILL pass and your appetite WILL return.

4) BAM – Bile Acid Malabsorption. I’m probably starting to sound like a cracked record on this one (see several other posts). It does appear to be a condition that should be far more widely known about and discussed. After I had my stoma reversed I couldn’t understand why I still needed to take Loperamide capsules to regulate output. I had assumed, wrongly in my case, that reversal meant the digestive system returned to normal. Every so often I would get a bout of the runs and my first thought was it must be the beginning of a Crohn’s flare; mayve I’ve eaten something that diasgreed with me; or could I have picked up a virus? I asked my consultant about it a couple of times and he mentioned something to do with absorption. As an extra capsule of Loperamide would quickly bring it under control I took it no further.

I mentioned it to him again earlier in 2014 and he decided to book a SeHCAT test. The result came back – severe Bile Acid Malabsorption. Having now got the proper term for the problem I was able to look it up and understand what was going wrong. I’ve explained it in another posts so won’t cover old ground here.

WILTS – if you have had surgery that involved removing your terminal ileum then, from what I have read, it is highly likely you will suffer from BAM and unless you are taking medication to combat it, or its side effects, you will be making frequent bathroom dashes. If you haven’t discussed it with your consultant then ask the question. The SeHCAT test is simple and painless.

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.

DIARY – Crohn’s, blood clots and low platelets

September 2013

Medically things are going OK-ish. I don’t want to tempt fate by putting it any more strongly than that.  I still have a sporadic, niggly pain around the site of my anastomosis (the bit where they joined my gut back together again in June 2011). This has been ongoing for quite a while and gets worse when I’ve been doing a lot of physical work, worn a belt too tightly or have been on my feet for a long time. My consultant thinks it’s purely mechanical and nothing to worry about.

Between now and Christmas I have four outpatient appointments and will have a chance to practice what I preach using my 8 point approach to “Managing Consultants and Appointments”.

(1) Making a List
(2) Manage Your Appointments
(3) Continuity
(4) Medical History (including copies of any recent emails)
(5) Contacting your consultant between appointments
(6) Follow-up letters
(7) Manage Your Appointments 2
(8) Keep a sense of humour

(There’s a separate post which goes into the detail if you are interested. It should be obvious which one it is – the clue is in its title).

Wednesday 25th September 2013 – Haematology Appointment – Guy’s

 The Background

This was to have been the sign-off appointment where I got handed back to gastroenterology. The “elephant in the room” however is thrombocytopenia – the relative decrease of platelets in the blood. A normal value is anywhere between 150 and 400, I’ve been well below 100 (hovering around the 60 mark) for quite a while now but not exhibited any obvious adverse effects such as bleeding profusely if I cut myself. We had decided to park the issue but when I re-read my notes from the last gastro appointment, and the subsequent follow-up letter (6) , they said that my GI would not put me on a maintenance dose of Azathioprine because it may have caused the thrombocytopenia.

That meant one less route available to me should (when) I need to start drug therapy again to control the Crohn’s. In my last post I mentioned that I would email my GI consultant (5) to ask if he was happy that this issue would remain unresolved. I sent the following and copied in to the haematologist :

“I have my next haematology appointment on Wednesday week. At the last one it was suggested that I could then be discharged back to your care, as we have done with hepatology. The fewer clinics I have to attend the better but I have one question for you regarding my thrombocytopenia from a Crohn’s standpoint.

Because I am asymptomatic and there are many possible causes of the low platelets we have “parked” further investigation. When I saw you at the end of June, we discussed Crohn’s remission and the use of Azathioprine as a maintenance drug but you said you would not want to prescribe it because of the low platelets. Will the non-resolution of the platelets preclude the use of any other potential medications that might be needed if my Crohn’s starts to deteriorate? Is Azathioprine ruled out by low platelets regardless of the cause?”

Early the next morning I received a response from the haematologist :

“Having read this email – I think we do need to go ahead and finally do the bone marrow test to see if we can be  more definitive about the cause for your low platelet count as this is having an impact on your treatment options. We can discuss it when I see you on Wednesday.”

The Appointment

For haematology appointments it’s worth turning up half an hour early as they always take a blood sample and have the results available during your consultation. I booked in and then took a seat. Within 5 minutes I was called by the phlebotomist and had a blood sample taken. It was then back to the seating area, ready for a long wait. After another 10 minutes I heard my name being called. A doctor I hadn’t seen before introduced herself and apologised for keeping me waiting even though I was being seen 15 minutes early. My usual consultant was on holiday so no point in asking “for continuity” (3) and anyway I had already decided that I would be happy to be seen by whichever doctor I was allocated.

As we entered the consulting room I showed her my list (1)(6) and explained I had a few questions to ask. She had started reading my notes but they didn’t include a copy of the recent email correspondence so she was unaware that I was to have a bone marrow biopsy. Luckily I had a copy of the emails on my phone so she was able to read them for herself.

We went through the causes of low platelet counts – increased destruction ie. the body is producing sufficient platelets but something is destroying a number of them, possibly drug induced; or decreased production ie. the body isn’t producing the right number in the first place and could be down to bone marrow failure. The biopsy would help to focus the investigation. (I suppose it could be a combination of both but we’ll cross that bridge….).

We also discussed some other factors which I’m still struggling to understand. I have an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) – what caused that? Enlarged spleens can hold increased numbers of platelets and therefore lower the number in circulation and the number that get counted. Then there’s the blood clot in my portal vein (PVT – Portal Vein Thrombosis). Did this cause the spleen to enlarge? The doctor remarked that blood clots in this location were common in Crohn’s patients and it was plausible that the clot could have been there since my emergency operation in 1979 as the liver specialist suggested. I asked why it hadn’t shown up on the various x-rays and scans that I had had over the years. She replied that unless the radiologist was specifically looking in that area it would be easy to overlook. Unfortunately the x-rays up to the year 2000 are no longer available. There is a CT scan from 2009…..but this is all rather academic.

By now the results from the blood test appeared on the system – platelets 60, the lowest ever, but white cell and red cell counts normal. This suggested a platelet specific problem, not a general blood disorder.

We went though my list :

1) What involved in a bone marrow biopsy? It’s carried out under local anaesthetic by introducing a needle into the hip bone (?) and taking a small sample of marrow and then using a slightly larger needle to take a small core. Will it hurt? You’ve got Crohn’s disease and had surgery so you’re used to pain. The most uncomfortable bit is injecting the local anaesthetic. Some patients don’t even feel the biopsy needles being introduced.

2) Do I need to take any special precautions if I have teeth extracted? Unless your platelets fall below 50 then extraction should be OK. You might want to have a clotting gel available to stop your gums from bleeding. If your dentist is worried he might want to refer you to the specialist Dental School at Guys.

3) How regular should I be having blood tests and are there any special things to test for? Six monthly at your outpatient appointments is fine. You could ask your GP for more frequent ones. The only special test would be for clotting.

4) Is there any possible link between low platelets and diet? (A bit of a long shot this one but I due to see the dietician in a couple of weeks time). No.

Back to reception to book the biopsy and the follow-up appointment. I was offered the biopsy for the next morning. Unfortunately I wasn’t going to be in London so declined. “We have a slot at 3.00pm next Wednesday, is that any good?”. Excellent and the follow-up appointment was set for the week before Christmas.

The next day I got a phone call from the doctor asking me to forward a copy of the email correspondence for inclusion on my file. I told her that the biopsy was planned for one week’s time and she sounded genuinely surprised it was so soon. I mentioned that the follow-up appointment wasn’t until December and wondered if it should be brought forward. She assured me that once the biopsy results were available she would be in contact with their findings. Roll on the biopsy.

Wednesday 2nd October – Bone Marrow Biopsy

The procedure was planned for 3:00pm. In the 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 but I remembered what the haematologist had said last week “You’ve got Crohn’s. You’ve had operations. You’ve dealt with pain! This will be nothing by comparison.”

Guy’s Hospital in the shadow of The Shard

I set off in good time, (if you’ve read any other posts you will know that I always do), and arrived at Guy’s twenty minutes early, checked in and waited to be called. A nurse came over and gave me an identification wristband as the procedure would be carried out in the Day Hospital section. She said that I shouldn’t have to wait too long.

It was around 3:30pm 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.

She showed me into a treatment room. I took my shoes off and ay 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.

She asked me to pull my knees up to my chest and adopt a foetal position. She felt around to find the best location for the needle and then thoroughly 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.

The slides

The aim is to get a liquid sample (aspirate) 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 cheesemaker 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 sample

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.

The procedure room

Throughout the procedure we talked about low platelet counts, possible causes, what the tests would show, the fact that my red and white cell counts were normal, my Crohn’s history, empowered patients etc. It was very informative and kept me at my ease.

If you have got to have this procedure done it really is fairly painless. Once the initial local anaesthetic has been injected it’s pretty much plain sailing.

24th October – “Please relax this weekend”

I had added a reminder into my calendar to email the consultant after 5 weeks and ask if there had been any news. I needn’t have bothered as they were already “on my case”.

On 24th October I received an email saying “your bone marrow is being discussed with the Histopathologist and Dr. xxxxx will write to you with the results. We will see you in clinic in December.” Straight onto Wikipedia and I now know that a Histopathologist is someone who carries out “microscopic examination of tissue in order to study the manifestations of disease”.

I replied by asking if, once the discussions had been concluded, they could email me with an indication of what they had found  I explained that I had rescheduled my appointment for the end of November so that it preceded my Gastro appointment in early December. Last Friday I received another email saying that it would be easier to discuss the findings in clinic. Whoa. Did that mean – nothing to worry about, it can wait; or it’s serious and we want to tell you face to face?

I’m pretty laid back about my health nowadays. I’ve had enough shocks along the way to just accept whatever will be will be but I was starting to get an uneasy feeling. There was no way I would relax over the weekend knowing that the results had been assessed but I was in the dark. Time for another email “…I wonder if you could just put my mind at rest that you haven’t found anything too serious otherwise I won’t be able to relax this weekend!”

Within a few minutes this came back :

“Please relax this weekend. We have reviewed your bone marrow in our multi-disciplinary meeting and there is nothing sinister to report. The findings suggest that your marrow is underproducing platelets rather than it being an immune cause that we had presumed secondary to your longstanding history of Crohn’s. This may be due to previous Azathioprine use…….I look forward to seeing you on 20th November and we can discuss this in person and in more details then. In the meantime – I hope this reassures you.”

I thanked the doctor for her prompt response. I can relax until I see her on 20th November, apart from having to go to work, commuting to London and worrying what effect the fireworks will have on our dog and ponies. (Cut to gratuitous picture of dog and ponies for light relief)

Next stop – 12th November – upper GI endoscopy to see if my esophageal varices have regrown and to band them if necessary. Obviously I’m hoping that they find nothing as you can only eat sloppy food for four days after any banding otherwise the food might dislodge them. For what happened please see the post entitled “Upper GI Endoscopy”.

Haematology – 20th November 2013  Today’s appointment was to go through my bone marrow biopsy results. Even though I had already had the email a couple of weeks back telling me that there was “nothing sinister to report” but it was always at the back of my mind that there might be something significant that needs discussing face-to-face.

I got to the clinic early to allow time for the obligatory blood test. With that over I settled down to wait for one of the consultants. After 15 minutes my usual doctor collected me and we went into a consulting room. She started our conversation with “Yours is not a simple case…..”.

She had printed out two biopsy reports – one for the recent bone marrow procedure and the other for last year’s liver biopsy (which I had not seen before – more of that later).

The bone marrow results had been discussed at the MDM (multi-disciplinary meeting) and the initial conclusion was that they were “in keeping with early/low myelodysplastic syndrome, histologically suggesting MDS-RCMD.” She knew that I would have looked this up on the net and then probably have been worried/distracted by the potential links with leukemia. That’s why the report hadn’t been emailed to me.

(This is a quote about MDS from patient.co.uk – “The disease course is highly variable, from indolent to aggressive with swift progression to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 30% of cases.” I think she made the right decision to want to discuss it in person.)

She went on to say that she was not completely happy with the MDS conclusion because a bone marrow biopsy looks at two substances – the marrow itself and the aspirate, that’s the bone marrow liquid. When I had the original procedure the doctor said that she was not getting good aspirate slides as the blood in the samples kept clotting. After several attempts, but with little success, she decided to concentrate on taking a good bone marrow core.

“It’s like having a three piece jigsaw from which two pieces were missing.” So at the next MDM they had discussed the results again and decided that, in my case, it was unlikely to be MDS but would recommend a further biopsy to get useable aspirate samples. “How would I feel about this?” I replied I really wasn’t fussed, the most painful bit was the initial injection of local anaesthetic. If it would help narrow down the diagnosis then the sooner the better. She explained that this time they would use Heparin with the sample needle as this should prevent the blood from clotting.

If the diagnosis wasn’t MDS then why the low platelets? The most likely cause was a combination of long term Crohn’s and taking Azathioprine. The biopsy had shown that the marrow was under-producing platelets rather than being over active and eating them up. I was unaware that there is a potential link between Crohn’s and bone marrow. (I’ll do some further reading up on that one)

Using my blood results I’ve plotted my platelet count vs. Azathioprine dose (click to enlarge)

They had then gone on to discuss what the implications for treatment would be if it was/was not MDS. In either case the preferred course for treatment, at this stage, would be “do nothing” unless I was to have any procedures that could cause bleeding or that require surgery. A supply of platelets should be made available if either of these were needed. The difference in approaches would be in the monitoring regimes and we would discuss this further after the next biopsy results were available.

Back to reception to book up another biopsy (9th December) and 3 month follow-up appointment.

Included with the Haematology Report was one from my Liver Biopsy – if I thought blood was complicated then reading this report is mind boggling. I haven’t even tried translating it into easy-to-understand terms. Here’s a sample :

“Features of cholangiopathy, with slight cholangiocyte disarray, occasional juxtaportal hepatocytes containing copper-binding protein deposits, and scattered ceroid-laden macrophages in portal tracts. Patchy mild portal-tract fibrosis with perisinusoidal extension and early spurring. Macrovesicular steatosis of hepatocytes (5% of parenchyma). Slight centrilobular sinusoidal ectasia noted. Crohn’s disease with splenic vein block (clinical diagnosis), see comment. An early stage of primary sclerosing cholangitis is a possibility. Correlation with imaging-study findings appears in order. I can not suggest an aetiology for the slight sinusoidal ectasia observed.” 

Next Appointment – 2nd December to see my gastro-enterologist. Will be interesting how all these strands come together.  I’ll also get the result of the calprotectin test that was done recently. It will be a good pointer as to whether my Crohn’s is active/inactive and consequently what the future treatment plan is likely to involve. If it is still in remission then is it better to continue without any medication for as long as possible or would it be better to start taking precautionary doses? I get the feeling that the answer won’t be a simple one.

If you’ve looked at some of my earlier posts you may have read about the problem I have had with not getting  follow-up letters out of Haematology in a timely manner. This was brought home to me when I saw my gastro-enterologist last Monday (2nd December). He was unaware that I had seen the haematologist to discuss the results of original biopsy; that there were implications for restarting Azathioprine; that a second procedure had been arranged and all because there was no letter detailing all this on my file. (He very helpfully went on to say that a bone marrow biopsy was the one test he really wouldn’t want to go through himself!).

9th December – Haematology Day Unit – Guy’s Hospital

Biopsy II Day. A beautiful, sunny winter’s day. Took the District Line down to Monument and then a stroll over London Bridge, underneath The Shard and on to Guy’s Hospital.

The Thames from London Bridge

 

The Shard appears to have grown arms

I arrived in plenty of time, was wristbanded and waited for a doctor. She appeared a short while later and I was taken to a cubicle in the day ward. She went through the usual risk review and got me to sign the consent form.

Then, for the second time, the value of follow-up letters became apparent. The doctor had referred to my notes and found the latest letter on file, dated September. She was unaware of what had happened in the interim, that this was to be a second sample attempt but with no need for a marrow core this time. It’s a good thing that I had taken this all in, together with the plan to use Heparin to stop the blood from clotting otherwise it would have been back to square one and a third biopsy. (Whilst this blog sometimes goes into too much detail it is proving useful when follow-up letters aren’t forthcoming and I want to recall what we said at an appointment)

She went off to find the Heparin. When she returned she laid out the various bits of equipment – swabs, needles, instruments of torture, local anaesthetic etc. She got me to arrange my clothes so she could access my hipbone and to ensure any leakage missed them. I then rolled onto my left hand side and draw my knees up onto my chest.

Instruments of torture (luckily the largest one wasn’t needed)

Last time it was the local anaesthetic injections that stung the most but this time they were outdone by the sample needle. I think a couple more minutes to allow the anaesthetic to work and it would have been fine. She looked at the first slides but they weren’t quite as she wanted, probably due to the Heparin. She asked if it was OK to go back in with another needle to get a second sample. This time I felt nothing apart from a liquid trickling down my back. It could only be blood. Slightly unnerving. Clearly the Heparin had worked. She was now happy with the slides and showed me what they were looking for. To prove how truly sad I am I asked her if I could take a picture of a “correct” slide.

This slide was the one chosen for further examination

She cleaned up the “leakage” and put a dressing over the puncture. It was then a 15 minute wait, lying on my back, to ensure everything had started to seal itself. She warned me that it was likely to need a new dressing before I left hospital due to the action of the Heparin. After 15 minutes a nurse came and changed the dressing and I was allowed to go back to work.

Now I have to wait for the results. Can’t believe it – I forgot to ask how long that process would take. Must also chase up the follow-up letter but quite frankly I’ve had enough of appointments and procedures for this year. I just want to chill out and try and forget about medical matters. The follow-up appointment is set for 19th February.

Wednesday 19th February – Haematology II – Guy’s Hospital

The first appointment of the year and really unprepared for it. It’s only two months since the last one but I’ve already got out of the habit. Traveling up to the London on the train in the morning I realised I hadn’t even got a list of questions to ask. When I got to my office I printed off the account of my last trip to Haematology, just to jog my memory (see post – “Bone Marrow Biopsies, Follow-up and Results…well sort of”). I then re-read the post “Managing Consultants and Appointments” to make sure I put into practise what I preach. By the time I set off for Guy’s Hospital I had managed to write down 7 things I needed to ask or mention on a good, old fashioned Post-It note.

List of questions for Haematology

Appointment was for 10:00am so arrived 15 minutes early for the obligatory blood test. The phlebotomist asked me if I knew why she was also taking a “histological” sample, but I didn’t.

Back to the waiting area and at 10:00am my usual doctor appeared, greeted me warmly and we set off for a consulting room. She introduced me to an American medical student, who was over in the UK to see how things are done in the NHS, and checked that I was OK with someone else present during the consultation.

She explained that after the last bone marrow biopsy one of the samples, which should have gone for histological testing, had either been mislaid or mislabelled so did not make it to the histologist. This is why she had rung me a few weeks back to explain the situation. She had however looked at the other slides from the second biopsy and these were fine. She had discussed the missing sample with the chief histologist and he suggested doing a particular type of blood test which had proved to be 60% effective in spotting problems, if there were any. The results would be available in a week’s time. The alternative was to have a third bone marrow biopsy but they didn’t want me to put me through that again. I’m really not that fussed.

…and so to the list :

1) Long term prognosis – will not affect the other  issues I have – Crohn’s, potential PSC, PVT. Must avoid use of Azathioprine in the future. Today’s platelet count = 74, an increase of 18, but don’t get hung up on the numbers as I am currently asymptomatic ie. I don’t bleed profusely if I cut myself.

2) Cause of low platelets – no signs of any marrow abnormalities which could have pointed to a more sinister conclusion ie. leukaemia therefore cause is drug induced – long term use of Azathioprine.

3), 4) and 6) Treatment – none required but look out for any signs of starting to bleed more easily. Six monthly blood tests and outpatient appointments. A platelet count of 50 is the threshold for having minor surgery or teeth extraction so no need for special measures at present.

5) Medical Synopsis – some inaccuracies had crept into the synopsis at the top of the last follow-up letter. I wasn’t sure if they were significant but we went through them one-by-one and put them right. (I had already emailed my gastro consultant a few weeks back with the correct information)

7) Follow-up Letters – this was an area where we had had issues in the past. I requested that follow-up letters were sent out as soon as possible after an appointment as the last time I saw my gastro consultant he was unaware of my bone marrow biopsy etc. She promised to improve the timing in future and would write to me as soon as the histological results were back.

I mentioned that as part of the NHS Change Day (3rd March 2014) I had pledged to give feedback to my consultants on the service they provide (whether they wanted it or not!). This was my first chance to put the pledge into action. She thanked me for my feedback.

10:20am appointment completed and on way back to work

SUMMING UP

The low platelet issue had originally been “parked” but in September 2013 I felt that we really should investigate it further so we could decide if Azathioprine would still a viable drug for treating my Crohn’s and  to make sure there wasn’t a  more serious underlying problem. My gastro consultant supported this and the investigation started.

Two bone marrow biopsies later and we have the answer. The low platelets are not indicative of a bone marrow abnormality but are drug induced with the likely cause being to 8+ years of Azathioprine. It is a known side effect of this drug. Azathioprine is sometimes used to maintain Crohn’s remission but if I get to the point where I need to go back on medication it will not be considered as an option.

The low platelets can return to their parking bay.

…and the implications for other Azathioprine users? The above is just MY experience of taking that drug and as we all react differently to medications you should not assume you will end up in the same situation. Whilst I stopped taking it when we realised there was a potential problem it has not damaged my bone marrow sufficiently to need to take further action. The haematologist described it as like having a “four cylinder engine but only running on three”. Would I have agreed to starting Azathioprine back in 1998 if I knew then what I know now? Yes. For nearly ten years it kept surgery at bay so that when the knife became inevitable I was in a much better position both financially and mentally to cope.

 

Top Tips for Hospital Survival

I had been meaning to do this for a while. I compiled my list of ten things that have made my more recent stays in hospital (UK NHS – 2 bowel operations; 1 emergency admission with 2 weeks recovery) more bearable. I wanted to pass them on in case it helps to improve your “patient” experience. If you’re already an old hand at the hospital game you can, no doubt, add at least another ten. Another way you could look upon your stay is like having a holiday but with no need to pack any clothes…..

Update February 2017 – following my latest trip to hospital – details in my post “24+ hours in Accident and Emergency” – I’ve been able to confirm which three items are the most important to me, especially for a short stay. They are the first three on the list below. The ability to shut out the sounds and lights in a Ward is vital.

Update November 2014 – with the virtual blanket ownership of smartphones and tablets plus the widespread adoption of SoMe (social media) I’ve had a bit of a tidy up and removed most of the technology items. I’ll assume that all patients, below a certain age, will have their mobile phones with them during their every waking moment so they can post endless selfies. (Don’t forget your charger or you will feel really miserable as that last ounce of power disappears)

No.1 HEADPHONES – unless you are lucky enough to have your own private room then the hospital environment will be noisy. There are lots of times when you really want to be able to drown out the surrounding ward noise. I like to take with me two pairs of headphones – in ear and over ear. Over ear will give you the best isolation from the ward noises but you can’t comfortably lie on one side with them on and your ears tend to get hot! The in-ear ones aren’t as good for keeping out external sounds but you have more choice in your sleeping position. (If you can afford a good set of noise cancelling headphones then all the better)

No.2 iPOD OR SIMILAR – I know that most phones have the ability to store and play music tracks but to prevent running the battery down to quickly I refer to take a separate music player

No.3 EYE MASK – like the ones you have for air travel. It’s very rare to have all the lights off in a ward and even if they are, the nurses will be frequently checking on the more poorly patients so the over bed spotlights will be going on and off throughout the night. That’s where the mask comes into its own.

The best time for dosing is mid-morning, after the doctors have done the ward round and you’ve had a washdown or a shower or early in the afternoon before visiting time starts.

No.4 SHOWER GEL/SHAMPOO – sometimes these are available in the hospital but there’s nothing like having your own, favourite brand to keep you in touch with home. It’s said that smell is the strongest sense for recalling memories. There is one particular shower gel that I bought ready to go into St.Thomas’ and I’m still using that “flavour” today. Every time I catch that fragrance it immediately transports me back to the first shower I had post operation.

No.5 PYJAMAS AND DRESSING GOWN – the admission instructions ask you to bring in your night clothes but I have found that pyjamas are usually available anyway. That’s fine if you’re not fussed about the colour. After my reversal operation I was issued with bright orange pyjamas so it looked like I had just escaped from Guantanamo Bay. I try and use NHS pyjamas for a few days after an operation in order to give anything that might be oozing a chance to stop oozing and then it’s into my very stylish M and S ones for the rest of the stay.

The dressing gown is a must. Not only can it give you a bit of extra warmth when sitting about but also covers up that embarrassing gap up the back of your medical gown where you haven’t quite managed to do the tie-ups up.

No.6 BOOKS AND MAGAZINES – there will be times when you’re not dozing but you really don’t want to a) watch the truly appalling daytime TV, or b) you’ve gone boss-eyed from staring at your phone for a little too long, or c) someone has made a comment on Facebook that has upset you. A decent book or some magazines, preferably with lots of photos and no difficult text, are good ways to pass the time at your pace. I was given a volume of Sherlock Holmes short stories and found that each story was just the right length to read before needing a rest.

No.7 CASH – taking a large amount in with you is not a good idea but it is worth having, say, ten pounds in case you want to buy a magazine or some toileteries from the trolley that visits the ward every couple of days.

No.8 MAKE-UP – for all the girlies and anyone else who likes to wear make-up (I’ve done the “Political Correctness and Inclusivity” Course) I’m told it can make a big difference. I’m a bit out of my depth here because I’ve never worn make-up,. I’ll quote directly what acc929 said :

“I think this is probably a bit more on the girly end of things, but I’ve found that taking good care of myself (when possible of course) in hospital helps keep my morale up. I think the sicker you look, the sicker you feel, so if you have the energy it’s worth making a little effort. I bring my nice robe so I don’t need to wear the hospital gown, my favourite perfume, and my own shower stuff in little bottles. I bring a tiny bit of make up so that when people visit I don’t need to deal with them telling me how tired I look (I’m in the hospital, duh!) Bottom line, having your own things makes everything feel better.”

No.9 FAVOURITE SNACKS
– after an operation or maybe a bad flare-up you may need something to help you get your appetite back. If you have some favourite snacks or chocolate bars etc. pack a few in your bag. Some hospitals have will provide snacks anyway but I don’t know how common that is. The two wards I spent time in at St.Thomas’ always had a good selection freely available, at any time. You only had to ask!

No.10 SANITISING WIPES
– with all the nasty infections that can appear in hospitals nowadays – such as MRSA – sanitizing wipes to wipe down any surfaces or objects that you can’t be certain have been throroughly cleaned or disinfected.

No.11 HAND CREAM AND LIP BALM
– the atmosphere in the wards is often very dry so creams and balms will help you keep your skin feeling good.

No.12 PILLOW
– this isn’t a problem I have had but if you can only sleep when your head is resting on your favourite pillow then take it with you. Just make sure that you don’t leave your bed for a few minutes only to return to find it’s been sent to the hospital laundry!

No.13 OVER BED ENTERTAINMENT UNITS – I’m not sure how widely these entertainment units have been rolled out in NHS hospitals. If you are going in for elective surgery it’s worth ringing the hospital or checking their website to find out if they have them over each bed.

The units provide a variety of services – some free; some paid for. It varies from hospital to hospital. In both St.Thomas’ and East Surrey hospitals, local outgoing telephone calls are free, as is the radio. If you want to watch TV, access the internet or play games you have to pay for those services (but I suppose if you have a tablet and there’s good 3G/4G access you won’t need any of this). The fee for 2 weeks worked out a lot cheaper per day than buying each 24 hours at a time. The trick is predicting how long you will be in for.

The over-bed units should have their own headphones supplied but these are usually very flimsy i.e. not good at keeping sound out or missing.  I’ve found using my own headphones a better bet.

No.14 LISTS – pen and paper – or you could use an app on your phone or tablet. I have always found it useful to write down any questions I want to ask the consultants on their ward rounds. I’ve tried keeping a list in my head but when you are confronted by the consultant and a gaggle of junior doctors, early in the morning, it’s easy for all thoughts to just disappear.

No.15 CANNULAS
– if you have to have a cannula and, let’s face it, it’s pretty much a certainty, don’t let a doctor put it in. No matter how much practice they claim to have had they are never, ever, as good as an experienced nurse. In the past I have actually said to a doctor “Are you sure you are good at inserting these things?” He assured me that he was but an hour later I had to have it redone as there was insufficient flow through it. This has happened on several occasions so I stand by my “never trust a doctor with a cannula” statement.

The positioning of the cannula is governed by where a good vein can be found but if at all possible try and avoid having it on the bend of the arm as you will frequently be interrupting the flow when you move your arm. If you get a choice of which arm to put it in remember you will have eat meals and manage in the bathroom with it connected.

No.16 PHARMACISTS
– when it’s time to be discharged I can guarantee that you will be ready to go but will then have to wait several hours whilst pharmacy get the correct medications up to the Ward and you can finally leave. If you make friends with pharmacist on their daily ward rounds you can pre-empt that wait by persuading them to make sure the necessary tablets, in the correct numbers, are in your bedside locker ready for discharge. They are also the best person to talk to about any new medications you’ve been prescribed and possible interactions.

(If you live near the hospital you may be able to go home and then get someone to return later to pick up your medication. You may even find that you’re being prescribed over-the-counter tablets anyway, such as paracetamol or Ibuprofen, so it would be quicker to go into your chemist.)

No.17 PAIN – if you start feeling pain or a different pain don’t be brave and keep it to yourself TELL THE NURSE. It may be nothing and you can be given painkillers to help. On the other hand it could be something that needs attention and the sooner that attention starts the better.

No.18 INHIBITIONS
– try and lose any inhibitions you may have about discussing the more intimate details of your condition with the medical staff. You may notice something different about your body or what comes out of it. Again it may be nothing or it might need further investigation.

No.19 SUSPEND NORMALITY – the hospital environment is very different from your usual environment. Sometimes you may feel completely out of your comfort zone. If you can get into the mindset of suspending your normality and accepting a different regime then your hospital stay should be more bearable.

No.20 WHAT HAPPENS IN HOSPITAL STAYS IN HOSPITAL – not everyone will appreciate your description of the procedure or surgery you have just undergone. If you want to go into the gorier details then best avoid regaling your visitors with them or your friends when you get home. If you really must unburden yourself then try one of the Forums or Facebook Groups that is dedicated to your condition as you will find a, mostly, willing audience.

No.21 SENSE OF HUMOUR/COURTESY – not always easy to keep hold of this when you’re high on drugs, have tubes coming out of every orifice and your future is uncertain but if you can do your best to keep your sense of humour and treat the doctors, nurses and other patients with courtesy then it will make your stay a lot more bearable. Of course you may be one of those unlucky individuals who has had a humour bypass in which case you should get on well with some of the doctors I’ve met!

That’s the revised Top Twenty. If I was being rushed into hospital and only had time to choose just one physical item to take in with me it would be the headphones as they give you the best chance of getting some sleep in a noisy environment. The one behaviour I would adopt is a combination of the above but can be summed up as “acceptance that a hospital regime will probably be completely alien to your usual way of life but you do not need to lose your sense of dignity, humour or courtesy”. If you feel any of these are being compromised – complain.

A personal view