I’ve been nominated!

December 31, 2007


And for once, I really don’t know what to say…

My blog, The Biopsy Report, has been nominated by Medgadget for a Medical Weblog Award in the Best Patient’s Blog category. I’m extremely grateful to the person who has submitted my blog for consideration and also to ScrubsGallery.com who have sponsored the award. If I were really honest, I’d admit that I’m chuffed but not for the reasons that you’d probably expect.

I started writing this blog earlier in the year following some major surgery. The operation was the culmination of two long, hard years fighting a serious MRSA infection in my skull. As many of you will already know, I’m no stranger to the world of surgery but the blogosphere was a complete novelty to me and I’m still very much a learner in this regard. In my blog, I write about medical issues and experiences from the perspective of the patient. It has proved to be the most therapeutic outlet imaginable and I’m now what could be termed as, a compulsive blogger!

There is not a lot to recommend about life as a long-term patient. Nothing can be taken for granted. The constant stop/start nature of life due to sudden illness is very frustrating and it can feel very unfair at times. It’s a real roller coaster of emotions but I would add that illness does have some compensations. My experiences have taught me to appreciate the simpler things in life and to see the world through different eyes. I have called it discovering magic and I can assure you, it is magical!

Yesterday my blog counter registered 12,000 visitors since June 2007. This is reward enough for me. I put my story out there in the hope that it might help others to see life from a different perspective, that of the patient, and these figures have exceeded all my expectations. A big thank-you to all who have visited my site and most especially to anyone who’s left a comment. I treasure your views. I also hugely enjoy visiting other blogs and especially those listed on my blogroll.

I have my son, Robin, to blame for getting me into the blog world. He spotted in me, a blog waiting to come out – and how right he was! He encouraged, cajoled and bullied me into putting my experiences into words and I have to say, I’ll never be able to thank him enough for introducing me to this world of fun and discovery.

My life has certainly not gone according to plan but this nomination feels like a lovely tribute at the end of a particularly difficult year. And right now, I’m feeling very lucky indeed 😀

HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all!

Your ‘expert by experience’ patient,


The Joy of Blogging

December 24, 2007

I have a list of blogs I read; my blogroll you can see

So every time I go online; some treasure waits for me.

I’ve finally come to realise; your comments mean much more

They might just look like words; but they touch me at the core.

And while you may not be aware; of any special link

This blog has changed my life; in more ways than you think.

In some small way you’ve had a part; in shaping things I do

And the best gift life can offer; is finding gems like you!

Merry Christmas!


Anyone for Arrogance?

December 22, 2007

For those of you who’ve been following the story of my biopsy, you will remember that I had a recent contretemps with a private consultant surgeon. Yesterday I received his response to my letter.

I wrote to the consultant two weeks ago to let him know of my discontent following a recent check-up. My appointment was an hour late with no apology given, the consultation lasted all of five minutes and I was asked to pay €150 for this pleasure. To add insult to injury, the doctor removed only one stitch and asked me to return a week later to have the final stitch removed. I declined settling the invoice on principle and when I phoned the office the following day to enquire if a charge would be made for the final consultation, my call was not returned. I felt distinctly uncomfortable with this sort of treatment and considered it important to make my views known to the doctor. In my letter, I made the point that I was surprised by the charge considering the brevity of the appointment and the fact that I was being asked to return again. I also mentioned that his office had not returned my call. I never questioned the wisdom of his decision to ask me to return for such a minor reason although I strongly suspected his motive. My letter was polite and to the point.

The doctor telephoned me in person yesterday. I was told the following, very quickly and in no uncertain terms – “I am sorry to find that you do not appreciate my professional integrity. The delay you experienced was due to the fact that some consultations take five minutes while others may take up an hour – that is the nature of my practice (no apology given). I have to charge everyone who comes into my consulting room if I am to be able to continue to consult on these premises. (Voice begins to shake) It is a great pity that you do not respect my integrity…” Then the phone was rapidly put down before I could respond.

To put it mildly, I was gob smacked. I think the fact that this guy jumped to the conclusion that I was questioning his professional integrity, is very revealing. It’s obvious he considers himself to be above and beyond reproach. The bullying manner of his phone call was disgraceful for a man in his position – his intention was to silence me by denying any opportunity for discussion. Thankfully, I did succeed in butting in at one point to say that an apology for the delay would have gone a long way but this fell on deaf ears. I couldn’t tell if his quivering voice towards the end of the call was due to rage or upset – whichever – it was a sure sign that his arrogance had been dented. If he’d offered a simple apology I would have accepted it but he instead chose to take offence to my letter and to blame me for daring to question his arrogant behaviour. And to make matters worse, he expected me to sympathise with him for the expenses he incurs in running his salubrious private practice. Come on!

It gave me great pleasure to take out my own stitch and as expected, I’ve had no further need to see a doctor. I shall also very much enjoy recounting this tale to my GP when I next see him. He knows me well and knows that I’ve always enjoyed a good rapport with the many specialists I’ve had to consult over the years. For the doctor/patient relationship to work, the respect has to be mutual. Maybe I’ve just been lucky up until now to have experienced the care of some fantastic doctors who are a credit to their profession. I suppose there are a few bad apples in every cart and medicine is no exception. I find it disheartening to consider that this sort of experience is likely to become more commonplace if our Minister for Health gets her way to promote a 2-tier system of healthcare in Ireland.

I’ve no doubt that I’ll receive another invoice for the outstanding charge. After all, this jumped up arrogant git has to protect his integrity! If I do hear from him again I think I’ll do what my wise blog friend, Grannymar, has suggested and bill him for the extra expense incurred in the car park, thanks to his delay. It ain’t over yet, folks!

The real meaning of Christmas

December 12, 2007

Today I spent the day with my parents. Nothing unusual there I hear you say, except that my Mum and Dad are both resident in a nursing home and Christmas to them, is just like any other time of the year.

My Dad will be 88 shortly and is still a sprightly, well-dressed man who loves any excuse for a gin and tonic. Every day after his lunch, he gets spruced up to go and see Mum where she resides in the Alzheimer unit of the home. He polishes his shoes, puts on a clean shirt with a suit and tie, and then he’s ready for his outing of the day. Sadly, his short-term memory has completely deserted him and by the time he’s ready to go, he’s often forgotten the purpose of his mission. His memory loss causes him great confusion and anxiety. He has to be escorted to visit Mum to make sure he reaches his destination, and that he comes back safely again.

My Mum turned 80 recently. She’s been in the nursing home for over three years with a slow deterioration into dementia and physical impairment. She’s completely immobile at this stage and is barely able to sit propped up in a wheelchair. She has a tough time getting through each day but she still manages to smile and say thank-you to everyone who helps her. Thankfully she still recognises me as her daughter and yet whenever she introduces me to someone else, I suddenly become her twin sister. It makes for some interesting reactions and lots of laughs too.

I had great plans to do some Christmas shopping today after my visit to the nursing home, but it was not to be. My Mum was having one of those days where extra time, and reassurance, was needed. Dad too was in a muddle about almost everything. I sat with them both while Mum dozed in and out of sleep and each time she woke, she smiled with delight to see us there. My Dad enjoyed a gin and tonic which we rescued from the muddle of his bedside locker and we chatted away together all afternoon, with the same topics coming round and round.

This Christmas no amount of shopping will make life any easier for my parents. Their needs are few, but precious. My gift to them this year cannot be bought or packaged. Like that advert for a well-known brand of cider, they need nothing added but time.

Just call me Staph

December 6, 2007

Today I returned to the private specialist to have two stitches in my hand removed. I waited one hour to be seen, had one stitch removed during a very brief consultation and was then charged €150 for this pleasure. And to cap it all, I’ve been asked to return next week to have the last stitch removed. Can you believe it?

I’m still angry about this check-up. I arrived five minutes early for my appointment but had to wait until four people ahead of me had been seen. When I was eventually called in to the doctor’s room, I received no apology for the delay and this did not impress me. I had a punch biopsy performed on an infected lesion a week ago and was asked to return to get the biopsy report and to have the stitches removed. Only one stitch was taken out today – the specialist felt that the wound hadn’t fully healed thanks to my history of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). I was surprised by this as my hand looked pretty good to me but I didn’t argue.

The only good bit of news today was that the biopsy report showed the lesion to be non-malignant. The not-so-good news was that the swabs taken one week ago, show that I remain colonised (in my nose) as well as infected (in the hand) by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. I’m all too familiar with Staph aureus having fought a long battle with it in the past, with infection due to MRSA, the antibiotic resistant strain of this bacteria. About 20-30% of the population are colonised with Staph A at any given time but unless they become infected by it, it does not pose a problem. A swab taken two weeks ago established that my present infection is sensitive to penicillin thankfully and I’ve been undergoing treatment with an appropriate oral antibiotic since then. I now also have to begin a de-colonisation treatment which involves using an antibiotic nasal ointment for the next year.

I think what bugged me the most about today was the sheer arrogance of it all. I’m well used to delays in doctors’ clinics and I don’t have a problem with this as long as I receive a simple apology. I can appreciate that doctors are very busy people but that doesn’t excuse bad manners. My consultation was very rushed lasting just 5 minutes or less, and I was given little or no opportunity to discuss anything. When I was asked to return in another week’s time for follow-up, I presumed that there would be no charge for today’s consultation. Not only did I presume wrong, I was asked to pay the same amount as I paid for the initial consultation two weeks ago. Usually a lesser charge is made for a return visit. And as if to rub salt into the wound, I also had to pay double the car park fee thanks to the long wait to be seen.

Now, I’ve seen many doctors over the years but I’ve never, ever felt as ripped off as I did today. I despair if this is the sort of health service we can anticipate when/if our Minister for Health gets her wish to privatise healthcare in this country. I did not settle today’s bill on principle and instead offered to pay next week when my treatment has been completed. The doctor’s secretary was not amused and insisted I took away a bill showing that €150 was still due for ‘Con 2’. I sure felt conned alright! You have to realise that the specialist will also be handsomely paid by my insurance company for carrying out the biopsy as a day procedure. It looks as if consultation no. 3 may well result in another charge and I’m suspicious now that this may be the real reason for why the final stitch wasn’t removed today. I think I’ll ring in the morning and query whether or not there’ll be another charge. If this is the case, then I might have to remove my own stitch and treat myself to some retail therapy instead.

My Christmas wish is that one day I’ll be able to wave goodbye to ‘Staph’ and resort back to being just plain old Steph.

Give us this Day our daily brew

December 5, 2007

I love coffee. You could say I’m hooked on it. I love the smell of it and the taste of it – even the thought of it is enough to brighten my day. It’s not a vice but a simple pleasure in life.

For me, the best coffee of all is the one I make myself. I have my own favourite way of going about things and I think that in reality, I get as much pleasure from brewing the stuff as I do from drinking it. It’s definitely a ritual that is very much part of my life. On days when I awake feeling groggy, I go straight for the coffee beans and make-up a good fix to chase away sleep. Coffee awakens my taste buds and increases my alertness and readiness to face another day. I adore the smell of fresh coffee and I’m well-renowned for my habit of inhaling from a freshly opened bag. I feel sure that if I didn’t have this passion I might have ended up being a smoker. There are lots of similarities between the two habits though I’m very happy to add that I never took to smoking. I often find myself planning ahead for the next fix and I’m known for brewing up good coffee in some of the strangest of places. Coffee is a great socializer – many of the ups and downs of life have been shared over a mug of coffee. Like everything else though, safety is in moderation and so these days I make sure to limit my intake to 2-3 mugs per day.

The first sign of any illness with me is that I lose all interest in coffee. It just doesn’t taste right when I’m unwell. However my family have come to learn over the years that as soon as I start to want to drink coffee again, it’s a sure sign I’m getting better. Hospital stays can pose a bit of a problem for real coffee drinkers. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital and after years of giving out about the revolting stuff served up there, I solved the problem quite simply by buying a small travel kettle. As soon as I get over the initial crisis of any illness, I ask the family to bring in my kettle along with some disposable coffee filter units so that I can make my own early morning fix. I’ve always been an early riser and it can be a very long wait until breakfast is served in hospital. With the curtains drawn around my bed, I’ve often brewed up coffee before 6am while the rest of the ward is still snoring. Of course I’d be in real trouble if the night nurses ever found out but then necessity is the mother of invention. I look upon it as my way of touching base with reality in an otherwise unreal world.

When I was cooped up in an isolation room for many weeks due to an MRSA infection, having my own supply of coffee was like a lifeline. I’m sure it was the key to staying sane. I can recall one particularly annoying night nurse whom I detested and it used to give me great pleasure to outwit her by secretly brewing coffee early in the morning. I’d then spray the room liberally with body spray afterwards and give the nurse a big grin whenever she barged in with medication hoping to wake me up. It gave me great pleasure to beat her at her own game. It’s crazy what you have to do sometimes just to stay in control!

Yes, life without coffee would be very dull indeed. That’s it, I’m off to make some right now.