Recovery- its not easy and so frustrating!!

One thing I have become very aware of is how we adapt to recovery in different ways. This last hospital admission has really highlighted that to me as recovery has been far from straight forward and a totally new experience for me- even after getting my knee operated on was easier than this.

Previously when discharged from hospital  including critical care admission I have been focused on rehabbing my lungs and getting myself back to my baseline so I can get back to work and back to doing the things (I know there will be many reading this laughing saying I run back to do all sorts before I am ready and need to take more time- my family mostly).

The physical insults on my body as a result of a severe asthma attack are normal. The dot to dot of bruises were there have been attempts at bloods being taken, injections, arterial stabs and then of course the cannulation attempts and the effects of keeping that cannula in for 10 days (7 days longer than meant to but it still worked so it was staying put) because despite the burning while the potassium, magnesium, salbutamol or aminophylline going through it still worked and you could take a decent rate of fluid going through it, but these all fade. The battle wounds disappear not long after getting home. They cause no real pain and do not last (except a few scars but you don’t notice them).

This time it feels like everything has been flipped on its head. The physical insult is still with me and will no doubt be with me for months and as many people have told me it is likely to be a painful recovery. This is a totally new experience for me. The physical insult is still visible as well. My leg is black and blue which seems to be getting better now but it is taking its sorry time. This is the only outward sign from my last admission.

To look on the positive side of having a foot which I have no feeling or sensation in, a leg that has this burning nerve pain that sears through it any time I move has meant I have been resting….ALOT. I have been confined to sitting or lying as much as possible. This has been fantastic for my lungs and post hospital lethargy. My mum commented how much my lungs have recovered from this admission but it did not escape her that i have had an enforced rest due to my leg being in such a state.

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It has really broken me not being able to just bounce back, even being able to just get back and have independence. When you are unwell in hospital it is ok to ask for help for things like getting about, up to the toilet or even help with a wash but once home these are tasks I feel I should be able to do without thinking. If I need to get something I now need to think about it:

  • what am I getting up for
  • do I have my leg brace/ splint on
  • is my stick near by
  • what else do I need to do while I am up so i can limit the pain that is induced by moving

Mentally having to think about everything you do it tiring. Small things like going for a walk are exhausting. I have to concentrate so hard paying attention to what the ground it like I am walking on, where I am putting my foot and if there is a handrail or something else to hold on to while going up or down a slope or stairs.

I know I need to be really thankful I am alive and able to be at home etc but it is so hard some days watching the world go by, friends moving up the career ladder, going on wonderful holidays, starting families and I see myself going backwards. I have less and less freedom, reliant on so many people, yet back away from so many people because who wants to be around a 33 year old who cant even look after themselves properly and do the things that every other 33 year olds do.

But I have a lot of things to be positive about and have ideas in the pipeline about how to improve my life, get myself back on track and really do some work to try and get more people to understand asthma and all that goes with it. I never thought asthma could do what it does. It is all the secondary impacts it has on your life that are not spoken about and are not known.

I need to keep finding the positive each day and go to bed knowing I have done something productive with my day even if I have not gone outside or interacted with anyone.

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While I breathe I hope.

We need to stop Mepolizumab

Under a month ago I was writing about how I had been a year on mepolizumab. The drug that I thought was going to be my wonder drug and make my asthma easy to control or so I thought. You can read the post here.

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Part of me wonders did I know deep down that I would be stopping this treatment? I know in my last clinic I had asked my consultant if he thought I was benefiting from getting the drug. He outlined why he thought it was worth staying on it so we agreed I would stay on.

In just a few short weeks after that clinic and chat the words came out my consultants mouth that I didnt want to hear. He said “we are going to stop the mepolizumab treatment because I was not getting the results he wants and while on it I have had some of my most severe attacks”. He felt he could not justify me staying on it as I was still struggling so much and my attacks were getting worse again. He is also concerned about all the other issues I am having with my body which he cant say are due to the mepolizumab but equally he cant say they are not. He is worried about the unknown side effects from the drug due to it being so new.

To say I am gutted is an under statement. It was meant to be my wonder drug. It wasn’t as much as I try to convince myself it was working I cant be sure. It did reduce my eosinophil count which is the only result we can see conclusively that changed once starting it. Otherwise the things like recovering from attacks and bouncing back from colds quicker I cant say are due to the mepolizumab or if they are due to not working in the hospital. I cant say either way. I wish I could say it was due to the mepolizumab but I cant.

So what now??

This was the first question I asked my consultant as once again I feel like I am in a constant state of limbo, reliant on oral corticosteroids which have the be reduced but any reduction exacerbates my asthma again so I will be searching for that drug which can offer me stability. If only prednisolone did not have such awful side effects and you could stay on them with no worries- that would be magic!!

The good news is that there are new biologic treatments out there. There is Fasenra (benralizumab) which I doubt I will be eligible for. I am excited about the results people have been getting from Dupixent (dupilumab). In the UK dupixent is currently only allowed to be used in patients with skin conditions but over in the States there has been a lot of success for people with aspirin sensitive asthma. I hope that perhaps dupixent might be approved for use in asthma because I think the main issue which makes asthma control so hard to achieve is being anaphylactic to salicylic acid- a compound of aspirin which naturally occurs in just about everything.

Until then I just need to sit tight, do the best I can to keep my body as healthy as possible, minimising the risk of attacks and focus on getting better and have a positive mental attitude.

Severe asthma- family and friends misconceptions.

I was asked to write this blog post by Asthma UK as their report about severe and difficult asthma has just been published and the statistics are shocking. Asthma is not taken seriously or respected, some people don’t take their medication as they are meant to for a variety of reasons but this can be fatal. Those with asthma and those who know people with asthma need to understand just how serious it can be.

I consider myself very up to date with the latest asthma treatments, ensure I taken my medication as I am meant to and when I am meant to. I ensure I step up and step down my medication as my symptoms ebb and flow according to my personal asthma action plan. Even with my diligence to treatment and keeping myself well it is sometimes no where near enough and asthma wins over you, leaving devastating consequences such as death, the need for life support machine, very toxic drugs to relax the smooth muscle int he airways.

I have lived with asthma almost all my life. Over the years it has progressively become more difficult to control and severe which has impacted my own life and also my families lives as well.

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To manage my asthma I am in the very fortunate to have a team of specialists at the hospital who work hard to ensure I am on the best medication and most appropriate treatment aiming to control my severe asthma as best as possible. Despite this support and regular contact with the team my asthma remains severe to the extent I was put in a medically induced coma and was on a life support machine just under a month ago. I am sure if I did not have the team of specialists then there is a high chance my life would be very different if I was to have a life at all.

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Having severe asthma has resulted in many life changing circumstances from the sheer number of medications I require to control my severe asthma but then also medications to treat or prevent the side effects caused by the medication required to help my breathing. I currently take a total of 37 different medications, 14 of them are for asthma and 23 are for the side effects mainly caused by years of oral corticosteroids. I have also had to give up playing sport, change my career and now have had to give up my career, but the biggest impact has been on my family and close friends.

Living with severe asthma most of my life also means my friends and family have also lived with it too. They see how I try to manage my condition day to day, witness asthma attacks, call 999 for me when I don’t have the puff to call them myself, watch as helpless onlookers while an ambulance, with lights flashing and siren going, takes me to hospital as quickly as possible to stabilise the attack and make my breathing easier and then finally visiting me either in hospital or once I am discharged home. They see all this as well as my determination to manage my asthma desperately trying to ensure it does not take over and dictate my life. Despite witnessing all the above they accepted that this is what my asthma is like and that is that. An assumption was made that my asthma is as bad as it would get and my breathing wouldn’t get any worse than they have all witnessed. They thought this because I am under the care of a specialist asthma team who I can phone for advice whenever I am struggling which in my family and friend’s eyes means my asthma cannot get so bad that I may have a near fatal asthma attack.

My brother commented that he had become used to my asthma and almost complacent about how bad it could be. He said he has heard me speak recently of others who have died from asthma or friends who have been in a very serious condition but because I now have such a specialist team then I would be ok. It was everyday life me having severe asthma with the potential for requiring hospitalisation. He had taken this as normal and accepted it. So events earlier in the month were a huge shock and wake up call for the whole family because they had assumed I was safe with my asthma because I have some of the best people in the country looking after me and my asthma.

I look back now and see how my family normalised me being in hospital and me going to ICU so often which is really shocking. Going to hospital often should not occur let alone going to HDU or ICU that often. In any other health situation or if this was one of my siblings then it would not be just run of the mill and would be a life-altering event for the entire family.

My best friend who has known me my entire life and has been through thick and thin with me, seen me have asthma attacks and visited me in hospital never thought asthma could get as serious as it did during my last admission because I was under the care of specialists. She could not understand how asthma could get so bad when you are taking the latest medication that is available and have access to a team of specialists. She said she had never seen me look so unwell and vulnerable, not being able to do anything for myself reliant on others for everything.

The new report about severe and difficult asthma, which has launched by Asthma UK, makes me feel so fortunate to have such a good team and access to specialist asthma services to manage my asthma. Even with everything I have available my friends and family don’t fully understand how severe and life threatening asthma can be. I am sure if I did not have access to the specialists then asthma would have killed me. Everyone who may have severe asthma or difficult to control asthma needs to have access to specialists to help them live the lives they deserve to.

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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