As most of you, who have read some of my previous blogs, will realise, the past 11 years have been something of a journey into the world of ill health and disability. While the labels for what ails me evolve as new symptoms emerge/collide with what already is, making the process one-step-forward, two-steps backwards most of the time, the reality of my situation remains barely changed but, somehow, I continue optimistic that I will, at some stage, emerge out of the occasionally horrendously dark tunnel into a life where all that is wrong is identified, fixes have been found for what can be fixed and, as with my new totally neurogenic bladder and continuing-to-fail digestive system, what can’t be fixed can be managed symptomatically (albeit with gadgets as well as drugs!) and new or changing symptoms aren’t just dumped into a bucket of comorbidities.
Still waiting after EIGHT months for a cardiology outpatient appointment
Since my hypertensive/haemodynamic collapse in September 2016 I have had two tests, an EKG – revealing minor damage to the apical heart muscle (vs an EKG in January 2016 when “nothing was wrong”) a small PFO (presumably present since birth) and LVH (signals one side of the heart has been working too much for quite a while) – and a cardio-angiogram which revealed the four main cardiac arteries not currently needing stenting. I have, however, had my driving licence suspended since that collapse and I am still waiting for a cardiology outpatient appointment despite referrals from two neurologists (1) my fabulous chap who determined my neuro symptoms weren’t Parkinson’s disease in 2015 (see previous blogs) who has gone to be an academic in Canada (2) his successor who sees no identifiable neuro disease process to treat, but agreed to chase her predecessor’s cardio referral and will see me next year. My wonderful GP has been chasing too, and was initially told there was no referral, then that there was a referral but nothing had been done about it and, three months ago, that an appointment would be made as soon as possible. Still nothing has happened so the GP is chasing again.
I continue to have spontaneous hypertensive crises, both with exertion and without, where my BP ramps up and keeps ramping up to mega levels, requiring me to zap it with GTN as much as I can, while thinking all the calming, mindful thoughts at my disposal, and praying that things will calm down again. There are no obvious triggers for the non-exertional rampings, except, it seems to me, heightened brain activity! Take my BP before I start knitting (see my Knitting Page) and then after about half an hour I suddenly realise there is pressure building and, voila… BP is on the hike. The same is true when I am typing, drafting a letter, designing/making graphics for @Sailonline or even just watching TV. Exertional crises I can understand and with GTN and my raft of cardio/BP meds, I pace myself – my walking remains horribly slow due to neuro stuff and newly-worsening arthritis, and I do my best not to get excited or over-enthusiastic – and this seems to work.
I may never drive again – can I sue Jeremy Hunt?
It is nearly a year that my beloved ancient Saab has been standing in her garage… I may never drive again as, by the time “the system” (horribly underfunded and overstretched crisis-management-only NHS) gets around to me I will probably be unfit to drive. Can I sue Jeremy Hunt? He has deep personal pockets that are, allegedly, benefiting quite nicely from how our country is being/has been privatised.
Am I a Pollyanna, or just hopeful
BUT in spite of how things are, still mostly housebound, some weird almost Pollyanna-like spark of hope remains …
If it didn’t sound too gloomy, though, I would probably call this post-Parkinson’s Disease (I still have parkinsonism!) era of my life the “Black Knight”.. not in any way meaning to sound dark or gloomy but in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail way! Do you remember the scene? Arthur and his servant are coconut-clip-clopping into some woods and a huge black knight stands before them blocking their way. He challenges them to fight him and, piece by piece his body is reduced to just a mostly-dismembered torso and talking head.. .but as they clip-clop away he still shouts a challenge. As everything that I was disappears and my “system malfunction” continues to erode my quality of life (or heads into sudden crisis) I am still shouting a challenge! I am still me… really, I am … most of the time… well I try to be!
Finding the positive …
When my “journey” started I was lucky to be pretty OK with who I was and how I was living my life – nothing particularly remarkable but it was good. Since 2006, however, pretty much everything that I considered the real me has been eroded, changed, modified beyond belief and I am left with what drives me.
I am pretty adaptable and occasionally even surprise myself at how I adapt to what is occurring, when I competently switch my suprapubic catheter tube from one side to the other and admire my self-made anti-skin-erosion device – but there are times when I really do miss being the person and having the life that was mine until 2006, and I do occasionally ponder on what might have happened without the fateful anaesthetic, before returning to living this journey.
See me as I am, not as you expect me to be
Just as those living with a cancer diagnosis are hoping that folks will stop using the word “battling” in relation to their life-altering experience as it implies if you die then you lost a battle, so I am just wanting everyone I come into contact with, especially medical professionals, to stop trying to box me into being something I am not, and rather to work with me to find the best possible solution(s) for my situation. I don’t want to be told I have “complex comorbidities” as if that justifies doing nothing – don’t you think I already know that? I need to be accepted as I am but… that is a luxury that our wilfully underfunded, understaffed, overstretched NHS just cannot do. The best one can hope for is that a rough sense of my bowel, bladder, neuro, haemodynamic “stuff” is on board – but it rarely is.
NHS stretched gossamer-thin – on purpose
My recent 12 days in hospital has completely opened my eyes. Doctors on wards are spread thinly and in this era of going-by-the-numbers there is no time for them to learn or practise the art of medicine. Gone are the days when something puzzling, but clearly happening, is considered in a wider context. It either is a readily identifiable “thing” or it isn’t and what dictates the outcome is often a single test result taken randomly rather than optimally. If it isn’t a “thing” then it is as if your symptom doesn’t exist, a page is turned and it is back to you and your GP (if you are lucky enough, like me, to have a good’un!) to start again.
Safe qualified nursing staffing levels are history
Wards have too few qualified nurses. HCAs are sweet people but it is more than scary when you are having a ramping hypertensive crisis and need help, someone saying “oh I’ll tell a nurse” while cancelling the call bell it has taken every ounce of effort to reach and press, and then waft away to leave you in increasing chest pain/discomfort overusing GTN spray in a desperate attempt to avoid either cardiac arrest or stroke (the only cardiac diagnosis made last September was unstable angina). It is actually terrifying to know that had my hypertensive crisis that day led to cardiac arrest I would now be a statistic – not because the medical staff don’t care, far from it, they are all working absolutely flat out just to manage major priorities. I had two such crises during my 12 days in hospital, each time there were too few nurses and it took several hours for the on-call doctor to be able to prioritise me, and requested tests were just never done. The subtle effects of one of these episodes (worst searing head pain ever, loss of right eye vision and inability to use right arm) has symptoms easing but continuing with an almost constant sleepiness, a tendency-to-droop right eye and dribbling out of the right corner of my mouth .. BUT I SURVIVED!!! I wonder how many people actually don’t? On a ward of 20 acute medical patients there were two BP monitors… on the night I had my first hypertensive crisis I was hooked up to one of them, for about an hour, then, because the second machine had gone u/s and I was still capable of talking, albeit with effort, it was disconnected and taken to someone deemed worse off than me. As I lay propped up with my eyes shut, unable to move – chest, arms and head felt leaden-weighted as if I were pulling too many G – I began to see the smiling faces of dead relatives, dead friends and even my beloved gone-to-the-Rainbow-Bridge dog, MrK… it was a nice feeling, very calming, they were very inviting and asking me to join them. Semi-regretfully I declined their invitation and instead, inside my head, asked them for help to recover. I was alone, with a call bell tucked into my hand “in case it gets worse” for the duration of this episode. At this moment, fortuitously, the many-hours-previously paged lone on-call-for-the-entire-hospital junior doctor arrived and I was given loading doses of all sorts of things and… lived. Serendipitously, he had been in A&E in September 2016 when I was blue-lighted to the hospital from my GP’s surgery with my first hypertensive/cardio collapse – I think something/someones were looking after me that night.
Economic cost to nation of delayed diagnosis and treatment
Delaying patient diagnosis and treatment must be costing the country a fortune – I am not currently able to work and I am still a few years from retirement, but I had a super-full healthy working life for decades. If I were a young person now, with family commitments, how wrong is a system that expects me to find work, hold down a job, or support my family while coping with the strain of having to wait weeks and months for safe and reliable treatment, such as that only provided by the NHS (or by private hospitals affordable by the super-rich) – make no mistake, private health insurance companies are in the fast turn-round grab-your-money bank-the-profit and forget about comorbidities business.
Recent governments have, as most should realise by now, been wilfully dismantling the structure of a publicly funded, publicly provided National Health Service so that they, their cronies and those who influence them may grab profitable “health business contracts” and, essentially, steal public money – or is it defrauding the British public? Either way, the nation is not benefiting and, it seems, successive governments are completely indifferent to the destruction and havoc they cause. The sooner a new medical/health issue is diagnosed and treated and someone given support to return to full fitness/health, the better it is for a nation. Having people wait weeks and months for appointments and tests and then test results and even then finding that their local area doesn’t support a particular treatment OR, worse, the alleged treatment turns out to be another private company providing another utterly shabby and unfit for purpose service (in the name of the NHS of course) is NOT a public health service. (NOTE: my target for this comment is a private physio provider that completely missed a majorly torn vastus lateralis last November despite my stating plainly that the explosions of pain on injury were in three places – lower back, groin and front of thigh. This has resulted in my severely arthritic knee, caused by years of walking/riding etc etc, now becoming unstable and my formerly go-to stronger right leg becoming completely unreliable! I am now referred again to them but… I cannot be seen until September. Hopeless. Thank goodness for Google and my discovery of kinesiology tape that I use prior to trying to go for a walk!).
We are being ill served and I am very angry about it – I want a properly funded and managed public health service – SERVICE… not business … a service ensuring the health and well-being of the UK as a whole.
Why company/personal private health insurance won’t help in the long term…
I am also angry about those currently in work and in relatively good health who benefit from private health insurance – why? Because they fail to engage in the reality that is the dismantling and fragmenting of the NHS … but at the same time complain about it if they can’t get a GP appointment precisely when it suits them. What is worse, these same individuals appear not to realise that the small print of their private health insurance policies may well exclude them from private treatments in the future if, as happened to me, even with a fully underwritten policy, conditions are deemed chronic and/or pre-existing in some way. The benefits of a corporate private insurance policy can only continue as-is if you transfer the policy to an underwritten personal one with the same provider, otherwise a new employer/new corporate policy may exclude aspects of previous cover under special conditions.
The only people who may never need the NHS are the super-rich.
Finally I will leave you with this image – just as a reminder of what good government is meant to do:
If you haven’t yet visited my website, please do so.