I’m not trying to scare anyone with this story. It is very unlikely you will experience the same but it is worth being aware of yet another part of the rich tapestry that Crohn’s Disease can weave for us.
This is what happened…..
Monday 28th May 2012 – Outpatient Appointment at Guy’s.
The original intention was to go into work as usual then catch the Tube down to London Bridge in time for my 10 o’clock appointment. I wasn’t feeling so good so decided to catch a later train and go direct to the hospital. I’m used to an early start with virtually no traffic so rather underestimated how long it would take to get to Redhill station from home. By the time I got to the station I could hear the train pulling into the platform. I didn’t realise that it would wait there 5 minutes before leaving so I tried to run and realised just how bad I felt. My chest started heaving and my heart pumping. I really thought I was having a heart attack. Once I was on the train I managed to take some deep breaths and gradually return to some type of normality.
I made my way to the Outpatients Dept. in time for my appointment but then had a long wait before seeing my consultant. When I was finally called in I was relieved to find that I was seeing the top man, not one of the registrars. He did apologise for the long wait.
We went through my list of queries and eventually discussed the issue I was having with passing a jet black liquid from my back end. He asked me to get a sample for analysis which I thought would be easy but no luck. He also asked me to make an appointment to repeat the colonoscopy to verify the results of the MRI scan.
Eventually I was on my way home and by now the temperature was high. I bought a bottle of cold drink and then boarded the train back to Redhill. By the time I got home I was feeling pretty exhausted and went to have a lie down to recover. Around six o’clock I started to feel sick so disappeared into the toilet and then it happened… (don’t read any further if you are squeamish)
I brought up a large amount of what looked like redcurrant jelly but was clearly freshly congealed blood. I must have gone into shock for a few minutes, thinking “What do I do now?” (Not like me at all. I usually come quickly to terms with what is happening, decide the best actions to take and get on with it but this was like nothing I had experienced before and for a while I couldn’t cope).
I came to the conclusion that this was definitely a 999 moment. I heard my wife coming back from feeding our ponies so called out to her to ring the number. She made the call and then responded to the long series of questions that you now get asked by the operator. The decision to send an ambulance was made and my wife then hurried herself to get together some things into a bag before the ambulance pulled up our sideway. She didn’t quite finish as the ambulance arrived incredibly quickly. When she opened the door she recognised the paramedics as the ones who had taken me into hospital the last time we had reason to call 999 (see “Post Op – Back Home” page – 12th November). They came in to see what state I was in, took one look at the blood surrounding me and, to put me at ease, told me that it was only a small amount!
I was loaded into the ambulance and then went through various tests before we set off. They were obviously concerned at my state and said that my blood pressure was very low. They put me on a drip and the driver said “I think we’ll go for the siren”…….
A few minutes later we arrived at East Surrey Hospital and I was taken straight into the Accident and Emergency assessment area and was immediately seen by a doctor to make sure I was stable. Over the next hour or so I was seen by a couple more doctors whilst they decided the best ward for me to be sent to. Their decision was to admit me to the Medical Assessment Unit where I underwent further assessment. By this time my sister had turned up to take my wife home so we said our goodbyes and I waited to see where I would end up.
My wife returned home and had to clear up the blood from the floor. I’m so lucky to have someone so tough to support me when things are going wrong.
The decision was taken to send me to the ward which specialises in gastroenterology and I was duly taken to this new ward. I then saw the doctor on duty who made sure I was comfortable and worked out what drips I needed to be on.
Tuesday 29th May 2012 – the rest of the night was spent undergoing regular checks on my blood pressure and temperature. I didn’t get much sleep but was just happy to be in the best place, given the condition I was in.
During the day I saw various doctors who were trying to decide which tests I should undergo. The immediate priority was to have an endoscopy (camera down throat) to see where the blood had come from. They tried to get me onto that day’s list and so I wasn’t allowed to eat anything. Unfortunately an emergency case took priority and at six o’clock I was told that I could eat some supper. Apparently the doctor was very surprised at how calmly I took the fact that I wouldn’t be having the test done that day and said she wouldn’t have been so laid back.
They decided that I needed to have a blood transfusion as my blood count had fallen to 6.6. The normal figure for a man is around 14. I therefore had two drips going into the cannula in my left arm.
Wednesday 30th May 2012 to Monday 4th June – The blood transfusion had brought my blood count up to 8.6, still very low. Over the next few days I had the upper GI endoscopy. I think the doctors were expecting it to show that I had an ulcer, which had burst, or that the Crohn’s inflammation had spread into my stomach. What they actually found were esophageal varices, prominent veins in the lower third of the esophagus and usually related to alcoholism! I looked them up on the internet and found that there is a possible link between them and the Azathioprine drug that I had been on for seven years.
The next step was therefore to have an ultrasound scan to look at my liver as sometimes damage to one of the large veins could route the blood supply into the esophagus causing the varices. I asked what the outcome of this test was and it sounded like nothing particularly untoward showed up apart from a gall stone and a slightly enlarged spleen. I would ask again later, just to make sure I got that right.
The whole ward then went into a sort of 4 day limbo as it was the extended holiday weekend to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The number of doctors was greatly reduced and were only seeing patients by exception. I resigned myself to not progressing any further with an explanation of my problem until the following Tuesday.
The phlebotomists did their usual rounds every day and I later found out that my blood count had dropped to 8.0 from 8.6. Not good and would prolong my stay in hospital. The ward sister said that the doctors would be doing a proper ward round on the following Tuesday so I had plenty of time to get a list of questions together. I resigned myself to not progressing any further with an explanation of my problem until then.
Tuesday 5th June 2012 – I knew at some point I would encounter the consultant that I had emailed around a year ago saying that, basically, I was now being treated by St.Thomas’ so not to bother to make any further appointments for me. I had a very good reason for doing this and it is recorded in my book (when it finally gets published).
I’m not going to go into all the details of this encounter but suffice to say that initially he would not look me in the eye and my decision, a year ago, was clearly still bugging him. I reiterated my original reason for leaving his care and this may not have helped the situation. (My decision to move to St.Thomas’ was not taken lightly as it is far easier for me to get to East Surrey Hospital from home, approx. 10 minutes, than it is to get to St.Thomas’). At one point it was suggested that maybe it would be best for me to be put in an ambulance and transported up to London.
I was now in the position that I was under the care of East Surrey for my emergency admission but the long term treatment of Crohn’s was still with St.Thomas’. At the end of a long and detailed discussion on what my current situation was caused by, whilst the junior doctors listened on, we ended up shaking hands and agreeing that we should do what is best for my long term health. Enough said on this matter, let’s move onto possible diagnosis, tests required and best place to have them carried out. So clearly I was not in a position to think about discharge yet.
The recurring terms he used were primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and portal hypertension. He thinks that these are symptoms of a malfunctioning immune system and are also linked to my thrombocytopaenia (low platelet count) and enlarged spleen. I had thought that this last condition had been brought on by the use of Azathioprine but he was sceptical at this.
After the ward round was complete I called one of the junior doctors over and asked how to spell “that primary thing the consultant mentioned” so I could look it up. She replied that it might not be a good idea at present. I decided to park the research for the day but happened to mention it to my sister who immediately looked it up and rang me back. It was all a little scary. Ultimately, if PSC was diagnosed, the long term prognosis – liver transplant! The only way of getting a definite diagnosis would be to carry out a liver biopsy.
With regards to where the tests should be done and the subsequent treatment – I’m not sure what we concluded. I think that we agreed that due to the complex nature of my Crohn’s I would be better remaining under St.Thomas’ as they have more extensive facilities than East Surrey. I wouldrevisit this subject tomorrow on the ward round.
I try to keep a cool head at all times and remain rational so I thought I’d taken the above information in my stride but a little voice at the back of my head kept saying “you’re only keeping calm because you don’t understand the full implications of what you’ve just been told”. When I caught sight of the IBD Nurse I asked her if she could answer some questions, including what were all the long words the consultant were using. She could tell by some of my questions that no one has ever sat down and gone through some of the basic concepts of Crohn’s and its implications.
I got to thinking about this later and she had hit the nail on the head, one of her many skills! (which also includes an encyclopaedic, some might say Wikipedic, knowledge of medical terms and conditions).
No one has ever talked through the bigger Crohn’s picture. For years I thought it was simply an inflammation that caused diarrhea and some pain for which you took steroids. Some years later I ended up with a stricture so I was then aware of another possible complication. The results of the CT scan that I had done three years, or so ago, then introduced me to the concept of fistulas and having to have a stoma. It would be good to be able to spend some time talking this through with a specialist and understanding other possible symptoms and potential effects on other parts of the body. Ultimately I would like to get a clear understanding of the likely effects on my potential life expectancy or quality. I could then use the information to decide when to retire. Maybe I should talk to an actuary.
Back to the ward – it was decided that I should be given another 2 units of blood. Since I hadn’t had any for a week they needed to do another “crossmatch” as they only last 7 days. (All part of ensuring you get the right blood type).
Wednesday 6th June 2012 – that must have been the quietest night so far on the ward. I slept until about 3:00am but then couldn’t get back to sleep until around 7:00am.
The phlebotomist turned up to take more blood samples and she was followed by the registrar and junior doctors on their round. I had quickly made a list of things to ask them – the top question was “plan for escape”.
I was somewhat taken aback when the Registrar said that as long as today’s blood test showed an Hb of over 10 then I could go home. Today! I really wasn’t expecting that. I had told everyone I was in until at least the weekend or possibly would be transferred to St.Thomas’. I’ve now had to wait until around 1 o’clock for my score.
I discussed various things with the Registrar, including going over again what the endoscopy and ultrasound tests had shown. For my long term care they are suggesting that I remain under St.Thomas’ and would be liaising with my specialist there to make sure the necessary test results were passed over. One of the junior doctors was tasked with making this contact.
Thursday 7th June 2012 – back home. My first good night’s sleep for 10 days. Time to take stock. The discharge letter made interesting reading but took a fair amount of translation. The bulk of it listed what they didn’t find so I was rather confused as to what I have actually got wrong with me. The only definite observations were an enlarged spleen and a gallstone.
I read through the leaflets that came with the new drugs. They’d given me – Propanolol – a beta blocker used to prevent stomach bleeding in patients with high blood pressure in their liver or swollen blood vessels in their gullet; and Omeprazole – a proton pump inhibitor to reduce the acid in one’s stomach. Reading through the possible side effects of these two drugs I could end up with insomnia and nightmares. Fingers crossed.
…and since then? – I was put under the care of a liver specialist and underwent a liver biopsy to check for cirrhosis. The result showed mild stiffening, something to keep in mind. I now have yearly visits to the endoscopy dept to check out the varices. If they have regrown then the first visit is followed by another two or three when they “obliterate” the veins with rubber bands. Next visit January 2017.
I inevitably turned to the internet. The first page I found, when I searched for PVT and Crohn’s, started with the words “if the patient survives….” Another one said “inevitably fatal”. Not a good start and I was only partly comforted by realising that the articles were written many years ago and by hoping that treatment must have moved on leaps and bounds. If I was to suffer another major bleed from the varices it’s a question of how quick I can get to a hospital and have a transfusion.
It’s like living with a timebomb.