Asthma in the news

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Asthma has been in the news a lot recently, most of this has been reports on how awful the asthma care is for those with asthma in the UK.

It is not all negative and there has been the odd positive bit of reporting such as new drugs being developed or gaining approval for use from NICE or the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Most written reports both negative and positive have one common theme which is the use of pictures. These pictures are not promoting good inhaler technique as there is a lack of spacer which is recommended in guidelines produced for asthma management. For anybody no matter how young or old when using a MDI (metered dose inhaler) inhaler also known as a puffer should be using a spacer device to ensure the medication in the inhaler gets into the airways and work where it is needed. Using an MDI without a spacer will often result in the medication being left on your tongue or the back of your throat and not in your lungs. The spacer will prevent this.

Asthma is so misunderstood as a condition. It is essential that media outlets use images which are in date and reflect the current recommendations made by SIGN, BTS or NICE who are the tasked with developing pathways for asthma management. The media using images which reflect correct technique won’t drastically improve the horrendous asthma statistics in the UK but it will make people more aware of the use of a spacer along with their inhaler rather than the inhaler on its own.

Small changes like this can help influence bigger changes in the future. If inhaler technique is correct then the lungs are getting the treatment they require to prevent the asthma from flaring up and therefore will in turn reduce asthma exacerbations, hospital admissions and even asthma death.

Please share this post as it is vital that the media start using new photographs with people using inhalers as recommended in current guidelines.

The uniform that saves me, is it drowning me at the same time?

Since my attack at the end of November/ December I have really struggled mentally and physically. The initial recovery was good, my lung function returned to my normal fairly quickly and my energy stores were up, I was able to get about and get on with my daily routine without much limitation. Reducing steroids was a bit hairy but with the help of my consultant and asthma nurses we managed to keep on top of things although the reduction has only got as far as 30mg but hey its better than 60mg.

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I was confident this speed of return was due to the new treatment I am on but now I am not sure. I think a lot of it probably was at a basic level. The treatment helped me get back to my baseline to function quickly but Im not sure it got me to the baseline for work. I was excited to get back to work but I wonder now if it was too quick and the timing didn’t help. Looking back now despite reduced hours apart from the first week I was never able to get away on time because there were patients who needed to be seen and I was the only one about. I already arrive 30 mins early for work (this is my choice) because I have worked out that this is when there are the least number of people smoking outside the doors mainly due to breakfast and drug round on the wards! Many say that I can get the ward to see the patients etc but being a patient and having had this done to be it breaks the patient nurse relationship and you lose confidence in them so for me it is not an option.

But i now need to put my own health first. I keep going round in circles with it and I love my job and love working with the patients etc but then I get my body into such a state and I often don’t realise it until I am told. Last week I noticed patients commenting on how awful I looked and should I be in work, the people I was in the lift with would ask if I was ok because I was so wheezy, the finally after spending a weekend in bed and thinking I felt better I went into work to be sent home by one of the other charge nurses because I felt so awful and sounded it.

Part of living with a chronic illness is that you don’t often know how bad you are feeling until your on your knees. I know a lot of patients have said the same that they didnt realise how unwell they were until we got them on a treatment and it is once they are established on this that they really see how unwell they were. I think is how I feel that things just decline slowly and it takes a huge attack or event to stop the downward spiral and start getting better again.

Going back to the title of this post. I love putting on my uniform, I worked hard to be able to get it and then be able to keep wearing it. It is also the uniform the nurses who look after me wear as they get me back on my feet and my lungs working a bit better. But then I also wonder if my drive and love of work is also what is causing me to not get to my full potential of wellness. I am really torn with what I should be doing and need to stop and evaluate what is important to me and what is in my best interests.

I have an appointment with my consultant this afternoon where I am going to ask his opinion as I really cant continue as I am. I am back to the point of living to work and that is it. I love my job but need to have more to life than work.

I wish my lungs felt as good as these ones do!!!!

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The NHS Long Term Plan

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No one can have missed the news recently about the NHS Long Term Plan for NHS England. Even those of us not living in England can’t miss it!!! I know I live in Scotland so it does not impact me directly but I am pretty sure the Scottish Government will take on a lot of the plans for the Scottish Health Service that are talked about in the NHS Long Term Plan.

The biggest thing that I have noticed in the news, on social media from news agencies is surrounding smoking and the help that is going to be given to people who smoke that are admitted to hospital. Any time I see anything about the plan this is what I see and it just angers me so much. I know I am not alone either as have spoken to many people who are in a similar position to me with their lungs that are frustrated and angry about it to. For me what it me most was that along with the national news agencies and NHS health boards tweeting about it, my own local health board posted (once again) about how they were going to give smoking cessation help and advice to patients admitted to hospital.

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I know this is a very good step etc and that people who smoke should be offered help to stop however on a daily basis just to get into work I run a gauntlet to try and avoid breathing in any smoke. The NHS made a huge deal about how their sites were to be no smoking sites and that smoking is banned on their sites yet nothing is done to enforce this. They have signs everywhere yet those who smoke just stand by them and light up. Some don’t even wait till they clear the door before they light up. This is not unique to me and the hospital I work in. I regularly see on different forums asthmatics saying they had to go to hospital but just trying to get into the hospital left them in a worse off state than they were when they arrived in the car park etc because of all the smokers they had to pass.

Until you have put up the fight of your life just to get a breath in you cant understand what it is like. It is one thing when you may have been a bit silly and done something stupid which provokes an asthma attack but when you have done nothing other than try and get into work and you end up in intensive care it can leave you feeling really angry and bitter.

What I would love to see and so many would love to see is the smoking ban being enforced or at least a shelter to provide those who smoke a place to go and then leave areas such as the main doors to the hospital as a safe zone. Also when there are the groups of people congregating outside the doors of the hospital- many of whom are patients why are the smoking cessation nurses not down there encouraging them to not smoke or at least smoke in an area which won’t risk killing people.

What is worse is that the main doors to the hospital I work in which are always flanked by people smoking, are over looked by 3 of the four bedded bays in the respiratory ward so during sweltering summer days you cant have the window open because you end up with a room full of seconds hand smoke.

I am not alone in how I feel and what I think which is why I am writing this. I am at a total loss as to what to do because everywhere I try and get the issue addressed cant give me any answers. Is it going to take someone dying from an asthma attack as a direct consequence of people smoking outside hospital doors for action to be taken?? I have got in touch with ASH, Unison, local MP none of whom could give me an answer or willing to take action.

My working hours are 9am to 3:15pm, I have a blue badge due to the severity of my asthma so can park close to the hospital however I have had to start arriving earlier and earlier so I can have the time to wait till the doors are clear of people smoking and then take my chance. This time is different each day but it shouldn’t need to be done. There is then the reverse when it comes to leaving work however I tend to end up just trying to get out and get to my car, once in the safety of my car I can have some nebulisers to alleviate the effects the smoke has had on my lungs. I just wish those who smoke understood what they were doing to others.

It is so hard to see so many struggle. I have read how people feel like turning back and missing their hospital clinic appointments because of people smoking at the doors and the risk this poses to their health. This should never be a choice that someone has to make.

It would be great if others could share this and try and get change to happen.

If the NHS are committed to help people stop smoking, then they need to be down there with those who are smoking not up in offices making plans. Smoke is not just effecting those smoking but also others around them and not only those with lung disease either.

Please lets try and get things changed. I don’t want to risk losing my job (which could be a real possibility) because I have once again ended up in the intensive care unit as a result of people smoking where they should not be smoking.

#stopsmokingonNHSsites

It’s ok to not be ok.

This past week has been really tough. Asthma is one of those conditions that is on a spectrum. Going from those with the mildest of asthma to those with the most severe and life threatening asthma you get everyone across the board and you can not pick out the one person with mild and the one person with severe asthma. You can’t see asthma, sometimes you can hear it depending on how wheezy you are!!!

Recovery from this last hiccup has taken a lot longer than I ever anticipated. It was not the worst of attacks but equally was not the mildest either. I was only in hospital for a week yet it has taken me a good 3 weeks to get back on my feet and still Im not there yet.

I have been so fortunate this time to have the support of my consultant. When I say support I mean that should I have issues he has said so many times that I just need to call his secretary and she will get him to call me back or the resp reg on call to give me a call. Having that support is so reassuring to me it makes life that little bit easier. Also being seen in clinic every month (which is a faff but won’t be forever) and then on top of that I am at the ward once a month too for my mepolizumab injection with the asthma nurse specialists so if I have any issues I can ask them too.

As much support as there is they cannot speed up the recovery process and help with the everyday symptoms that just take time. The never ending fatigue that no matter how much you rest it just doesn’t go away (Thanks to prednisolone contributing to that), and no it doesn’t help by getting a good night sleep. It is a fatigue that is unlike no other- a fatigue that having a nap won’t fix, it is a feeling where your whole body feels double its weight, you are not tired and sleeping doesn’t help, but you just cant do anything. Until you have experienced it (which I hope you won’t) you have no idea what it is like. This is the really hard bit. Fatigue you cant see, and asthma you cant see.

Keeping your mind motivated is really hard when your body is preventing you from doing what you love. This is the challenge I keep facing. This time of year its all about Christmas, Christmas Parties, going out with friends, shopping and enjoying the festive period, but I feel like I am sitting watching the world go by and seeing photos of people enjoying themselves but I haven’t been able to join them. Just going to the shops to get the messages is hard enough leaving me exhausted.

One big thing that I am really finding hard and one friend who is also on biologic therapy said this can be a side effect is speed of recovery as well as joint and muscle weakness. Speed of recovery has been slow but as I keep trying to tell myself slow and steady wins the race- but truthfully its getting really wearing now. The other thing is the joint and muscles weakness. I always have some weakness after being in hospital as for most of it I am bed bound and not able to get up due to the inability to breath and also the number of IV lines I have which are often in my feet making walking a challenge. Building up slowly isn’t helping. The only way I can describe it is having DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but having DOMS that won’t go away. Normally lasting 48 hours this has been 2 weeks now and my quads feel like they are ripping in half every time I go to sit down or stand up, occasionally jerking as I walk too, stairs are an interesting experience- thankfully I have a lift in my building so can avoid the stairs!!!

I am desperate to get back to work and my consultant knows this. I see him tomorrow to hopefully get the ok. I know it will be tough going back to work but I need something to mentally challenge me. I having been doing bits and pieces of research and evaluation of research conferences too. Evaluation forms I find are so hit or miss especially when there has been positive or negative things that you want to acknowledge etc- there is never the room and I end up putting a covering letter along with the form.

This whole recovery process and hospital admission this time has taught me a lot. The main thing I guess I have finally accepted is that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to ask for help and admit when you are defeated. Over the years I have been made to see a psychologist to help me deal with life with severe asthma. You could say I was a bit resistant to it initially. I think it was the stigma I associated with it. I felt that if I was seeing a psychologist then something was wrong with me mentally and actually my problems were psychological rather than physical. I think I made this assumption because I was young (this was over 12 years ago) and at the time there was really not much openness about mental health and it really was stigmatised. In more recent years as my asthma has impacted my life in ways I never thought it would and prevented me doing more than I ever thought I have been so thankfully to have access to a psychologist  who I can see regularly and help deal with the restrictive aspects of living with such severe asthma. What I have found though is that I have focused so much on adapting life to cope with my asthma and the majority has been on pacing. I didn’t realise that a major area which we never worked on or spoke about was the severe life threatening attack that comes out the blue much like this last one was, and also the trauma after it. It has almost felt like a mild version of post traumatic stress because even at clinic last week I got this huge sense of fear when I saw those windows of the ICU again.

So tomorrow I have a variety of different appointments all at different hospitals. The morning I have the asthma nurse specialists for my mepolizumab injection and review with my consultant, then the eye pavilion to have tests done on my eye that has lost its peripheral vision and then over to the royal infirmary to see the psychologist and will go up to see work and discuss coming back.

I hope that getting back to work and routine will maybe improve the fatigue I have and give me a purpose to my day again.

Trauma of ICU

Finally I am able to sit down without getting upset or terrifying myself about my latest hospital admission specifically experience in ICU. The photo below may not look like much and you may think its a window and building but this is what has caused me to much trauma.

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Before anyone reads on please note this is just my feelings from it and my experience. The staff: nurses, support workers, physios and Dr’s were all fantastic and could not do anymore to help me.

This admission has rocked me so much. A lot more than any other has and I hope that I won’t ever get like this again.

There was a series of events I think which led to it all becoming too much once I got back to the ward and I guess basically I just broke down with fear that my asthma will kill me.

The lead up to being admitted was really rapid, as I said in my previous post where I spoke about the admission and how it went broadly speaking. What I didnt speak about was the true mental toll it took on me.

As with any trip to ICU in the back of your mind you know its not good because ICU is the end of the road in terms of hospital care you cant get any more treatment beyond what they an offer. I have been to ICU so many times, I cant even count the number of times I have been admitted there and come out the other end.

Once up in ICU there was the usual battle of trying to get a arterial line in which again failed and we decided to stop short of a cut down thank goodness as this caused me to lose the feeling in my left thumb and part of palm. High flow oxygen running various IV infusions and I had this feeling of being safe. I was in ICU and would be ok. Next came review from the consultant who said if things did settle next step is being intubated and ventilated.  I have had the said to me several times so I didnt think much more about it.

It was not until I came back to the respiratory ward that mentally I really found it tough. After starting to feel much better and access being an issue I was keen to be weaned off some of the infusions I was on. This didnt go to plan and a few hours after I really didnt feel to great so I let them know. Junior drs came to review and were concerned. It was late on in the day and about 7pm my own consultant came round to review me- that in itself freaked me as he was not even on the ward team but he came through. He wanted everything put back to the previous doses, have a whole load of nebulisers and be moved to the high care bay for close observations.

It was the move to the high care bay that brought so much flooding back and I felt that I just couldn’t cope at all. I have been in the high care bay before and never had any issues. I already felt quite on edge because by this point I had been seen by 2 consultants out of hours who came to listen to my chest and see how I was, have all my medications increased again and being moved. The move was what was enough to tip me over the edge. Once moved and settled I looked up and out the window and could see the ICU. The photo from above is below and I have marked where the ICU is.

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The combination of what the consultant said in ICU, and then getting worse on the ward and having consultants review me when they would not normally see you come in to review you and then seeing ICU again and the Dr’s talking about taking you back there was just too much. I think it was also because on the ward I was on the maximum treatment for my chest and just not getting better. The consultant was worried because I had been given 36mg of salbutamol via nebulisers with little effect. Thankfully they kept persevering and my airways did slowly start to open and breathing became easier.

Its fine when you are acutely unwell and everyone is buzzing around you making sure your ok, listening to your chest, giving you nebulisers, doing your observations you dont get much time to think or worry about not being able to breathe. Its once your that bit better and left alone and normally left with the parting words- “rest and try to get some sleep” and the lights go out. That is when it hits you. Still feeling not great and still finding breathing a real challenge sleep is the last thing you are able to do. Its a very strange feeling when you are so exhausted you want to sleep but scared to sleep at the same time. Being in the dark makes everything much worse and I just got so scared. I couldn’t help but break down. I was able to speak to a nurse but they could not offer much as its not like there is a magic pill that makes fear go away and because of my chest not being great they cant give you anything to help you sleep. At night with less staff around at night they don’t have the time to stop and speak to you and make sure your ok. but at that time it was all I wanted. They did then send a nurse practitioner up who was great but even he said that the psychological support at night was awful and as nurses we are not good at dealing with things unless numbers tell us something.

Over the course of that night as my chest came and went some nurses kept coming and saying to me all my numbers were looking better so I am doing ok. I think this is one of the statements I hate more than anything. I don’t care that my numbers may be ok or better I still feel like crap and having good numbers does not help with the crippling fear I am experiencing.

Once morning finally came around I felt really stupid for getting so upset but was able to have a chat with the Dr about it. I knew it was a vicious cycle of being upset, makes my breathing worse, which makes me more upset as I get scared it means going back to ICU but it is so hard to get out of that cycle.

The fear of what happened is still plaguing me. More so than normal. I can rationalise going to ICU and the need for their help but this time is just different and I cant get it all out my head.

I am a week out of hospital now and really feel like I am no further forward than I was day 1 post discharge. Everything feels just as hard. I have no idea why. Part of me wonders is it because of the biologic therapy that is making it harder to recover or has this all taken a much larger toll on me than I expected.

I have clinic next week and I hope to go through everything with my consultant and make sense of it all. I also hope he will have a reason for me feeling so rubbish despite being home from hospital.

I think this whole thing has just highlighted that no matter how many asthma attacks you have, or how many hospital admissions you never know when you will hit breaking point or when you just cant keep fighting.

The Verdict!!

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I have been fairly quiet recently mainly because I was terrified. I have had 3 doses of Mepolizumab and was due to attend clinic and see my consultant for the verdict and find out if I am staying on it or not.

The good news is that I am staying on it for now.

Clinic went well. I am so glad that I had that horrific hospital admission that made me decide to change consultant because it has been the best thing I have ever done. It has come with some issues but overall it has been one of the best things I have done.

I had lung function and FeNo both of which were marginally better but what I have noticed is that I am more stable overall. Recording my peak flow has been super helpful and I can identify what causes were when they dropped whereas before I had no idea and it was all over the place. I would love my peak flow to increase but I am happy for stability over gains (gains are unlikely due to the fibrosis in my lungs now).

The other difference this consultant has decided on is with regard to my steroids. Previously it has been a rush to get me down to the lowest dose possible and see how I go but that has always ended up badly and I spend more time on higher doses and it felt like I was on a rollercoaster all the time. Now, as much as we want to get me down to a reasonable dose and hopefully off prednisolone (wish me luck) we are acknowledging what has happened in the past and he kept me on 20mg which felt like ages (3 months) and then alternating 20mg and 15mg daily (2 months) and now I am to stay on 15mg until February March time and then we will readdress reducing it further.

So many people have asked me if I think the mepolizumab is helping. It is so hard to stay. I think it must be as I have been more stable but I worry that this is due to the prolonged prednisolone and super slow reduction but what I am hoping that it is a combination of both. I guess the time to tell what is doing what is if I get unwell (touch wood I don’t) and I can see how quickly I can respond to treatment and not need invasive treatment. I am aiming for this as know hospital is going to happen as my consultant has said this. He said he would have no worries about admitting me to hospital if either he or myself thought my asthma was not great.

We are also changing one of my inhalers. For the first time in as long as I can remember I had an outpatient clinic where my medications were reviewed and we looked at what I needed to keep taking and what could get binned. The only change he wants to make just now is removing the seretide inhaler and replacing it with Relvar a newer once daily preventer inhaler. He wants me to continue taking some extra fluticasone at night to tide me over as I still have quite significant dips in my breathing at night.

Im happy I now have a plan. Know roughly what is happening with my asthma and asthma care. Over the winter period I will be seen every 2 weeks. Monthly clinics with my consultant and then in-between I will be up with the asthma nurse specialists getting my injection and review there. Also should there be an issue I just have to call in.

The one thing out of all of this which I cannot let go of is why did it take throwing my toys out the pram and move consultants to be able to get in control of my asthma or have a plan to get control of it. I just want answers and I know I won’t get them but I am now trying the treatments I have been asking about for a good number of years. I know dwelling on it won’t help but when its your life that has been suffering it is hard.

2nd dose of Mepolizumab in the bag

Thats the second dose of mepolizumab done and dusted. Now to wait till next month for my next injection next month.

So many people have been asking me how I feel and if the new drug is helping or making a difference, or ask me when I will start noticing the benefits. Its really hard to tell. I am feeling some positive effects from it I think and there have been a few side effects but nothing major.

The most telling sign is that I have noticed my peak flow has been increasing and I have not been in my red zone since the 19th September. That is a full 10 days. It may not seem like a great achievement and many will not agree with me for being excited that I have gone ten days and not dropped my peak flow but the nature of my asthma has meant that my peak flow is all over the place and so has my control been. I must say my asthma control has not been poor through my own choice and I have tried desperately hard to keep it n control. I have not managed to get into my green zone since June but I am happy with that. Better to be stable and sitting in my amber zone stable than jumping up and down with readings all over the place. I think slow and steady is the way to improve….it has after all only taken 14 plus years to get to this point.

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Other than looking at peak flow results and keeping track of how much salbutamol (both nebuliser and inhaler) I am using how do I actually feel? DoI feel different?? It is hard to say. My prednisolone dose has not been reduced and has been kept at the same dose since I was discharged from hospital in April. I am finding it hard to identify if feeling well and pretty stable is because of the steroids or due to the introduction of the mepolizumab. Once I have my 3rd injection I am hoping my consultant sticks with his plan and we can start the slow process of reducing the prednisolone. I am aware I won’t get off it (or may get off it and converted to hydrocortisone due to adrenal failure) but lower will suit me just fine.

Since starting the mepo I have not been to bad with side effects. After the first I had a bad headache the first time but the second dose was not as bad. A bit of a sore head but nothing to major. The one thing I have noticed and I am not sure if it is coincidence or what but I have been waking up in the morning feeling like I am drowning or choking on the amount of phlegm I have on my chest. I have always had a bit of a productive chest- it goes with the territory of having lung disease but this is different. I am still not sleeping super well but I am wondering if that because I am sleeping slightly better and not waking up so much the phlegm is building up rather than me waking having a cough moving all the stuff and then settling back down. I guess the good thing is that all the movement of phlegm means I (fingers crossed) won’t be as susceptible to a chest infection and may notice them quicker as everything is moving so will see the colour changes. Although this is good that I am moving stuff in my chest I find in the morning I am having to do more saline nebulisers and a lot of physio to move it and it has often made me sick because of it. This is a minor price to pay though in terms of side effects.

With this medication as I have said before I won’t see improvements over night but will over time and I think I am starting to see them. The other thing I have noticed and finding it more and more is that people are telling me how well I look and don’t sound as bad which is probably the best part. The past 3 weekends have been jam packed full of different things- mainly lacrosse and by the end of each weekend I have been on my knees longing for my bed but I have managed them. I have managed to spend these weekends on the side lines of a lacrosse field, or in the middle of a lacrosse field coaching  with either Edinburgh Uni or Scotland (Scotland is just goalkeepers and assistant manager). A lie in over a weekend would be lovely and in the past weekends have been all about recovering and getting myself prepared for the next week of work but I have been able to use these weekends to do what I love and not suffer at work. Don’t get me wrong it was so hard to get up on Monday but I think most people find it hard to get up on a Monday morning for work so being what I called “normal” person tired is awesome.

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One thing I am very thankful for is having people around me who can keep me grounded and don’t let me get ahead of myself. I have always been someone who will try and do the long distance run before I can jog let alone walk so even though I may get grumpy at people holding me back I do appreciate it. Coach Dave at Scotland Lacrosse knows when to reign me in and make sure I just take it easy and ensures I just walk or rest when I perhaps am going full steam.

I have an excitement in my life just now something that I have not had in a long time. I look forward to being able to plan things in advance and not worry that I may need to cancel or not be well enough to attend. I am aware that there will still be times when my lungs just stop me from doing what I want but through this I have also learnt to appreciate life, not take it for granted and just live for the moment.

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