Why does a journalist want to do a feature on his sister with asthma??

Recently I shared a link to a story my brother wrote. It was about me living my life with severe asthma.  He is a journalist with the Daily Record and is doing some pieces on asthma, smoking on hospital sites (one of my hobby horses) and some other things.

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(I apparently don’t have many photos of us together so this will have to do. Taking me off the ward when in hospital. I was lucky to get back to the ward alive with his driving of the hospital wheelchair!!)

I wanted to ask him a few questions (it turned out to literally be a few) on why he wanted to do a piece about me and my story of living with severe asthma. I am really proud of him for doing this especially as asthma is destroying so many peoples lives yet asthma is dismissed and not thought to be that serious by the majority of the population.

Below is his answers to my questions!

Why did you want to do the piece?

Without a doubt it was from seeing what you have gone through over the years, particularly in the last few when I have been around it more. It’s really not a well-understood condition from a layman’s point of view. People just think it’s ‘a bad cough’ or getting out of breathe when you play sport, but nobody sees the sinister way it can affect someone’s life.

Health stories are such a massive and important part of the media, particularly in how it can help activism and help push the conversation surrounding policy. I don’t think asthma gets the coverage it deserves. Talking to people who face a daily struggle with illness and putting their journeys in the public eye helps others open up and deal with their own conditions. But asthma suffers don’t have that voice like other illnesses like cancer or MS. Obviously as your annoying wee brother I have seen you at your best and worst with asthma, and it’s so inspiring. I wanted your journey to help others above all else.

On the other hand, it was so important to include the work you do behind the scenes for Asthma UK and other charities. Covering topics like correct techniques for taking medication and attitudes towards asthma help stimulate conversation, even on a day-to-day basis, from a light natter over Sunday lunch to discussions between health professionals.

How did covering the story affect your understanding of asthma?

Without a shadow of a doubt the amount of medication someone with severe asthma – and knock-on conditions – must take on a daily basis. I knew your asthma was bad through years of hospital visits and attacks, as well as using it to my advantage to beat you at golf (still not sorry). That hit home in a big way when you were placed on a ventilator recently – it was actually what prompted me to want to do the story. So I guess you could say that I knew how bad it could get before doing the piece, but only just before I sat down to write it.

But the medication routine was what really hit me hard. The sheer volume of treatments you have to take every single day was staggering, and shocked many of my colleagues. Knowing how you still get on with your life, throw yourself into activism and sport wherever you can, makes that even more staggering. To be taking 38 treatments daily at the age of 33 is mind blowing. I think getting that across to people really helps them to take it just as seriously as other, more talked about conditions

Making asthma visible

Today my youngest brother published an article for the Daily Record. Out of all my siblings he has probably seen me at my worst. He has been there when I have been in tears because registrars cant get an arterial blood gas and they are getting stroppy because I kept flinching when they hit the nerve or worse the bone or visited me when I was in hospital down south and he was still a school boy. He has known about my passion for the issue of smoking on hospital sites as it has caused me so many issues and latterly when my asthma has stopped me doing more he has taken an interested in the work I have been doing to try and raise awareness about asthma and how severe it can be.

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It is a really hard read. Seeing everything down in black and white in one place about how asthma has controlled so much of my life. I feel bad that this article has upset so many. I know my mum was fairly upset as she has obviously been through it all with me and then Nick as well. He has lived with me and yet he didnt know or understand just how bad it can get.

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I know others who have asthma just like mine and have asked if it is ok for them to share this article. I want everyone to share it. If it can show people just how serious asthma can get then I want everyone to see it.

I have kept this blog for so long and written about how asthma has affected me, what being in hospital has been like etc but I never read back over my posts. Not one post has been proof read and thats how I like it. It keeps the emotion real and honest.

I am really proud that my brother has decided to take this on and try to help people realise how serious asthma is and that you cant always see the true effects that asthma has on someones life. It is sad that it takes shocking stories to highlight the devastation that asthma can cause.

 

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).

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

 

Parking is not the only issue at the RIE

In the press today and on social media there is a lot of energy being focused on the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh and its issue with parking. Ever since I have worked at the RIE there has always been an issue with parking. There has never been enough parking for the number of staff let alone patients or visitors.

This summer the new Sick Kids hospital is moving out to the RIE site as well as DCN. Now the new departments have been built on one of the previous car parks and there has been no replacement car parks being put in place.

There is up roar about this especially as staff have to pay to park. You can apply for a permit which costs £25 a month but these are now in short supply and to qualify for a permit you need to meet certain criteria. I remember when I was applying for my permit first off having a blue disabled parking badge did not move me up the line I still had to wait. I did eventually get a permit and was able to get a permit for a car park close to the hospital because of my blue badge but this to me is almost a waste of time because the welfare of the people working there is not addressed or prioritised.

For me and many others one of the biggest issues at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh is the smoking issue. There was a supposed smoking ban on NHS Lothian sites but what it seems to have done is nothing more than encourage people to smoke right outside the hospital doors. I remember just after the smoking ban came in I was working a night shift and halfway through hand over I had to get taken to A&E due to an asthma attack as a direct result of making my way into the hospital from my car. Sadly this was not the only occasion this occurred. There have been at least 6 occurrences where me getting from my car in the car park to the front door have resulted in me being exposed to people smoking where they should not be and ending up requiring hospital treatment and sometimes needing to go to intensive care.

Just now I am on a career break focusing on research but I am very concerned about going back to work next year. I will need to reapply for my permit but also if I don’t have a permit I will need to either pay for parking which is not always guaranteed, or risk getting public transport which could put my life at risk. I worry that will my hard work this year to get my health better be then set backwards by the risks that are involved in just getting into the hospital.

I have tried to speak to anyone who will listen about the smoking issue which is particularly bad at the Royal Infirmary but it seems to fall on deaf ears. The really shocking thing is that an area which is probably the worst for the number of people smoking is right below the respiratory ward and not even that is doing anything to get the smokers moved. I am not against people smoking- it is their choice if they want to end up giving themselves COPD and a self inflicted breathing condition but I am against them inflicting others to their bad habit. I didnt do anything to cause my lungs to get like this they are just like that so I do not expect to have them deteriorate as a direct consequence of someone breaking the law and smoking where they should not be working.

The most shocking bit about it is that the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh are happy to patrol the car parks and put tickets on cars which are parked in the wrong place but turn a blind eye to people smoking. I tell you a car parked in the wrong place does a lot less harm than people smoking.

When it comes to April 2020 I will need to think about wether it is worth the risk  to come back to work if the smoking issue is not addressed.

It is a sorry state of affairs when healthcare workers are questioning wether they continue in the career or where they are working because there is not adequate provision to support them.

 

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

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.