Do Yourself a Favour

May 31, 2010

In April 2008, a young boy was admitted to the country’s leading Children’s Hospital, to undergo surgery to have his defective right kidney removed. It later emerged that his healthy left kidney had been removed in error. An independent review of the case, identified 10 contributory factors which led to this terrible blunder. It was described as “an accident waiting to happen”. A medical council fitness to practice inquiry is now under way into allegations of professional misconduct against two doctors over the removal of the wrong kidney.

The parents of the 6 year old boy attended the fitness to practice inquiry last week, to tell their story in the hope that it would help to prevent this tragedy occurring again. The mother told the inquiry that her son was referred to the hospital for treatment following recurrent kidney infections. An ultrasound scan had revealed that the child’s left kidney was functioning normally while his right kidney was small, with only 9 percent function. The mother was told by the consultant surgeon at the hospital that her son would need his poorly functioning right kidney removed but then the surgeon incorrectly noted in the hospital chart that the left kidney was the one to be removed. This was the first in a series of errors which unfortunately led to the wrong kidney being removed.

The first the parents knew of the wrong kidney being listed for surgery, was when consent was sought for the operation. The parents have told the inquiry that while they felt embarrassed for questioning if the doctors were right, they persisted in asking hospital staff to double check their facts. A hospital spokesperson has confirmed that the parents repeatedly raised concerns and questioned if the correct kidney was being removed, up to and including the time of handover to the operating theatre.

This tragic case is not only every parent’s nightmare, it’s probably every doctor’s nightmare as well. It raises many important questions about the issue of doctors working under too much pressure in a hospital system that is stretched to the limits. The concerns voiced by this child’s parents, should have been enough to alert hospital staff to the fact that something was wrong. Has our health service really become so automated, impersonal and intimidating that parent’s/patient’s concerns don’t count any more? Surely, if any parent raises a concern about their child’s treatment, they deserve to have their concerns properly addressed before being expected to hand over the care of their child?

If one lesson is to be learnt from this terrible tragedy, it is that we as parents/patients should never hesitate to question medical care especially when something doesn’t add up.

We could be doing ourselves a real favour. The hearing is due to continue in September.

RTE News – Thursday, 27 May 2010

Third Time Lucky?

May 26, 2010

Well… I finally got to Nottingham to see the surgeon having had my two previous attempts foiled by that damn volcano. As a result of the enforced delay, I had emailed the surgeon in advance, to alert him to the fact that my head still hadn’t healed properly. While his reply was reassuring, I wasn’t convinced that all was well. I’m sorry to have to report that my concern was justified.

When the surgeon looked inside my head, he groaned. He asked me to remind him of how many weeks I was now post-op and his face fell at my reply of three months.  “I’ve never, ever seen this happen before”, the surgeon said. Now it was my turn to groan. Those words have become increasingly familiar over the years as things have gone wrong with my health. Delayed healing has now been added to that list of peculiarities.

It wasn’t all bad news though as the graft has actually healed well. However, the surgeon echoed the words of my surgeon at home when he said that “in solving one problem, another has been created”. In other words, the small area of bone which was chronically infected, has healed perfectly thanks to the graft but the donor site for the graft, is now refusing to heal. That’s when I heard the MRSA word mentioned again. A swab was taken for analysis. Personally, I think it’s more likely that the problem is linked to my connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), but who am I to know?

When the surgeon first heard of my problem with delayed healing (via my email), he was of the opinion that repeat internal splinting of my airway might be required. However, having seen the situation for himself, he changed his mind and decided that one side of my nose should be temporarily sealed off. Apparently, exposure to air (breathing) can dry out the airway to such an extent that it delays the healing process following certain types of surgery. With this in mind, I was subsequently dispatched to another department of the hospital to begin the next stage of treatment.

The ‘expert’ in making facial moulds greeted me on arrival in the maxillofacial department. This department deals with diseases, injuries and deformities of the oral and maxillofacial region and my visit provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of facial reconstruction using prosthetics. I was there to have a simple mould made of the inside of my nose so that a prosthesis could be made to seal off one side of the airway. However, the ‘bomb crater’ left in my forehead following previous surgery, was also of interest to my new friend. I was shown the photographs which were taken of my face at the hospital last year, to record the cosmetic disfigurement. During my earlier consultation with the surgeon, I’d already ruled out going down the road of re-constructive surgery as it’s fraught with possible complications*. I’d no hesitation in telling the maxillofacial expert “thanks but, no thanks!”

My new ‘nose’ will arrive in the post in due course and my surgeon in Ireland will oversee the healing process. I’ve been warned that the prosthetic ‘bung’ will be visible and will give my voice a nasal intonation but it’s only a temporary arrangement and I’ll happily settle for it as long as I’m spared another battle with MRSA. Fingers crossed please that the swab result turns out negative!

* I’m pretty sure this blogging friend would agree with my decision.

A Gift

May 20, 2010

I had a birthday earlier this week and since I’ve now reached an age where the candles cost more than the cake, I started to think about growing old and how we age.

Most people don’t want to think about their coming decrepitude and frankly, you can’t blame them. Bette Davis once famously said, “The young don’t know it yet, but old age ain’t for sissies”.

Did you know that the risk of a driver over 80 having a fatal car crash is 3 times higher than that of a teenager? Old folks have poor night vision as the amount of light reaching the retina, decreases with age.

The elderly tire easily, their sense of smell diminishes, their teeth fall out and their skin dries out. Their sweat glands can’t function which is why the elderly are so susceptible to heat stroke and exhaustion. Hair grows grey as you run out of the pigment that gives hair it’s colour. You will lose 3 inches of your height.

Does all this talk of growing old, sound too depressing for you?

Well then, have a read of this…

“The other day a young person asked me how I felt about being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old. Upon seeing my reaction, she was immediately embarrassed but I explained that it was an interesting question and I would ponder it, and let her know.

Old age, I’ve decided, is a gift.

I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometime despair over my body… the wrinkles, the baggy eyes and the sagging butt. And often I am taken back by that old person that lives in my mirror but I don’t agonize over those things for long.

I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less grey hair or a flatter belly. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more kind to myself and less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend. I don’t chide myself for eating that extra cookie or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn’t need but looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to overeat, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with ageing.

Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 am, and sleep until noon?

I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60’s and 70’s and if, at the same time, I wish to weep over a lost love… I will.

I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the bikini set.

They, too, will grow old.

I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten … and I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turn grey and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed and so many have died before their hair could turn silver. I can say “no” and mean it. I can say “yes” and mean it.

As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve even earned the right to be wrong.

So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been or worrying about what will be.

And I shall eat dessert every single day.”

Author unknown.

So to whoever wrote this, I say “thank you”. It’s the nicest gift I’ve received in a very long while.

Always remember… growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.

It’s a conspiracy!

May 17, 2010

I should have known better.

When the Icelandic volcano erupted 4 weeks ago causing the cancellation of my trip to Nottingham, I left a comment on my blog saying, “Knowing my luck, the volcano will erupt just before I’m due to travel next month and all flights will be cancelled again”.

Guess what? Yes, you’ve guessed right. It’s happened again!

The volcanic ash cloud moved back over Ireland and the UK yesterday causing the cancellation of my early morning flight today. As luck would have it, flights resumed again at noon but this was of no help to me. With only one daytime flight daily to Nottingham, there was no way I could get to my appointment with the surgeon today.

When the surgeon heard that I’d been ‘volcanoed’ again, he joked about it saying, “It’s a conspiracy!”.

But you know what? He might be right 😯

From now on, no-one’s allowed to mention the ‘V’ word!!!

Bowel Talk

May 11, 2010

This time last year, I was diagnosed with a type of inflammatory bowel disease called Microscopic Colitis (MC). The condition gets it’s name because the large bowel (colon) lining looks normal during colonoscopy (a test to look inside your large bowel) and can only be seen when tissue samples are taken from the colon and examined under the microscope. The exact cause of microscopic colitis is unknown and treatment depends on the severity of symptoms which can range from mild to very severe. Some people recover spontaneously and continue to keep well, while for others the condition comes and goes. There is no cure at present.

Microscopic colitis is the term used to cover two types of bowel inflammation that affect the colon, called Collagenous Colitis and Lymphocytic Colitis. The main symptom of both these conditions is chronic (ongoing), watery diarrhoea without blood. Urgency and fatigue are also common. Nocturnal diarrhoea differentiates this condition from irritable bowel syndrome.

At first, my GP thought that I was suffering from an antibiotic-associated colitis (Clostridium difficile) as the severe colitis followed prolonged antibiotic treatment but repeat laboratory tests ruled this infection out. I was subsequently referred to a gastroenterologist who scoped my entire digestive tract and took biopsies for analysis. Two weeks later, the biopsy results confirmed a diagnosis of collagenous colitis and treatment was immediately commenced. As anti-diarrhoeal drugs had already proved ineffective in my case, I was prescribed the same anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, with good effect.

Microscopic colitis is classified as a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but is different from and not usually as severe as the better known types of IBD, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). However, this condition is still commonly overlooked or misdiagnosed.

One year on from diagnosis, my colitis is well-controlled with an anti-inflammatory drug called mesalazine (Asacol). However, antibiotic use will still trigger a nasty flare-up and corticosteroids, in particular budesonide (Entocort), are required to bring it back under control.
As the saying goes, “What can’t be cured, must be endured!”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to powder my nose.

Information Source:  The National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (NACC).

Kitty Heaven

May 6, 2010

This is for Geri Atric and achelois.

A cat dies and goes to Heaven. God meets him at the gate and says, “You’ve been a good cat all of these years. Anything you desire is yours, all you have to do is ask.”

The cat says, “Well, I lived all my life with a poor family on a farm and had to sleep on hardwood floors.”

God says, “Say no more.” And instantly, a fluffy pillow appears.

A few days later, 6 mice are killed in a tragic accident and they go to Heaven. God meets them at the gate with the same offer that He made the cat.

The mice said, “All our lives we’ve had to run. We’ve been chased by cats, dogs, and even women with brooms. If we could only have a pair of roller skates, we wouldn’t have to run anymore.”

God says, “Say no more.” And instantly, each mouse is fitted with a beautiful pair of tiny roller skates.

About a week later, God decides to check and see how the cat is doing. The cat is sound asleep on his new pillow. God gently wakes him and asks, “How are you doing? Are you happy here?”

The cat yawns and stretches and says…

“Oh, I’ve never been happier in my life! And those Meals on Wheels you’ve been sending over are the best!”

A hard graft

May 5, 2010

I’d another appointment at the hospital yesterday. Almost 10 weeks have passed since the graft surgery and I’m still not out of the woods. It’s been a hard graft in more ways than one.

I’m still waiting to be reviewed by the surgeon in Nottingham. If you remember, volcanic ash caused the postponement of my post-op appointment 2 weeks ago. The surgeon who oversees my care here, was kind enough to see me again while I await returning to the UK. I’ve now had five sessions of treatment with him since the operation.

The good news from yesterday was that the graft has healed perfectly, covering up the area of bone left exposed by previous surgery. The not-so-good news was that the donor site from which the graft was harvested, has failed to heal properly. Having fixed the problem in one place, it seems another problem has now been created. Will it ever end? 😦

I knew something wasn’t quite right as my head hasn’t followed the usual pattern of healing following surgery. The sympathetic look on my doctor’s face when he said, “I hope it heals for you”, was distinctly unnerving.

Fingers crossed the news from Nottingham in a few week’s time, will be more positive. They say time is a great healer.