I’m convinced that blogging is good for you. It helps get some order into your thoughts by trying to write a coherent post.
My challenge today is to link (in no particular order) : an unresolved medical test; distinguishing between the effects of long term medication and the ageing process; another meeting with the surgeon and overcoming the stomach churning effect of burnt bananas.
Last week I emailed my gastro consultant to ask if I ought to have another calprotectin test as the last one was in January. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even need to ask the question but there is an issue regarding this particular inflammatory marker. The last result was high (896), a continuation of an ever upward trend over the last two years. The “issue” is that there is no explanation for this trend. I am feeling well and two subsequent colonoscopies have shown no inflammation. Is there any point in having a further test if we don’t understand the result? My gastro responded that I might as well go ahead but agreed it did seem slightly illogical.
I’ll drop the calpro sample in at St.Thomas’ next Friday (10th November) when I’m off to see the Upper GI surgeon to continue our discussion on having my gallbladder removed. By then the results from my recent MRI Pancreas scan should have been discussed at their Multi Disciplinary Meeting with a recommendation on whether to go for surgery as soon as possible or leave it until it becomes neccessary. Surgery will not be straight forward for various reasons, one of which is portal hypertension/portal vein thrombosis.
The monitoring process for this last condition consists of an annual Upper GI endoscopy(ies) to look for any esophageal varices that have grown and then obliterate them with “banding”. For the last three years the procedure has been carried out in the week before Christmas so it seemed a shame not to continue the tradition. This year’s scoping is therefore booked for Tuesday 19th December. That gives me seven weeks to try and get over my aversion to burnt bananas. Just the thought is now making me feel queasy.
(If you’ve had an endoscopy you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t then I’d better explain that the Xylocaine spray, used to numb the throat prior to introduction of the camera, tastes of burnt bananas. Feeling queasy again!)
The “banding” is complemented by medication. Omeprazole – a proton pump inhibitor – to help protect the esophageal lining by reducing stomach acid. Propranolol – a beta blocker – to reduce blood pressure. This latter drug has a number of potential side effects including tiredness, cold hands, feeling breathless, impotence.
In an ideal world I would be totally drug free but the next best thing would be reducing down to the bare minimum. I’ve already turned down Warfarin to thin the blood and not yet stared Colesevalam for bile acid malabsorption. I would like to stop or reduce the Propranolol if at all possible.
The above raises a number of questions. If I am generally feeling OK should I even be concerned that one marker is giving an unexplained result? Should I pursue it and ask for further investigation to be done to resolve the issue or should I just accept it as one of “life’s little mysteries”? How do I tell the difference between the side effects of Propranolol and the natural ageing process. Can I reduce the dosage from 80mg/day? What new questions should I be asking the surgeon? This should become more obvious once I know what the oucome of the MDM was. Unfortunately my gastro didn’t atted the meeting so couldn’t give me a heads up.
…and finally I must use my will power to overcome the burnt banana feeling.
A while ago the BMJ blog published a guest post written by Sharon Roman, an MS patient. The subject : “What are the qualities that make for a good doctor and what can patients do if they’re missing?” (Link to blog at the bottom of this page)
It struck a chord as, over a period of 40 years, I have met a large number of doctors, consultants and even a few surgeons. Some have been good; some bad; some exceptional; some would be better off in research roles. I would put my current gastro in the exceptional category, especially if he is reading this just before performing a colonoscopy on me. But, in all honesty, there is nobody else I would rather have sticking a camera where the sun don’t shine. He can handle bends better than Lewis Hamilton.
One of the qualities that Sharon highlighted was the sense of safety that a good doctor gives the patient. It’s not something I had really thought about, not consciously at least, but I now realise that the feeling does underpin the best consultations and helps encourage open discussion. In a safe environment you tend to open up.
I’ve thought long and hard about the qualities which I believe elevates a good doctor to an exceptional one and this is at the top of my list. If pushed to sum it up in a single word it would be “adaptability” but it needs more explanation :
The ability to read body language and “language” language, if that makes sense. That’s picking up the messages in a patient’s demeanour and the words they use and then adapt how the consultation is structured. Carefully choosing the words or medical terms that get used and ensuring the patient understands them. Definitely not sticking to a “one style fits all” approach or spending the whole appointment staring at notes on a computer screen.
(That got me wondering what training is given in “people skills”? I accept there will be the “naturals” who already have an inherent ability to adapt their consultation style but what of the others who have that innate skill in varying degrees. Are particular medical students steered towards research rather than patient facing roles?
..and then off on another tangent – do doctors have their own categories for us patients and how quickly do they decide which we are? How are we classified – hypocondriac?; realist?; fatalist?; verbal diarrhoearist; “would be medical expert” trained by Dr.Google?)
Half way through her post Sharon voices her fear that the exceptional doctors will become burnt out, victims of their own success. It’s a subject I have discussed with my own consultant as temporary referrals from other hospitals inevitably choose to become permanent patients and his department’s workload is ever increasing with static resource levels.
Shortly after reading her post I happened to hear an interview on the radio (BBC Radio 5 – Pienaar’s Politics) with an eminent surgeon who had become so stressed and disillusioned by the pressures within the NHS that he has left the profession and now bakes waffles in SW19. As he said “you only get one shot at this life”.
If we turn the question on its head – “What are the qualities that make for a good patient or an exceptional one?” There are the obvious – “takes their medication”, “turns up to appointments” but are there other behaviours we can adopt that will ease the pressure on doctors’ time and resources? Maybe this would be a good subject for a future #Tweetchat.
(In my experience this was not a typical colonoscopy. If you are about to undergo a similar procedure don’t let this post put you off. There is always the option of more sedation)
I said in a previous post that my last gastro appointment had been “interesting” but the offer of a colonoscopy “with an audience” would take that to the next level.
The last one was in July 2016 so why another one so soon? I had also undergone an MRI scan and the results were very definitely at odds with the scope. There was also the little matter of the latest calprotectin test which showed a value of 896 (high). It was all pointing to my 6 years of drugs free remission coming to an end. I had resigned myself to restarting a drug regime and repeat surgery drawing closer.
Saturday 11th March 2017 – St.Thomas’ Hospital, Endoscopy Suite
The day of the scoping arrived. By 10:30 I was wristbanded and cannulated. I went off to change into a pair of very stylish paper boxer shorts with a velcro flap up the back. Once I had donned hospital and dressing gowns it was into the male waiting area until they were ready for me.
Eventually the Gastro registrar appeared and went through the procedure. He explained that he would start off and then hand over to the lead consultant when we were joined by the audience (via a video link). We agreed I would have minimal sedation as I wanted to be able to watch the images and ask questions.
He lead me down to the procedure room where I was greeted by the nurses. Whilst I was being prepped we discussed the use of azathioprine and potential bone marrow suppression. We also touched on Crohn’s and the link to portal vein thrombosis. I hadn’t realised that patients with active disease are more prone to clots such as DVT. Everything was now ready. The lead consultant came in and introduced himself.
I was asked to adopt a fetal position and, with a liberal handful of KY jelly, the scope started it long journey northwards. The image appeared on a large screen above us. In the bottom left hand corner there was a feature I hadn’t seen before. The consultant referred to it as the “sat nav” and it showed the position of the endoscope in the colon.
It was not an easy journey as my sigmoid was tending to loop as the scope attempted to pass through. There was a lot of changing position – lying on my right side, left side or back – and lots of pressure put on my abdomen by one of the nurses pushing down. It was also a long journey as the aim was to go a short way into the small intestine past the anastomosis (the rejoin after my temporary ileostomy).
In the room next door my regular consultant was acting as chaperone to the group of international gastroenterologists who had come to St.Thomas’ to see “how we do it” in the UK. The screen on the wall flickered into action and two way communication was established. He briefly outlined my Crohn’s history and I was able to fill in some of the details. He explained the MRI issue that needed resolving and called up a copy of the report from my electronic file.
With a lot of perseverance, and gas to inflate the gut, the scope had reached the rejoin. I wonder whether the distraction of the video link caused me to relax and let the scope pass more easily. From then on the consultant gave a running commentary on what appeared on the screen. It was fascinating and informative. There was a debate between the 3 gastros as to which Rutgeerts score they would give my anastomosis. Was it i0, i1 or i2? The conclusion – i0 – no signs of ulceration.
Next they went through the MRI report and the scope was moved to the locations identified to see if any strictures were present. None found. One of the consultants remarked – “Scope 1 – MRI Scan 0”.
One thing that was apparent throughout my gut was a slight reddening (erythema). The scope was zoomed in to examine it and to look for any tell tale signs of active Crohn’s but found nothing. The consultant decided to take a few biopsies. I had never seen this done on previous scopings so watched with a mixture of interest and cringing. What looked like a small crocodile clip appeared from the end of the scope and, under voice control, nipped into the wall of my gut. I waited for the pain but nothing, just a small trickle of blood. I suppose that is why you are given a mild sedative. He decided to take a deeper sample so the device went back into the same location and took a further bite.
By now the scope had been in for about 45 minutes and it was finally time for it to be withdrawn. Always a relief. But what about the raised calprotectin level? They would have to come up with a non-Crohn’s explanation for it. The lead consultant bade farewell and I was wheeled out to Recovery. Experience over. When else would you get a chance to listen in to 3 leading gastros discussing your case and with the evidence before your eyes?
Before leaving the unit I was given a copy of the Endoscopy Report, which I have reproduced below, and it included a possible explanation for the calprotectin result. We will have to wait for the biopsy results to be certain.
I had started my journey (real journey so acceptable use of word) this morning expecting to be starting medications or at worst seeing surgery on the horizon. I was leaving for home with a much more positive outcome, hence the title of this post.
The only downside was the length of the procedure. Usually I suffer no side effects from a scoping but this time I ached a fair amount for the next 24 hours.
Two days later I went to see my GP to arrange for a bile acid sequestrant to be prescribed to treat BAM. I arrived expecting to take away just a prescription and ended up being referred to a surgeon, but that’s for another time…..
Another unplanned trip to hospital but certainly a lot less fraught than the last time I was taken to A&E on the occasion of the veins in my esophagus bursting. That was back in 2012.
This latest visit would be a good chance to witness the much publicised NHS A&E in crisis from first hand, and also find out what was wrong with me. I decided to record my progress through the system (which is why this is a long post).
THE ROAD TO A&E
Last Friday lunchtime I was making my way indoors, after doing some outside chores, when I started to feel nauseous. It was bad. Then the shivers appeared. I started to shake violently and uncontrollably. This took me back to the period immediately after my ileostomy when I woke up in Recovery. The solution that day was for the nurse to cover me with a Bair Hugger, a hollow blanket into which they blew hot air.
I sat on the sofa for a while and slowly the nausea passed but the shivering continued and my extremeties where freezing. Nothing for it but stick the electric blanket on maximum, fill a hot water bottle and go to bed. I finally managed to get to sleep and around five hours later woke up to find all the symptoms gone. Very strange.
The following morning my wife commented that I was turning yellow. That rang alarm bells because it was one of the signs I had been told to look out for as an indicator that I had problems with my liver. Should I go straight down to my local A&E now? I was feeling OK. I posted the symptoms on the PSC and BAM support FB pages and asked for opinions. They started trickling in. The concensus was that it could be very serious and that I should go down straight away. To be honest the thought of going down to A&E over the weekend did not fill me with enthusiasm and I decided, since I felt OK, I would go and see my GP first.
First thing Monday I called the surgery and was offered an appointment for 11:00. I mucked out (stables) and then set off to the doctor’s. The consultation must have lasted 20 minutes and he concluded, that given my medical history, I should undergo tests as I did look jaundiced. The only way to get tests done urgently was to make my way to A&E. We then discussed whether I should go to East Surrey (local) or St.Thomas’ (my usual hospital). I said I would seek the advice of my consultant at St.Thomas’ before making that decision. I sent off an emai to which there was a prompt reply saying that I should go to my local A&E.
After lunch I was given a lift down to East Surrey Hospital, Redhill.
TIMETABLE IN A&E
13:49 Booked in at reception. The indicator board was showing just over 2 hours wait to be seen. Each time I glanced at it the time was increasing. Luckily I had a book with me.
14:54 Called in by Assessment (Triage) Nurse who went through details of my medical history, current symptoms and medications. When she had sufficient information she took me through into the main A&E area. So far so good, just over the hour since admission.
15:15 Handed over to A&E Registrar who took me to a curtained cubicle, fitted me with a cannula so he could take blood tests. There were a number of phials to fill and, something I’d not seen before, a couple of bottles for blood cultures. Once he had sent them off for analysis he came back and asked a lot more questions about my medical history.
Because my recent medical history is complex I had the presence of mind to take a copy of the chart I had drawn up showing the period 2010 to 2017.
16:00 First blood results returned and OK. It would be the later samples that were of more interest. I was impressed as it was only an hour from being assessed. To free up the cubicle I moved to a chair in the waiting area.
18:07 The good progress made earlier had lulled me into a false sense of optimism. The A&E Registrar told me that I would be kept in overnight in order to carry out an ERCP in the morning. I was taken to the CDU (Clinical Decision Unit) and given a bed. It would be a lot quieter here. I decided to stay in my normal clothes and sat in the bedside chair reading my book.
18:20 Dinner is served.
In the past I have defended NHS hospital food but in this instance I’ll let you decide. I took a few mouthfuls and resigned myself to a night in A&E. Since the CDU is just for transitory patients there are no overbed entertainment units. I would have to content myself reading my book.
19:10 The A&E Registrar reappeared. He had discussed my case with the Medical Doctor and Consultant doing their Ward Round. They were not as concerned with the blood test results now they have the full set. The Medical Doctor would come and see me to decide way forward with a view to me going home that night and then having scan at GSTT.
21:20 Still waiting to see Medical Doctor. Went and found nurse to see what was going on. He bleeped Medical Team. I explained that I was concerned that by the time I got discharged it would be too late to expect a lift home.
22:43 Still no sign. Nurse bleeped Medical Team for third timehhh.
22:52 Nurse came to tell me that Consultant will be around to see me in the morning. I got dressed for bed and attempted to get some sleep.
07:40 Did manage to get some sleep apart from a few disturbances. Nurse said that Consultants ward round starts at 9:00 so I would see them some time after that.
10:55 Call on my mobile from my GP to see how I was. Thanked him for ringing and explained that I was still waiting to see a Consultant after 21 hours. I would let him know what happened.
12:00 Pointed out to a nurse that I had been due to see the Consultant that morning. He said “it’s complicated” which got me thinkng but he meant my condition but he meant the situation. There had been a communication breakdown and he didn’t know why I wasn’t seen last night. The Medical Registrar was now, personally, going to deal with my case. The nurse had seen the original A&E Registrar and told him that his patient from the previous afternoon had still not been seen.
12:40 One of the Junior Doctors appeared and asked me how I felt. I replied “forgotten”. We went through my medical history and symptoms again. She would go off and discuss with her boss. They would come and see me in next hour to hour and a half.
15:05 It was now 24 hours since being admitted to East Surrey A&E and I was still waiting for the Consultant to come and discuss treatment or the next steps. I started to wonder what the implications of self discharge would be. I didn’t want to jeopardise any future tests.
15:20 Went and found a nurse and asked them to contact the Medical Team to find out what was happening.
15:30 The junior doctor reappeared with her boss, the Consultant. He apologised and said I should have been seen that morning and had a blood test. We went through the prognosis. He thought the most likely cause was a gallstone blocking tube on Friday but had now passed through. The plan was to take a quick blood test and then for me to see a member of Gastro Team between 17:00 and 18:00. If they are happy then discharge.
16:00 A nurse came in to take the blood samples and then send them to the lab.
17:50 A member of the Gastro Team appeared. It was my old consultant who I saw between 2000 – 2009 and I got on well with. It was nice to be re-acquainted. After a short discussion he said “you’re too well to be in here. I’m going to discharge you but I want you to have a follow-up blood test and an ultrasound scan at a later date.” (He was quite happy that this current episode be closed out by East Surrey rather than referring back to St.Thomas’.) All that was now stopping me from leaving was the paperwork and he was passing that task to one of his junior doctors to complete.
18:05 Dinner arrived. I didn’t want to risk going hungry by turning it down but when I lifted the cover it appeared that the greater risk would be eating it. Not wanting to tempt fate, I had not changed into my outdoor clothes yet. I went back to reading my book.
19:15 The junior doctor that I had seen twice that day already appeared with the necessary paperwork. All I needed to do was get dressed and wait for the nurse to hand over the dischargeletter.
As ever the NHS nurses were great – friendly, professional and caring. (Although I already knew this)
WHAT DID I EXPECT?
I have attended A&E many times, both as patient and accompanying others, so I already knew that getting treated was going to involve a fair amount of waiting around. This is why I chose to go to A&E unaccompanied.
In the past I’ve been on edge the whole time, waiting for each step in the process. This time I was determined to change this. I decided to set my own “target” times at the end of each step for the next one to start. That way I could settle down to my book and would not need to be constantly looking at the clock. If the next step started before my target, then it was a result, and if it hadn’t started then it was time to go and ask someone what was happening.
I knew that my first concern would be to find out what was causing the problem and what the solution was, but coming a very close second would be getting discharged as soon as possible.
It was the first time I had been in A&E since setting up a Twitter account and I decided that Tweeting would be a great way of recording my progress through the system and giving praise (or brickbats) as required.
HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE FROM A PATIENT’S POV?
It all started very positively. The first blood tests were back promptly. The subsequent wait for two hours was bearable. When I was taken to the Clinical Decision Unit at 18:00 I had resigned myself to staying in overnight ready for a test in the morning.
It was when the A&E Registrar came back an hour later and said I would be seen by a consultant and could be going home that night that I started to feel unsettled. He was doing his best to keep me informed with his best information but now I was up against a finite time frame as I wouldn’t want to be told at 23:00 “OK, you can now go home”.
Despite the best efforts of the nurse it was not until 22:52 that I was finally told that I would not be seen that night. Tweeting turned out to be a great way of relieving tension and I saw no issues in “live tweeting” the situation. Others may disagree?
My new expectation would be to see the Consultant the following morning so you can imagine my frustration as having seen nobody by 12:00 and then to be told that “due to a communication problem” I had not been seen the previous evening. It was another 20 minutes when a junior doctor appeared, no doubt prompted by the nurse’s bleep. Up until that point it felt like the CDU was just an area where a patient could put and then forgotten about by the doctors.
At this point I could have become very wound up but decided to leave it until I had been there 24 hours from admission. At that point I still hadn’t seen a consultant and I felt it really was time to escalate my situation. It must have worked. In the meantime I dashed off a few more Tweets and started to think about the implications of self-discharge. From then on we seemed to be back on track and things happened in a timely manner.
WHAT CAN THE SYSTEM LEARN?
Communication. Communication. Communication.
How many times is this held up as the main complaint of users across a broad range of services. Visiting A&E is a stressful experience for all participants. If that stress can be minimised then it must be best for everyone.
Maybe the Consultant was particularly busy on the Monday night. I was hardly a priority case, but a simple message to the CDU asking a nurse to explain would have relieved the situation. The same again the following morning. A message saying that the doctor was running late but assuring me I hadn’t been forgotten would have made all the difference. Instead it was down to me to keep chasing at the relevant juncture.
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.
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……