This post was prompted by an #IBDChat in which conversations were mainly about the physical aspects of IBD but at the end of the chat we moved onto the psychological aspects. It does seem to be an area that needs more open discussion both inside and outside the IBD community. For some sufferers the psychological effects may be even more debilitating than the physical ones.
I have used the hashtag #crohnspatterned to describe how I feel Crohn’s has affected me. When I checked to see if the tag had been used by anyone else it turned out to be unique. I’m sure the phenomenon is far from unique and will affect sufferers of other chronic conditions as well.
Let me make it clear that I have escaped pretty lightly both physically and mentally but the experience has been enough for me to realise how things could escalate. I’m starting to feel that Crohn’s now has me patterned like Pavlov’s Dog.
(Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the story of Pavlov’s dog here’s a three sentence version. Pavlov was a Russian psychologist born in 1849. As part of an experiment he found that it was possible to condition a dog to associate the sound of a bell with receiving food. The dog, eventually, would salivate at the sound of the bell in anticipation of the food.)
I have a variety of “bells” which act to trigger my digestive system into action, unfortunately we’re not just talking saliva. The main triggers are the alarm in the morning; that chiming sound on public transport that heralds the “this train is about to be delayed for an indeterminate time” announcement; the sound of my car starting as I am about to embark on a long journey. So far I have been able to control the effects by extra Loperamide capsules (Imodium) and mind over matter but I can envisage a time when they simply are not enough. Maybe this is all linked to having a “second brain” in our gastrointestinal systems and the triggers are affecting it.
I made a comment on the #IBDChat that I find the use of words such as “poo” and “pooping” when discussing IBD rather demeans the subject and makes it appear less serious than it is. Just my opinion. You may or may not agree but that leads me neatly onto….
I will admit to preferring the medium of blogging to vlogging. Why? Because I can read and concentrate on the content without being distracted by the colour of the curtains in the background or the appearance of the vlogger, etc. Maybe it’s a generational thing as selfies don’t do a lot for me either. Whatever.
A fellow IBDer asked me if I’d ever watched any of the IBD vlogs on YouTube and I had to admit that I hadn’t. They asked me to have a look at a particular one and asked my opinion of it. Now I am not stupid enough to name that vlog here or what the subject was. I don’t want to start some internecine spat within the IBD Community but. ….
I found the vlog, hit play and sat back to be educated or enlightened. After a few seconds I started to ask myself if it was a joke or some kind of spoof. I discounted irony. I kept watching. It made me feel uneasy and I started wondering what benefit it added to our IBD world. If this was meant to be adding to the cause of IBD awareness then it failed.
If you are going to make an IBD vlog then please make it relevant and don’t cheapen the subject. Nuff said. Can’t see myself making one anytime soon.
“Thank you for letting me join the group. I’m a 22 year old male and have not been feeling well over the last year or so. I make frequent visits to the bathroom and my weight is dropping off. I’m currently 54kg which is not great when you are six foot tall. I went and saw my GP. He initially told me it was “nerves” and later changed that to “spastic colon” but having recently spent 10 days in Croydon’s Mayday Hospital, undergoing tests, the diagnosis is now Crohn’s disease. I’ve been prescribed steroids for the inflammation and codeine phosphate to slow my system down. I know that the disease has no cure and that if I’m unlucky I could end up having surgery. That’s the bit that really scares me because the thought of going into hospital fills me with absolute dread. Just going there for a barium enema was bad enough….”
If Facebook was older, and had been around in 1978, I may well have posted the above. Nowadays I read similar stories from young adults, many also in their early twenties, explaining that they have been recently diagnosed and the impact that diagnosis has had upon them both physically and mentally. Some are truly heart rending. I tend to forget I was in a similar place all those years ago.
A few decades on and I am currently in clinical remission but not without a few related health issues arising along the way. I would like to hope that others, who have just started out along their Crohn’s path, can achieve a similar sort of equilibrium sooner rather than later. I’m not naive enough to think I have achieved full closure as we all know that Crohn’s can return when we least expect it.
I was determined to at least attempt a partial closure and to this end set out to write a book based on the story so far. With a “big” birthday nearly upon me it is 99% complete. A few finishing touches and that will be it. The next part of the challenge will be to publish it, another new skillset to learn. Watch this space.
The biggest difference between the year of my diagnosis and the present day is the availability of IBD information. When I was told “you have Crohn’s” it was just something I would have to live with, take drugs for and, if I was unlucky, might end up needing surgery for. That was pretty much it. Nowadays, if you search the web for “Crohn’s Disease” there are over 8,000,000 entries ranging from excellent, well written information sites at the top end of the scale down to the downright dubious ones which are only there to try and sell some miracle cure or diet to desperate sufferers. Then there are all the forums, FB pages and blogs (like this one) where anyone can air their opinions.
I was discussing this subject with my sister-in-law. She asked if I thought I was better off having spent many years in blissful ignorance rather than in information overload. She remarked that I had maintained a positive attitude throughout and thought that it must have helped coping with the disease. My immediate response was “I don’t know”. I can see the arguments from both sides but having given it further thought, on balance, blissful ignorance was probably best for me. Fortunately/unfortunately this is no longer an option.
As ever one train of thought leads to another. For instance, what should the patient expect from their consultant? At initial diagnosis should they be told the worst possible outcome or should all the tests results and procedures to be completed before going that far. I had reason to question this at the end of May 2012 when it was possible that I was (and still may be) suffering from PSC (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis). To confirm the diagnosis needed a number of scans and biopsies to be carried out but before any of these happened the consultant was talking about needing a liver transplant. You can imagine how I felt, sitting on the edge of my hospital bed, to be confronted with those words. It takes a lot to faze me but even I didn’t knw how to react. Having now had the tests it is possible that I have the beginnings of PSC but nothing definitive. Did I really need to have the threat of a transplant dangled before me? Was it all down to a lack of bedside manner? Can bedside manner be learned? (That would make a good subject for, maybe, a survey).
..and my other question – how should we respond to the newly diagnosed, or waiting to be diagnosed, IBD sufferers on SoMe? Personally I work on the basis of trying to be positive, as I have plenty of positives along with the not so good times. I have seen other respondees jump straight in with tales of multiple operations, months in hospital and relationship break-ups. The FB entry that prompted me to write this piece was from a new sufferer, along the lines – “I’ve got Crohn’s; it will mean having an operation and ending up with a bag; my life is over.” After many supportive comments one person responded with “if it’s a choice between dying or having a bag then I know what I would choose.” To me it seemed so insensitive.
I’m not denying that all these things can happen but should we really burden someone who is just coming to terms that they have the disease with all the potential “baggage” that may, or may not, come with it? After all, we all suffer in different ways; we all cope in different ways; we all survive in different ways.
I would like to know if you think I’ve got this all completely wrong or if you agree. Answers on a tweet to @crohnoid.
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.
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…..
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.
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………
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Apart from the physical and psychological effects of Crohn’s Disease there’s one aspect that I don’t see mentioned that often – the huge amount of time that patients can spend attending appointments and undergoing tests or procedures. Just how disruptive this can be was brought home to me after my ileal re-section in October 2010.
To give you a flavour of the types of tests and procedures Crohn’s (and related conditions) can require I have pulled together all the different types I’ve been through over the years. Apologies if this rather labours the point. As with all things Crohn’s related these are my experiences, yours may be completely different.
BARIUM MEAL AND FOLLOW THROUGH 18th May 1999 – Mayday Hospital
I can still clearly remember this test at Mayday Hospital as if it was yesterday. As with many of the procedures there was the prep to take the day before which effectively emptied my digestive system. I arrived at hospital and changed into one of those backless gowns that are impossible to fasten properly without help. It was then back to the waiting area. Just putting on the gown already lifts the stress levels and sitting like that in a waiting area just makes it worse.
The first problem was swallowing the barium meal – a thick, off-putting, tasteless sludge. Having downed the final mouthful there was then a wait whilst it made it way slowly round my digestive system. I was taken to a bed and told to lay on my right hand side for 45 minutes as this would aid digestion. When the time was up I was shown into the x-ray room.
I lay face up on the x-ray table whilst the radiographer took a preliminary scan but was not happy with the result. He was having difficulty in getting the barium meal to move around my system due to a stricture. He produced a rubber beachball which he placed between the x-ray head and my abdomen. He then proceeded to bounce it up and down and it slowly did the trick. The x-rays showed that the terminal stricture was as bad as ever. My bowel was down to the size of my little finger. Unfortunately the x-rays taken at the time are no longer available.
As a result my consultant gave me the choice of starting Azathioprine or having surgery. I chose the drug route.
BARIUM ENEMA March 1978 – Mayday Hospital
I haven’t had one of these for a long, long time. I thought they had probably been phased out by the introduction of CT and MRI scans but I believe they are still used.
Of all the procedures I’ve been through I think this is the most undignified. Having taken the usual purging prep the previous day, arrived at the hospital and changed into a gown, I ended up on a bed with a tube stuck where the sun don’t shine and barium liquid being poured down it. Once I was “full” the instruction came “to try and to hold it all in” whilst the tube was removed and the x-rays taken. Just writing this I am clenching my buttocks as I remember that feeling of the tube being gently withdrawn and then it’s all down to muscle control.
Once the x-rays were done, there was the dash to the nearest bathroom to allow what went in to come out, rapidly. I think I’d sum up the whole experience as unpleasant and the most likely to end in a very messy situation involving embarrassment, mops, buckets and cleaners.
BONE MARROW BIOPSY 2nd October 2012 – Guy’s Hospital
The procedure was planned for the afternoon so I went into work as normal. That morning I had told various colleagues that I wouldn’t be around after lunch and explained why. Every single one of them uttered the same 3 words “that sounds painful”. After you’ve heard it for the umpteenth time a few nagging doubts set in. The previous week I had asked the haematologist if it hurt to which she replied “you’ve got Crohn’s and had surgery. You’ve dealt with pain! This will be nothing by comparison”.
I checked in to the clinic and given an identification wristband as the procedure would be carried out in the Day Hospital section.
When the doctor appeared her first reaction was “have you come alone?” That sounded a bit alarming. I asked why I would need to be accompanied and she replied that most patients were nervous about the procedure and liked to have someone with them. Whatever.
She showed me into a treatment room. I took my shoes off and then lay on my right hand side on the bed. She explained what she was going to do, where the needles would be inserted and then did the usual risk assessment talk. There was not a lot that could go wrong as the needles go straight through the skin into the hip bone and nowhere near any vital organs. I signed the consent form and we were ready to start.
I asked how long it would take for the results to be available as my follow-up appointment was planned for mid-December. She replied that they should be available in 4 or 5 weeks and they would contact me if anything untoward showed up. I asked to be informed even if nothing showed up as I didn’t want to wait until the appointment to find out.
I pulled my knees up to my chest and adopted a foetal position. She felt around to find the best location for the needle and then cleansed the area. This was followed by a series of shallow injections of local anaesthetic and was the most painful part of the whole experience but really not too bad. Certainly nothing to get hung up about. Some deeper injections were made but by now the first set of injections was working so I felt very little. A few minutes later it was time for the first sample needle to be inserted.
The aim is to get a liquid sample that can then be spread onto microscope slides for an initial examination within the department. She was having problems getting a good sample that wasn’t contaminated with blood as it kept clotting (which goes against what you would expect from low platelets). Because I was tolerating the needle so well she took some more samples but explained that the as long as she could get a good core sample then the quality of the liquid samples wasn’t important.
Time for the coring needle, which is quite a bit larger than the previous one. If you’ve ever seen one of those food programmes about cheese no doubt there will have been a scene where the cheese-maker inserts a tool into the cheese and pulls out a nice sample. Same principle here!
It takes a fair amount of force to push the larger needle through the outer layer of the bone. I could certainly feel it as it went deeper in. It wasn’t so much pain as a dull ache that traveled into the leg. After a couple of minutes of pushing the needle into the right depth it was withdrawn and the sample released. She was very pleased with the resulting core and set about dressing the puncture wound.
I then had to lie on my back for 15 minutes whilst the blood clotted and sealed the wound. I was told that a nurse would come and tell me when I could go. After 20 minutes or so she came in and looked at the wound. It was fine so back on with my shoes and down to the station to catch the train home.
CALPROTECTIN – I’ve kept this one in for completeness. The procedure is very simple – collect stool sample; send to path lab; wait to see if they have managed to lose the sample or come up with a lame excuse for not processing it. If they have then repeat procedure; if they haven’t then wait at least 10 days for result. Research has shown there is a good correlation between the calprotectin result and what would be seen by a colonoscopy. I am very definitely the exception to the rule.
COLONOSCOPY Saturday 11th March 2017 – St.Thomas’ Hospital, Endoscopy Suite
This wasn’t going to be a “normal” colonoscopy but I knew what was involved and the lure of having a procedure within two weeks was enough to secure my agreement to what followed.
The preparation in the lead up to the scoping followed the usual pattern of fasting and drinking Citrafleet. The advice leaflet suggested taking the second dose on the morning of the procedure but if they thought I was going to make an hour’s journey on a train within a couple of hours of drinking the solution then they were wrong. I took the second dose late the previous night.
The day of the scoping arrived. By 10:30 I was wristbanded and cannulated. I went off to change into a pair of very stylish paper boxer shorts with a velcro flap up the back. (Of course I put them on the right way round first time!) Once I had donned hospital and dressing gowns it was into the male waiting area until they were ready for me.
Eventually the Gastro registrar appeared and went through the procedure. He explained that he would start off and then hand over to the lead consultant when we were joined by the audience (via a video link). We agreed I would have minimal sedation as I wanted to be able to watch the images and ask questions.
He lead me down to the procedure room where I was greeted by the nurses. Whilst I was being prepped we discussed the use of azathioprine and potential bone marrow suppression. We also touched on Crohn’s and the link to portal vein thrombosis. I hadn’t realised that patients with active disease are more prone to clots such as DVT. Everything was now ready. The lead consultant came in and introduced himself.
I was asked to adopt a fetal position and, with a liberal handful of KY jelly, the scope started it long journey northwards. The image appeared on a large screen above us. In the bottom left hand corner there was a feature I hadn’t seen before. The consultant referred to it as the “sat nav” and it showed the position of the endoscope in the colon.
It was not an easy journey as my sigmoid was tending to loop as the scope attempted to pass through. There was a lot of changing position – lying on my right side, left side or back – and lots of pressure put on my abdomen by one of the nurses pushing down, hard. It was also a long journey as the aim was to go a short way into the small intestine past the anastomosis (the rejoin after my temporary ileostomy).
In the room next door my regular consultant was acting as chaperone to the group of international gastroenterology students who had come to St.Thomas’ to see “how we do it” in the UK. The screen on the wall flickered into action and two way communication was established. He briefly outlined my Crohn’s history and I was able to fill in some of the details. He explained the MRI issue that needed resolving and called up a copy of the report from my electronic file.
With a lot of perseverance, and gas to inflate the gut, the scope had reached the rejoin. I wonder whether the distraction of the video link caused me to relax and let the scope pass more easily. From then on the consultant gave a running commentary on what appeared on the screen. It was fascinating and informative. There was a debate between the 3 gastros as to which Rutgeerts score they would give my anastomosis. Was it i0, i1 or i2? The conclusion – i0 – no signs of ulceration.
Next they went through the MRI report and the scope was moved to the locations identified to see if any strictures were present. None found. One of the consultants remarked – “Scope 1 – MRI Scan 0”.
One thing that was apparent throughout my gut was a slight reddening (erythema). The scope was zoomed in to examine it and to look for any tell tale signs of active Crohn’s but found nothing. The consultant decided to take a few biopsies. I had never seen this done on previous scopings so watched with a mixture of interest and cringing. What looked like a small crocodile clip appeared from the end of the scope and, under voice control, nipped into the wall of my gut. I waited for the pain but nothing, just a small trickle of blood. I suppose that is why you are given a mild sedative. He decided to take a deeper sample so the device went back into the same location and took a further bite.
By now the scope had been in for about 45 minutes and it was finally time for it to be withdrawn. Always a relief. But what about the raised calprotectin level? They would have to come up with a non-Crohn’s explanation for it. The lead consultant bade farewell and I was wheeled out to Recovery. Experience over. When else would you get a chance to listen in to 3 leading gastros discussing your case and with the evidence before your eyes?
Before leaving the unit I was given a copy of the Endoscopy Report, which I have reproduced below, and it included a possible explanation for the calprotectin result. We will have to wait for the biopsy results to be certain.
The only downside was the length of the procedure. Usually I suffer no side effects from a scoping but this time I ached a fair amount for the next 24 hours.
CT SCAN 20th May 2009 – East Surrey Hospital
This CT scan took place before I started blogging in earnest so I don’t have a full account of what went on. It is, however, a very significant test in my history of Crohn’s and is the procedure that confirmed surgery was inevitable. I can remember I was desperate to have the scan as I knew things were going very wrong internally. Rather than just book an appointment I explained my predicament to the appointments clerk and said that I could be available at fairly short notice should a cancellation arise. It worked and I was seen within a few days.
I don’t remember much about the actual procedure apart from sitting in the waiting room having been told to arrive an hour early to drink some liquid. The liquid turned out to be water and I was presented with a litre jug and a glass. I wasn’t sure how I would get through it all so decided to set myself a target of downing a glass every so many minutes. It was a good plan until a very apologetic nurse appeared with a second litre jug and said I should have given you this one to drink as well. Daunting.
When I went for my next outpatient’s appointment in June the radiologist’s report was not available. The scan itself was on the system so my consultant opened up the file and we watched it on his computer screen. The first thing that struck me were the large areas of solid black that appeared. To my untrained eye they looked serious and I wondered if they represented growths in my abdomen. Luckily they were just air pockets which show up as black voids.
My consultant explained that the scan needed an expert to fathom out what was going on. He was not knowledgeable enough to be able to interpret what we were seeing. I was booked in to see him again in another two months time.
It wasn’t until that next appointment in early August that I was told the CT report was now available. The delay was because of the complicated picture with both ileal disease and the suspicion that I was fistulating from there into other parts of the small bowel, possibly the sigmoid. The suggestion was that I may have a localised perforation “with no definitive collection”. My consultant put it in layman’s terms – “It looks like you’ve got an octopus in there”, hence the name of this blog (and book).
FIBROSCAN 12th November 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital
Fibroscan of the liver. This is the non-invasive alternative to a needle biopsy. To quote from the unit manufacturer’s literature – “a mechanical pulse is generated at the skin surface, which is propagated through the liver. The velocity of the wave is measured by ultrasound. The velocity is directly correlate to the stiffness of the liver, which in turn reflects the degree of fibrosis – the stiffer the liver, the greater the degree of fibrosis.”
For this procedure you lie on a bed with your right side exposed and right arm above your head. Some jelly is applied to the probe and then it is placed against your side and triggered to send a pulse. This is repeated 10 or so times.
The machine then aggregates the scores and gives you a value. My value came out as 7.2. The nurse said that up to 5 was normal and above 12 would cause concern therefore my value showed that there were some fibrosis.
Just like a colonoscopy but with a smaller, shorter endoscope and I don’t remember taking any prep.
LIVER BIOPSY Wednesday 12th December 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital
The day of the liver biopsy had finally arrived. I’d covered all the bases so it should all go smoothly. This is a standard procedure that is done every day but for some reason I’ve found the thought of it quite daunting. Not the actual procedure itself (although this is what Patient.co.uk says on the matter – “Although liver biopsy may be an essential part of patient management, it is an invasive procedure with a relatively high risk of complications“) but, in my case, the variables brought about by the low platelet issue.
Start time was set for 9:30 at St.Thomas’ and the letter said be there 30 minutes early to get prepped. I’m not allowed to drive for 48 hours after the procedure so organised a lift down to the station. I also needed to be escorted on the journey home so my long suffering wife accompanied me.
We arrived at St.Thomas’ well before 9:00 and made our way into the warren called Interventional Radiology. I booked in with one of the nurses and we were shown to a waiting room. The nurse came back with the consent form to start filling out and then disappeared. About ten minutes later I thought I heard my name mentioned together with “Where is he? They’ve been looking for him for 20 minutes”. A little bit disconcerting. We sat tight and the administrator appeared and said “Your platelets are very low and they are concerned about the procedure. You were expected in last night to get prepared. Did anyone call you? They’re going to try and ring you on your mobile”. I checked my mobile but hadn’t missed any calls.
At this point I could see the wheels coming off the wagon. Luckily I had brought with me a copy of the email trail which explained who I had spoken to and what I had done to make everything, supposedly, go smoothly. I explained all this to the administrator. She disappeared for a while and then returned to say that they were waiting for a call from one of the doctors to see how they wanted to proceed. By now we were approaching 9:30 so I could see my “slot” disappearing.
After a few more minutes the nurse re-appeared and put on my patient wristband. This was a good sign and then another nurse appeared with hospital gowns and slippers but told me not to put them on until the doctor had run through the consent form and I had signed it.
A few more minutes and the doctor appeared. Good news. The procedure was going ahead and because of my platelet count they were going to do a standard, “plug”, biopsy, not use the transjugular route. (The standard route takes the needle directly into the liver and, when withdrawn, a plugging agent is introduced to block the puncture)
She went through what they were going to do during the procedure and what the various risks were. The main ones being bleeding from the puncture wound, damage to the biliary ducts and not getting sufficient of a sample therefore needing a further procedure at a later date. I signed the form and then changed into the gowns. Being an upper body procedure you only have to strip to the waist.
I said goodbye to my wife and she set off to visit the National Gallery and go shopping in Oxford Street. By now it was one of those cold, crisp winter days that makes London look even better.
I went into the preparation area to have a cannula inserted. Straight into the vein in one go. At 10:10 I was taken down to the theatre and lay on my back on a trolley with my arms over my head. Two doctors introduced themselves and proceeded to scan my liver area with an ultrasound probe. They discussed the best entry point and route for the needle. Once they were happy with where it was going one doctor took over and it was time to get the area ready for introducing the biopsy needle. The area was cleaned down and a sterile sheet stuck in position with an opening at the puncture site. Ready to start.
First, local anesthetic was injected around the area. The biopsy needle was then slowly introduced through the skin, guided by the ultrasound scan. There was one point which sent a short, sharp pain through my lower abdomen and that’s when the needle passed through the outer membrane of the liver. I was expecting the needle to go straight in, take a sample, and then quickly withdrawn but the process actually takes a lot longer as it is slowly guided into position. Every so often I was getting another sharp pain in my shoulder. I’ve learned not to “be brave”, and keep quiet, as the pain may indicate a problem. I told the doctor what was happening and she adjusted the needle position accordingly. I don’t know exactly how long the whole thing took, probably 50 minutes all up. It was quite a relief to hear the words “All finished”.
I was told to roll onto my right side as this applies pressure to the wound and helps it seal. I was wheeled back into the Recovery Room and the nurse explained that I had to stay on my side for 2 hours. After that I would be able to lie on my back and eat and drink but would need to spend a further two hours in Recovery before I could go home. I was wired up to a blood pressure/heart rate monitor and every few minutes one of the nurses would check to make sure everything was OK. I rang my wife to tell her what time I could be collected and then settled down for the two hour wait before eating.
Once the two hours were up I was allowed to roll onto my back and sit up. I was presented with an NHS Snack Box – sandwiches, crisps, yogurt, fruit juice and a chocolate biscuit. Never seen one of those before. I had some questions, mainly to do with what to look out for that would indicate if something was going wrong. The nurse patiently explained the potential signs of trouble and answered my more general questions.
The next two hours passed fairly quickly and just before 15:00 the doctor, who had carried out the procedure, came to see me to make sure everything was OK and sign me off. My wife had turned up so it was a quick change out of the gowns and we set off for the station. By 16:30 we were home and I had another test under my belt to add to my growing list.
I’m full of admiration for Interventional Radiology at St.Thomas’. Apart from the small hiccup at the start (which was nothing to do with them) everything ran very smoothly. The nurses were fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble. They kept me informed at every stage along the way and answered all my questions with patience and good humour. 10 out of 10. My last task will be to ring them in the morning to let them know if I’m OK.
I never got to the bottom of “we were expecting him in last night”. Will ask my lead consultant when I see him for the final planned test for 2012 – a colonoscopy next Thursday. An 8:30 start for that one but hopefully don’t need to be accompanied. MRI SCAN Monday 30th April 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital
I hadn’t had an MRI scan before so wasn’t sure what to expect. The main thing I’d been told was that some patients found the whole process claustrophobic. Because the scan was concentrating on the digestive system I wasn’t allowed to eat for the 8 hours prior to the test and was asked to arrive 1 hour early to drink a “special fluid”. This fluid looked very much like wallpaper paste but was lemon flavoured. There was a litre to drink and as I got closer to the bottom of the jug the consistency felt like wallpaper paste. Next time I have to drink MRI prep I’ll make sure I keep stirring it throughout. (….except the next time I had an MRI they had changed the prep solution to a disgusting tasting clear liquid called Mannitol)
When it had had time to move into my system I was taken into the scanner room. You’re confronted with a large, ring doughnut shaped bit of kit with a trolley that slides in and out. I was asked to lie face down on the trolley with my arms above my head. Not the most comfortable position when you’ve just drunk a litre of liquid. The radiographer explains what to expect and tells you that at various points within the test process you will be asked to hold your breath. Didn’t sound like a problem but you have to exhale first and that makes it a lot more difficult. You are given a set of headphones to wear as the machine is “quite noisy”. At least I didn’t get claustrophobia as I went into the tunnel feet first.
She wasn’t kidding about noisy. The best way I can describe it is being caught in the middle of a game of space invaders. The machine makes some very loud sounds and then, towards the end of the first test session, the table you are lying on starts to vibrate. A very strange feeling. The contrast dye is then introduced via a cannula and the whole test sequence repeated.
When the tests were completed and I was off of the table and another nurse asked me how I was getting home. I said by public transport. He replied that the litre of liquid that I had just drunk was specially formulated not to be absorbed by the body and that I might want to wait around a bit before catching a train. I then realised the significance of his comment but not being one to shy away a challenge, decided to jump on the train and see what happened.
I’m pleased to say that nothing happened, not even a hint of having to rush off to the loo. In fact the effect of the prep liquid was very short lived.
The results have to be interpreted by an MRI radiologist so there’s a three week wait before you get them.
SeHCAT SCAN 29th July 2014 – St.Thomas’ Hospital
A simple procedure for measuring bile acid malabsorption. It involved a trip to St.Thomas’ Nuclear Medecine Dept. to swallow a radioactive pill and then return three hours later for scans – 5mins lying on back and then repeat lying on front. Then a further visit, one week later, for follow-up scans. The system then compares the two and works out how much of the radio active tracer has remained in the system and from that the bile acid absorption.
UPPER GI ENDOSCOPY AND VARICEAL BANDING 3rd September 2012 – St.Thomas’ Hospital
Off to St.Thomas’ Hospital, this time for an endoscopy……at least that’s what I thought. Of all the tests I’ve had I find endoscopies the worst to deal with and would always choose to be sedated. The implication of sedation is not being able to drive for 24 hours afterwards and I really needed the car the next day so I took the decision before I went in that I would only have the throat numbing spray and nothing else.
I had assumed that the doctor would just be having a look down my upper GI tract to see what state my varices were in. Wrong! She explained that the intention was to have a look down there and then, if necessary, treat the varices by banding, and for this I would need to be sedated. I would also need to have the whole procedure repeated in another three weeks and then again in a further three weeks.
She went through the risks associated with the procedure and got me to sign the consent form. I then had a cannula inserted in the back of my hand and I was ready for the procedure. After a few minutes I was wheeled into the testing room, connected to a blood pressure monitor and an oxygen supply. Then it was the xylocaine (burnt banana flavoured) spray that numbs the back of your throat, and finally a sort of gag is placed between you teeth and this helps to guide the endoscope. It’s the gag that I really don’t like so I was pleased that the doctor injected the sedative straight away with the words “you’re going to feel a little drowsy”.
Next thing I knew I was lying in Recovery. When I had woken up sufficiently I was given a copy of the endoscopy report that would be sent to my GP. The doctor had found three large varices with high risk stigmata and had applied 6 bands to them. The nurse told me that I must only have liquids for the next 24 hours and then three days of “sloppy” food. Now maybe it’s a man thing, but the sandwiches I had brought with me looked very appetising, so I waited a while and then tucked in, ignoring the nurse’s advice. Maybe stupidity is a better description because it did hurt swallowing and I knew not to do it again.
When we got back from London I did the second stupid thing – got in the car and drove home from the station. It was only afterwards that I read the leaflet I had been given at the hospital that pointed out that my insurance would be invalid during the 24 hours following sedation. I wouldn’t do that again either.
That evening I was in quite a lot of discomfort and took a couple of doses of Paracetamol. It was certainly a lot more painful than before but I noticed that the report for this session actually says “May experience some mild chest discomfort” so I’ll grin and bear it.
When I wrote up yesterday’s events for my blog I found that each time I thought about the burnt banana spray and the mouth gag I’m getting a slightly sick feeling in my stomach and at the back of my throat. I needed to address the issues there and then that I would be over it in time for the next banding. I surprise myself how laid back I am about hospitals, procedures and appointments so I don’t want to spoil that for the next one.
If you had to pick one word to describe your Crohn’s experience what would you choose – “PAIN”? “LETHARGY”? “DIARRHOEA”? Some other physical aspect?
Would you choose one of the psychological aspects “STRESS”, maybe “DEPRESSION”. My nomination? I’ll go for “UNCERTAINTY”, on various levels. It’s a state of mind that is very difficult to break free from even during long periods of remission and becomes engrained into one’s thinking and planning.
Short term – the day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour question – is my digestive system going to behave or will I be dashing off to find the nearest bathroom. I might have been fine for months but there is always that nagging doubt which can turn to anxiety, especially going on a long journey by public transport, and then it becomes self-perpetuating. I’ve tried “mind over matter” – it doesn’t always work. Distraction is my best ally but not always easy to achieve.
If you had asked me, 10 days ago, how I was feeling I would have said “Great. The combination of Loperamide and Colesevelam is keeping the bile acid malabsorption under control and now I decide when I go to the bathroom, not my guts. I’m 100% confident”. But then everything changed. I had to cancel a trip to London, to discuss a couple of Crohns research projects, as a journey on public transport was not worth contemplating.
..and of course this inevitably led to the “what’s caused this” question – have I eaten something dodgy? ; is it a virus I’ve picked up? ; is my bile acid malabsorption playing up; or is it the elephant in the room – Crohn’s remission is over, after 8 years, and I’m experiencing a flare?
It has not been unusual to have the odd day or two when things get out of balance but this current bout has been going on for over a week. It has been sufficiently concerning for me to email my gastro consultant to seek his advice. To rule out C-Diff he asked me to get a stool sample and take it to my GP surgery for processing. This might be TMI but I have sought to combat the problem with increased doses of Loperamide and Colesevelam so producing a sample is now taking a while!
Surgery – when I was having regular flare-ups the preferred course of action was a high dose of steroids. For many years they proved effective but they stopped working and a meeting with a surgeon was inevitable. Having had surgery once unfortunately does not mean you wouldn’t need it again (as many Crohn’s patients can testify). So lurking in the background there is always the uncertainty that you may need further operations and the disruption that entails. Recovery can take longer as one advances in years.
The End – a while back I asked my consultant what the ultimate prognosis was. Should I expect my lifespan to be reduced by Crohn’s. He considered the list of conditions I’ve ended up with and said “It won’t be the Crohn’s that kills you!” Well that was reassuring! So what will finish me off?
I would characterise my view of Crohn’s by saying that it adds further layers of uncertainity to the usual ones we call life. I’ve managed to bury two of the layers quite deeply and they only surface when I’m writing something like this post. I really don’t wander around with a mind full of thoughts of surgery or death. The one that I just can’t bury is the misbehaviour of my digestive system I need a wonder pill that will bring me some certainty – maybe Loperamide.