I had the dubious pleasure of donning a theatre gown again yesterday but thankfully, only briefly on this occasion. Some weeks ago, I attended my GP with intermittent discomfort in the centre of my chest. The pain had gradually worsened over a period of days and as there is a strong history of hiatus hernia in the family and I was otherwise feeling well, I felt sure that a hernia must be to blame. Following examination, my doctor agreed that a hernia was a possible explanation for the symptoms but refused to prescribe treatment until first ruling out other potential causes. Despite my protests about not wanting any more medical intervention, he put me on the waiting list to have a gastroscopy performed at our local public hospital.
These days, GP surgeries are able to bypass the consultant system to fast-track patients for endoscopic investigation. In the past, a patient had to be referred to a consultant before a decision could be made to proceed with further investigation. Nowadays, family doctors have set guidelines to follow and if the patient fits the particular criteria, they are referred via a direct access scheme for endoscopic examination. This speeds up the investigation process and eliminates unnecessary specialist consultations. The endoscopy unit is consultant-led, it’s highly staffed so that it runs efficiently and the waiting list is the same for everyone regardless of health insurance or medical card status.
I only had to wait three weeks for the gastroscopy appointment and attended the hospital yesterday having fasted overnight as instructed. I’ve undergone this procedure before so I knew exactly what to expect. There was no delay, I was assessed immediately by a nurse and asked to change into a theatre gown. Following a short wait, I was escorted to the examination room to meet with the doctor and his assistant. I was given the option to have light sedation for the procedure and I didn’t hesitate in accepting. I’ve seen enough of hospital procedures to know I’d rather not see any more. I lay up on an examination trolley and following the insertion of a cannula into the back of my hand to administer the sedative, I was asked to lie over onto one side. A plastic mouth guard was placed between my teeth to protect them and stop me biting the endoscope. The next thing I knew was when I awoke in the recovery room feeling relaxed and sleepy following the sedation. An hour later, I was ready for home having received the diagnosis. I was informed that I have a significant peptic (gastric) ulcer in my stomach and shown the pretty pictures taken during the procedure. This news came as a surprise as I was expecting to hear I had a hernia but No, there was no evidence of a hernia seen.
The leading cause of a gastric ulcer is currently believed to be infection of the stomach by a bacteria called “Helicobacter pyloridus” (H. pylori). Another major cause of ulcers is the chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). I had two biopsies taken yesterday which will show if H. pylori is the cause of the problem and in the meantime, I’ve started on a six-week course of tablets to reduce acid production and aid healing of the ulcer – yet more pills to add to the daily pile! If H. pylori infection is found, I will be commenced on two different antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. It’s quite possible that NSAIDs are to blame in my case as I’ve been on various types for years (though always in conjunction with a gastro-resistant medication), to control the joint pain I experience from my connective tissue disorder (EDS). Whatever the cause, I have to return in two months time to have a repeat gastroscopy performed to assess the situation.
I’m really in favour of this direct access scheme for out-patient care as it’s an equitable system which is efficiently run. I left the hospital yesterday feeling lucky to have received such good attention. The only difficult thing to swallow now is the fact that when I next return to see my GP, I have to admit that he was right and I was wrong.