Tag Archives: doctors

Go Big or Go Home

June was definitely busy, but it didn’t really prepare me for the double whammy that hit as it was heading out the door and ushered July in in unbelievable style. Many of those who know me personally will have already seen this news and have stated the same thought in a multitude of ways, but I think my sister-in-law said it best what she commented “…M can’t go small, can he?..“!

It all started a few weeks ago when M came back into the house with 4 or 5 insect bites on either side of his waist. This is not an uncommon occurrence in our household as we are fortunate to live at the far end of a small village, right on the edge of farmland and during the summer months, M spends a lot of his free time running around our paddock, jumping on the trampoline and climbing trees. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And, to be fair, it mostly is and the less perfect elements of insect bites and his reaction to cut grass are really small and insignificant in comparison. The bites were itchy and red, but nothing looked especially untoward or unusual, although 1 in particular on his right side appeared to have grown into a reasonably large welt thanks to his incessant scratching of it. I shrugged my shoulders, rubbed some cream on to it to relieve the irritation and promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward 2 weeks or so and M was now complaining of a small lump on his ribs – the right-hand side once again – which was causing him pain and disturbing his sleep every time he rolled over onto it. After putting up with his incessant moaning, I finally capitulated and booked an appointment for him to see our GP to have it checked. I had spotted that that 1 bite was still in situ and now sporting a rather angry-looking red rash around it, so determined it worth getting that checked out whilst we were there too. Add in the fact that one of M’s classmates had been diagnosed with shingles the week before and I had yet one more thing swirling around the back of my head as something else to be mentioned as well.

As soon as M pulled up his shirt in the GP’s surgery, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to be in for the long haul. As well as the suspect bite and small lump visible on his ribs, there was now a further red rash over his right ribs, which the GP didn’t hesitate to confirm as shingles with really nothing more than a cursory glance in its direction. He didn’t want to start M on anti-viral drugs straight away, but warned that if the rash spread, I’d need to get him back in as quickly as possible for a prescription – and 2 days later that’s exactly what I did. The small lump proved to be nothing more than an overactive and swollen lymph node likely to be the result of his body desperately fighting off the shingles infection and it was quickly dismissed.

However, it was the bite that really raised our Dr’s eyebrows and after a few probing questions from both him and me, I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew where we were headed with this rash. One week on, a 5-day course of anti-virals to treat his spreading shingles rashes and the third doctor’s appointment of the week, there was no question what was going on with M. The red rash circling his bite had become the most perfect bulls’eye rash and Lyme Disease was diagnosed instantly. Fortunately, we appear to have caught this condition early and we all have our fingers (and toes) tightly crossed hoping that the 3 weeks of strong antibiotics will stop the disease in its tracks and reduce the risk of ongoing problems from it.

We’ve been lucky. M is feeling more tired and achy than normal and has been heard grumbling that this double diagnosis hasn’t secured him any time of school. However, his indomitable spirit in the face of unquestionable challenges has shone through and he has determined that he was going to carry on as much as possible despite feeling truly under the weather. The shingles rashes are mostly gone and the impressive target rash of Lyme Disease is also fading as the antibiotics do their thing. There is no question that it all could have been an awful lot worse, but I do wish that M would start to listen when I say that there really is no need to take a “Go big or go home” attitude to life!

Advertisements

Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.

My One Constant Companion

HS_Birthdays_30thToday I’m celebrating a very special day, a milestone birthday of a very different kind. Google has revealed that Steve Jobs, Ben Miller and Kristin Davis were all born on this day, but as interesting as that is, I’m not really celebrating their birthdays. Today is my Godmother’s birthday, but it’s much more than that too. Today also happens to be my birthday, but, according to my birth certificate and my Mum, both of whom I trust implicitly, I’ve got another 366 days to wait until I reach my next noteworthy milestone, so my birthday celebrations this year are relatively low-key. Despite all these great reasons to celebrate, today I’m marking 30 years of one of the most significant events in my life:

30 years of living with T1D*

IMG_0138[1]

This is me, the Christmas before I was diagnosed

With a less than auspicious twist of fate, my life changed completely on the day I celebrated my 9th birthday and, believe it or not, 30 years on I can say that it arguably changed for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I would give anything to not be living side-by-side with a chronic illness, but the events of that day enabled me to return to much improved health and, most importantly, haven’t stopped me doing pretty much anything I’ve wanted to since then. After months, and maybe even years, of displaying what are now the well-recognised symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes – think excessive, unquenchable thirst; massive weight loss; increasing and unexplained lethargy and a constant need to wee – an unexpected collapse at school led to an emergency hospital admission, a fear-filled night as my parents had to face the unimaginable possibility of losing me and finally a diagnosis that would shape the way my future unfolded. Without even knowing it, and certainly with little regard for my opinion, this uninvited visitor came and took up permanent residence in my body, where it has lived in varying degrees of co-operation since the mid-1980s.

The last 30 years have seen amazing developments in the care of T1D, but the most momentous event actually happened 65 years before my own diagnosis. Before 1921, my parents’ worst fears of that night would have been realised as, until the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto by Banting and Best, SAM_0827those diagnosed with diabetes mellitus had no chance of survival and could only delay death from the illness itself by starving the body instead. Their discovery followed on from the hard work of  other scientists and medics from around the world such as Oskar Minkowski, Joseph von Mehring and Paul Langerhans, for whom the cells in the pancreas were named, and I doubt that any can deny the life-changing impact that the discovery of insulin has had on those of us living with T1D.

My first decade with T1D was heavily influenced by the incredible mind of my consultant, Professor B, who was compassionate, understanding and impressively forward-thinking in his approach to my care. One great example of his progressiveness is reflected by the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) approach to T1D management, which teaches PWD** to “…match their insulin dose to their chosen food intake on a meal by meal basis…“, and which was introduced to mainstream diabetes care in 1998 as a somewhat revolutionary new step. I somewhat nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders at the announcement as I’d been following that regime for around 10 years before it was accepted as being effective by the rest of the diabetes world, all thanks to Professor B and his focus on helping to improve my teen struggles with T1D.

IMG_0139[1]

My collection of Novopens!

Likewise, within 2 or 3 years of diagnosis, my “futuristic” disposable syringes and bottles of insulin, which had replaced the glass syringes and metal hypodermic needles of the 1950s that needed constant sterilising and re-sharpening, had themselves been replaced with one of the first models of the Novopen. This was the first insulin pen injector of its type and combined syringe, needle and insulin bottle in one unit. I worked my way through several upgrades of the Novopen and these days use a combination of a pre-filled disposable pen injector and the last pen injector that I had, a green Novopen 3, which still works in impeccable fashion nearly 20 years on from when I was first given it. Two decades on and I’m so excited to have embarked on another adventure, this time with the relatively new innovation in diabetes care, the Freestyle Libre system for blood glucose monitoring. Whilst I’m not at the forefront of PWDs trialling its use, I have offered to collect data concerning my usage for a research student looking to compare blood glucose monitoring behaviour following the use of the Freestyle Libre, a study that I would hope would encourage some NHS funding for these short-lived sensors which really could revolutionise T1D for many.

To put the last 30 years into context, I worked out some quick statistics of what 3 decades living with T1D has meant for me:

  • An average of 3-4 BGLs measured a day, sometimes a lot more and sometimes considerably less, adds up to around 43,838 blood sugar tests…
  • …and assuming equal use, though the truth is anything but, each of my fingers has been pricked nearly 4,500 times.
  • There’s been in the region of 41,636 injections to keep me healthy…
  • …most of which have in my thighs, bum and upper arms…
  • …although, after 25 years of steadfast refusal to consider anywhere else, I now inject almost exclusively in my stomach and have the bruises to prove it!
  • I’ve been involved in several research projects since almost day 1, including one which resulted in the longer-acting insulin I now use on a daily basis…
  • …and more medical students, visiting foreign doctors and interested consultants than I care to remember…
  • …and the involvement of both G and M in current research to investigate a possible genetic marker for T1D.
  • One amazingly fantastic juvenile T1D consultant, considered to be one of the top men in the diabetes world, around the world
  • …and another who I remember joining my team as a junior doctor at our local hospital and who is now a Professor in this field in that same hospital…
  • ..as well as the care of another unrivalled T1D consultant during both my pregnancies to ensure the safe arrival of my babies and my continued health too.
  • And there have been the inevitable times in hospital, particularly during my emotion-ridden years and fortunately only 1 major complication resulting from my teenage rebellion stage.

A cure may not yet be in sight, but with the amazing developments of the last 100 years, who knows what the next 30 years will bring?jdrf-ndam

 

*T1D – Type 1 Diabetes                                                                                                                      **PWD – People With Diabetes

Day 3: Nutrition and teaching the experts

Back in November, I offered my help to PINNT to write an article for a nutritional magazine on the subject of being a parent to a tube-fed child. I wanted to share our experiences of the last 12 months and, upon reading the questions asked, I felt it was a real opportunity to reach out and teach the medical professionals who work with families like ours. The potential impact of this article is huge as the magazine has a UK readership of over 13,000 health professionals and is the only nutrition magazine that reaches across the nutrition profession.

magsIn addition to virtually every practising dietician in the UK, it is mailed directly to all senior gastroenterologists, all nutrition nurse specialists and all nutrition pharmacists, as well as lecturers, industry professionals, consultant dieticians and students.

 For day 3 of Feeding Tube Awareness week, I thought I’d include the transcript of my article here:

When did you first learn that your child would need to be nutritionally supported by enteral nutrition?

After four years of increasing food exclusions and a raft of daily medicines, M was still massively symptomatic from his EC and the decision was taken in November 2014 to move him to an elemental feed. His NG tube was passed in early December.

Reflecting back to this stage in your life, what thoughts and emotions were going through your head?

The possibility of a move to enteral feeding had been on my radar for over a year and I had become increasingly certain that it was the best way to try to ease the ongoing symptoms and pain that he was experiencing. The heartbreak of holding my sobbing child at 3am, with tears streaming down my own face, as I struggled to find the words to bring him the comfort that nothing else could bring at that moment in time, had left me willing to try anything to ease his pain.

It took Mike longer to come to terms with the prospect of feeding M via a tube, but by the time we agreed with his consultant that we needed to give it a go, we both felt that it was the chance to give M and his body some much-needed relief. The short-term plans we’d been following for the past three years had been all well and good, but we now needed a longer-term care plan put into place as we just couldn’t keep limping from one appointment to the next with different problems constantly cropping up and nothing really being resolved. The consultant warned us that the enteral nutrition might not be the answer we were looking for, but we were desperate enough to still want to try it and stubborn enough to believe it would be what M needed.

At the time of your child commencing on enteral nutrition, what support and information where you provided with from health professionals, and did you feel this support and information was enough?

AdviceWe weren’t provided with any information about enteral feeding beforehand from the health professionals involved in M’s care and I found most of our information came from online support groups, such as PINNT and FABED. Disappointingly, we then had very limited support from the hospital as the dietician and consultant were both keen to get him discharged as soon as possible and ignored my concerns that we had no local support from our home hospital. Fortunately the nursing staff helped me fight his corner and made sure that both Mike and I were relatively confident in how to manage his tube and work his feeding pump before we went home. M was discharged just 10 days before Christmas and I was really concerned that we would have difficulties accessing any support over the festive period – it was thanks to the wonderful support group parents, the hospital nursing team (who gave me their direct phone number on the ward) and our community nurse that we not only survived, but managed to enjoy Christmas as a family in our own home.

Since being on enteral nutrition what type of long-term care and support has your child received from hospital/community health professional team?

We have a somewhat complex 3-tiered support system in place:

  • The overall plans for his enteral feeding and the slow re-introductions of food into his diet are managed by his consultant and dietician at Great Ormond Street. I speak to his dietician every 3 weeks to review what’s going on and tweak his care; and we see them both every 3-4 months.
  • His tube changes are done every 6-8 weeks at the CIU (Clinical Investigations Unit) at our local hospital, who have listened to his needs and help make the appointments run as smoothly as possible with the involvement of play therapists to help distract him.20141207_124217
  • Our community nurse has helped provide training as needed and is regularly in touch to help and advise as we need.

It may be a somewhat “clunky” approach, but nearly one year on, it’s close to a well-oiled machine and works for us.

How has having a child being fed via enteral nutrition affected your family unit as a whole (thinking about siblings, time in hospital, holidays, etc.)?

Having a child with a chronic illness affects family dynamics and adding enteral feeding to the mix just meant a few additional, albeit significant tweaks for us. The regular hospital appointments do interrupt our daily routine, so I work hard to make sure that life is as stable and as “normal” as possible the rest of the time. M obviously has to take time off school for his appointments, so I try to make sure that he doesn’t miss more than is necessary. I do worry that G gets side-lined at times as our focus so often has to be on M and managing his feeding needs. 20150208_181917We’ve encouraged her to get involved as much as possible and as much as she wants, and she is now very capable of helping with his feeding pump. She’s recently started horse-riding, which is something M doesn’t do and gives me some time to spend just with her. As for our holidays, in the past we often went abroad, but didn’t feel confident enough to try it this first year with his tube. Instead we went to Cornwall this summer, with our car packed full of all the necessary medical equipment and enjoyed an amazing week away. We’re now feeling much more able to cope and are hoping to go to Portugal next summer.

When thinking about nursery/schooling, have you come up against any barriers or obstacles (if applicable)?

The impact of M’s ever-changing health has been particularly profound over the last couple of years and there is no doubt in my mind that the unfailing support of their school has been a steadying force not just for G and M, but for the family as a whole. They were willing to have M in school as normal within days of coming home from hospital and 5 members of staff were trained on the intricacies of his tube and feeds so that he could take part in every planned activity with confidence. The positive attitude of the teaching and support staff has also rubbed off on the children and his classmates have been brilliant at accepting his tube at face value and now don’t even seem to see it.

How and when did you first hear about PINNT?

I first became aware of PINNT through the EGID support group, FABED, and other parents of children receiving enteral nutrition, who all recommended PINNT as a great source of support. I then had an invitation to our local PINNT group’s next meeting.support

How has PINNT supported you?

Whilst we were waiting for M to be started on enteral nutrition, I researched and read as much as I could about elemental feeding and NG tubes – most of that information was on the PINNT website and explained it in a really accessible way. I love getting the newsletters and reading about people on all forms of enteral feeding. Similarly Mike has found huge reassurance in learning that there are people out there who have not only lived on enteral feeding for years, but have thrived on it and that moving M to it could be a positive step. It helps knowing that we’re not on our own and that there is always somewhere to get advice and support from those living on enteral nutrition whenever we need it.

If there was one piece of advice you could provide other parents with, who have a child commencing on enteral nutrition, what would this be?

When you first hear that your child needs to start on enteral nutrition, it’s almost inevitable that you will feel a great sense of failure and a huge fear about what the months ahead will bring. It’s so important to remember that enteral feeding doesn’t mean you failed your child, but that their health needs mean they need that extra boost to get them through each day. After nearly a year on his NG-tube, M has become the fun-loving, caring and somewhat cheeky little boy we all knew was hiding somewhere inside him. Feeding him via his tube has become second nature to us and it hasn’t stopped him, or the family, doing anything we’ve wanted to. The best news is that we’ve just enjoyed the most “normal” year of our lives ever.

If there was one recommendation that you could make to health professionals, involved in the care of patients on enteral nutrition, in order to improve patient care, what would this be?

I wrote this impassioned plea to medical professionals in my blog earlier this year and feel it encapsulates what I want to say to all healthcare providers:

For most of us, you are our firefighters and the people we are forced to depend on in our darkest moments. We need you to be strong, focussed and the experts that we are not, BUT we also need you to be gentle, compassionate and understand that you are holding the future of our most precious possessions in your hands. Don’t dismiss our concerns, but believe that we know our children best and have an insight or opinion that is just as valid as your professional one. Don’t belittle our emotions, but be empathetic when they overcome us and when we need a shoulder to cry on more than anything else in that moment. Be honest, but in the kindest way, knowing that your words have the power to break us when we least expect it. Most of all, understand that we are constantly living in fear about our children’s health and life and future, so they don’t have to.

 

pancake*I can’t let today’s post pass without a nodding acknowledgement that it is, in fact, Shrove Tuesday; the day when many of us enjoy a pancake or two before the start of Lent. I can’t even remember whether we managed to eat pancakes last year as M had only just started to trial foods after his 8 weeks on E028, but there’s a sneaking recollection that maybe my Mum cooked some for G, whilst the rest of us ignored the day to the best of our ability. I’m excited that this year I will once again be able to cook pancakes for the whole family and, just in case you need an allergy-friendly recipe to cook for your loved one, I’ve got the perfect one here. Enjoy!

 

What’s in a word

I’ve long been aware that when it comes to understanding M, it really pays to understand how he interprets and sees the world. As for so many who live with chronic illness, M’s life is coloured by his EGID and multiple food allergies, and his view of “normal” is understandably skewed by his daily experiences. Courtesy of katbiggie.comThe sad reality is that M has been living with the symptoms of EC for so long that he doesn’t always realise when something he’s feeling isn’t usual and we have often discovered a symptom months, or even years after it first started to happen. These problems are frequently something we could have helped resolve sooner and it is never clear just how long M has been coping with it on his own.

My first experience of this was when M had his second set of scopes done 2 years ago. The nurse had started him on Klean-prep via a NG-tube and told M to tell her if he started to have reflux whilst it was pumping into him. Reflux was something we hadn’t struggled with since he was a baby and so he didn’t know what she meant. My explanation that he might feel nauseous or have some sickness come up into his mouth was met by a puzzled look, “…but Mummy, I get sick in my mouth all the time, why do I need to tell her if that happens?” He was genuinely perplexed by this request and I was made suddenly aware that there was an awful lot more going on with him than we really knew about.

Strangely, during our latest GOSH admission, that issue with reflux once again raised its ugly head and yet again, M more or less accepted it as being back in his life without complaint. When we first learned about the reflux, we worked hard to uncover when it was happening most and started him on a daily medicine to help treat the symptoms. We quickly found that it appeared to be triggered when he ate potatoes and raisins and by cutting those from his diet as well as the new medication, the reflux fortunately seemed to ease. The day after we started the potato food challenge in hospital, M complained that he was struggling with some reflux and explained in extremely graphic details to nurses, dietician and registrar what he felt. Whilst they made note of this problem, disappointingly they didn’t do anything to ease the discomfort he was in and delivered that line of “…he just needs to push through this…” that I quickly came to hate. Their dismissive attitude shown so clearly in front of M and obviously picked up on by him despite the illusion of him being absorbed by the TV whilst plugged into his headphones, meant that he stopped mentioning it and the medics assumed that it was a one-off event only.

It wasn’t until they needed to start adding senna to the klean-prep to clear his system that we learned that M had not been 100% open about what was going on. The conversation had turned to whether he would willingly take the senna by mouth or if it was best pushed down his tube, when M casually commented that it didn’t really matter as he would end up tasting it either way. A little gentle prodding by his nurse soon revealed that the reflux had in fact been ongoing since the food challenges began and during that middle week of our stay, he had been experiencing the vile taste of the bowel prep in his mouth on a very regular basis.

This story for me explains why it is so important for the medical teams to understand that every child is an individual and have very different levels of what they can accept and cope with, particularly when it comes to gastro conditions. In M’s case, this means that knowing how to phrase questions and interpret his answers is key to learning more about how he feels, especially when it comes to his coping strategies. For a number of years, Mike and I have repeatedly told our consultant that we firmly believe M lives with a level of pain that he has come to accept as his “normal”. When you see M running around with his friends or experience the whirlwind force of his personality, this can be difficult to believe and the fact that, between my reluctance to allow either child to stay home from school unless they’re dying and M’s determination to be in the midst of everything as much as possible, he has remarkably good school attendance for a child with a chronic illness, is in stark contrast to the picture we’ve tried to paint.

It’s at times like these that the words used with M, and by M, can reveal the most. At one of the many meetings I had with his consultant during our admission, she and I had talked about what the future holds for M. She told me that we might just have to accept that he would need to live with a level of pain that others might consider unacceptable, so that he has a more varied diet to choose from and my words that he already lived with enough pain seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was only when M met with the lovely GOSH gastro psychologist half-way through our stay that he was finally able to talk about how he feels each and every day. Whats-in-a-wordShe quickly established that M differentiates between a “pain” and an “ache”, which meant that unless he was asked the right question, M would proffer surprising answers.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, as we have repeatedly said, M has an almost constant ache in his tummy and bowels that he has just accepted as part of his reality. He doesn’t call that “pain” and, perhaps because of my unwillingness to unnecessarily dope him up on Calpol at the drop of hat, he doesn’t expect to have anything more than a hot water bottle or wheat bag to treat that discomfort. M calls that an “ache” and when asked to rate how that feels, he cheerily announced it was usually around a 4, the level where they would start to offer pain relief on ward. So when he was asked by the nursing team if he was suffering any “pain”, his answer was almost always a no except when he was experiencing a severe tummy cramp – his definition of what a “pain” was. The nurses had been struggling to understand how he could be rating his pain at an 8 or 9 at one point, only to say less than 5 minutes later that he had no pain at all before they’d even had time to give him any pain relief. This insight into the workings of M’s mind was invaluable as it meant that finally we all – doctors, parents and M himself – were singing from the same hymn sheet and receiving accurate feedback from M about how he was feeling; and all because we now understood the power in a word.

Reflections of an admission

strictly-craig

“I think we can all agree that this admission has been a complete disaster”

Mike and I could have been forgiven for expecting to see Craig Revel Horwood in the room, but in fact those were the opening words of M’s consultant at our meeting on day 13 of his admission. A meeting attended by on-call gastro consultants, ward registrars, dietician, nurses and the gastro psychologist and where not one of them disagreed. When those are the words you hear uttered by one of the senior gastro consultants at Great Ormond Street Hospital, you know that things have gone really badly wrong. To say that Mike and I were surprised to hear them offered as the opening gambit is an understatement: we had gone into this meeting prepared for battle, expecting to have to defend our opinion that M’s current deterioration was due to the food challenges, that same discussion I’d been having for the previous 10 days with that same multitude of medics, and without warning they appeared to have come round to our way of thinking.

Since M’s discharge, lots of people have asked about the admission and what happened whilst we were in London. The plan for the original 2-week admission was to trial 4 foods whilst we were there – potato and egg, which we hadn’t done at home – and banana and salmon, which we had, but he had failed previously. The original expectations as discussed and agreed with both his consultant and dietician were that he’d start to show a reaction within 48 hours of starting each food and so the admission was to look like this: 3 days observation to understand his “normal”, 8 days of food challenges – a new food every 2 days whilst continuing with the previous ones – and then 3 days to assess before sending him home. This approach of challenging with 4 foods in 10 days was ambitious to say the least and left no wriggle room for recovery if he failed at any point. Given we are used to spending at least 5 days slowly introducing a new food to M and then expect to take a week, if not longer, to get back to normal, it quickly becomes evident why things didn’t go according to plan.

3 days observation – these happened, but they hadn’t allowed for just how upset M would be by the short-notice of his admission. As I had packed our case having picked him up from school, I could hear him sobbing in the other room and discovered him lying on G’s bed, wrapped in her arms as he cried about missing her birthday and being away from home in the lead up to Christmas. This traumatised him so much that, as for so many people even without gastro issues, his tummy/bowels/digestion were upset and didn’t behave as the “normal” we’d got used to over the last 12 months. This was to later prove a problem as the ward doctors insisted he was constipated on admission and struggled to accept that these new foods were in fact the issue.

8 days of food challenges – we started with potato at a speed and quantity that I just couldn’t comprehend. There was no go-slow and gently increasing his intake here, instead he was allowed to eat “as much as he wants” and after 2 years without potato,12309588_10153139593761123_4933720941134322006_o believe me he went at it with gusto, even eating 6 roast potatoes at one sitting. Within the first 24 hours he started to show reactions to the potato  – severe reflux, tummy aches, a constant need to wee and he started to soil again, something he really struggled with on an emotional level. The ward doctors refused to believe he could be reacting so quickly and their repeated mantra to me soon became “it’ll take 4-6 weeks for him to show a reaction” and “he just needs to push through this“. As each food was introduced, things got worse and worse as he was now completely incontinent, a position we hadn’t found ourselves in for a year. All the signs of his bowel starting to shut down were there as he was weeing for Britain, his appetite was dropping off and his energy levels started to wane and I kept saying that these indicated he was failing the foods, only to be told that it wasn’t possible. They were palpating his tummy twice a day and insistent it felt fine and every conversation ended with “it’ll take 4-6 weeks..yada yada yada…” – by now you get the picture! By day 8, they finally agreed to x-ray and, lo and behold, he was chronically impacted. This x-ray was apparently one of the clearest they’ve ever seen showing it – solid black throughout his colon due to the blockage.

Then came the heated discussions about why this had happened. They were insistent that he must have come into hospital constipated, though how a child who goes every day can be constipated they’ve still to satisfactorily explain to me, and I was equally insistent that he wasn’t. We ended up agreeing to disagree as neither of us could prove it either way, though it has now been noted that should M be admitted again, they will x-ray at the start of the process to make sure we all know the state of his bowel.

3 days assess/discharge11018900_932190456872138_8699359326763992708_obecame 6 days of powerful bowel prep continuously via M’s NG-tube plus additional senna for the last 3 of those as things simply weren’t shifting as hoped. I have honestly never seen him so ill as he was by the end of that week – bent double from the cramps, crying, refusing to move from bed or engage with anyone, lethargic and rating his pain at an 11 or 12. Throughout this time he was expected to continue all 4 foods, just in case his obvious bowel reactions were actually nothing to do with the challenges and they had introduced a daily dose of senna to keep things moving, something we hadn’t needed at all during the 12-months being tube-fed.

We finally came home after a further 5 days of “recovery” time in hospital and decided to stop banana and salmon straight away as well as the daily laxative. Things slowly started to improve and we made the decision to allow him to have egg and potato in small amounts for a few more days over Christmas. However, since the 27th we’ve stopped those too and gone back to just his 5 safe foods – and he has recovered amazingly. No tummy aches or pains, as much energy as we’re used to, back to regularly using the toilet with no issues and much, much happier in himself. The medics would no doubt argue that it’s difficult to pinpoint when things started going wrong, but to me it seems obvious: the introduction of these 4 foods is undoubtedly the root cause of his bowel problems in GOSH.

That’s the truth behind our December admission and yet to many I’ve no doubt it will seem that it all went incredibly well. You see, the one thing that was achieved during our stay was that M’s NG-tube was removed and my little superstar has proved us all wrong by accepting the challenge of drinking his feed head-on and is drinking a much-reduced volume on a daily basis.IMG_0067 M’s consultant was very determined to get the NG-tube out and at times it felt to us that it was her sole focus for the duration of the admission, which was difficult to cope with when we were needing and hoping for so much more. Achieving that has been amazing, but he hasn’t suddenly started eating a “normal” diet, in fact he’s exactly where he was before we went in, and the need for the elemental feed (E028) is still very much there. The flip-side of losing the tube is that M’s EGID, multiple food allergies and limited diet whilst not diminishing in any respect, have once again become hidden, a set of invisible illnesses, and we have all had to adapt our expectations by keeping that knowledge firmly in the front of our minds. That single small step forward simply does not cancel out the many massive steps backwards that happened whilst we were in hospital and doesn’t acknowledge the harsh reality that very little else in his life has actually changed.

Early arrivals

efcniToday, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day. A day that acknowledges the early arrival of 15 million babies across the world every year, a statistic that increases annually. Pre-term births are defined as “babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed”, but…

What do you think of when you think of a premature baby?

You might recall images of micro-preemies, those babies born so early and so small that they can be cradled in the palm of their parents’ hands. You might think of babies covered with tubes and wires, enclosed in incubators or even tucked into supermarket sandwich bags to help keep them warm enough to survive. You might know of the risks associated with an early arrival and how hard the doctors, nurses and parents fight, with every inch of their being, to get those babies through another day and another long night. You may even have survived the weeks of hoping to get “just one more” week through your pregnancy, knowing that every single hour counts.

The thing is that preemie babies come in all shapes and sizes; the reasons for their early arrival are many and varied; and every family has a similar, but also hugely different story to tell. Each parent and child has their own individual challenges to face and yet premature birth is a common bond that links them all. Let me introduce you to 3 special preemies, each with a unique set of circumstances and a shared experience marking their arrival  :

20131118_191134Of course, you’ve already met the first one: G just crept into the premature category, arriving at 36+6 nearly 12 years ago and weighing an extremely respectable 8lbs. Her delivery was the result of fears about my T1D and the signs that my placenta was beginning to fail, so the doctors made the decision to deliver her to ensure she had the best start in life. Even though she had an initial problem with plummeting blood sugars, G’s stay in SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) was short at just 3 days and thanks to the wonderfully supportive nurses on the High Dependency ward who looked after us both, Mike, G and I were able to come home a week after she was born and spent our first family Christmas together at home.

M was even more impatient to arrive than his big sister, although his birth weight of 5lbs 12.5oz at 33+1 gestation was equally impressive. M spent his first few days on NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), although there were times we felt something of a fraud, especially compared to the tiny 26-weeker 2 cribs along, who had been born at exactly 5lbs less than him. We had been warned from the moment I was first admitted at 26 weeks pregnant that once he arrived, M would almost inevitably need to stay in hospital until he reached his due date. It is of great credit to the dedicated doctors and nurses who looked after him that we were, in fact, able to bring him home after just 3.5 weeks and in perfect time for Mothers’ Day.

10329684_10152507367497848_7913075952615166607_oAnd this tiny, but beautiful fighter is B, the second son of our close friends and M’s godparents, L and C. Due to fetal distress resulting from pre-eclampsia, B was born at 27+2, weighing just 1lb 9oz and has had a very different battle so far than either G or M. He had suspected NEC (Necrotising Enterocolitis) in hospital and for a week things were very touch and go. Despite this rocky beginning, B is an incredible battler and even though he came home on oxygen after a long 98 days in hospital, 5 weeks later he had been successfully weaned off that too. 18 months on, he is a happy, loving little boy, who may be on the small side for his age, but is otherwise doing well and I know that his parents, just like us, will be forever grateful to those medics who have helped B fight and win.

image_for_happy_world_prematurity_day_5715493946These 3 precious bundles may not have had the easiest start in their lives, but we are lucky that they have each survived and become an irreplaceable part of our families. With a national health service that is in crisis, the neonatal units where G, M and B and thousands like them are cared for on a daily basis are seriously overstretched and understaffed. These children need an incredible level of specialist care to help them make it through those critical first few days and weeks of life and the doctors and nurses who give it are simply amazing as they offer not just medical care to the babies, but emotional support to the whole family. That is a gift that cannot be easily replaced and we know that we were extremely fortunate to be able to receive it.

Because #livinginfear is not *just* about the allergies

I wrote yesterday about the #livinginfear campaign and started thinking about what that really means to me.  I quickly realised that #livinginfear is not what I want for M or, indeed, for G.  It is so important that they are both aware of their allergies and that M, in particular, could suffer adverse reactions to the foods he eats.  They must take on responsibility for their own health when away from home and have an understanding about what they eat and what they have to avoid.  They need to know how to deal with mild reactions and how to communicate their needs to the people around them, especially when in new situations, or when Mike and I are not there to speak up on their behalf.  After our experience with the sweet potato trials, they now know that there could be other, more serious reactions that M’s not experienced before and that they could be frightening.  Most critically, I need to teach them how to respond calmly should those reactions occur.

dsc02717However, the most important thing is this: that my children are still children and whilst living with a chronic illness has forced them both to grow up a little faster than their friends and peers, I don’t want them shouldering adult worries or concerns, or feeling weighed down with fears that may never be realised.  Until the point when they reach their majority, I want my children to laugh, play and simply live each day as children, trusting that Mike and I will always be there supporting them, ready to catch them when they fall.

The truth about #livinginfear for us is that it is my burden to bear and is about more that just the potential for serious allergic reactions.  My fear is not even about M possibly suffering from anaphylaxis one day as, although the prospect of facing that is daunting, I trust that my parental instincts and ability to stay calm under pressure would get me through that most difficult of experiences.

No, that weekend highlighted for me what my true and biggest fear about his allergies and his health really is:  that I will not be believed…that I will become “that” parent…and that the health professionals involved in my child’s care will doubt what I say, thinking I’m causing a fuss about something that is simply not true.  The years spent chasing a diagnosis despite everything the doctors were telling us have taken their toll on my self-belief.  I second guess myself at every turn.  I discuss and dissect and deliberate my every waking thought about M with Mike to check that I’m not going mad, that he, at least, understands where I’m coming from and that I’m not being unreasonable or over-reacting to the situation.

Nothing demonstrates that self-doubt more than the fact that I insisted we tried M on the sweet potato again the following day when Mike was there, just so he could see the reaction for himself and confirm that what I had seen, and M had experienced, was true.  Despite my natural concerns that it could have been an anaphylactic reaction, I needed Mike to be an eye-witness to it too and I had our back-up plans in place, just in case his response was even worse that time round (fortunately it wasn’t).  I didn’t want to put M through the terror and pain of the reaction again, what parent would, but I needed to be certain that I hadn’t imagined it to be more extreme than it actually was.

I know that my confidence has been shattered by the very people who should have been supporting me and my family every step along the way – the medical professionals we’ve encountered on our journey.  I am no longer comfortable in trusting my gut instincts about M’s health, even though I have been proved right time after time after time; and that’s simply not acceptable.

willowtreeBeing a parent is a hard enough job when you have a happy, healthy child – there are no superheroes living in secret in my local community as far as I’m aware; but the burden quickly becomes overwhelming once you throw a chronic illness into the mix.  I find myself not always being able to state my case clearly or argue M’s corner when it matters most and I lie awake worrying in the middle of the night that the treatment I’ve demanded may not be the best course of action, or whether there was anything I forgot to mention at the most recent appointment.  I know myself to be a strong, intelligent woman and yet I find myself being instantly returned to my school days, with all the mixed emotions of being sent to see the Headmaster, the minute I find myself facing a consultant.

And I worry that G is getting lost in the chaos that is hospital stays and food allergies and medicines and diagnostic tests and the relentless need to monitor, record and report everything.  As she approaches her SATs and the prospect of moving up to “big” school looms ever nearer, my firstborn is growing up fast and I wonder how our relationship will survive the inevitable traumas of her teenage years when my focus so often has to be on her younger brother. Time together is rare and incredibly precious and something we both need and enjoy because I’m fully aware that I’m not necessarily getting this parenting thing right.

So, raising awareness this week has to be not just with the general public, although that is undoubtedly critical to protect the allergy-sufferers around us, but within the medical community too.  For most of us, you are our firefighters and the people we are forced to depend on in our darkest moments.  We need you to be strong, focussed and the experts that we are not, BUT we also need you to be gentle, compassionate and understand that you are holding the future of our most precious possessions in your hands.  Don’t dismiss our concerns, but believe that we know our children best and have an insight or opinion that is just as valid as your professional one.  Don’t belittle our emotions, but be empathetic when they overcome us and we need a shoulder to cry on more than anything else in that moment.  Be honest, but in the kindest way, knowing that your words have the power to break us when we least expect it.  Most of all, understand that we are constantly #livinginfear about our children’s health and life, so they don’t have to.