Category Archives: Crohn’s Disease


I had a colonoscopy a few days ago, the first one in five years. I’d forgotten the detail of what was involved probably because, in the meantime, I’ve had seven gastroscopies which do not require any preparation but are done under sedation.

If you’re reading this then I’m guessing you’ve either had a colonoscopy and want to know if your experience was similar to mine or you’re about to have one and are looking for some information on what it is like from a patient’s perspective.

First, the bad news. A couple of years ago I ran a quick poll on Facebook asking which of the tests IBD patients rated as the worst. Of the 700 responses almost 70% chose a colonoscopy. For the remainder it was mainly the dislike of having an MRI scan.

There is no disguising the fact that the colonoscopy is widely despised by patients and I wonder how many, with digestive problems, put off seeing their GP because they do not want to undergo this procedure. Unfortunately there are no alternative ways of taking biopsies in the gut but for some monitoring activities there is light at the end of the tunnel. More of that later.

The colonoscopy experience can be broken down into 4 acts – fasting, preparation, scoping and recovery. How does this work in practice? Let me use my recent experience to illustrate.

Act 1 – Fasting – started with a fibre free diet 3 days out. The following day I was allowed a light breakfast then liquids only until after the procedure. On the last occasion I made myself a mug of Marmite dissolved in hot water. It was disgusting and turns my stomach just thinking about it. Suggested alternatives were Bovril or an OXO cube. I tried a “vegan, beef favoured” OXO cube in hot water and took the first sip with some trepidation. To my surprise, it was very tasty. I have struggled with fasting in the past but this time it was fine.

Act 2 – Preparation – the dreaded purging liquid that many find the worst part of the whole procedure. There are three common brands – KleanPrep, MoviPrep and Citrafleet/Picolax – and they are taken in 2 doses. The most obvious difference is in the amount of liquid you mix up. KleanPrep requires 2 x 2 litres; MoviPrep requires 2 x 1 litre; Citrafleet/Picolax only requires 2 x 150ml.

There are medical reasons for using different types, for instance the ones requiring higher volumes of liquid are less likely to affect your kidney function. Luckily at GSTT the standard issue is Citrafleet. At 4pm I swallowed 4 senna tablets and an hour later downed the first 150ml of prep. Previously it had taken effect very quickly and I had not strayed far from the bathroom. This time the hours passed before….well you can guess!

Five years ago you would take the second dose of prep later that evening but then the instructions changed to taking it on the day of the procedure. I am very sceptical about this. I have a 90 minute journey from home to hospital, mostly on public transport, and the last thing I want is to still have anything left in my gut. As a compromise I got up very early in the morning and downed the second dose ready for the procedure that afternoon. Had my appointment been in the morning then I would have taken the dose late the previous day and put up with a disturbed night.

Let’s talk about sedation for a moment…

Sedation is commonly a cocktail of midazolam and fentanyl. I’ve heard the former described as the “vallium” of the mixture and it has memory suppressing qualities similar to rohypnol; fentanyl is the painkiller but also enhances the effect of the midazolam. The best way to describe the effect is, to borrow from Pink Floyd, you are comfortably numb but sufficiently conscious to respond to the endoscopist’s requests to adjust your body position as required.

Sedation has implications. If you choose that option you will need someone to escort you home and you are not allowed to drive for 24 hours as your insurance would be invalid.

I had looked back at old colonoscopy reports. They all showed sedation and yet I remembered coming home without supervision on at least one occasion. Putting two and two together I concluded that I would not need an escort so didn’t organise one. When I re-read the appointment instructions it clearly stated no escort, no sedation. That left me in a quandary. The options – find an escort or have no sedation or cancel the procedure. I decided to ask the IBD community on Twitter if no sedation was an option I should consider. I was inundated with responses ranging from “of course you need it” to “you’ll be fine without it”.

In another poll, this time on Twitter, patients were asked about their sedation preferences. Nearly 500 responded of which 80% chose sedation; 9% no sedation; 7% said it depended upon their disease activity; and the final 4% said it depended who was carrying out the procedure.

I Tweeted that I had not managed to organise an escort, half hoping that someone might be able to help but I thought it was probably a forlorn hope. I was delighted to get many replies from patients and non-patients saying that if they were based in London they would help. Even more heartening two people actually offered to act as my escort. The wonder of social media! I made contact with one of those who had replied and she was very happy to assist.

The week before the colonoscopy I happened to have a tele-appointment with my gastro consultant. He would also be driving the scope. I told him of my dilemma and he said that I would be fine with just “gas and air” (Entonox) and that he would go very carefully. That made my mind up – no sedation and therefore no escort.

On the day of the procedure I set off for London early so that I could take some photos of the River Thames before my own, internal, photo session……

HMS Belfast
Guy’s Hospital at London Bridge, next to The Shard

Act 3 – Scoping – having found the Endoscopy Suite, despite the lack of signage, I was greeted by the receptionist. “Hello sweetheart, what’s your name?” Once signed in a nurse showed me to a cubicle and gave me two surgical gowns, some hospital socks and a pair of “modesty” shorts. After running through a checklist he took my blood pressure and I took a COVID LFT. He left me whilst I changed into the hospital clothes. The modesty shorts have an opening at the back. On a previous occasion I had managed to put them on the wrong way round and they had proved to be anything but modest.

At this point, if I had opted for sadation, the nurse would have inserted a cannula (and I would have obeyed the second law of cannulation that you must take a photo and post it on SoMe). A few minutes later my consultant appeared, ran through the potential risks and I signed the consent form. With that completed he led me to the procedure room. The nurses introduced themselves and I lay down on the trolley. One of the nurses showed me how to use the Entonox. It is delivered via a mouthpiece and if you feel any discomfort you take a few deep breaths to mask it.

I rolled over onto my left side and drew my knees up. The monitor was showing my heart rate as 65 bpm. With the camera inserted it was an easy run until the sharp bend (splenic flexure) was reached. That is where the skill of the endoscopist really comes into play. I was asked to roll onto my back. Air is used to inflate the gut and make the passage of the camera easier. Every so often a water spray is deployed to clean the lens or flush any debris that the prep solution didn’t dislodge.

Being wide awake I was able to watch the whole procedure and ask what we were seeing.  On screen there is a small “satnav” window that shows the 3D position of the endoscope. There was some very mild inflammation in the colon but “nothing that needed treating or to worry about and your last calprotectin was 37. I’ll take a few biopsies on the way out”.

I used my time to ask questions. One in particular I was keen to know the answer to. When I had a stoma I had been surprised that this thing, part of my intestine, that was sticking through my abdominal wall, was impervious to touch. It had been explained to me that the gut has no nerves so I asked if this was true. Yes, it was. If there were nerves in the gut you would feel every piece of food passing through it. That made sense. The question I should have asked, of course, was how does the inflammation square with the low calprotectin score.

The camera made its way ever onwards. There were a few difficult manoeuvres that required withdrawing a few centimetres and then re-orientating it with the assistance of the 3D image. The camera reached just beyond my anastomosis – the surgical join between my small and large intestines – made easier as my ileocaecal valve and terminal ileum were removed in 2010.

“You can tell we’ve now entered the small intestine as the walls have a different structure and that is how food is absorbed.”

Time for the camera to be withdrawn and the biopsies taken. I had never considered how the biopsy samples got from the gut into phials ready to go to the lab. Being fully awake allowed me to watch the process. The endoscope tube has a cavity through it that allows a separate instrument, with a pair of small forceps on the end, to be pushed out beyond the scope. The tool takes a biopsy from the gut wall, directed by the endoscopist, and then one of the assistants withdraws the tool and retrieves the sample. The tool is then re-introduced through the endoscope and the process repeated.

Watching the grab collecting samples is slightly disconcerting as you expect to feel it and there is a small trickle of blood at each location but no nerves, no feelings. After a dozen biopsies had been taken the procedure was over. I had hardly used the Entonox and will choose the no sedation option for future colonoscopies. The results would be ready in two weeks time. My consultant asked me to email him at that point. I wonder if the results will explain my calprotectin question?

My Twitter conversation about the advisability of not having sedation had reached him and he had done some research. Looking through the records he found that I had a colonoscopy in 2015 without sedation. That explained why I recalled not needing an escort.

The final discussion before leaving the procedure room was about alternatives to having a colonoscopy. My consultant said that when biopsies are not needed then ultrasound was looking promising and that its use was taught as standard in some countries but not UK. Let’s hope that changes.

Act 4 – Recovery – if you have had sedation then you will be taken in to a recovery area until you have regained full consciousness and have changed out of the hospital clothes. Your escort will be told you are ready for collection. Before you leave the cannula is removed and you will be given a copy of the colonoscopy report. My report showed that the prep was “excellent”. It concluded with a series of “IBD Scores”. The only one that wasn’t zero was the SES-CD (Simple Endoscopic Score for Crohn’s Disease). The score was 3 which equates to “mild endoscopic activity” and is the lowest of the scores after “remission”.

There may be after effects, one of the commonest being discomfort caused by the inflation of the gut. I didn’t notice any of this. Another issue is that the prep has decimated your gut microbiome and this takes time to re-establish. After a week I’m still not convinced is has returned to normal. I have been taking a pro-biotic yogurt to try and help the process along.

The colonoscopy experience was over.

UPDATE: I contacted my consulant for the biopsy results. “Biopsies of colon totally normal… consistent with calprotectin…..”

The next performance was a gastroscopy (an Upper GI endoscopy) one week later but I can’t tell you a lot about that as I was away with the fairies. Thank you midazolam and fentanyl……and my escort.

Final thoughts – for those about to have their first colonoscopy I would suggest that you arrange an escort and opt for sedation. It can make the procedure a lot less stressful. If you subsequently become an “old hand” at scoping you may want to review your options.

I think we have all felt embarrassed about where they are going to stick that camera but I try to remember that the Endoscopy team will have seen it all before. It is a routine procedure that they carry out multiple times a day. When it is your turn I hope it all goes well.


How we receive our IBD treatment has undergone major changes since COVID19 appeared earlier this year and we are unlikely to return to the old model, ever.

Is this a good or bad thing? I suppose your answer will depend upon your current health status, if you’re waiting for surgery, who your first point of contact is or which monitoring regime you are following.

I have a great GP but for anything to do with IBD, blood, PVT or gallbladder issues I go straight to my hospital consultants. (Guy’s & St.Thomas’ since 2011). For many years I only had IBD to consider and when it was in remission I would see my gastro consultant once a year or even once every two years. After 2009 life became more complicated and sometimes there would be two or three appointments or procedures in one week! I’m not sure how I would have coped if we had been in lockdown then. How willing would I have been to simply accept telephone appointments?

In future I expect the emphasis will shift towards self managing our condition. I know that, for some treatment paths, this has been the norm for some while. Last time I went for a Vedolizumab infusion I was surprised to be asked if I wanted to switch to the subcutaneous version. I knew that the option would become available at some point in the future but its introduction has been hastened by wanting to limit visits to hospital, especially as many patients, myself included, are categorised as “extremely vulnerable”. Do I want to swap?

I treat a trip to Guy’s IBD infusion unit as a day out in London. The visit allows me to drop in a sample for calprotectin testing, get my bloods checked and have the chance to build a relationship with the IBD nurses face-to-face. By swapping to self administered Vedo I would have to arrange for the calprotectin and blood tests to be done by my GP, who would need a request form faxed (!!!!!) from Guy’s. The calprotectin would be sent to the Brighton lab which do not measure values above 600. (The report simply comes back as “>600”). Not a lot of use if you are looking at trends above this value. Also an issue with home testing kits that are available.

I have decided that, on balance, I’ll take the risk of public transport up to London and visiting a busy hospital so that it is a “one stop shop”.

Just before we get to the topics you might be wondering why we aren’t using Zoom? We did a couple of #IBDAudience video chats earlier this year and afterwards a few IBDers contacted me to say they would like to have taken part but did not like appearing on camera. Others found the timing difficult because of getting evening meals, putting kids to bed etc. The beauty of the Twitter chat is that people can dip in and out as they feel able or just lurk if they are happier. They can also respond to earlier topics at any time and the conversation can then keep going past the allotted end time, getting responses sometimes days after the chat.

Here are the topics for the #IBDAudience chat on Thursday 3rd December, starting at 20:00 BST :

T1: How has your treatment been affected by COVID measures?

For instance have your face-to-face appointments been changed to tele-appointments? How do you fell about this? Do you have the option of video calls?

T2: Are you still having regular blood/calprotectin tests carried out? GP/Hospital/at home? Has this caused any issues?

T3: Has your monitoring regime changed? Have you had an endoscopy, MRI scan etc, since March or are you waiting for one?

T4: Have you been offered a switch to subcutaneous medication in lieu of infusions? Have you taken up the offer? Has it worked out OK?

T5: Are you happy with the shift towards greater self management?

T6: When COVID is under control and we have a “new normal” are there any changes you would like implemented in your treatment ?

CT: Closing thoughts?


This was written long before the advent of COVID19. You may well be restricted as to the physical items you are allowed to take in with you. Please check with the hospital.

I had been meaning to do this for a while. I compiled my list of ten things I learned would make life easier during my more recent stays in hospital (UK NHS – 2 bowel operations; 1 emergency admission with 2 weeks recovery). I wanted to pass them on in case it helps to improve your “end user” or “patient” experience. I reckoned that if you were already an old hand at the hospital game you could, no doubt, add at least another ten so I posted the link to this list on the Crohn’s Forum ( and some “old hands” got in touch with “at least another ten” items for adding. Thank you – xxSophiex, IHurt, CDJ, UnXmas, acc929, SickofCrohns. 

Here’s the updated version which has now grown from 10 to 18. I’m not suggesting you take all the physical items listed below with you in one go. I’d go for a phased introduction as your recovery progresses.

One possible risk to bear in mind is not being able to keep your expensive technology securely whilst you’re in hospital. The wards I’ve been on have discouraged the bringing of valuables into hospital for this reason but realistically everyone will want their mobile phone with them. The ideal solution would be for each bed to have a patient lockable drawer/cupboard but I’ve never seen one in the NHS. There may be a ward safe that you can ask for valuables to be stored in but the nurses won’t thank you for wanting access several times a day.

No.1 MOBILE PHONE – it goes without saying that you will have your phone with you but not so long ago you weren’t allowed to use them on the wards. There may still be restrictions in certain sensitive areas. Don’t forget your charger!!!

No.2  HEADPHONES – there are lots of times when you really want to be able to drown out the surrounding ward noise.  Take in an iPod, or similar device, and a pair of headphones. Preferably two pairs – in ear and over ear. Over ear will give you the best isolation from the ward noises but you can’t comfortably lie on one side with them on and your ears tend to get hot! The in-ear ones aren’t as good for keeping out external sounds but you have more choice in your sleeping position. (If your budget stretches to it then a good pair of noise cancelling ones would probably be a good idea).

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

I haven’t actually tried a mask so have found the best time for dosing is during the mid-morning lull. That’s the bit between the doctors doing their ward round; the beds being made ward round ; having a shower and then lunch being served.

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

No.5  SOCIAL MEDIA – if you want to keep in touch with the outside world using SoMe then you’ll probably use your phone but if you are trying to write any lengthy items a smart phone can be limiting due to the screen size. I suppose the ultimate is to take your laptop but it’s quite a large item to store safely in a bedside locker so an iPad is a good compromise.

When I knew I would be going in to St.Thomas’ in October 2010 I bought a basic iPad and a wi-fi hub at that has kept me blogging throughout my hospital stays.

No.6  PYJAMAS AND DRESSING GOWN – the admission instructions may ask you to bring in your night clothes but I have found that pyjamas are usually available anyway. That’s fine if you’re not fussed about the colour. After my reversal operation I was issued with bright orange pyjamas so it looked like I had just escaped from Guantanamo Bay. I try and use NHS pyjamas for a few days after an operation in order to give anything that might be oozing a chance to stop oozing and then it’s into my very stylish M and S ones for the rest of the stay.

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

No.7  BOOKS AND MAGAZINES – there will be times when you’re not dozing but you really don’t want to watch the truly appalling daytime TV so a decent book or some magazines, preferably with lots of photos and no difficult text, are a good way to pass the time. I was given a volume of Sherlock Holmes short stories and found that each story was just the right length to read before needing a rest.

No.8  CASH – taking a large amount in with you is not a good idea but it is worth having, say, ten pounds in case you want to buy a magazine or some toileteries from the trolley that visits the ward every couple of days. I expect everything is now contactless anyway

No.9  MAKE-UP – I’m a bit out of my depth here because I’ve never worn make-up,. I’ll quote directly what acc929 said :
“ I think this is probably a bit more on the girly end of things, but I’ve found that taking good care of myself (when possible of course) in hospital helps keep my morale up. I think the sicker you look, the sicker you feel, so if you have the energy it’s worth making a little effort. I bring my nice robe so I don’t need to wear the hospital gown, my favourite perfume, and my own shower stuff in little bottles. I bring a tiny bit of make up so that when people visit I don’t need to deal with them telling me how tired I look (I’m in the hospital, duh!) Bottom line, having your own things makes everything feel better.”

No.10  FAVOURITE SNACKS – after an operation or maybe a bad flare-up you may need something to help you get your appetite back. If you have some favourite snacks or chocolate bars etc. pack a few in your bag. Some hospitals have will provide snacks anyway but I don’t know how common it is.  The two wards I spent time in at St.Thomas’ always had a good selection freely available. You only had to ask!

No.11  SANITISING WIPES – with all the nasty infections that appear in hospitals nowadays – such as Mrs.A – sanitizing wipes to wipe down any surfaces or objects that you can’t be certain have been throroughly cleaned or disinfected. (May have been superceded by COVID precautions)

No.12 HAND CREAM AND LIP BALM – the atmosphere in the wards is often very dry so creams and balms will help you keep your skin feeling good.

No.13  LISTS – pen and paper – or you could use an app on your phone or tablet. I have always found it useful to write down any questions I want to ask the consultants on their ward rounds. I’ve tried keeping a list in my head but when you are confronted by the consultant and a gaggle of junior doctors, early in the morning, it’s easy for all thoughts to just disappear.

No.14  PAIN – if you start feeling pain or a different pain don’t be brave and keep it to yourself TELL THE NURSE. It may be nothing and you can be given painkillers to help. On the other hand it could be something that needs attention and the sooner that attention starts the better.

No.15  INHIBITIONS – try and lose any inhibitions you may have about discussing the more intimate details of your condition with the medical staff. You may notice something different about your body or what comes out of it. Again it may be nothing or it might need further attention.

No.16  CANNULAS – if you have to have a cannula and, let’s face it, it’s pretty much a certainty, don’t let a doctor put it in. No matter how much practice they claim to have had they are never, ever, as good as an experienced nurse. In the past I have actually said to a doctor ‘”Are you sure you are good at inserting these?”. He assured me that he was but an hour later I had to have it redone as there was insufficient flow through it. This has happened on several occasions so I stand by my “never trust a doctor with a cannula” statement. 
The positioning of the cannula is governed by where a good vein can be found but if at all possible try and avoid having it on the bend of the arm as you will frequently be interrupting the flow when you move your arm. If you get a choice of which arm to put it in remember you will have eat meals and manage in the bathroom with it connected.

No.17 PHARMACISTS – when it’s time to be discharged I can guarantee that you will be ready to go but will then have to wait several hours whilst pharmacy get the correct medications up to the Ward and you can finally leave. If you make friends with pharmacist on their daily ward rounds you can preempt that wait my persuading them to make sure the necessary tablets, in the correct numbers, are in your bedside locker ready for discharge.

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

No.18 SENSE OF HUMOUR/COURTESY – not always easy to keep hold of this when you’re drugged up to the eyeballs, have got tubes coming out of every orifice and your future is uncertain but if you can do your best to keep your sense of humour and treat the doctors, nurses and other patients with courtesy then it will make your stay a lot more bearable. Of course you may be one of those unlucky individuals who has had a humour bypass in which case you should get on well with some of the doctors I’ve met! 
That’s the revised Top Twenty One. If I had to choose just one physical item to take in with me it would still be the headphones as they give you the chance of getting some sleep in a noisy environment. The one behaviour I would adopt is a combination of the above but can be summed up as “acceptance that a hospital regime will probably be completely alien to your usual way of life but you do not need to lose your sense of dignity, humour or courtesy”. If you feel any of these are being compromised – complain.

Tired and Emotional


I’m not an emotional person. I don’t know whether it is simply the way I’m made or that I had any emotion knocked out of me as a defence mechanism to cope with the early death of my father. In some ways this lack of emotion may have helped me survive those challenging experiences and gory sights I mentioned earlier. So I was surprised that, when researching my book, I became quite emotional when reading the account of a meeting with one of my surgeons shortly after my ileostomy. It still has the affect to this day.

“He remarked how well I looked considering: “what they had done to me”. He had joined his old colleagues at St.Thomas’ on the day to take part in the operation which he described as a “classic”. He said it was one of the most complex they had ever carried out. My innards were in a really bad way.

He had a trainee doctor in with him for the clinic and was showing her my pre-operative CT scan. He described it as looking like an octopus. Where had I heard that before? My intestines had, in places, attached themselves to other parts of the body such as the back muscles. That last comment was quite a revelation and would explain the back pain that I had been suffering from for the last couple of years. I dread to think what would have happened if the surgery hadn’t been carried out when it was.”

I’ve tried analysing what triggers these feelings but had not been able to reach a conclusion. Then I heard this. Maybe this explains why…..

Adrian Chiles was interviewing the radio presenter Mark Radcliff about the cancer he had been treated for. Here is part of what he said “I took a little bit of counselling at the Maggie Centre ….I’m not someone who cries a lot but when I went into theCentre the woman, who was counselling me, asked ‘So what point are you up to?’ and I just burst into tears. She said ‘Have you just finished your treatment?’ It’s a very common thing at that point. You realise the struggle you’ve really been through. It dawns on you.”

Maybe it dawned on me just what my mind and body went through and come out the other side smiling and with a very positive view of the future. Do other IBD patients experienced similar emotions?


After writing this post I was discussing coping with Crohn’s Disease with my wife and mentioned my theory that a lack of emotion might just have helped me deal with it. She genuinely surprised me by saying that if she had Crohn’s she “wouldn’t want to have gone on” due to the embarrassment of the tests and procedures we undergo, the stress of being taken short and the pain we experience. It brought home to me how differently each of us can react to this disease.

….and the tired? Two doses of Vedolizumab may be the cause of additional fatigue

Flushed with Infusiasm

At the end of my last post I had made the decision to start Vedolizumab (Entyvio) and was on the point of contacting the IBD Helpline at Guy’s and St.Thomas’. I dropped them an email, which is how contact is made nowadays.

The next day I had a call from the hospital to arrange my first infusion. “Vedo days” are Wednesdays and Fridays. As luck would have it I already had a haematology appointment arranged for 10:30am on Wednesday 29th May so the infusion was booked for an hour later (on the basis that haemo clinics usually run on time). A new chapter in my “Crohn’s career” was about to be written.

The last infusion I had was at the end of 2009 (Infliximab) and that took several hours to complete so I was intrigued to know if Vedo would be the same. I canvassed the opinion of some other “infusees” and the concensus was that, due to extra monitoring, I should allow about 4 hours for the procedure. Forewarned is forearmed.

Wednesday 29th May 2019 – Guy’s Hospital – IBD Infusion Unit

In the interim the haematology appointment had been cancelled due to the consultant being away. I took advantage of the free time to have a walk along the Thames, one of my favourite pastimes, and then a quick visit into Tate Modern to use their “facilities” (recommended).

View from Blackfriars Bridge

Cruise Liner tied up alongside HMS Belfast

I arrived at the Unit with a couple of minutes to spare and handed in my calprotectin sample.  I was asked to settle myself down in one of the infusion chairs. A nurse came over to introduce himself and ask me a few questions before starting the infusion. The standard ones : what medications are you on; are you allergic to anything, how are you feeling? etc. He warned me that I might feel more fatigued than usual afterwards.

The nurse explained that he worked for Takeda, the company that manufactures Vedo, but was seconded to the NHS. I asked how long the procedure would take and was surprised when he replied “30 minutes Vedo followed by a 30 minute saline flush. 60 minutes in all”.

Cannula inserted; Vedo connected; and I settled down to read a book about heart surgery (“Fragile Lives” – Prof.Stephen Westaby). I know as Crohn’s patients we all go through some fairly challenging experiences and witness some gory sights when in hospital but even I found myself squirming at some of the Professor’s descriptions. Luckily there are no photographs!

Vedo finished, flush attached, back to the book and what seemed like a few minutes later the whole procedure was over. I was offered coffee and biscuits and then I was on my way home. My next infusion is set for 12th June., immediately after a rebooked haematology appointment.

Wednesday 12th June 2019 – Guy’s Hospital – IBD Infusion Unit

Time for my second infusion, but first there was a Haematology appointment to get out the way and with it a blood test. That meant I already had one hole in my arm and now I needed another! Once I had answered the standard set of questions that you have before any infusion the nurse inserted another cannula and I settled down with a book for the half hour infusion and then a further half hour flush. The only difference with my previous visit is that there were no coffee or biscuits on offer!

View from the atrium at Guy’s Hospital

I had been hoping that the calprotectin result for the sample I took in on 29th May was available but unfortunately it takes more than 2 weeks for samples to be processed. (I wonder how the home testing kits can give a result so quickly?)

Next infusions booked for 12th July and 9th August.

Never one to waste a visit to London I spent the afternoon at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Not a classic year in my opinion.

Royal Academy – Summer Exhibition 2019

Is the Vedolizumab Working?

How do I feel? Maybe a little more fatigued but no great difference. Is it working? It’s far too soon to know after just one dose but how will I know if it is working anyway? A little explanation –

The lead up to being prescribed Vedo is described in previous posts but maybe I should do a brief recap. My calprotectin level started showing an upward trend towards the end of 2015. Subsequent colonoscopies and small bowel MRI scans showed nothing that would account for this so the issue was parked as a “mystery’”. During that period I’ve been feeling fine. In fact I’ve been OK since my reversal, in 2011, and not taking any Crohn’s drugs.

Calprotectin Test Values

It wasn’t until a gastro appointment in October 2018 that I suggested we should do some further investigation as my calprotectin level had reached 1300. A capsule endoscopy had been mentioned in the past as it would get a good look at the whole of my digestive tract. My consultant agreed it was time to give it a go and one month later I was strapping on the recording unit and swallowing the capsule.

I did not get an official copy of the results until March 2019 but already had an indication, from a conversation with the Head of Department, that it showed mild to moderate inflammation in my small bowel. When I saw my consultant again we discussed starting Vedo . He had already obtained the budget to cover it (approx. £1,000/dose). How would we know if it was working?

If I had been suffering flare-ups then judging its effectiveness would be simple but as I am not feeling any physical symptoms the only monitoring will be regular calprotectin samples. I forgot to ask how often constitutes “regular”. At the end of the first year I will have another capsule endoscopy and an MRI scan.

Viva la Vedo

Monday 15th April 2019 – Guy’s Hospital – Gastroenterology

The Vedolizumab Decision

(This post records an important discussion prior to the next stage of my Crohn’s treatment)

The gastro clinic at GSTT is a victim of its own success. Once a patient gets referred there they invariably don’t want to return to their original hospital. As a result clinics run late. I guess they must be overbooked to cope with the numbers. But forewarned is forearmed so I always take something to read. Having registered with reception I settled down with my book. A nurse appeared and apologised that the doctors were running 75 minutes late. I wondered if there would be time to go and get a chest x-ray (booked some while ago). It was worth a try. Ten minutes later I was back in the outpatients’ waiting area with the x-ray complete. Excellent service.

When you get called into the “inner” waiting room you know it won’t be too long until you see the consultant. I asked the nurse to put a note on my folder that I wished to see my usual doctor. After a few minutes he was calling my name. As I entered the consulting room I had a list of questions in my hand as an aide-memoire.

Capsule Endoscopy Report

He asked if I had received a copy of the capsule endoscopy report. Yes, but didn’t know what I was looking at. He worked his way through the document stopping at any frames of interest – “that looks like an ulcer, and there, and that’s one…..” – the conclusion was mild to moderate inflammation in my small bowel. I asked whether it was possible to work out location of inflammation as I get a pain across my midriff,  just above my belly button. He did not expect that to be where pain would be apparent. I mentioned it seemed worse when wearing a tight belt and explained about the hernia that had been found a couple of weeks previously and how it hurt more since surgeon had “poked around”. Normally a hernia would be put right in a simple operation but due to varices growing in my abdomen the surgeon was not happy to proceed. I had added it to my “on-hold” list – cholecystectomy; hernia repair.

Next he ran down the results of my recent blood test. “You’ve had chickenpox but not glandular fever as no antibodies are present, oh and you haven’t got AIDS but you probably knew that”. I replied that I had a very bad bout of glandular fever at the beginning of my ‘A’ levels, which accounted for why I did so badly. Maybe antibodies disappear over time. I was pleased to see that my Hb had now risen to 11.8. There was another test, looking at protein bands, one of which was marked “insufficient sample provided” which I thought strange as the phlebotomist had taken nine, full to the top, phials last time. I would need need to give a further sample after the appointment.

I outlined my reticence about starting Vedo :

  • Having been Crohn’s drug free for nearly 8 years I was hesitant to re-start
  • Side effects
  • Co-morbidities
  • Infusions. Whilst I like trips to London (at the moment) I might not do so as I get even older

What could happen if I decided not to start Crohn’s drugs? The worst outcome would be the inflammation becoming so advanced that the bowel could perforate or form fistulas and result in emergency surgery. Given that I should try to avoid surgery this sounded like a risk not worth taking.

The side effect profile of Vedo is very good and it is proving very successful. A recent study into its use with Ulcerative Colitis showed better results than expected. I said that I had seen some slides from that presentation as a member of the audience had posted them on Twitter. He seemed a little surprised at this but added “I do talk a lot!

Is Vedo compatible with my co-morbidities – bile acid malabsorption; portal hypertension; thrombocytopenia; gallbladder issues? I do have rather a lot of them. He told me not to be concerned about them and that I must be made of stern stuff as there were many patients at my age who were in a considerably worse state!

With regards to travelling for infusions, a self administered version of Vedo, using compressed air rather than a needle, has been developed and will undergo 2 years of trials. It should be available in 3 years time then no more infusions.

I asked in light of the calprotectin tests, suggesting the inflammation started early in 2016,  if I should have had a capsule endoscopy sooner than October 2018 ”  His response was that the first place to look following raised calprotectin results is lthe arge bowel. My colonoscopies showed nothing. The subsequent small bowel MRI also showed no inflammation. However given my experience he was now favouring earlier intervention with a capsule for other patients.

How would we measure the efficacy of the drug? Regular calprotectin tests throughout the year and at the end of the first twelve months a capsule endoscopy and small bowel MRI. The one thing I didn’t clarify is whether Vedo is taken to get one into remission and then continues as a maintenance dose or if another drug is then substituted.

I said that I wanted to discuss the situation with my wife before making a final decision but was leaving the consultation with a lot more positive thoughts about Vedo than when we started. How would I give the go ahead? “Contact the IBD Helpline and take it form there“. With that we shook hands,  I bade him farewell and headed for the blood test room.

Having weighed up the pros and the cons, and with the additional imperative of avoiding surgery (if at all possible) it would seem to be a no-brainer that I should at least try Vedo to get me back into remission before serious damage is done to my gut.

Now where’s that IBD Helpline number……



When I was younger, so much younger than today I never….

….wanted to go anywhere near a hospital. It was my biggest fear. Some of my schoolmates had already been incarcerated to have tonsils or an appendix removed. I don’t know what scared me specifically. Was it the thought of surgery? Was it an enforced stay away from the comforts of home and family? Was it thoughts of my own mortality? My fears turned into reality, in my early twenties, when I found myself in an ambulance, sirens blaring, heading for Croydon General Hospital with suspected appendicitis.

As it turned out it was more sinister than that – a perforated bowel that had leaked into my abdominal cavity and peritonitis had set in. (More of this later) When I left hospital after 3 weeks, most of which were spent on a “liquids only” regime, I had not suffered any particularly traumatic experiences but it had not lessened my fears.

I had been told that this first Crohn’s surgery was unlikely to be the last. In the ensuing years I still considered the knife to be the “last resort”(and, to be fair, so did my consultants). It was the “backstop” (to use a popular word) once all viable medication had been exhausted. In 2010 I was faced with surgery again having tried all the possible drug treatments. Thirty years between operations? Not bad. Three times longer than anticipated. Following the successful removal of a terminal ileum stricture, temporary ileostomy and subsequent reversal, I revisited my thoughts. If I had chosen elective surgery years earlier would my QOL have been better, sooner? The pendulum had now swung the other way and I started to advocate that surgery should not be considered a “last resort” or an indication that all other treatment had failed. It should be seen as an alternative to drug based treatment. It’s an area which various learned bodies are researching.

Then in January 2017 I turned yellow (jaundice). I was sent to see an upper GI surgeon (at my local hospital) who explained that the solution would be to remove my gallbladder. A relatively simple procedure, carried out laparoscopically. When he examined me he happened to notice the large, laparotomy scar stretching up my midline. He asked me to go through my medical history. At the end of my story, which included Crohn’s, portal vein thrombosis (probably due to the peritonitis), enlarged spleen and varices, he concluded I should be referred to a specialist liver unit as the operation would require specialist facilities.

A few weeks later I went to see another upper GI surgeon, this time at Kings. His registrar had started to go through the standard, pre-surgery checklist when I produced a drawing showing the route that my health had taken so far. She metaphorically gulped and went off to find the lead surgeon. He expressed his concern about carrying out surgery and after a lengthy discussion we concluded it would be best to leave well alone and only operate if it became absolutely necessary.

At my request I saw him again a couple of weeks ago as I had noticed a pain in my right hand side and wondered if it was a portent for needing his expertise with a scalpel. He prodded and poked the offending spot and announced that I had a post-operative hernia at the site of my former stoma. Again this would usually be a simple day operation but given my history it was another one to add to the “do nothing unless absolutely necessary” list. It dawned on me that the pendulum had now swung back to its original position. Due to circumstances, in my case, surgery really should be considered as a last resort.

In the meantime the long running “why is my calprotectin so high” question had been resolved. A capsule endoscopy in November 2018 showed that inflammation in my small bowel has returned. I have a meeting with my gastroenterologist next Monday to discuss starting Vedolizumab. I was minded to suggest holding off for the time being but that may not be a sensible position to take as I really do need to avoid surgery for as long as possible. Should be an interesting discussion.


I need some help from my fellow IBD patients. I had a phone call from one of the IBD nurses at GSTT explaining that they wanted to start me on Vedolizumab. The last time I was in this situation was August 2009. I was being given the choice – Infliximab (Remicade) as a “final, last chance, before surgery”. A real no brainer and no need for a long list of questions before making the decision. Who would choose the knife over a drug? (That would make a good subject for a new post)

Now, nearly a decade later, I’m being offered another MAB. (I won’t go into the reasons why but if you are interested this link opens a post, explaining the issue and what it’s like to have a capsule endoscopy, in a new tab –

I won’t make any decision until I have spoken to my gastro consultant – appointment set for 15th April.  Ahead of my meeting I need to get a list of questions together, usually a fairly simple task, but this time it is uncharted territory…..and that’s where I could do with your help. Have you had to make this decision? What questions did you ask/wish you had asked?

Here’s my latest list (26th March). Are there any glaring omissions? I’ve split them into categories :

Blood test results
  • What did the nine phials of blood taken recently show?
Capsule endoscopy results
  • What exactly did the capsule endoscopy show in the way of severity of inflammation and locations? Was it confined to the small bowel?
  • Would it account for pain around midriff? (Could be the hernia that the upper GI surgeon identified a few weeks ago, or maybe adhesions or scar tissue from laparotomy)
  • Was there anything else of note from the capsule endoscopy? Could anything account for my low Hb?
  • Looking at the calprotectin levels it suggests that inflammation started somewhere between November 2015 to June 2016 but was not apparent on other tests
  • It has been 6 months between having the capsule endoscopy mid-November and the appointment.
  • The above suggests that there is no urgency to start on treatment. Is this right?
  • My QOL is good apart from an ache on my right side which the Upper GI surgeon has diagnosed as a post-operative hernia at the site of my ileostomy
  • Surgeon does not want to carry out cholecystectomy or even hernia repair due to varices growing around gallbladder and elsewhere within abdomen. This suggests that I should try and avoid any colorectal surgery at all costs.
  • What was the gist of the discussion that resulted in proposing Vedo?
  • How will Vedo help me now? …and in the long term?
  • Are there any side effects I need to know about? Are any of these relevant to my other conditions? (BAM, PVT, splenomegaly, thrombocytopenia, gallstones)
  • Ongoing monitoring regime? Frequency?
  • How good a measure would calprotectin be for progress in treating small bowel Crohn’s?
  • Does the efficacy of Vedo differ as one gets older? Do the side effects change?
  • Reason for needing chest x-ray
  • Haematology suggesting another bone marrow biopsy. Do we need to wait for result before making decision?
  • What if I decide not to go back onto Crohn’s medication at present?
Reasons for not wanting to go onto Vedolizumab
  • Side effects of Vedolizumab.
  • Long term commitment to an infused drug
  • Trips to London (I love London so you would think a few more trips would be welcome but as I gel older will I really be so keen?)
  • Is there the opportunity to have infusions at a local hospital?
Iron levels/Hb
  • What can we do about Hb level and long term use of Ferrous Fumarate? Would an iron infusion be the answer?


Medical Record

Temporary tattoo on forearm. QR code links to medical record summary (it really does!)

This image gained some interest when I posted it on Twitter so I thought I would explain it’s genesis. From the outset I wish to make it clear that it is my solution to my specific needs. I’m not proposing it as a universal solution for quick access to medical information, more a stimulus for further thinking and discussion. (I’m also not claiming this as an original idea – there is at least one patient in USA who did it first)

The Trigger

In February 2017 I ended up in our local A&E (ER) Department as I had turned yellow. The first person I saw was a triage nurse who asked lots of questions about health conditions, history  and medication.

Next I saw an A&E Registrar. He asked the same questions but what would he have concluded if I hadn’t been able to fill in the details? He would have been confronted with a patient with a large scar up the midline, the hint of a stoma location and an appendectomy incision. He wouldn’t have known why the large scar was there and would have assumed my appendix had been taken out. He would be unaware that : I have Crohn’s disease; the attempt to remove my appendix had been aborted; I have Portal Vein Thrombosis resulting in additional veins growing in my esophagus (varices) and around by gallbladder; that my spleen is enlarged; or that the low platelet count is now normal for me. Valuable time could have been lost trying to investigate the problems that were already known about and being treated.

Do It Yourself

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

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

Attempt 1

First attempt – using a USB bracelet. First task – decide upon data and format. I settled on two top level documents – i) a simple, overall summary plus ii) a detailed table that recorded each appointment or procedure. These documents were stored as pdf files and linked to various back-up documents such as laboratory or histological reports.

USB Bracelet

There were two problems :

The format of the data was such that it would still require a fair amount of time to wade through and understand the aetiology of ,and relationships between, the various LTCs. This was solvable but the second issue would be insurmountable.

In order to protect the system from viruses it is unlikely any NHS computer would allow the reading of an external USB stick. Time for a rethink.

Back to the Drawing Board

A couple of years ago I drew  a diagram to try and understand the aetiology/relationships that I mentioned above. I used the metaphor of a jigsaw as that is how my health appears to me. The penny then dropped that it would be a good way of showing a new doctor or surgeon the complexity of my case on just a single page. This illustration shows an early version of the drawing.

Early version of “jigsaw” diagram

…and then someone set me the challenge of making an interactive version that would open up the relevant documents or test results when you click on an element of the diagram. This would make the ideal interface for my medical record.

Basis of interactive medical record jigsaw

To get over the USB security problem I settled on holding the data on a server and then accessing it via a QR code. Initially I thought of using a dog tag style SOS pendant with the code engraved on it but I have yet to find a company that can do this as a one-off at a reasonable price. I could use a conventional SOS bracelet with a printed QR code inside but why not try a tattoo?

I didn’t want a permanent tattoo as it would not allow for any future changes. I opted to try making a temporary one using those kits that are readily available online. After a couple of false starts, mainly due to not reading the instructions carefully (it’s a man thing), I had a readable QR code tattoo. Where to stick it? The ideal position would be somewhere that is not generally visible but would be seen by an HCP. I chose the inside of my forearm, just above the wrist. Anyone looking to insert a cannula would be bound to see this and hopefully use a phone or tablet to scan the code.

(I’m counting on the HCP having the curiosity to try the link and once  opened realise the importance of the information available. You could call this a “leap of faith”)

Future Developments

Life would be so much easier if the NHS had a universally accessible records system that held all our medical details, linked to our unique NHS patient number (only needs a simple, unchanging tattoo). I can’t see that happening in my lifetime given the success of previous attempts.

Clearly I have no issues about the confidentiality of my medical data or I wouldn’t be writing/publishing this post. I know that many patients do and this needs to be taken into account. I am willing to trade confidentiality for the speed at which my medical record could be read should I be involved in an emergency.


Why Does It Hurt?

View from the South Bank looking towards Blackfriars and St.Paul’s

Meet The Surgeon – Friday 8th March 2019 – a visit to St.Thomas’ to see the upper GI surgeon. A surprisingly lovely day and a chance to do some serious walking  along the South Bank of the River Thames.

Last time I saw him we discussed removing my gallbladder and had agreed to put it on hold until absolutely necessary. I had asked for this new appointment to discuss the pain I’ve been experiencing in my right hand side. I wondered if it was connected to my gallbladder (or scar tissue; or Crohns inflammation; or something else). He had a good prod around and was able to pinpoint the exact centre of the ache. (I knew he had found it as when he applied a fair degree of pressure, it hurt)

You have a small hernia. Usually we would offer you a short operation to repair it but given your history I doubt whether we should consider it“. The history he was referring to was the growth of new blood vessels in my abdomen due to PVT (Portal Vein Thrombosis). The vessels grew to relieve the pressure caused by the blocked portal vein.

I could now understand and visualise the pain. So much easier to deal with. Should I change my lifestyle? “No, carry on as before but if it gets worse then we will have to revisit the situation. You’ve got our contact number”. Should I consider wearing a support belt (as I had done when I had a stoma? “If you feel it helps“.

One Day My Prints Will Come

I mentioned that I had not yet seen the capsule endoscopy report from last November. He called it up on screen. No wonder they were having difficulties printing it. It comprised page after page of stills from the 12 hr video. There was however a summary page and I was surprised to find that it reported active inflammation in the proximal (top end of the) small bowel and a little further down as well. The far end (site of my anastomosis) was clear.

On the train home from London I thought more about why I was surprised and concluded that I really shouldn’t be.  Colonoscopies always showed no inflammation; upper GI endoscopies showed the same.  It was only the elevated calprotectin level that suggested anything was wrong. If that level wasn’t a false positive then the problem had to be somewhere between the duodenum and the terminal ileum. The last small bowel MRI scan had mentioned the possibility of inflammation. Despite this, physically, I felt nothing and still don’t. My digestive system is working as it should.

The Bleeding Clinic – Wednesday 13th March 2019 – off to Guy’s to see the haematologist in the Haemophilia Clinic……but my questions were all to do with general haematology.

My Hb has been consistently low for a while and I’ve been taking Ferrous Fumarate for over 5 years. My GP had then upped my dose to two tablets/day. I thought this was considered to be a short term measure. Would an iron infusion be more effective? The haematologist looked at my last blood test results. He agreed that the Hb was low and so were my white blood cells. Another bone marrow biopsy would be worthwhile to check for any changes since 2013.

I mentioned that there was a proposal that I should start Vedolizumab. Did my pre-existing conditions of thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and PVT (Portal Vein Thrombosis) need be considered? He consulted the online medication “bible” and said that Vedo was gut specific and should not interact with the other conditions.

He would book another appointment with the general Haematology clinic but in the meantime he would get me to provide blood and urine samples. I explained that the IBD Dept. required, and had already requested, specific blood tests. Would it be possible to get these done at the same time? Yes it would and so it was off to see the phlebotomist who removed nine full phials of blood (my previous record being seven).

…then off to visit the new public roof garden before getting lunch

View towards Canary Wharf from the Roof Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street

Next steps – off to see my gastroenterologist on 15th April