Time Bomb No.2, please

Monday – 13th March 2017 – off to see my GP to get a prescription for Colesevelam, a bile acid sequestrant. He greeted me with “bloody hell, you look well!”  I didn’t understand the reason for his comment until later. We agreed on the new drug and he also reviewed my existing medications. So far so good.

He had been reading my medical record, the last entry of which was a trip to A&E with jaundice.  He had assumed that I was back to see him with a recurrence of the  problem, hence his comment. He asked me what the plan was following discharge back at the beginning of February. As far as I was concerned I had undergone a follow-up ultrasound scan and it was now matter closed. Clearly he thought there should have been some follow-up. He was rather miffed that I had heard nothing and said that he would chase it up.

We then had a fairly lengthy discussion on gallstones and surgery to have my gallbladder removed. That was a bit of a shock. I had gone in to get a prescription and come away with a referral to see a surgeon. Not what I was expecting. I managed to book the referral for 3 weeks time

Wednesday 5th April 2017 – East Surrey Hospital

This was going to be another one of those “interesting” appointments. I hadn’t been to see a surgeon since 2011. It would be with someone I hadn’t met before and I knew from experience that much of a first appointment would be taken up with the new doctor rapidly trying to assimilate my medical history. I thought I might help this process by producing the diagram below.

Unfortunately the doctor had already read my notes before he called us in so my diagram did not have its intended benefit.

My wife accompanied me as surgery and recuperation obviously affects all the family, not just the patient.  We were greeted by the new consultant who turned out to be a professor. I had produced a list of questions based on the BARN principle – Benefits, Alternatives, Risk or do Nothing (or what’s Next?). Our discussion  covered many aspects of gallbladders and the biliary system. I’ll use my list to organise them into subjects.

BENEFITS

What would be the advantage of having galbladder removed? No more gallstones and therefore no more risks associated with them.

Would the operation be laparoscopic cholecystectomy (keyhole) or open surgery? What are the deciding factors? Due to my previous surgery and the likelihood of extensive adhesions it might not be possible to use keyhole techniques. The only way of seeing what adhesions are present would be by inserting a camera into the abdominal cavity.

What are hospital and recovery period for open surgery? Usually two days in hospital and two weeks recuperation.

BAM currently well controlled by 2 capsules of Loperamide/day, would losing my gallbladder mean starting on Colosevelam? No. It should not affect the current situation

ALTERNATIVES

Is there an alternative to surgery ie. ERCP? ERCP only suitable for removing stones from ducts once they have left the gallbladder.

We could do nothing – see below

RISKS

Any risks specific to gallbladder removal? There would be the usual risks of surgery but given my other conditions :

Portal Vein Thrombosis
Cirrhosis
Crohn’s DIsease
Bile Acid Malabsorption
Thrombocytopenia

They could cause additional complications. He was specifically concerned about thrombocytopenia (low platelets) and the chance of losing a large amount of blood during the procedure. He was also concerned about potential liver damage and noted that I already had the start of cirrhosis.

(As an aside – BAM could actually be helping my condition as there is less bile for recycling)

Given my past experience could surgery lead to post operative ileus? With keyhole surgery it is unlikely but there is a possibility with open surgery.

Do NOTHING

What happens if we do nothing? It was finely balanced as to which course of action would be best. As I was asympytomatic and feeling well then maybe this was the option to choose. Ultimately it would be a joint decision between the consultant and myself.

Can “do nothing” cause long term damage to other organs? If another gallstone escaped from the gallbladder then the amount of potential damage  would depend where it came to rest. He drew a simple diagram to illustrate his point. If the stone lodged just below the gallbladder then it could cause it to expand. If it lodged further down the system at the sphincter where the stomach joins the duodenum then it could cause cholangitis (inflammation of the biliary ducts) and/or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Both are very serious conditions.

What would the warning signs be? Pain in the right side, maybe stretching up to the shoulder. Skin and whites of eyes turning yellow. Usually the pain would be severe which is why it was strange that I felt nothing during my recent episode of jaundice.

NEXT steps

He put in a request for a further ultrasound scan (locally) but would be recommending that I was referred to a hospital with a dedicated, specialist liver unit due to his concerns about the potential risks of an operation ie.  needing a liver transplant if things went badly wrong!!!! I asked him to discuss this with my gastro consultant at St. Thomas’ Hospital.

In future I must try and avoid fatty or spicy foods as these could cause the gallbladder to contract which might, in turn, expel a stone into the ducts.

When I returned home I emailed my consultant at St. Thomas’ to give him an update on my situation and explain about being referred to a dedicated liver unit. I also asked if the results of the recent biopsies (taken during a colonoscopy) were available and whether my liver stiffness should be the subject of ongoing monitoring.

Time Bomb No.2

Maybe it’s being slightly over dramatic but it does seem that I am now carrying another time bomb around with me. No.1 – the esophageal varices – have now been joined by No.2 – gallstones. If the varices burst, again, or another gallstone gets stuck then they will need emergency hospital admission…. but the sun has been shining all day so let’s not get too hung up about it.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

(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.

Endoscopy Report

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…..

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

 

 

 

Do you mind an audience?

Gastro Appointment – Guy’s Hospital – 20th February 2017

I knew this was going to be an “interesting” consultation and it even started in a strange way. Would you expect to be greeted by a live violinist in the waiting room? Whilst I applaud the hospital for trying something different I’m not sure what it did for other patient’s stress levels. It didn’t help mine.

Having been waiting for over an hour a nurse appeared and announced the clinic was running 90 minutes late. Maybe she had made an earlier announcement but was drowned out by the violin. I knew I would be in for an even longer wait as I had requested to see my usual Consultant.

When I was finally shown into his room, he apologised for the delay and we started working through my list.

1 – Calprotectin result – previously 512. Had now risen to 895. I thought this was not unexpected as I was starting to feel a certain amount of pain when food passed across my anastomosis and through the transverse colon.

2 – Dependent upon the above – have you discussed further investigation? Barium enema? We had agreed before Christmas that, dependent upon the calprotectin result, further investigation could be needed. He favoured doing another colonoscopy.

3 – Run through the last follow-up letter with translation. What are implications of fistulas and adhesions?  We went through the letter and made sure I understood the medical terms. I was concerned that the mention of fistulas, strictures and adhesions meant only one thing – surgery. He responded that the possibility of fistulas was the most concerning; adhesions were to be expected but he was still was struggling to understand the apparent differences between the MRI and what he had physically seen during the colonoscopy. Strictures should have appeared on the camera.

I asked if it was possible for the Crohn’s to have moved from my small intestine to my colon. He said that it did not usually happen. A repeat colonoscopy would look for this. He asked if I minded having an audience as they were running a visit for ten overseas gastroenterologists to show how endoscopies were carried out at St.Thomas’. I really wasn’t fussed and it meant that I had the date set there and then. (Wonder if they will film it for YouTube. Would be taking selfies to another level).

4 – Plan for treatment – start Crohn’s medications. The most likely treatment would be one of the “MABs”. We discussed my previous experience with Infliximab and that was duly noted on my medical file. I wondered if I ended up needing regular infusions whether these could be carried out locally rather than needing a trip to London each time. He said they would encourage that but would still keep control of my case.

5 – Recent trip to A&E with jaundice. Violent shivering. Nausea. Turning yellow. Ultrasound scan 21st February. Need to make sure results are passed on. I quickly ran through my recent trip to our local A&E. He was surprised that during the whole incident I felt no pain. I mentioned I would be having an ultrasound scan the following day. (See below)

6 – Did East Surrey liaise with St. Thomas’? Did blood test results get passed over from East Surrey? There had been no contact with East Surrey. Something for me to chase up when I went there for the ultrasound.

7 – Hb looked low to me. He was not concerned about my Hb

8 – Do the treatment pathways change with age ie. over 60. Have any studies been done into the needs of the “older” patient? The main consideration would be the type of drugs used and their effect on an immune system that weakens with age.

9 – Opportunities for doing some more public speaking. Taking year off of work, maybe longer. There were plenty of opportunities. The danger would be becoming overused! I explained that I wanted to do something that would help the cause of Crohn’s patients.

10 – Not felt well for last 2 days. ED. Taking more Loperamide to try and combat. Have any patients reported that Loperamide from different manufacturers having varying levels of efficacy? I had been suffering bouts of having to rush off to the bathroom and it was the uncertaintity of the cause which I struggled with – virus, crohn’s, BAM or dodgy food. He suggested that I should go and see my GP to arrange a prescription for Questran (a bile acid sequestrant) so that it was available should I decide to start taking it. I had wondered if it was possible that different Loperamide makes could be causing my present problem? This rang a bell. He suggested I put it to the test by using the different makes in turn and noting the outcome.

I then went off to find the Endoscopy section to try and pick up the colonoscopy prep but would first need a time and date for the procedure. After a lot of ringing around the very tenacious nurse managed to get it all sorted out. Colonoscopy planned for 10:00am Saturday 11th March. The Endoscopy Unit were currently reviewing how the prep would be dispensed so I was given a prescription to take down to the Outpatient Pharmacy.

Roll on 11th March……

Ultrasound Scan – East Surrey Hospital – 21st February 2017

In complete contrast to yesterday’s delays, I arrived at the Imaging Unit early, waited five minutes and was then shown into the ultrasound suite.

They had the luxury of warmed lubricating gel! The scan took around 10 minutes during which I discussed with the sonographer what I would expect her to see – a large gallstone (first seen in 2014) and an enlarged spleen. At first the gallstone wasn’t apparent but when she applied the scanning head from a different position it appeared, except it was now a group of small stones. She wanted to see if they were mobile so got me to stand next to the US unit and then jump up and down. (I’m pleased they don’t get you to do this during a colonoscopy.) The stones had moved to the bottom of the gallbladder. The whole procedure was completed before my due appointment time.

I mentioned that I needed to get a copy of the report sent to my consultant at St.Thomas’. The sonographer asked me to return to waiting area and she would print off a copy of the report for me to take away.

24+ hours in Accident and Emergency

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.

I decided it would be worth packing an overnight bag, “just in case”. I actually referred to one of my old posts for a checklist – http://www.wrestlingtheoctopus.com/top-tips-for-hospital-survival-updated-november-2014/

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.

Obligatory cannula selfie – as required by The Patients’ Code

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.

Here’s the document – Medical Record Chart – 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.

Cordon bleu dinner

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.

The CDU (Clinical Decision Unit) – photo taken on second day in A&E

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.

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

Do you have a “quotation that inspires you”? The one I would choose 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….

Here goes. Over to that well known, recently passed, US philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld. It’s the quote he was ridiculed for 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. Full story in my free to download book!). 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 salts properly what would you take that to mean? I took it at face value, I would need to up my intake of salt (sodium chloride) 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 appreciate 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 likely 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, consultant or surgeon 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

My automedicography – a personal view