It went well!!

August 17, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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Well … I saw the rheumy nurse on Friday … and thankfully it was NOT the same one that I’ve seen in the past, and this one was a) human b) non-patronising c) cheerful and, perhaps most importantly, d) helpful! OK, so she read the doctor’s notes all wrong to start with and got in a bit of a muddle, but I’ll forgive her that given the points above! Although, as suspected, having an appointment in August was a bit of a waste of time in a way, at least this nurse says definitely now she’s met me she’s happy for me to phone in September and say if I feel the MTX needs increasing, in which case she will increase it.

Interestingly this nurse is someone that one of my friends has seen in the past and thought was awful … obviously a personality clash, just like the one I had with the previous nurse I saw. At least I’ve been lucky enough to change.

We also discussed this whole three months/ six months between appointments thing and although the news wasn’t good, at least she was frank about it. What it boils down to is they’re underfunded and under-staffed and while they’d love to see me every three months, it ain’t gonna happen. However, they have apparently improved the helpline (hoorah for that as it was rubbish when I used it last!)

I’m bloody glad I’m not flaring!

August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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I can now claim to know the car park at the hospital where I have physio quite intimately. I know how many spaces there are, I know what sort of trees surround it, I know the view across the fence over the corn field, I know there are blue tits and great tits and some sort of finch foraging in the trees, I know that the oak tree has a few early common spangle galls on it.

No, I wasn’t doing some sort of strange nature survey of the hospital car park – I was waiting for the RAC! Yes, the car has broken down AGAIN! Having lost my marbles and my rag, I have now also lost my car! (Well, hopefully not permanently, but it’s in the garage.)

My wonderful hubby drove out to see if he could help and,although he couldn’t, he waited another hour with me until the RAC arrived. It was a 2.5 hour wait in total – not fun.

Fortunately the RAC guy (who was nowhere near as lovely as the adverts would like you to believe, but OK) got the car going – but I had to take it into the garage because it was still showing faults.

I was patting myself on the back last night thinking how well I was coping with all this … but when I got home it all finally hit me. I felt absolutely exhausted, headachy, aching all over, sore hands, sore feet … hmm, so looks like a fibromyalgia AND RA flare, I thought. Lovely …

But no – I made myself get an early night, convinced myself that the car would probably be OK,managed not to worry too much and … well, I’d like to say I feel a million dollars today but that would be rather overstating things, but AS YET I am flare free. Yippee!

I can’t promise that’ll still be the case if there’s real car disasters on the horizon, but I’m OK for now!

Could be that having just had physio helped too!

Hospital appointment lost …

August 11, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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So, as I said in my last post, I got home from a cracking weekend away to find a letter telling me that due to my health professional being on annual leave, my hospital appointment for September 2009 was being postponed … for six months. Now it won’t surprise those of you who know me that I slightly lost my rag … it’s probably sitting somewhere with my marbles.

On Monday I phoned the hospital – the receptionist was suitably puzzled, perhaps even astonished, at the amount of delay, buy all she could do was put me through to the nurse practitioners’ secretary, and all she could do was add me to the cancellation list for September. ‘If you get to the top of the list, we’ll let you know and give you an appointment.’ She didn’t sound like she thought there was much chance of that.

So I asked her who I should make an official complaint to. She told me to contact the Patient Liaison Service and she put me through. This actually was NOT how you make an official complaint, but it was nevertheless a wise decision on her part as when I eventually spoke to the PaLS lady she was excellent – and sympathetic, unlike the secretary who had probably worked as a doctor’s receptionist before getting this job, and so I ended up NOT putting in a complaint…

But before I spoke to the excellent PaLS lady, I had to do the usual leaving of a message on the answerphone, waiting for a response, not getting a response, writing a stinking complaint letter and sending it off.

In my stinking letter I explained that not only was I having this appointment canceled, but in fact when I looked back at my diary it seemed that I had actually only seen the n.p., in April 2008. This is someone I am supposed to see every six months, interspersed with six-monthly consultant appointments so that I see a ‘rheumatology health professional’ every three months.

So … if I didn’t get to see her until March 2010, that would be a gap of just under two years in what is supposed to be a six-monthly appointment schedule!

I also pointed out that NICE guidelines state that a patient whose RA is not under control should be seen monthly. I didn’t hold out much hope for that argument, and I was right – ‘Well they are only guidelines, and we have to do what we can, but …’ but hey, when NICE are on your side you’ve got make the most of it! It doesn’t happen often!

Aaaaaanyway … the rather lovely PaLS lady (who turned out to be an RA patient herself) sent my letter to the RA manager, the nurse practitioner etc. and got a response back for me within 48 hours, and phoned me for a chat. She agreed with me that saying ‘your health professional is on annual leave’ when in fact what had happened was that yes, she was on annual leave but they’d also had one nurse leave suddenly and another drastically reduce her hours (and that from a group that was only four-strong in the first place), did nothing to endear them to their patients.

She explained that if I had a serious problem I could contact the helpline. I explained (again – it was in my letter) that actually things were pretty good at the moment, BUT the registrar I saw in June said that I should see someone in three months (i.e. September) to see if I needed to up my methotrexate if it was working. Now I wouldn’t see anyone until December (my consultant appointment) and I didn’t think that was good enough. Then she said that she thought the nurse p. could probably actually sort that out over the phone and up the MTX after talking to me if she thought that was the right thing to do.

Now that would suit me just fine – getting it all sorted over the phone without having to drag myself into Norwich and waste an afternoon … so I said that was really useful to know and that I would therefore not be making an official complaint at this stage … and then we had a nice, friendly chat about RA and the local support group etc.

So it all ended very amicably and pleasantly and I went off a much happier penguin … and prepared to give ‘em hell at the beginning of September when they told me that actually they couldn’t do it over the phone. Cynical? Moi?

But wait … is that the mobile I hear ringing … Yes … it’s the nurse practitioner’s secretary …

See the next thrilling installment for what happened next …

A wonderful weekend

August 8, 2009 at 10:48 am | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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Last weekend was almost perfect … it would have been pretty much perfect if it wasn’t for the dratted hospital … but more of that later!

On Friday I went to stay with a friend on the north Norfolk coast and in the evening we went nightjar watching … or nightjar listening at least. It really was a magical experience – imagine standing in a woodland clearing, near dark, with no one else around (except my friend of course) and hearing something like this recording on the Natural Suffolk blog. And we didn’t just hear them – we saw the male and female, and heard the male’s ‘wing clapping’ display flight. I’m not a bird watcher, even if my friend is proud to be a ‘birder’ and refutes the fact that she’s a ‘twitcher’ although that’s highly debatable, but that was just an unforgettable experience. I have dismally failed to convince either my mother or hubby about how exciting this was … I’ve probably failed to convince you too, but if you have a listen to the recording you might get some feel for what it was like!

It was slightly more successful than our afternoon jaunt to search for black darter dragonflies. Apparently they’re common’s’muck in the area we went and my friend never fails to spot them … with the exception of this time, of course. Clearly they were all shouting ‘Penguin alert, Penguin alert’ and diving for cover in the reads … that’s hubby’s theory, anyway. We still had a very enjoyable walk though, and saw many other dragonflies and damselflies and a number of other interesting things that we totally failed to identify, not helped by the fact that I’d left my camera at my friend’s house so couldn’t take pictures to identify later!

Saturday morning was a rather more successful trip to Holme Dunes, where I took some photos of six spot burnet and common blue butterfly on sea holly that I’m rather pleased with. I’ll post a couple here.

Common Blue Butterfly on Sea Holly

Common Blue Butterfly on Sea Holly

Six-spot Burnet moth, Holme, Norfolk

Six-spot Burnet moth, Holme, Norfolk

Needless to say really, having just described several walks and quite a bit of standing around, the RA is behaving itself rather well … and continues to do so. This weekend the same friend is coming here to go ‘damselfly twitching’ locally to me, where the rare Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas)
can be found. (Interestingly (I think) it’s common as anything in the US and is known as the common spreadwing, but here it’s really quite rare.)

Scarce Emerald Damselfly, Lestes Dryas, The Brecks, Norfolk

Scarce Emerald Damselfly, Lestes Dryas, The Brecks, Norfolk

I know this is an RA blog and not a natural history blog, but I’m celebrating the lack of RA (and the sunshine of course) by indulging in a much more fun interest than my health! One RA related thing though – the aforementioned hospital annoyance. I got back home on Saturday evening to find a letter from them – your appointment <which had been booked since March 2009 incidentally> has been cancelled due to the fact that the health professional you were due to see will be on annual leave. It’s been moved from September 2009 to … wait for it, wait for it … March 2010!! I will be posting separately about this when I have the time! In the meantime I shall just say Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And bloomin’ good job the RA’s OK right now!

New NICE guidelines on RA

March 9, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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Well it seems that NICE (the ironically named and aforementioned National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK) have done an about face on their original ‘if you try one anti-TNF and it doesn’t work, tough. You can’t have another one, ner ner ne ner ner’. They’ve released new guidelines which are actually very positive. Of course it doesn’t mean that all rheumatology departments will agree with or follow their guidelines but I suppose it’s a start. Here are some of the positives (IMO), and it’s only a very select few that resonated with me:

  • Newly diagnosed people should be offered a combination DMARD therapy straight away, including methotrexate, ideally within three months of persistent symptoms. Well I don’t think I know ANYONE in the UK that was diagnosed within three months of persistent symptoms, let alone given the combination therapy option, but I’m glad if that’s going to change.
  • A level of what is acceptable disease control should be agreed with the patient in advance and worked towards. HA! I’ll believe that when I see it. The nearest we come to discussing acceptable levels is ‘Really you’re not too bad. I see much worse people in here every day.’ Well yeah, and there are people much worse off than me in Africa, and indeed round the corner, but that doesn’t mean I have to be content with my lot!
  • Quoting direct from the NRAS site (www.rheumatoid.org.uk) “People with RA should have access to a multidisciplinary team (MDT); this should provide the opportunity for periodic assessments of the effect of the disease on their lives ( such as pain, fatigue, everyday activities, mobility, ability to work or take part in social or leisure activities, quality of life, mood, impact on sexual relationships) and access to a named member of the MDT (for example, the specialist nurse) who is responsible for coordinating their care.” Well yeah, I have access to a multidisciplinary team. Like any team, some are fabulous (physio that I see now, occupational therapist, even if we don’t share a sense of humour, rheumatology nurse at the GP surgery), and some aren’t. One that isn’t is the one who would no doubt be ‘coordinating my care’, gawd help me, if that happened; the RA Nurse Practitioner at the hospital. I can imagine quite vividly what her assessment would be like. She would read off a form in a board voice, ‘Are you depressed? No? Good. Do you have sex? No? Good.’ And of course what’s required is that thing they don’t have time for at hospital, a CONVERSATION!

And don’t get me started on the patient guidelines – well, if you know me you know I will no doubt get started on the patient guidelines when I have time and feel up to it, but just for now I’ll say they’re absolutely appalling, patronising, insulting …you get the idea. I asked Arthritis Care for a copy.  They were wonderfully efficient and friendly and sent me a copy return post, but having received them I took one look and went straight to the NICE website to find the health care professionals’ version – THAT actually told me things. I am sorry I caused paper and Arthritis Care money to be wasted. The patient guide had lots of nice white space and simple bullet points that told me that as a patient I should definitely have the right to treatment, possibly with drugs.  (OK, I exaggerate, but thin doesn’t even begin to describe the level of information!)

Here’s a a link to the patient guidelines if you want a laugh or cry. And here’s a link to the healthcare professional guidelines if you actually want some information.

I’m probably being a bit harsh, but it surely can’t be that hard to have something really, really simple with links or (see page whatever) if you want further detail, instead of assuming all patients are clueless. It’s as bad as the hospital rheumy nurse giving me the very useful methotrexate book and saying, ‘but really there’s more information here than you need’. I think I should be allowed to decide that.

Neck brace – AHA! There are lots of front fastening ones out there

January 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I had another physio session today – a very good one. Although I actually felt slightly worse coming out of the hospital, I feel significantly better now and I’m attributing it, rightly or wrongly, to the physio. Anyway, I mentioned to my physio that back fastening neck braces (aka cervical collars, neck collars etc.) were a pretty stupid idea IMO. She looked rather astonished and then said, ‘Of course! You’re quite right. Well they probably make them … but of course the department will just buy in the cheapest option.’ Yup, that sums up the NHS, but then again, I’m very, VERY glad we’ve got an NHS, for all I moan! There are lots of places on line to buy front-fastening collars. The cheapest one I’ve found is here but there are lots of other options. I shall be buying one just as soon as some of my clients pay me!

I’ve started Methotrexate – and yes, I’m glad!

October 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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But before I tell you why I’m glad I have to tell you about my slightly hysterical Rheumatology Nurse Practitioner (aka rheumy nurse) appointment. Although I had pretty much read everything there is to know about methotrexate for the lay-penguin, the good, the bad and the ugly, and although the consultant had already said I should go on to methotrexate, before I started it I had to make a separate appointment to see the rheumy nurse, so she could ‘give me the methotrexate chat’. And give me the methotrexate chat she did!

To be fair to her she was quite human to start with, apologising for the whole mix-up with the early arthritis clinic etc. (Not that she admitted any liability of course – just apologising ‘on behalf of the whole hospital’.) Then she launched into ‘the chat’. Well, she was so heavily on autopilot that she actually repeated an entire paragraph, word for word, and didn’t even know she’d done it! But then she topped it all with the most patronising comment I’ve ever heard.

She explained that you had to take methotrexate on one day of the week, the whole weekly dose in one fell swoop, and that you then took folic acid a few days latter. The killer comment was, ‘It’s very easy to remember. You take m-m-m-methotrexate on a M-M-M-M-Monday, and f-f-folic acid on a F-F-F-F-Friday.’ I was too gobsmacked to come out with a sharp comment like ‘Blimey – what do you do if you have a patient with a stutter?’ or ‘P-p-patronise me again and I may have to h-h-hit you,’ which was rather a shame.

Anyway, the good news is that I’ve been on the m-m-methotrexate now for about six weeks and although I’m certainly not on top of the world I do, on most days, feel a lot better than I did. And an added bonus is that although it’s not making me feel nauseous (most of the time) it IS putting me off my food – which is great as I’d like to lose about two stone … I’ve lost 9lb in the last three or four weeks, and although I know I have to be careful to eat a balanced diet and I know it’s not healthy or sustainalbe to lose weight TOO fast, I’m still rather chuffed. (I know that appetite loss can be a real problem with methotrexate for slim people, but it won’t be a problem with me for quite some time!)

Early Arthritis Clinic – I get there at last! Hurrah.

September 15, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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It seems to me, and this is sad if it’s true, especially as I have an academic background myself, that the lower you go down the medical food chain, the more human the practitioners become. So, at the top you have the consultants who are so far removed from reality that they only see you as a point on a chart of severe to mild cases; then there’s the nurse practitioner, brisk and efficient, not going to put up with her time being wasted, slightly patronising, but well-meaning and quite friendly on a good day. And somewhere ‘below’ her … although some people reading this might ‘flame’ me for suggesting they’re not on a par (or perhaps even that they should be higher), are the occupational therapists and physios. So far I have experienced two physios and one occupational therapist and they’ve all been lovely – human, helpful and really caring.

I’m afraid the occupational therapist (OT) might have been a bit too human and caring under the circumstances, which is why I ended up rather snuffly with her, if not quite bursting into tears! I was having a BAD day – I don’t know why, but another law of arthritis (or mine anyway) seems to be that you NEVER see the consultant or nurse practitioner on a bad day. However, the day I attended the early arthritis clinic, last week, was a very bad day, thank goodness. If you don’t have RA yourself, or perhaps even if you do have it and don’t have to work within the confines of the NHS, you might not understand the ‘thank goodness’ comment. Well it seems to me that unless the consultant or nurse practitioner actually sees you unable to walk, or with beetroot red joints the size of turnips, they don’t really believe it happens, although they’re all too polite to say so. As my RA seems to come and go and be peripatetic as far as which joints are affected, this is thoroughly frustrating!

Anyway, I turned up at the clinic, after the whole appointment debacle I’ve already mentioned in the post below, and the receptionist couldn’t find me on the system. She was polite, friendly and baffled. Eventually she called over another receptionist, who was also baffled – although lacking the polite friendliness of the first. I was getting just a tad fed up at this point because I hurt, I’d been standing for a while (not comfortable) and I was really worried that after the five month wait they were suddenly going to decide they couldn’t find me on the system … again … and I didn’t have an appointment. She looked at me over her glasses and said, very patronisingly, ‘And what appointment did you think you had today?’ And believe me the italics were hers, not mine – there was a very scornful stress on the word ‘think’.

Eyes flashing, lips a thin line, I growled, ‘I know I have an appointment with the early arthritis clinic.’ She continued to look blank. ‘A combination of occupational therapy and physiotherapy,’ I explained.

She gave a deep frustrated sigh and said, very rudely and abruptly, ‘Oh well then, you’re in the wrong place.’

‘Interesting,’ I said. ‘They told me to report to rheumatology reception.’

She went back to baffled. At that moment a third receptionist, who had been sitting quietly in the background dealing with other things, (or possibly just eavesdropping and having a laugh), said ‘No, the early arthritis clinic – it’s this list here you should be working from, and look, the lady’s name is on it.’

‘Call that a list,’ she said, with scorn. Now I have to agree with her here – it was a slightly smaller than A5 bit of paper with a tear down one side, looking like scrap, with a few names scrawled in biro down it. But still … it was her job to know it was there or someone else’s job to have told her. Rather than apologising nicely she managed to grate out, ‘Well … we apologise. Take a seat.’

I was fuming and unfortunately when I fume, rather than yelling and shouting, or even being calm and productive, I just want to burst in to tears … so when the OT was so nice that’s nearly what I did! Anyway, she was very helpful and made some useful suggestions, which I’ll post about separately. Then I saw the physio, who gave me some basic ‘range of motion exercises’ for all the joints and has referred me on for more physio. No idea when that will materialise, so I’ll keep forking out £35 a week for the private one for the moment! I hope the NHS one kicks in soon though!

Glad I’ve still got the energy to kick up a bit of a fuss!

September 14, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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I saw my consultant for the first NHS appointment in April – having made the diagnosis he suggested I see the nurse practitioner for more information, and she referred me for an ‘early arthritis clinic’ which is a combination physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinic, the idea being that you get seen by both camps and they give you suggestions for every day living, assess your physio needs etc. Note the name ‘early arthritis’. I contacted the nurse in June to say I’d still not got an appointment – she checked up and told me they had a four-month waiting list. Hmm, I thought, so much for an early arthritis clinic! I rang her again after about 4.5 months – she told me she’d chase it up. Then I went to the Norfolk Arthritis Register meeting (which I’ll post about later) and the occupational therapy people were represented. I took my courage in both hands, went up to the OT stand and said, ‘I know this isn’t what you’re here for tonight, I’m sure you’ve been dreading someone doing this but I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR AN APPOINTMENT FOR FIVE MONTHS!’

She was very puzzled. ‘We only have a one-month waiting list’ she said. Well … that was interesting. Not that I’m pointing any fingers of course … but it does make you wonder …

She took my details and I thought that was the last I’d hear from that line of enquiry, but in the next day I go two phone calls from the hospital! The first was the rheumy nurse, apologising ‘on behalf of the whole hospital including myself’ for the complete mess they’d made of this appointment and saying that even though I’d been on the system when she checked in June, I was apparently nowhere to be seen on the system now. She said she’d re-referred me with a note saying this had been going on a while and was urgent etc.

That afternoon I got a call from the OT I’d spoken to the night before, asking me to come in later on in the same week! Amazing what a bit of kicking up a fuss can do. I shudder to think how long I’d still be waiting otherwise!

In fact when I saw my consultant he effectively gave me carte blanche to kick up a fuss if I needed to see him before the next appointment! The conversation went something like this:

Doc: Do come and see me before your next appointment if you need to.

PP: Fat chance! I tried that, but there were no appointments.

Doc: Well … reception can be a bit … you just need to phone my secretary.

PP: I did that … twice. She said there were no appointments.

Doc: Oh well! There are never any appointments!

PP: Then there’s never any point in saying I can see you before my next appointment!

Doc: Oh, you just need to kick up a bit of a fuss. We have to rely on the patient to kick up a bit of a fuss I’m afraid.

Well I’ll certainly kick up a fuss if the receptionist behaves on Monday when I go for my nurse’s appointment the way she did when I went for my OT/physio appointment … but that’s another story.

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