Tag Archives: IBD

In Case of Emergency

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

Next I saw an A&E Registrar. What would he have concluded if I had been unable to fill in the details? He would have been confronted with a patient with a large scar up the midline and an appendectomy incision. He wouldn’t have been aware why the large scar was there and would have assumed my appendix had been taken out. He would be unaware that I had Crohn’s disease, that there were additional veins growing in my esophagus (varices), that my spleen was enarged or that my platelets would show up around 60, rather than 150+. Valuable time could have been lost trying to solve the wrong problems.

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

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

There are, of course, the likes of SOS Talisman bracelets which have some very basic information engraved on or contained within them. Then there are several subscription services which will hold your medical information and can then be accessed via a unique code you wear on a bracelet or dog tag, but these all appear to be based in the US.  What I wanted was a standalone device that would be easily wearable and accessible. A bracelet with built-in USB memory seemed to be the ideal solution. The next challenge would be how to record the information.

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

Key Medical Details (with links)

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

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

Detailed Medical Record

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

USB Bracelet

There are issues that I haven’t addressed :

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

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

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

The 2014 Report on NpFIT failure :

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

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

 

 

 

Now or Later?

Are you a “Now” or “Later” person? When you’ve undergone some test or maybe an MRI scan do you prefer to get the result/report as soon as it is available or do you prefer to wait until you see your consultant?

I’m definitely the former. I like to know what could lie ahead so that I can come to terms with the worst scenario and then, if reality is actually not as bad, result!

When it’s something like a calprotectin test then it’s simple to compare the new value to previous ones and identify the trend. (I dropped a sample into the Path Lab for analysis just before Christmas and should be able to get the result soon).

The problem comes when you read a report that is well beyond one’s own limited medical knowledge or experience. I had such a report arrive in the post last week. The MRI scan itself was carried out at the end of last July but if you’ve read my previous couple of posts you’ll see that there was an apparent conflict between it and a subsequent colonoscopy. I had asked my consultant to send me through the text and he duly obliged.

Before we go any further here it is :

“MRI Small bowel study :

Comparison is made with the previous MR in April 2012. Previous ileocolic resection again noted.

There is stricturing seen in the proximal and distal sigmoid colon as before, with relative sparing ol the midsigmoid colon. As before there are adhesions between the rectosigmoid, proximal sigmoid and the dome of the bladder which is tented upwards and slightly thickened, suggestive of developing colocolonic and colovesical fistula formation. No intravesical gas is however seen at present. There is moderate prestenotic dilatation with the descending colon measuring 6.1 cm in diameter

As before a further stricture is seen in the proximal transverse colon measuring 10 cm in length, with slightly less mural thickening than before. Moderate prestenotic dilatation of 4.8 cm is seen. There is further stricture seen in the ascending colon over a length of 5 cm. Mild mural thickening and oedema is noted in the caecum and distal 5cm of the terminal ileum as previously.

The small bowel loops are suboptimally distended, with the impression of adhesions between the small bowel loops and anterior abdominal wall. No definite further strictures or active small bowel disease is seen. Mild splenomegaly is demonstrated at 15 cm as before There is a mild atrophy of the pancreas. Gallstones noted within a slightly thickened gallbladder as previously. Solid organs otherwise unremarkable.

No intra-abdominal collections. Small trace of fluid within the pelvis.

Conclusion: Appearances are similar to previously with stricturing seen within the colon, associated prestenotic dilatation, and evidence of penetrating disease as before.”

I mentioned this to another IBD patient to which they replied :

“This is exactly the reason why I don’t like getting copies of blood results or test reports as it always throws up questions that would not otherwise be there (particularly if you are feeling well). And it creates a feeling of unwelcome uncertainty when there is not a medical person to explain it….”

I can understand this reasoning and, having read the above I’m starting to think that maybe that’s the way forward.

There are four words in particular make me wonder what lies ahead – “stricture”, “fistula”, “adhesions” and “penetrating”. I’ve experienced them all before and it ended up with surgery. If I need further episodes under the knife then it’s not really a surprise. My consultant quotes the average time between surgeries for Crohn’s patients as 10 years. I’ve reached six and a half from the ileostomy, but before then (perforated bowel) it was 30 years.

Surgeon’s drawing of surgery – October 2010

Next time I see my consultant it should be an interesting conversation. How much of the report could have been expected given my past history? Are there any pointers to the progression/reawakening of Crohn’s disease? What next? Does it point to surgery sooner rather than later?

Once I have my latest calprotectin results back then I must get a date for that next appointment……

Until next time

 

Next steps

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

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital 12th December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald, no not THAT one

As part of last year’s Health Activists Writer’s Challenge we were asked to find a “quotation that inspires you”.

The quotation I chose is probably not an obvious one for a health blog. You might have been expecting me to have trawled through the “inspirational” websites to find some relevant, life affirming words. I hope you’re not disappointed. I actually used this quote….

Here goes. Over to that well known US philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld. It’s the quote he was ridiculed for it at the time, unfairly in my opinion, as it makes perfect sense. In case you don’t remember what he said :

“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Bear with me, it will become clear. To illustrate the point I’m using one of my favourite subjects – bile acid malabsorption (BAM). Maybe “favourite” isn’t the right description, make that “a subject I have felt the need to write about several times before”. There’s barely a day goes by when I don’t see a comment, on one of the IBD or BAM forums, from someone who has just been diagnosed with BAM and many times the post goes on to say that their doctor had never heard of the condition before. That’s the first hurdle to overcome.

Walk up to St.Thomas' from Waterloo
St.Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster

I am a fellow sufferer as a result of losing my terminal ileum. (I had an ileostomy back in October 2010). Before the operation I was offered the chance to take part in an Enhanced Recovery Scheme at one of the top London hospitals. Part of the ethos behind this regime is to fully inform the patient of what will happen at all stages of the process – pre-op, during the hospital stay and beyond. Was I told about BAM before the operation? I’d have to answer “maybe” and this brings us to the point of this post. Let me explain….

I was told that after the operation absorption of vitamins and salts would be much reduced due to lack of a terminal ileum. The surgeon repeated this message on his ward round post-op. If someone told you that your body wouldn’t absorb salt properly what would you take that to mean? I took it at face value, I would need to up my intake of salt to compensate and take supplemental vitamins. I didn’t see the need to question the statement as it seemed very clear.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with BAM (4 years after the ileostomy) that I found it has an alternative name “Bile SALT Malabsorption”. Suddenly the comment about not absorbing “salt” took on another meaning. You can see the problem.

This is where Donald Rumsfeld comes in. I heard what the Enhanced Recovery Nurse and the surgeon told me. I understood what the words meant – to me. I didn’t know that I didn’t understand what the words meant to them. From their point of view – they were using their everyday, medical terms to describe a potential problem to a patient.

From this experience I have learnt that you must always question what you are being told and do your best to get the doctor or consultant to explain, in simple terms or non-medical terms, exactly what they mean and what they perceive the implications to be.

I keep coming back to those particular words in the quote “there are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Try repeating them to yourself as you enter the consulting room…..

Life Changing

Monday 11th October 2010 – OPERATION DAY

The operation time slipped from the 11:30am originally planned but eventually I was collected from the 12th floor and arrived down in the anaesthesia room at 12:30pm. The theatre team were ready for me and started the preparation procedures. They seemed to be a very happy crew, laughing and joking and that helped put me at my ease.

The anaesthetist I had met earlier then appeared. He greeted me with a broad smile and said he was ready to fit the epidural. Once that was done he said I’m just going to give you a mild sedative to relax you. I just drifted off into oblivion. Never trust an anaesthetist.

That’s the last I remember until waking up at six o’clock in Recovery. It was freezing. I was feeling no pain as the epidural was doing its job well but I was freezing. Shivering. Violently shivering. The house doctor, that I had seen in my room that morning, came up to see how I was. His first word was “Sorry…” so I knew what was coming. He told me it was a four and a half hour operation and that because of what they found when they opened me up it was necessary to have a stoma in order to give my large intestine a chance to recover. He lifted the blankets so I could see what they had done. It didn’t really come as a shock as I always knew it was a possibility and was mentally prepared for it. I can imagine what it would have felt like if I hadn’t been forewarned.

By late afternoon my wife was starting to get concerned. It must be a lot worse for those sitting at home waiting for news than the patient who is comfortably numb. She hadn’t had any news on how the operation went so she rang the Ward. They told here that I hadn’t arrived yet but would call when they knew what was happening. Just gone six thirty a doctor rang to tell her that I was OK. It had been complex surgery and I was still in Recovery.

The Team in Recovery were concerned about my readings, especially the temperature. At one point I had a “bair hugger” put round me which is a hollow blanket into which hot air is blown. Now I know what a formula one tyre goes through on the grid. I was offered a warm drink just a couple of hours after the operation. No more “nil by mouth”. It wasn’t until I was finally wrapped up in a large, microwaveable blanket that my temperature began to return to normal and I could be taken up to the ward. By now it was around eight o’clock.

Another huge change over the past few years is being able to use a mobile phone in hospital. I suppose it was inevitable as people would use them whatever. I asked the nurse if I could get my phone so I could ring my wife. As I explained earlier, they had locked my valuables in the ward safe and the night shift didn’t know the combination. Very frustrating.

I was taken to Northumberland Ward on the 11th floor, where I spent the rest of my stay. I had been expecting to be put in Page Ward, as that was the ward specialising in colorectal surgery. Unfortunately there were no beds available so I was put into the sister ward next door where they specialised in upper GI conditions.

{I felt really good and so could have easily written up my blog if I’d have had my iPad. (I imagine this was a post op high induced by the drugs). I finally managed to get hold of it the following morning to write this post.)

The house doctor came to visit me again to see if there was anything I needed. I asked him if he could ring my wife and tell her I was safely up in the Ward. He had a number of other things to take care of first but eventually she got a call at eleven thirty……..

I said at the top of this post that it was a truly life changing experience. I’ll go into more detail in another post but because of it :

  1. Lost my terminal ileum and gained BAM (bile acid malabsorption)
  2. Got stoma’d
  3. Started my relationship with St.Thomas’ Hospital
  4. Became very laid back about all things medical
  5. …and started blogging

Post Op Note : I never fully understood exactly what the operation involved. Earlier this year I contacted one of the surgeons and using the operation notes and pathology report, he put together this sketch for me.

op-drawing-by-surgeon

Where do we go from here?

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should be an interesting session on 12th.

 

#HAWMC – Day 20 – Highlight

day_20If I’d written this three months ago I would have either used a slightly nebulous highlight – “managing my health, work and lifestyle so that they work in harmony” (most of the time) or I might have said “writing a book”.

However, in September, I had a new experience because of Crohn’s/IBD. (What follows is a slightly edited post from just after that event)

“Whatever else you can say about Crohn’s Disease it certainly does give you the chance of new experiences, mostly unpleasant, to be honest. I won’t list the nasty ones here as they are covered in the video at the end of this post.

A fellow IBD patient, or should that be sufferer, had been asked to to give a talk about “Living with IBD” to some nurses. Unfortunately she was double booked and asked if I would step in. With typical male arrogance and over confidenece I immediately agreed. The date was set for 5 weeks time.

It was actually something I’d wanted to do for a while. I suppose it reawoke the “performing” instinct that first showed itself when I was  in a band. That was around the time I was diagnosed with Crohn’s.

mav_lak_2
That’s me on the left – The Lakers, Redhill

GETTING READY

I wouldn’t need any preparation. I’d lived with IBD long enough to write a book (literally). I would just turn up and talk, or so I thought. The last thing I wanted was to read from a script.

At this point I found out that there would be around 200 nurses, in a proper lecture theatre and  I would be talking at the end of the afternoon. It dawned on me that to do the subject justice, and not short change the nurses, I would at least need some notes and something to keep everyone awake. Where’s that mind map software?

mind_mapI was rather staggered by the sheer number of topics I came up with. After much arranging and re-arranging I wrote them down as a series of headings and bullet points. That would do. I tried a run through. TERRIBLE. I stumbled over the words to flesh out each point. I would have to give in and write out some notes.

Another run through and nearly as bad  – stilted, hesitant, repetitive…..  I would have to give in and write the talk out word-for-word, the very thing I didn’t want to do.

Having just written a book (100,000 words) using iBooksAuthor software I decided it was the right tool  for this new task.  There is one particular feature that is indispensible – the option which allows you to take your text, convert it to speech and then save as an mp3 file for listening to on an iPod. Why this extra step?

I find that no matter how often I read text through, either on screen or in printed form, it is very difficult to pick up words that have been repeated too often or where simply by changing the structure of a sentence it makes a far better read. Listening to the text several times also gives you a chance to start taking it on board and makes one’s delivery more polished.

Here’s an example as an mp3. Not marvellous but good enough to run through the words without being distracted by the text on the screen. It shows how easy it is too identify a missing word.

After several further iterations, including two read throughs to my wife, I was finally happy with the contents.

Now it was time to remember all those tips I picked up on the various corporate presentation courses I had been sent on – move around the stage, make eye contact with all parts of your audience, generate some audience participation by asking THEM questions, communicate with passion and finally include a surprise.

THE BIG DAY

When I got to the lecture theatre, with a real live audience, it suddenly became a lot easier. I did use my text but just as a “confidence safety net” and to make sure I didn’t forget anything (which I still did). I had taken a small camera with me but unfortunately didn’t get there in time to set it up properly so the sound wasn’t brilliant.

The resulting video was rather long all in one go so I’ve split it into three parts. Of the three I think that the second one covering surgery and stomas is the most representative. I’ll let you judge the result.”

Kings College Hospital, Lecture Theatre

I wasn’t expecting that round of applause for my stoma stunt!

This has to be my Health Activist highlight as it was the first time I had spoken in public and gave me a chance to give an insight into IBD to the nurses who will end up looking after patients, some of which will have IBD. It’s whetted my appetite to take it further. I rather fancy talking to some consultants and doctors next.

You need an operation

This is an extract from the chapter that covers the immediate period before major surgery for a stricture in my terminal ileum.

Friday, 8th October 2010 – X MARKS THE SPOT

My final visit to St.Thomas’s, as an outpatient, before the operation. I had to visit the stoma nurse in case I ended up having to have a bag fitted. Obviously I was hoping that it wouldn’t happen but you need to cover all the bases. As the saying goes ” Sh*t happens”, and it’s quite relevant in this case!

We started by discussing all the implications of being stoma’d. She told me they were not that difficult to deal with and it should only be for 6 months. She then looked at my physique (= bulges) and how I wore my trousers so she could position the stoma in the optimum place. Once she was happy with the location she marked it. I now had a large black cross on the right side of my abdomen, marked with indelible felt pen and covered by a waterproof sticker. I was still hopeful that it would be intact after the operation.

X marks the spot
X marks the spot

I told the nurse that I intended to keep my blog going whilst I was in hospital. She looked rather sceptically at me and said that for the first few days I would have an attention span of about 5 minutes and it was unlikely that I would feel like doing anything. She was partly right.

I asked what time my operation was likely to start. Surgery usually began at 8:00am but until they saw the full list of operations they wouldn’t be able to tell me where I would be in the sequence. They might have a better idea when I was admitted on the Sunday. When we saw the Enhanced Recovery Nurse the previous week she said that the surgeon likes to do his “interesting” patients early morning and that I was one of the “interesting” ones. It brought to mind the Chinese saying/curse “May you live in interesting times”.

From then on it was just a waiting game until Sunday when I would get the call telling me which ward I needed to report to.

Saturday, 9th October 2010 – LAST DAY OF FREEDOM

The last full day of being able to drive for at least six weeks so we decided to go out for the afternoon to see the autumn tints at the National Trust’s Sheffield Park Garden.

In the evening I made a final list of chores that needed to be completed the following day before I got the call from St.Thomas’s telling me which ward to report to and when they wanted me. I decided to see just how far down the list I could get. I was under strict instructions not to leave home until the hospital had rung but had been assured that they would find me a bed and that the op would go ahead on Monday unless the surgeon fell off his bike again. Since he had done that last year they were hoping he had learned his lesson.


Sunday, 10th October 2010 – THE WAITING GAME

I always knew that this day would be the worst in the process so far. The admission letter told me not to leave home until the hospital had contacted me with the name of the ward I was to report to and at what time.

All the chores were completed in the morning and then we waited for the call. It got to half past two and the tension was just too great so I rang the ward I thought I was being admitted to. Rather worryingly I was told that they had no record of me but would do some ringing around and let me know what was happening.

About 10 minutes later I got a call to say that there wasn’t an available bed in Page Ward but I would be expected in Howard Ward instead. They would call me back to confirm when I was needed. We had a quick look at the St.Thomas’s website and couldn’t see Howard Ward listed. More worry.

I then got a call from Howard Ward to say that I could come in as soon as I was ready and that I was getting a single room in the Private wing of the hospital but not to get too comfortable as it was for one night only.

This really was the most stressful time for myself and my wife but as soon as we set off for London I relaxed and then became positively chilled out. Unfortunately it wasn’t so easy for my wife. If anything my laid back attitude made those around me more anxious.

Private Room
My private room – one night only

My sister picked us up and took us down to the station and we all boarded the train to Waterloo. We walked up from the station to St.Thomas’ and arrived just after half past four. Howard Ward is on the twelfth (top) floor of the hospital and entrance is via a set of locked doors. It took a while to find someone to let us in and eventually were greeted by a friendly ward sister who showed us to my room. The first impression was “Wow, what a view” as we looked south down the Thames and over to the Houses of Parliament.

Just before six o’clock I said my goodbyes to my wife and sister, wondering, at the back of my mind, if that would be the last time I would see them. I don’t want to sound over dramatic but it was a possibility. Apart from that one doubt I was remarkably calm and collected (and have been so ever since, no matter what my health has thrown at me. I wish I could pass the secret on to others but it simply happened and not as the result of a conscious effort).

The ward sister returned to check my details, blood pressure and heart rate and take some MRSA swabs. Then we were joined by a doctor who stuck a cannula in the back of my hand and took some blood samples. I was allowed to eat up until midnight but after that it was to be fluids only. My dinner arrived and I ate it whilst watching the river traffic passing up and down the Thames. Mainly pleasure boats packed with people for an evening cruise, taking advantage of the autumn sunshine.

Howard Ward
Ready for dinner

When I had finished my dinner I was connected up to a drip and told to expect another visit from a doctor around 11:00pm.

Once you’ve been operated on they like to get you down into the main surgical wards as there are more staff around to keep an eye on you. I still didn’t know what time the operation would be and wouldn’t be able to find out until the surgeon arrived in the morning.

I took the opportunity to spend the next few minutes chilling out, watching the sun set over the River Thames. The next update to my blog would be after the operation. It would probably be at least Tuesday before I would be in a fit state to type further entries.

Into the unknown……..but what a view.

Thames - Upstream from Howard Ward
The view from Howard Ward – looking upstream towards Battersea

Monday, 11th October 2010 – PRE OP

I was amazed that I managed to get some sleep. I was woken up at 2:00am by one of the nurses to connect a new drip and then went back to sleep. The next time I woke it was a glorious autumn morning. One of the house doctors came in, introduced himself and explained I was the last on the list for surgery as I was the most “interesting” and they didn’t know how long the operation would take. He answered any questions I had and then went off to the operating theatre. I was given DVT stockings and a surgical gown to put on. I lay on the bed watching the sun rise over Millbank.

It's a beautiful day
The sun rising over the old part of St.Thomas’

I was then visited by the anaesthetist. He said that it looked like I would be going down to theatre at 11:00am and it could be a 5 hour operation. There were some formalities that he needed to run through which revolved around risks and consent forms. He explained that they intended to use an epidural for pain control. Whilst this had proved very effective there were a number of risks involved. He went through each one in turn and gave me the probability of each occurring. At the end of it I signed a consent form that confirmed I understood the risks and I was prepared to go ahead with the operation.

Testing Times

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. The diagram below demonstrates the issue.

Can I have my life back?

To give you a flavour of the types of tests and procedures Crohn’s (and its related conditions) can require I have extracted all the different types of tests 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 but forewarned ………

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

I can still clearly remember this test at Mayday Hospital as if it was yesterday. As with any 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. Even though it was 20 years since my last stay in hospital I really didn’t fancy another one. There were other factors such as our lifestyle. A major operation and the associated recovery period would have put a stop to all our plans, so I chose the drug route.

BARIUM ENEMA – Mayday Hospital – 1998

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 asked the question on the CCUK Facebook page in August 2014 and several people confirmed that 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 – Wednesday 2nd October 2012 – Guy’s Hospital

The procedure was planned for 3:00pm so I went into work as normal. 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. The previous week I had asked the haematologist if it hurtto which  she replied “you’ve got Crohn’s and had surgerys. You’ve dealt with pain! This will be nothing by comparison”

I checked in to the clinic 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 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.

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 biopsy needles
The slides

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

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

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

Bone marrow core 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.

CALPROTECTIN – I’ve only kept this one in for completeness. The procedure is very simple – collect stool sample; take to path lab; wait 10 days for result. Research has shown there is a good correlation between the calprotectin result and what would be seen by a colonoscopy.

COLONOSCOPY

Preparation Day – Tuesday 19th June 2012  No eating after a light breakfast. At noon you drink 50ml of senna pod liquid. This is followed an hour later by a sachet of sodium picosulphate dissolved in 150ml of water and then again at 5:00pm. The camera has to have a clear view of the gut wall so you can guess the effect of these drinks. Once you’ve started drinking these liquids you don’t stray far from the house.


Procedure Day – Wednesday 20th June 2012
– the day of the colonoscopy. Having not eaten anything since yesterday morning at 8:00am the hunger got really bad. I was allowed to drink water up to 3 hours before the procedure.

The Shard with Guy’s in the foreground

Got up to Guy’s Hospital nice and early for the 1:30pm start time. I was accompanied by my wife as they will not carry out the test unless you have someone to see you home safely.

By 1:40pm I was changed into a surgical gown ready to go. My blood pressure was then checked and I was asked questions on allergies etc. I was taken to a waiting area and was there about 30 minutes when I moved on to a corner of the recovery room where I had a canula inserted into the back of my hand and then I waited some more. At 2:30pm I was told that an in-patient was going in in front of me but only for a 5 or 10 minute procedure.

Finally at 3:00pm the doctor came and sat down to talk through what he was about to do and get me to sign the consent letter, then we were off to the procedure room. I asked to have minimum sedation as I like to watch the camera images on the screen.

Before starting with the camera he asked me various questions about my medical history and the medications used. I told that the MRI scan at the end of April suggested that the Crohn’s had flared up again in both my large and small bowels and that the colonoscopy was expected to confirm this. He then explained the potential risks of the procedure, the main one being the risk of perforating the intestine and requiring surgery to correct it. I signed the consent form and we were ready to go.

I explained that I wanted to be conscious so I could watch the monitor and was only given a mild sedative. I was told to lay on my left hand side, with my knees drawn up, and the camera was stuck where the sun don’t shine.

It all started OK but there was no sign of any inflammation. A real surprise. The camera continued on its way but then reached the sharp bend where the colon turns to run horizontally across the body. Try as he might the doctor could not get the camera to go round the corner. He tried withdrawing it a little and then pushing again. He then got the nurse to push hard against my abdomen to try and ensure everything was lying flat. He tried getting me to lie on my back. Nothing worked. There’s never been a problem in the past so I don’t know what went wrong this time. The “camera experience” lasted about 50 minutes. The amazing thing is that, so far, I haven’t been able to feel any after effects.

I was hoping that the lead consultant was the one carrying out the test as it would give me the opportunity to discuss the way forward with both the Crohn’s and the new problem, bit I didn’t see him.

It looks like I will need to have the colonoscopy repeated by with another, smaller camera. There is a test that can be done on a “sample”, called a calprotectin test , which gives a good indication as to whether Crohn’s is active or not. Maybe they will opt for this rather than another camera job. The other alternative is a capsule endoscopy where you swallow a small capsule camera that transmits pictures of your digestive system as it passes through. The pictures are picked up, wirelessly, on a receiver worn around your waist.

COLONOSCOPY (AGAIN)

Wednesday 19th December 2012

The day before the procedure and this is when the serious “prep” starts. You’re allowed a light breakfast then only liquids such as fruit squash and Bovril. At midday there are 4 senna tablets to swallow. At 1 o’clock it the first sachet of Citrafleet (sodium picosulfate) mixed with 150ml of water. It doesn’t taste that bad and quickly takes “effect”. That’s the “effect” that stops you from straying very far from the toilet! When it gets to 5 o’clock it’s time to take the second sachet and that’s it.

Citrafleet – sodium picosulfate

Thursday 20th December 2012 – Procedure Day. An early start to get to Guy’s Hospital for 8:30am. My train was a little late so I checked in just after half past and sat in the waiting area. About 10 minutes later one of the nurses asked if anyone was waiting to have a colonoscopy and 3 of us raised our hands. The other 2 had 8:00am appointments so they were seen first. At 9:00am I was taken into the changing area and given a hospital gown to change into. Then the obligatory questions – “are you allergic to anything?” “what tablets do you take?” etc.etc.

I then went and sat in the recovery area and finally went into the ward to be fitted with a cannula. By now it was just gone 9:30am. I was pleased to see the friendly face of my lead consultant appear. He had asked me to ensure that I booked a slot when he was in clinic as he wanted to carry out the procedure personally and it had worked. He ran through the potential risks and got me to sign the consent form. We discussed what had happened during the previous colonoscopy in July and the fact that it wouldn’t go round one of the bends. The other thing I mentioned were the side effects of the dexamthasone that I had been on to try and boost my platelet count. I told him about the hiccups and the change of personality. He hadn’t heard of hiccups being a side effect but the mood swings were a well known effect of steroids. He remembered one patient who had been started on a high dose of prednisolone and the next morning had climbed under her bed and refused to come out!

It wouldn’t be long before I would be lead into theatre.

Actually it was another 30 minutes, in which time I was canullated. I think the delay must have been due to complications with the previous patient as I recognised her as the one who was being seen just before me and she had certainly spent a long time in theatre.

At last I was on. I walked into the theatre and lay on the table. The oxygen supply, heart monitor and blood pressure armband were all fitted and I was asked to roll onto my side wuth my knees drawn up. The doctor injected doses of Fentanyl (a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine), Midazolam (a water-soluble, short-acting benzodiazepine central nervous system depressant and Buscopan (a medicine which is used to relieve spasms of the gastrointestinal tract). You’d think that this cocktail of drugs would knock you out but no, you remain fully conscious. You do have to be escorted home and are not allowed to drive.

I was asked if I wanted to keep my glasses on and I said “Yes” so that I could watch the action of the monitor. Sharp intake of breath and the camera started it bendy journey. It made slow progress but by careful guidance, and some shifting of my position, it made it beyond the bend OK. Unfortunately the image capture wasn’t working properly so the Endoscopy Report is not worth showing. The camera made it all the way to the anastomosis (the rejoin between large and small intestines following the reversal operation in June 2011).

So what did we see in glorious living colour on a large screen – NOTHING. Or rather nothing out of the ordinary. No signs of active Crohn’s Disease at all. Nada. De Rien. Nichts. This is the result I was hoping for but didn’t really expect. It was really a repeat of the colonoscopy result from a year ago and I’ve got a Rutgeert’s score of i0. Follow up appointment – 6 months time.

One reason for requesting this colonoscopy was because I’ve been getting an ache in the vicinity of the anastomosis. It’s clearly not from inside the gut so may well be caused by adhesions. I don’t know what the implications are and it’s the one question I forgot to ask.

CT SCAN – East Surrey Hospital 2009

My last CT scan took place before I started this blog 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. Here is the scan which we looked at :

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”.

FIBROSCAN – Monday 12th November 2012 – St.Thomas’

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.

FLEXIBLE SIGMOIDOSCOPY – just like a colonoscopy but with a smaller, shorter endoscope

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 had an early start. It must have been the coldest night of the winter so far, minus six. So down to Redhill for the train just before 8:00. Now I know why I commute earlier than this. The train was stuffed full, no seats free.

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.

The nurse then put a cannula into my arm ready for the contrast dye to be introduced.

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 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 weren’t available straight away as they had to be interpreted by an MRI radiologist. Would have a three week wait before I saw my usual consultant.

MRI SCAN 2 – Thursday 5th July 2012 – Guy’s Hospital

The consultant wanted to have a look at my spleen and liver which meant no need for fasting beforehand or having to drink any special fluids. My appointment was at 10:00am and the letter said to be there 15 minutes before that time. I checked in at reception and was given a questionnaire which asked about medication, recent operations and any implants you might have. I filled it in and only waited a few minutes before I was shown to a cubicle and asked to change into a hospital gown.

I was then taken into the imaging area and a cannula inserted into my left arm ready for the introduction of a marker dye later in the process. When that was in place I was shown into the scanner room and asked to lie down on the scanner trolley. Once in position I was connected up to the dye injector and given a pair of headphones to wear as this is quite a noisy procedure. You are also given a push button in one hand so you can alert the radiographer if you are having a problem. (A radiographer is the person who operates the machine; a radiologist is the doctor who interprets the results)

This time I was laying on my back, going into the machine head first. This was a lot more comfortable that the previous scan, in April, where I had to lay on my front with my arms above my head.

Once the radiographer is happy you are in the correct position the scanning sequence starts and they give you instructions via the headphones. The main instruction is to breathe in and then half breathe out and hold your breathe. Because I knew what to expect I found this a lot easier to cope with than before. Some people get claustrophobic in the scanner but I suppose it depends on the size and length of the tunnel of a particular machine. I had no problems with this. The tunnel was relatively short and you could always see out both sides.

The whole procedure lasted about twenty minutes and was slightly less noisy that the St.Thomas’ machine. Halfway through the radiographer said they were now going to inject the marker dye into my arm. Usually you can feel this cold liquid coursing through your veins but this dye must have been at room temperature as I never felt a thing.

The radiographers can see the results in their control room so that they can make sure they are capturing the images required but the actual interpretation and report is put together by the radiologist and takes around 7 to 10 working days. I have an appointment with my consultant on Monday week (16th July) so they should be ready for that.


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

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 – Monday 3rd September 2012

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.

We had quite a long wait before I was taken into the treatment area. The problem was that the earlier patients were taking longer to come round after their procedures and there were no spaces in the recovery area. Eventually it was my turn.

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, had a couple of squirts of throat numbing spray (xylocaine – tastes of burnt bananas) and then the sedative was injected into the cannula.

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 know not to do it again.

Here’s a copy of the endoscopy report. I think that the top image shows the varices halfway down my oesophagus and then the bottom image shows two that have been banded

Endoscopy Report

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 your insurance is invalid during the 24 hours following sedation. I won’t do that again.

That night I was aware that I was losing a little blood, which I suppose was only to be expected, but it did lead to a sleepless night worrying about whether we should still go out to all the places we had planned for the rest of the week. In the end I came back to the “I will not let Crohn’s rule my life” attitude and decided we should go whatever.

VARICEAL BANDING 2 – Thursday 27th September 2012 – St.Thomas’ 

 I’ve learned my lesson from the last session – no driving home after this one so my sister picked us up and took us to the station. We arrived nice and early at St.Thomas’ and knew exactly where to go to get booked in with endoscopy reception. Five minutes later I was called in by one of the nurses to go through “when was the last think you ate anything?”,”have you got an allergies?” routine. She then went off to find out how long I would be waiting before the procedure took place. She came back with the good news that there was only one patient in front of me so I could go and get my cannula fitted. I said goodbye to my wife and said I’d be ready for collection in a couple of hours. It was certainly a lot quieter on a Thursday.

I was led to a small cubicle, took my shoes off and laid on the bed. At least with an endoscopy there’s no need to get changed into a surgical gown. Another nurse then put a cannula into my right arm, checked my blood pressure and heart rate and I then waited to be seen by the doctor. In a while the doctor appeared and I recognised her as the one who had carried out the previous banding. She asked how I’d been feeling since the last one and if I had any questions. The one thing I did want to know is why you are only allowed liquids after the banding. I wanted to know if it was purely because it would hurt or if there was a medical reason. She explained that the rubber bands placed around the varices might become dislodged so it was liquids only for the first 24 hours and then 3 days of sloppy diet. I replied that this time I would keep to this advice to which she gave me an “old fashioned” look!

She explained that they would have a look and see how the previous banding had gone and then carry out any more that might be needed. She would book me in for a third session in another 3 weeks time. I was then wheeled into the procedure room and connected up to another 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”.

The procedure started at 11:15 and the last image from the endoscopy report shows 11:29 so the whole thing took around 15 minutes. The next thing I was aware of was waking up in the recovery area and it was all over for another three weeks. I was given a copy of the printout from today’s session and about one o’clock I was allowed to leave. Compared with last time I was in quite a bit more discomfort and was slightly wobbly on my feet.

Here’s today’s endoscopy report. I haven’t actually discussed the images with anyone but I think that Image 1 shows the varices down towards the stomach. Images 3 and 4 show the new bands in place.

Endoscopy Report – click on image for larger version

Before leaving the hospital I called into the Endoscopy Appointments room and asked if I could get a date for Obliteration 3. The doctor had already requested the appointment so I was able to choose a date for 3 weeks time. Given that today’s clinic seemed very quiet I chose another Thursday and it has the added advantage of still being able to go to work for the first 3 days of the week and then spend a long weekend recovering.

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.

Friday 28th September 2012 – Have just finished writing up yesterday’s events on this post. I’m finding each time I think 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 need to address this now so that I’m 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.