Accepting where I am now (but its not where I want to be)

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I caught site of my shadow today when I was out walking with Ghillie down at Cramond and had to stop and do a double take. I was thinking it cant really be me I was looking down at. I was looking down at the shadow of someone who should be triple my age. Hunched over and with a walking stick (and my leg and foot in a splint). I felt like crying, I was crying inside. To top it off when I was trying to get myself across the long grass to clear up after a Ghillie an elderly lady came over to help me and cleaned up for me before I even got half way there. If I was not feeling bad by then I felt awful. I know she was doing it out of kindness and I did smile and thank her but inside I wanted to scream that I can manage myself and don’t want to be pitied.

I am determined that I will get myself back from where I am. I realised I have not actually posted about the issue with my leg. While I was unwell in the hospital there was a huge struggle for access so in the process of trying to get intra- venous access and also arterial access my nerves have been damaged in my right foot and leg. I cant fee my right foot at all and have foot drop in it which has meant I have a lovely splint/brace thing to wear which keeps my foot in the correct position. I also have a stick to help with my walking as it is tricky when you cant feel your foot. The rest of my leg is in a lot of pain from the lines in my femoral and groin area. Weirdly when i had the lines in I had no issues other than them being a bit annoying. It was not until the lines came out that the trouble started. My leg was achey and whenever I would bend it got shooting nerve pain that would bring tears to my eyes. Oddly at the time and when in hospital there was not much to see. I had and ultra sound and x-rays which were all ok but once I got home all this bruising and swelling came up with my thigh ending up black and blue.

So anyway my leg is causing me so much trouble leaving me feeling like I have aged. When a walk with Ghillie that normally takes me 40 minutes is now taking me 1 hour and a half.

Looking on the positives of my leg it is forcing me to rest and recover from my hospital admission but it is so frustrating too. I just need to think that I am here and shouldn’t moan too much about things.

With focus and positivity I will get back to where I was. I will be able to get myself back to where I was before, slow but steady and things will get there.

(I am still trying to figure out exactly what went on in relation to my last hospital admission. Once I have it all straightened out in my head I will be able to post about it.)

 

 

No-one is immune from a near fatal asthma attack.

Once again asthma has been in the press for all the wrong reasons. Despite the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) in 2014 it appears nothing has got much better. It was announced that asthma deaths in England and Wales (Scotland was not mentioned) are at their highest in over a decade. Over the years I have always asked why, why does asthma kill, why is asthma not well managed.

Well the other week I was reminded just how bad asthma can be and how it can never be under estimated. If asthma wants to win it will win despite all you do.

All the weather we have had recently has taken its toll on my asthma control. I tried so hard to ensure I was listening to my body, and make any changes that it required to ensure my lungs and asthma were stable. I found it very tricky to know what to do because unlike when you have a bad infection or cold you know roughly how long they will last and how much to step up medication to keep your asthma in check. This time it was different, it was the weather than was making life hard but it was not consistent. In the morning I was finding the weather was very muggy and humidity high making it feel like I was breathing through cotton wool but as the day went on the air cleared and I found it a lot easier to breath when the humidity dropped. It was like this for several days in a row and then perhaps there was a day where the humidity was ok. This made it a bit of a conundrum as to how to treat my breathing as I was not convinced an increase in steroids was going to help.

I reached out and spoke to my asthma nurse specialist at the hospital on the Monday. She gave me a plan which I followed however by Wednesday I was really struggling so I reached out to my consultant and spoke to his secretary to get some advice. I felt like I was in that limbo phase. I had increased my steroids on the Wednesday morning as per advice I got on Monday. I was finding it really hard going but was not at the stage of needing to call and ambulance and go to hospital but I need some help. Long story short I couldn’t get through to my consultant and then it was too late for me GP and there was no appointments so I was seen by the out of hours Dr who then sent me up to the hospital. From then it went downhill and went downhill very very quickly resulting in going to ITU.

I am going to do a separate post about the ins and outs of what happened when I deteriorated but with this post I wanted to focus on the importance of getting help.

Initially when I got better I was going over and over in my head trying to figure out what I missed or what went wrong for things to go downhill so quickly and escalate beyond measure. But there was nothing. I could not have tried to get any more help than I did, even getting help earlier would not have made a difference because the days before I spoke to the nurses the weather was ok and my breathing was not too bad (not great but not awful). The advice they would have given me would have been the same and that was to increase my prednisolone if my peak flow got to a certain level which I implemented when it did drop.

I consider myself to be some who has a good knowledge of asthma. I know about as much as I can about the condition. I take my medication religiously and don’t miss doses ever yet I was still able to have an asthma attack which was considered near fatal. There is a big push trying to ensure that people take their medications as prescribed and be vigilant with their asthma. Asthma is a disease that needs to be respected it does not stop and wait for anyone. It is important to remember that just taking your medication as prescribed does not make you immune from having asthma attacks. Getting to know your asthma, what triggers it, and what actions to take are so important. Had I not known all I do I am pretty sure that I would not be here.

I would urge everyone with asthma to make sure they take their medication as prescribed, know what triggers your asthma, have an asthma action plan and know when to get help and who to get help from. This really can save your life.

(I will be doing a further few posts about recent events. One which I will have password protected as it will go into detail about events in ICU etc and I know some may not want to read it. IF you want the password please do message me for it).

A year on monoclonal antibody treatment

I can’t believe it is a year since I started on mepolizumab (mepo) a monoclonal anti body treatment to suppress my eosinophils in a bid to help my asthma. The big question is as it helped?

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I am not sure. My consultant seems to think it has and I am to continue on it. My eosinophils have dropped dramatically however I am still on the same maintenance prednisolone dose and we have not been able to reduce it down and I am no longer working just now. I was in clinic last month speaking to my consultant as I was having second thoughts about staying on mepolizumab because I cant see a huge amount of improvement but he feels it is worth staying on it and I have been approved to stay on it for the following reasons:

  1. My blood eosinophil count has come down (I’m not sure of the exact figure just now but we are checking again next month)
  2. My peak flow although overall it is lower than it was the variation in peak flow readings is no longer there and it is a lot more consistent- I cant complain about this as now I know where I am each day compared with before where the diurnal variation was huge.
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  3. Although I have had a near fatal attack and several others requiring hospital I have been able to recover from them a lot quicker than before. My consultant described some of my attacks as spectacular (Im not sure how I feel about that).
  4. Chest infections and colds have not quite taken the hold that they were before and again recovering has been a lot quicker.
  5. My quality of life is better (although for me I am still really struggling with the idea of not being at work doing the job I love).

Looking at the reasons my consultant listed I really cannot complain and can see that the mepo has had an impact. It has not had the wonder drug impact that I hoped for and that I have read many have had but I am alive and have a great team behind me so really need to be thankful.

I did some work a good number of years ago for Astra Zeneca where I met some other asthma patients. One young lady I met had their life totally transformed by Xolair going form being intubated numbers times, not being able to work and very disabled by their asthma to having a full time job and minimal asthma issues. I think deep down part of me was desperate to have this effect. I remember thinking after I was told I would start mepo that I might be able to get back to the gym, start running again and playing lacrosse and golf but that has not been the case which is a bit disappointing for me but I was told not to get my hopes up too much.

Even though the mepo has not been the wonder drug that was going to transform my life I am so grateful to my consultant for being willing to try it and keeping me on it. Apart for the hopes of it transforming my life I was worried about the side effects it might have. On the whole I have really not had any significant side effects. I have been finding I get a bit of a local reaction for about 48-72 hours post injection where the skin is red and hot. Initially when I first started getting the injection I did get a really bad headache, backache and just a general feeling of being unwell. After about the 3rd injection this went away. I have found that if I am a bit under the weather in the days leading up to getting the mepo then I tend to get more side effects in terms of headache etc but nothing that has been so bad it is not worth getting the injection especially as I am not having to get up and work set hours etc.

I have come across different stories on social media about peoples experience of biologics but one thing I have found is the number of people weighing up the travel for these treatments. When you asthma gets to the severe end of the spectrum most are referred on to a tertiary centre where their care is managed and their local hospital is there as a support team but do not take the overall control of your management. There are not many tertiary centres so there is often a lot of travel involved. I am lucky that Id not have a huge distance to travel but I think even if I did I wouldn’t mind because I know the team are doing it in my best interests and the least I can do is travel although it may be more difficult when you factor in that you do have severe asthma which is already controlling your life but if there is a chance that this is going to help then the travel is worth it!!

Another discussion I had with my consultant was about new biologics that are coming out. He is hopeful that dupilumab may have its use altered and some asthmatics may qualify for it. Just now it is only used in adult eczema in the UK but in the States there have been people on it who have aspirin sensitive asthma which is what I have except that I am anaphylactic to aspirin and salicylic acid so fingers crossed this gets a green light at some point as we both think this might work well for me.

The use of these monoclonal anti body drugs is dependent on such specific criteria and the patient needs to meet them and the consultant needs to be able to provide evidence for it before you get the green light. Because of this many are not getting the opportunity to try it and see if it has an effect.

For me I did not match the criteria for blood eosinophils but my consultant was able to argue the case. He was able to show that the prednisolone I am on will be surpassing eosinophil production and if i was not on it then my count would be elevated but it is too dangerous to take me off them or down a significant amount just to get the blood result. I would say it is worth asking your consultant to see if there is potentially a way to justify why you need to try this treatment and then be approved for it. It is so frustrating that a drug you are trying to get off is the main factor to many not meeting the criteria, but if you came off it then it is so dangerous as your asthma can go so out of control without it. I can see why they have strict criteria because the drugs are really expensive as they are such targeted drugs but in time they will drop in price and hopefully the criteria for the drugs will also be more flexible too.

Overall I am glad I have had the chance to try mepolizumab and being able to stay on it. If I had not changed consultants I doubt I would even be considered for it which is a scary prospect as I have no idea where I would be with my health.

If anyone has questions about monoclonal antibody treatment please ask!!

Are asthmatics who post on social media one reason why asthma is considered as “just asthma”?

How often do we read or hear that asthma is “just asthma” and an inhaler will fix it all. Everyone knows someone who has asthma but not everyone knows how bad asthma can be and that it kills people. 3 people die each day in the UK compared to the 10 across the United States. I am not saying that 10 is acceptable but compared to the UK it is far better. In fact the UK has the worst asthma death rate for a developed country.

The big question is why do we have such bad statistics?

We have the National Health Service, Asthma UK, 2 dedicated research centres- the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and the Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms in Asthma which is providing asthmatics with cutting edge technologies and trying to get a better understanding of asthma, the different types of asthma and best ways to manage it. Despite having all this, asthma as a condition is horrendously underfunded when you compare the funding given to cancer or heart disease. Asthma is way more prevalent yet still not fully understood. To begin to understand asthma, and the different phenotypes (types) there needs to be a huge input of money much like there is for other conditions.

Why is money not being given to improve outcomes of those with asthma? 

I believe that we as asthmatics have a role to play in this specifically the role that we play on social media. Over the last decade social media has exploded. Everyone (although there are some exceptions) uses social media of some sorts wether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. It is used for both social and professional use and although there are some restrictions in place you can post pretty much anything and it can be available to most who are looking for it.

I use social media in a number of different ways. Through Facebook, Instagram and my blog I can share my advocacy work and awareness about the condition, how I deal with it both the negatives and the positives, and also new medications that are coming out as well. Twitter is an excellent vehicle for knowledge exchange specifically for research as you can share snap shots of what is happening and not need to search a website and read through screeds of stuff.

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On Facebook one of my roles is that I moderate and administrate several support groups for those with asthma, severe asthma, difficult to control asthma etc. I feel very honoured that I have been asked to become a member of the admin team for these groups however it is tricky. Many of these groups can be accessible to anyone who wants and people can post what they want, equally they can post what they want on their own pages too. I believe this is where asthma or more specifically asthmatics get a bad reputation and unfortunately when someone reads something in one place then an entire groups can be tarnished with the same brush.

What am I actually talking about? I often get into trouble or arguments with people because they are not acting responsibly and not taking their condition seriously. This would be fine if they were keeping this to themselves but many are not, instead it is being shared on social media. For example:

“my breathing is really bad and having to use way more nebulisers than I should so need to go to hospital but I have stuff to do first”

This type of thing I come across on just about a daily basis and it makes my blood boil. We have a role wether we like it or not to take our asthma seriously and get help when we need it. Part of me feels that anyone on the outside seeing this would think why should be invest lots of money in asthma when those with asthma are not being sensible with it.

I firmly believe if you need to get help you need to get help, a shower, shopping, housework etc can wait. If you don’t wait you might not be there to do it in the future. No one likes going to hospital and many with severe asthma spend a lot of time going to hospital resulting in admissions and plans changing. It is not ideal but it is what it is.

I have had 2 friends die from asthma and know of many others through my work with Asthma UK and being involved in support groups that have also died. For some of them the reason they died most likely could have been avoided had they got help when they first started feeling unwell. I am sure if I was able to ask them they would say they wished they got help sooner as they might still be here now.

I use the examples of these 2 friends in response to comments people leave like above. This will often cause many to get angry with me but if you are unwell you need help there and then. People do not see this and expect sympathy and attention but if you do not act responsibly then you are not going to get sympathy. If you really want to live then you need to go and get help. There have been times when I have just wanted to pretend asthma is fine and I don’t need help because I have something on and don’t want to miss it but then I think of Dawn and it jolts me back to earth forcing me to get help.

Wether we like it or not we are ambassadors for the condition. The outward projection we give I think has a large part of why asthma is not taken seriously. I am blunt and will say to people that if they want their asthma to kill them then they are going about it the right way. It is very blunt but it is the reality.

I know for sure there will be people who read this and have posted irresponsibly  who will be angry. I do care that they will be angry but at the same time I don’t because what we post on social media can influence others with asthma who may be new to the condition and they don’t know any better and think what they read is ok to do. Remember asthma can kill anyone not just those with severe asthma so those new to the condition may see stuff and think because someone who has had asthma longer than they have must know best and it is ok but it is not. We must lead by example and if we are not going to then we must keep this private and to ourselves.

So how much is social media playing a role in the reputation that asthma has. I will continue to try and get people to understand why asthma must be taken seriously and that when you need help for your breathing you need help and should not go and have a shower etc first because you think this is the priority.

I am an ambassador for asthma as we all are. Asthma needs to be respected much like other chronic health conditions are and it is not acceptable to post irresponsibly on social media for others to see and be influenced by. We desperately need more funding to understand asthma better and if we can do our part to help achieve this we might get there quicker than we are now.

Rant over but bottom line is: social media can be toxic in how people view asthma because of what those with asthma post for the public to see.

RIP Dawn

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What do you do on days when there is no air??

Today has been one of those days where it feels like there is no air. You are left gasping for breath just moving a few meters and even sitting still feels like you are trying to breathe through a pillow. It is horrible and unrelenting. Not only is there no air and very humid the pollen count is through the roof, pollution is high- just about everything thrown in that an asthmatic does not want to see in the weather report.

I feel like I have clock watched all day willing the hours to go by until it is night and there might be some relief as the sun goes down.

But what do you do on days like this?? What can you do to take your mind off the effort that breathing brings when even eating and drinking is an effort.

Today I have just made sure I have everything within my reach, nebulisers, tv remote, phone, water. Trying to limit the activity and not making any movements that can be avoided. It is tough as you always think you have everything to hadn’t and then you don’t.

I have been lucky today that I can watch the lacrosse European Championships as it is being streamed live which has passed the time very well. I have found I have been dozing on and off too. I am still so grateful that I have my electric bed so I can prop myself up, and relax easing my chest sightly. I am also super fortunate to have a Dyson Cool Air Fan with filter which has been life saving today and on previous warm days. I have had it on pretty much permanently when I am in as it does offer a lot of relief and is not just blowing warm air around. It is actually cold air it blows out!!

When the weather is this hot and muggy I find eating a huge difficulty. I have no appetite and anything substantial that I do eat I find myself feeling like I am choking as I just can’t breathe properly. This is not isolated to when the weather is like it is but also when I am unwell with a chest infection or in hospital post acute exacerbation. I have found my solution to this though!!!

Strawberry Yazoo is my go to drink. Whenever I am not great this is what I like to have. It has all the pick me ups you need but also does provide you with some nutritional benefits too- although you should not use them as a meal replacement I do find that when my breathing is bad these are the best things. I also always have a fridge and freezer full of fruit pre cut or ave berries etc so I have eat them easily and they are not too bulky, the freezer always also has ice pops, ice cream, ice lollies because you just need them to cool down but also nebulising a lot dries my mouth out and makes everything feel funny so the coldness is really nice on my mouth too.

A lot of people have been messaging me today with their tips and tricks for the hot weather. These include:

  • Bowl of ice in front of a fan
  • cold showers or bath
  • driving in the car with the air con on
  • a cold towel on the back of your neck

Others have also suggested going to hospital but I just think that would be as bad except they could give me IV mediation to make my lungs happier but it will still be airless and really hot in the wards- in fact probably even hotter than it is in my flat and then you add in lying on a plastic mattress. I think I will stay put unless things do get very difficult and I am getting close to my limit of what I am allowed to do at home. One friend did say hospital wouldn’t be that bad because ICU has air con!!! I would hope that I would not need ICU (even if air con seems like a nice idea)!

Any other ideas people have for staying cool and making the lungs feel a bit happier please share!!

Smoking on NHS sites- it is STILL happening!!

I know many of you will think I sound like a broken record particularly as I have written several blog posts around the issue of the smoking ban on NHS premises. The first of my posts was back in 2015 on April 2nd. written after legislation was passed by the Scottish Government to implement a ban on smoking on NHS hospital sites. This came into force on the 1st April and must have been an april fool as it is still not been addressed. The links to other posts surrounding smoking on NHS sites are:

Over the course of time I have been in touch with various different outlets and services to try and get action taken on the issue of continued smoking on NHS sites. The situation for me has only go worse. It appeared that every day there were more and more people congregating outside the main doors of the hospital smoking. This could be a mix of patients, visitors and most shockingly people who worked in the hospital.

For me it got to the point that even coming to work half an hour early was not enough to avoid the people smoking. Eventually it made the choice on stopping doing clinical work easy as it meant I would not be putting my life at risk just to get into work. In fact the other week I had to go to the Royal for a ECHO of my heart, I called to have this rearranged because already feeling very chesty and unsure if I was going to need to be admitted, I saw this huge group of people smoking right outside the doors. I couldn’t risk going past. It may have cost the NHS some money by me cancelling last minute my appointment but it is far less money than the amount of money that would be required for me to go to A&E, +/- ICU, and the ward all because I tried to get into the hospital (a plan of safety I might add) to attend an appointment. In an extreme view the select patients that are smoking are preventing a group of patients accessing healthcare safely. What will it cost for this to be addressed.

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(Photo above was me after having an attack trying to get in to work a few years back)

Clearly legislation being passed in the Scottish Government is not enough. I am unsure why the issue is so much worse at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh than other sites in Edinburgh.

If the smoke did not have such a bad effect on my lungs physically I would go up to people and tell them they cant smoke there and they need to move off hospital property but that is just asking for a hospital admission for me. I think what makes me really angry and disappointed is that no one is willing to address the smoking issue.

I took the opportunity when there was uproar about parking and parking provision to use this to voice my concerns about the smoking. I got in touch with various MSP’s and had some great feedback from them and help from them however I am totally disgusted by NHS Lothians response. They wrote a letter to my MSP which basically says what they do just now is enough and no more can be done. What they said they have done is:

  1. Provision of support for patients, staff and visitors who wish to give up smoking
  2. Provision of advice regarding medication which helps manage nicotine withdrawal
  3. Promotion of education and training for managers and front line staff in the implementation of the policy

What strikes me with these actions is that it is all about what they are doing to help those that smoke nothing is there to help those who do not smoke and are being affected by those smoking. The actions are also leaving it up to the smokers to get the help. They are not actually doing anything to stop the smoking in places that are meant to be no smoking. The letter also sited the design of the hospital means that people are likely to congregate at the doors to smoke.

To say I was shocked, appalled at the letter is an understatement. The over riding emotion though was disappointment. My MSP had put that one of the reasons for me not working at the hospital just now was due to the issue of people smoking but this was not even mentioned in the response. There was a line that said they were sorry I felt the need to report this complaint and they apologise for the distress and inconvenience this has caused. Distress and inconvenience is an understatement- they clearly have no idea about what going to intensive care is like, what fighting for your life is like and knowing that the very place that saves your life is also the very place that could take your life too.

I have no idea what to do now. Will I be able to return to work in the hospital if this issue is not resolved? I don’t think so. I love my job, but I love my life (most of the time) and if doing my job is going to kill me can I really justify going back to work.

I will spend as much time as possible to try and get this situation the attention it deserves because there is no way it can only be me that is suffering. There must be hundreds if not thousands of other people being bothered by this.

Below are links to some posts I have written around about the issues I have dealt with to do with smoking and people smoking on NHS sites.

23 days on and its only got worse is a post I wrote 23 days after the so called smoking ban came into force. It appears to have only made things worse. I am not one for advocating smoking but the removal of the smoking shelters has made things so bad.

Returning to work in a fog of smoke is about returning to work after having an asthma attack as a result of second hand smoke. Reading it back I get quite emotional as I was struggling to accept that I had done nothing to myself to end up with lungs like this- often I wish I had done something like smoked as then at least there is a reason for my lungs being so bad.

Smoking on hospital sites reflecting back and just finding the issue getting worse and worse. Also thinking of ideas of things I could do that would maybe have some effect on those smoking that they would not like much like their smoke has on others.

Bad weather makes smoking worse

Passive smoking what does it mean

The NHS long term plan

Parking is not the only issue at the RIE

 

SoulKraft Wellbeing Radio Show 10.07.19

Last night I had a totally new experience. I was a guest on a radio show. I have done radio interviews before but they have never been in a radio studio with the headphones etc on so this was all a bit new and exciting! To listen to the show follow this link

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SoulKraft Wellbeing Radio Show is a weekly show hosted by Lauren on Stirling City Radio. I was put in touch with Lauren via a mutual friend but we were also at the same school. Lauren’s radio show focuses on mental wellbeing and has a sub topic each week focusing in on part of mental wellbeing such as creativity. You can read more about Lauren, her blog and radio show here.

To say I was a bit nervous would be an under statement because I have never been the best with words when speaking about my own health. I can write it and I can speak about the surrounding topics such as asthma research, new asthma medications when giving presentations but the last few times when I have spoken about myself and how my asthma has impacted me I have ended up in tears in front of a whole load of people, so I was hoping I was not going to do that while on the radio. I have also never spoken about my view on mental and physical health. I have written about how a physical health condition has impacted my mental health but never really spoken about it and also not spoken about how I view health as a whole.

It was great to be able to speak to someone who has had such similar views on health but they come from a predominantly mental health condition where my initial diagnosis was a physical which has impacted on my mental health.

Reflecting back and listening to the show has been really cathartic and in a way given me a new lease on life and advocacy. It has made me realise that health is just health wether it is physical or mental. Part of me really feels that all this attention being given to mental health may just be stigmatising it even more now. There is a lot of press given to mental health because it is chronically underfunded but why is it. Mental health conditions just like physical health conditions sometimes cannot be prevented and sometimes can be prevented, all conditions can be treated with pharma input or using other approaches there is no real difference (I get that this is being very generalistic but when you get to the nitty gritty of all conditions they are complex and hard to manage.

I want to try and spend some time promoting the impact that living with a chronic (sorry Lauren) health condition can do to you holistically. I say holistically because that focuses on the whole person not just the one organ or organs that the condition effects.

Thank you again Lauren! If you want to listen to the radio show