The joys of the walk-in blood test clinic

November 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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Last time I had my monthly (now three-monthly) rheumy nurse appointment at the surgery, they happened to be running the first walk-in blood test clinic. These will run every Thursday – no appointment necessary, just turn up any time on Thursday, take a ticket, sit down, wait to be called and have your blood taken. No actual nurse appointment – in and out, ram in the needle, suck the blood, off you go. Well … that’s the theory.

My rheumy nurse had blithely assured me that they had run trials on this and each person could be seen and sent on their merry way in 1.5 minutes. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that this wasn’t quite the way things were going on the day I happened to be there. As I say, I wasn’t there for one of these walk-in tests – I just had the dubious pleasure of observing while waiting for my appointment. I am supposed to go along in a couple of weeks time for one.

Well I arrived around 8:30 for my appointment and saw a big board on the wall with raffle-ticket type numbers on it. They had obviously run from 1 to 50 but 40 of the tickets were already gone and the waiting room was alarmingly full. As I sat down a weary looking phlebotomist poked her head round the door and yelled ‘Seven … seven? Is number seven here?’ Number seven was not there – I think number seven had got fed up with waiting and gone home!

‘Eight … number eight?’ A grumpy woman got up and pointed out she’d been there since 7:30 that morning and had now waited an hour for one of these quick appointments.

When I went in for my appointment (dead on time, bless her!) my dear nurse looked a tad frazzled. ‘What IS going on out there?’ I asked, and she explained that this was the first run of this new system, they were two nurses down  and the practice manager was on holiday! She was trying to fit in the odd ‘walk in’ patient on top of her full rheumy list, to help out.

Well – that couldn’t be helped, could it? I mean if people call in sick, you’re stuck, aren’t you? No one to blame. And of course the NHS can’t afford to employ locum/bank nurses to fill in – just one of those things, I thought.

Then I thought again. I know this place, I thought … ‘Erm … dear rheumy nurse,’ says I, ‘how long have these ladies been off sick?’

‘Oh, don’t!’ says the dear nurse, ‘Joan’s been off so long I can’t even remember and Julie’s recovering from an operation so she’ll be off a while.’

Right … so whose bright idea was it to start off this system KNOWING they were two staff down and couldn’t possibly cope? I don’t know but I can guess … someone who was on holiday, perhaps?

By the way, when I came out from my 15 minute appointment there was a nurse shouting ‘Ten … number 10 …’

So ‘we can turn these people round in 1.5 minutes’ had apparently turned into ‘We can turn these people around in … um … probably about 15 minutes’ given that there were two nurses doing this walk-in full-time and others stepping in when they could.

Number 43 was off the board by then – I wonder how long until they ran out of tickets – I overheard a receptionist saying, ‘Oh, I think they’ve all gone – you’ll have to come back next week’ to someone, before realising there were some tickets left, so presumably there are only 50 slots and ‘Turn up any time on Thursday will actually mean ‘Turn up before 9 on Thursday or you’ll be out of luck.’

Of course the new Clinical Commissioning system that is now in place but not in place and has no one actually running it is no doubt partly to blame … but that’s a whole nuther story …

Healthline Best Health Blog Contest

November 22, 2013 at 9:40 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Hurrah – Pollyanna Penguin’s blog has been nominated for Best Health Blog by Healthline … along with a HUGE number of other blogs, including a goodly number of those in my blogroll … maybe even all of them, I haven’t checked – certainly Carla’s Corner and Rheumablog are up there too, as is Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy, Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior – who came second last year, pipped to the post by a breast cancer blog.

You can vote for US ALL (and more) here if you want to – or if I manage to set up a nifty little voting widget like Wren has on Rhuemablog you can vote through that – and if you can cope with the slightly convoluted ‘Vote via Facebook or Twitter’ system and the fact that to find the blog you’re looking for you have to keep clicking on ‘alphabetical’ and guessing what page it’s likely to be – here’s a clue – I think we’re on page 15 at the moment and all the others beginning with R are not far after! :-) However, make sure you’re in ‘alphabetical’ and not ‘popularity’ or you’ll be completely thrown!

All votes greatly appreciated – there are many more deserving than me – so go vote for them … but while you’re at it I’d love to have a vote too! <Grin>

Three-monthly blood tests

November 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 7 Comments
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The hospital has decreed that patients on methotrexate for RA no longer need monthly blood tests – they will now be three-monthly instead. Now I don’t have a problem with having my blood tests every three months – as yet I’ve never had a single blip in my tests and if the hospital say three-monthly is safe I suppose I have to believe them and not just assume this is purely a cynical money-saving exercise: ‘Hey, what’s the odd life lost compared to a few thousand pounds saved, eh? Let’s do it! Right lads, down the pub …’

What I do have a problem with is the fact that they can’t book tests three months in advance, and yet we’ve been told to contact the rheumy nurse to make the next appointment. There IS NO WAY to contact her except by making an appointment to see her … a bit of a circular argument! My sensible and lovely nurse realised this straight away and in fact pointed it out to me with a comment on the lines of ‘I’ve told them ALL individually in reception, so don’t take any nonsense if they tell you that you should have booked it through me!’

OK, so that’s hopefully sorted out even before it becomes a problem, but how crazy that we can’t just book the tests when we see the nurse!

The surgery have also arranged monthly ‘walk-in clinic’ tests for the months we don’t see the rheumy nurse … but that’s a whole nuther story … a post to come in a day or so.

At last – significant, coordinated research into the WHYs of RA!

October 9, 2013 at 11:27 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Look around the RA blogging community for a while and you’ll see some consistent themes. One is that it’s hard to explain to Joe Public what RA is – another is that most of the drugs are by-products of research into other diseases (methotrexate for example, and most of the biologics were developed as cancer treatments) and there is little fundamental research into RA.

That picture has been getting better over the last few years, and it’s taking another step in the right direction. Arthritis Research UK, along with the Universities of Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham,  is funding a major new initiative, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre of Excellence, to be run from Glasgow. The centre’s main focus will be on why RA starts, why it attacks the joints, and why it doesn’t stop. These are fundamental questions, basic science, but the answers, if they can find them, are likely to lead to a host of potential new treatments.

As I understand it the ‘centre’ is virtual rather than physical, but it will mean the three universities and other partners undertaking major collaborations into these fundamental areas.

Science is a slow business – results may be a long time coming – but it’s great to know that there is a good level of funding for this fundamental research into rheumatoid arthritis.

And remember – if you’re based in the UK too, you can get 20% of Physicool products until 9 November 2013.

Physicool products – 20% off

October 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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Further to my review of a Physicool cooling bandage, I’m delighted to announce that the company are offering 20% off to anyone putting in the code ‘penguin‘ into the coupons option at the checkout, until 9 November 2013.

At the moment this only applies to readers in the UK.

Physicool

Please note: I do not work for this company or stand to make any profit from this in any way. I found it a useful product and if you choose to use this promotion then I hope you do too!

Ankle pain … but not RA?

October 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 7 Comments

I have had very severe ankle pain since Thursday – but I don’t think it can be RA because it’s on the outside of my ankle. My anatomy is pretty poor but I’ve done some Google searches and some reading and I don’t think the outside ankle joint is a synovial joint – no synovial joint, presumably no RA? Could it just be a sprain? I don’t see how because I have no recollection of spraining it or going over on that ankle or anything, so I really don’t know what’s going on.

I have been pretty unsuccessful at keeping it up – I did keep it up for most of Friday and cancelled work and two different plans to see friends, but when it came to cancelling our wedding anniversary plans I … erm … forgive the fun … put my foot down! We had a lovely wedding anniversary lunch in Norwich on Saturday – but maybe pounding round the shops beforehand wasn’t such a great idea? Although having said that, we did buy a new bed, which is something that’s been on the list for quite a while and which could help with all these problems, since it’s always worst at night.

Now there’s a thing – I’d figured (until I started looking up ankles in Wikipedia etc.!) that it must be RA because it was either RA or osteo and osteo would be worse if I walked on it, not at night in bed … but now I’m thinking perhaps I’ve just sprained something.

Any thoughts to help out a confused Penguin would be much appreciated!

Of course, like the recent hip pain, I’ll be delighted it if it isn’t RA-related as I needn’t start panicking that the methotrexate isn’t doing its job!

Review – Physicool – it sure is cool!

October 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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The nice folks at Physicool asked me to review their cooling bandage combination pack. I said I’d be very happy to do so provided they didn’t mind a completely honest review – and they kindly agreed and sent me a pack to try out. So here goes:

What is Physicool?

Physicool is a rapid evaporant which can be poured or sprayed onto their bandages. The liquid quickly evaporates into the air, drawing away the heat from the inflamed area and creating a cooling effect,

What is the combination pack?

The combination pack that Ian at Physicool sent me consists of a 3m long bandage and a 500 ml bottle of coolant. The bandage comes in its own small foil packet with coolant already applied, and that packet and the coolant bottle are packaged in another foil packet.

Combination Pack Shot 2

Opening the packs

On first use the seal along the top of both packages has to be torn off. My arthritis hands struggled slightly with the larger pack, but not much, and the smaller pack tore easily. Each pack is then sealed with a typical push-together plastic seal – not sure what those are called but you hopefully get the idea! These open easily.

Applying the bandage

The bandage has to first be squeezed to remove any excess evaporant, but it doesn’t need a very hard squeeze so that didn’t prove a challenge. I used the bandage on my knee – although I had a ‘size A’ bandage which is more appropriate for wrists, ankles etc. The knee was where I had the inflammation though, and actually the size was fine. The bandage is neatly rolled inside the bag and easy to unwind and apply. It has a velcro-style strip which can be attached to itself or to the bandage.

What I liked

  • It works. It cooled the inflamed area really, REALLY fast and that meant the pain went away fast.
  • The bandage is easy to apply.
  • I only needed to use it for half an hour – after that I took off the bandage and my knee still felt really cool for another half an hour. But it should last for up to two hours – and it can then be re-charged and you can carry on using it.
  • It’s portable. I use an ice pack normally but I can’t use that at work because we have no freezer in the building! This is something I can keep at work, and also take on holiday. Fantastic!
  • The coolant supplied with the bandage should last for up to two hours of use – so I’ve got four applications in the bandage before I need to recharge.
  • There should be enough coolant in the recharge bottle for around 8 more thirty-minute uses.
  • The packs are quite easy to open and the bandage was easy to apply and it didn’t slip once I’d put it in place.

What I didn’t like

  • It’s wet. Well, it would have to be of course, because if it wasn’t it wouldn’t evaporate! However, because it is a rapid evaporant it doesn’t feel wet for long.
  • It has a smell. It’s not a bad smell, but it’s definitely a smell. No smell at all would be perfect, but if it has to smell this isn’t a particularly unpleasant one – just very slightly hospitally!
  • It needs to be exposed to the air to work effectively – otherwise it can’t evaporate so well, of course. This means that whichever bit of you is using the bandage has to be uncovered. Not a problem if you want it to be cool, you may think, but what if the knee’s the problem and the only way to ‘expose it’ is to roll up your trousers? that leaves you with a cold ankle and calf.
  • Because it needs to be exposed to the air, when I used it on my knee and then put my leg up, the underneath part was against my footrest, not exposed to the air. This meant I had a wet patch for a while under my leg after I took the bandage off. It did evaporate though!

Do the benefits outweigh the irritations?

DEFINITELY!  Now that I know what the ‘problems’ are for me, I can work around most of them. I can make sure I have a small blanket to cover any bits I don’t want exposed, and if I put my leg up, for instance, I can put it on a foot stool and leave the actually knee unsupported to avoid a wet patch. As to the smell and the temporary wetness – considering how incredibly effective this is at cooling the painful area – I can live with those.

Want to know more?

Watch

They have a page about Physicool and arthritis here. Or visit the websites – physicool.co.uk in the UK, physicool.us in the US, or go to physicool.com to find a local distributor where you are.

Bloodless penguin – and more surgery hassles

September 24, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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I mentioned to the facilities manager as I left work this morning that I was off for a blood test. When I saw him later he asked, ‘So did they manage to confirm you had blood then?’ Well – actually it was a bit of a struggle! The first attempt to prove I had blood was a dismal failure – in went the needle, out came … nothing. The rhuemy nurse waggled the needle about – nothing happened … except that it hurt … she waggled it about some more … OUCH! We mutually agreed that perhaps trying another spot would be better. It wasn’t. Hmm … I’d walked in rapidly and everything, the blood should have been flowing … but perhaps the problem was that it had all rushed to my head a moment before! 

‘Why would it do that?’ I hear you cry. Because she’d just told me that the system of monthly blood tests was changing – in fact it was going. The new guidelines from the hospital are that we only need three-monthly blood tests done by the rheumy nurse. Well OK … that’s fine by me… but here’s the rub. 

At the moment I go in for my blood test, have a chat about my arthritis and general health, query anything that’s bothering me rhuemy-wise (usually not a lot, ’cause I’m lucky most of the time!) and book the next appointment. Now the appointment times are being reduced, so I will only see her every three months and have less time for a chat about how things are going because she will have less time per patient, even though she’s not seen us for three months. On top of that – she can no longer book the next appointment – because, mind-bogglingly, ‘the system’ won’t allow booking three months ahead!

I do wonder how much this has to do with the computer system and how much it has to do with the fact that the further in advance appointments are booked, statistically the more patients are likely to fail to attend! So now, instead of a simple month-by-month process of blood tests and booking, I have to remember to do an extra thing – phone about three weeks before my next test is due and book it.

Well, that’s not so bad – after all it’s only three-monthly, isn’t it? I’m still spending less time than I was before attending monthly? Not so fast … I am also supposed to attend in the two intervening months for a 2.5 minute appointment with a phlebotomist, who will just have time to say ‘Hi’, take the blood and throw me out again – but on top of that, that won’t even be an appointment but a ‘walk in’. So if they’re not busy (hah, what are the chances of that, especially as I happen to know they’re short staffed) I could get seen straight away, but if they are busy I could be waiting who knows how long.

I told my nurse I would probably simply not bother attending the phlebotomy walk-ins and she said she thought I would not be alone – she’d heard the same from a number of patients! Of course you could say, and quite rightly, that we’re putting our own health at risk doing that and the service is there … but in six years I’ve never had a blood issue, and I do have a full-time job and I don’t have time to sit about for an hour waiting for a blood test, so … we’ll see.

Anyway, back to today’s blood test – when she scraped me off the ceiling and calmed me down and got the blood flowing round the body again, she was finally able to draw blood … which, I hope, will be fine as usual!

Hip hip hooray!

August 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I’ve just been to see my GP about a very painful hip that’s been bothering me for about four weeks now and getting worse rather than better. (There’s little point in going until one is a few weeks into the pain as they just say ‘Come back if it’s not better in a few weeks’ if you do that!) I had been getting rather low thinking that the methotrexate increase wasn’t working – but in the back of mind I was wondering if it was arthritis at all. When I saw my rheumy nurse for the monthly blood test a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the hip pain and said, ‘Honestly, I don’t think it’s arthritis – I have plenty of movement in that hip. I could dance the can-can if I had the legs for it!’

Still, it’s funny how one’s mind can almost split into two on things like this; (well, my mind can, anyway). One part of me was thinking ‘Of course it’s not arthritis’ while the other part was thinking, ‘Doom, gloom, despair! My methotrexate increase hasn’t worked – there aren’t many options open to me if it doesn’t … will I end up in a wheelchair?’

Anyway, I saw the doc today and she confirmed that it’s NOT arthritis (or at least very unlikely to be, anyway) – far too much movement in the hip. She has referred me for physio for a dodgy ligament (technical term, that!) but the chances are, she thinks, that it’ll clear up in another few weeks by itself – so I’ll just cancel the appointment, because that’ll probably take three months to come through anyway!

The hip pain (and associated other pains including referred pain in the knee) has been making my life a misery and continues to do so. I have to limit the driving I do because it’s incredibly painful – it also affects work, but I’m very very happy it’s (almost certainly) not arthritis … though I would like to know what on earth caused the ligament to get upset because I haven’t done anything to it!

 

Update – RA, Cholesterol, Cats, Life etc.

August 10, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Well, I’ve been very remiss posting lately, I must say … so prepare for a very long and rambling post – perhaps I’ll put headings on so you can skip to the bits that you might find interesting! A combination of being very busy and yo-yo health – but fortunately, mostly busyness.

Fortunately/unfortunately

Anyone remember the game ‘fortunately, unfortunately’ where you’d take it turns to make sentences beginning with either fortunately or unfortunately, to make up a story? Well I was wondering whether to write an entire blog post like that, as my life seems to fit that pattern quite well right now – but thought it might get tedious, for you and me! Here’s an example though in case you have no idea what I mean:

Fortunately I have been doing a lot of fun things lately.

Unfortunately doing a lot of fun things is rather exhausting.

Fortunately I am, on the whole, sleeping quite well.

Unfortunately my Spanish teacher forgot I only drink decaf coffee and made me two fully ‘cafinated’ coffees last week, and I had a terrible night’s sleep (or lack of it) trying to climb down off the ceiling.

Etc. etc. 

Health

So – here we go with the update on the health front: About three weeks after my methotrexate increase in May I started to feel much better – go methotrexate! All those ‘regular’ niggly aches in my hands and feet were spirited away – I was still getting twinges and some knee pain (my knees probably being the worst affected bits of me) but no stiffness and none of that constant, nagging, draining pain. Hurrah! Unfortunately … sorry, just slipped into it there … it’s now about twelve weeks later and I’m feeling really pretty rotten. If you’re reading this then the chances are that I don’t need to describe that rotten feeling – you either know it only too well or you probably know me and I’ve moaned at you enough already – so suffice it to say I’m just not feeling good!

I’m hoping, and thinking it most likely, that it’s a temporary blip rather than that the methotrexate is ALREADY not doing the job. 

Cholesterol

On top of that I had my annual cholesterol test recently … hmm … suffice it to say I am now SERIOUSLY on a diet! :-( It’s very boring – actually that’s not really true – there’s a lot of GREAT and tasty food out there that’s fine for dieting, including much delicious fruit – but remember being a kid and having plenty of toys and games and friends, but you’re BORED and you DON’T WANT ANY OF THOSE? Well that’s how I feel right now about peipono melon and strawberries and lovely home-grown courgettes (zucchini) and all the other apparently delicious things in the fridge! I want caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake! But fortunately (sorry!) the weight is coming off so that’s encouraging me to avoid the cake and stick to the melon! Also I do NOT want to be on Statins at 46!!

Cats

And so to cats – it’s been absolutely ages since I mentioned my cats (or indeed my poor hubby, but he might have to wait for another post!) They are still, of course, a central part of my life (as are you hubby-dear, before you read this and complain) and in fact we may have to rename Enormous Cat as Mr. Handsome, as he has dieted (or perhaps I should say we have dieted him?) way more successfully than his penguin, so far. I should get encouragement from him – he’s ten years younger in sprightliness and joi de vivre, although (like me) he does complain loudly that he’s hungry sometimes! And Tiny Cat 2 has really come on – she’s gone from being a practically feral scardeycat to a real member of the family – she’s even been known to sit on my lap for twenty minute at a time and stay quite happily curled up next to hubby when he’s sat down beside her. (Not often – but increasingly.) 

Having fun (and occasionally working)

So … the rest of life: I had a lovely visit a few weeks ago to Bro and SIL’s new(ish) house in the Midlands – and we’ve visited some other friends and had some friends visit us; Hubby and I have been doing quite a bit of wildlife surveying which is fun; I’ve been doing a lot of crochet, trying to get something ready for a competition but I fear it’s NOT going to be close to ready  – but on the bright side I did get third prize in our local show for my crocheted St. Edwards Crown last month, so that was nice. I have also been trying out ‘Canadian smocking’ which is fun. Just small samples so far, practising on an old gingham curtain, because that way I don’t have to mark out squares on the fabric! I have a cunning plan for a clutch bag based on this technique – but no hurry … and the Spanish is coming on nicely – although to be honest I can understand my Spanish teacher fairly well but plonk me down in Barcelona and ask me to translate and I’m sure I still couldn’t understand a word! Still – getting better! And in amongst all this fun, fun, fun – work has, thank goodness, picked up lately, so we’re busy there too. No wonder I’m tired! 

Phew – sorry that was so rambly – I’m off for a lie down now … although Mr Handsome is trying to persuade me to feed him instead.

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