The good, the bad and the mildly irritating

June 25, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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I was on my way to my six-monthly (ish) hospital appointment this morning, and feeling distinctly glum, most definitely not wanting to go, when the news came on the radio and cheered me up slightly. Some excellent news for UK RA patients generally, I’m delighted to say: NICE has reversed its ludicrous policy of refusing to treat patients who failed on one anti-TNF with another. Anti-TNFs are not all the same, so saying that because a patient fails on one they won’t benefit from a different one is patently absurd, but that’s exactly what NICE, the patently absurd National Institute for ‘Clinical Excellence’ had decided to do. From later this year though, patients who fail on one anti-TNF will be allowed another go. (I think only one more go, but that’s better than none!)

Hopefully I shall never need to worry about this from a personal point of view as I seem to be doing well on the methotrexate. Inevitably the three-week flare I’ve just come through has now passed (just in time for the hospital appointment, of course) and didn’t show up in the bloods, so it’s not being taken at all seriously. Still, on the bright side it DOES seem to be over, so next time I shall just have to gird my loins and nag the hospital while I’m HAVING a flare, if only so they get to see it!

So that was the mildly irritating.

The bad is physio – not my physio of course; she’s still lovely. But apparently, ‘In order to be in line with private practice’ they are going to restrict all patients to a maximum of six appointments before a re-referral is required. It’s a very confusing system which I’ll explain in another post, but I can probably get re-referred. However, if I normally have physio twice monthly, I’ll have to get rereferred every three months and then wait around five weeks for an appointment, where presumably I won’t be guaranteed to see my lovely physio and will be reassessed each time, even though after a couple of years I think between the two of us we have a pretty good idea of what works! (Anyway, more about this whinge later!) The bright side is that I have at least had her for around two years, and when I started seeing her I thought then that they’d kick me out after six appointments, so I suppose I can’t complain. (Oh wait – yes I can …)

Puzzling pains

March 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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I’ve got two different rather odd pains to add to the usual mix at the moment! One is a burning pain that I get intermittently in my spine, a few vertebra down from my neck. It’s not too bad, just a bit odd, a bit burny and a bit tingly. Bizarrely, my physio thinks this is a sign of a bit of stiffness. Does anyone else get stiffness manifesting as burning?! Well, she’s given some exercises for flexing the upper thorax, and if they work then I guess she’s right.

The other one is that, having found ultrasound fantastically helpful for ages now, I’m suddenly finding it incredibly painful on my acromioclavicular joint. (Excuse my showing off my knowledge of joint names – it took ages for my physio to teach me this one and I rarely get the chance to use it … it’s the little insignificant (until it hurts) joint between the shoulder and color bone, right at the front.) It starts off alright and then it very quickly gets incredibly sore and painful. Physio says she’s come across this happening before but she doesn’t know why, and she wonders if it’s just a bit more inflamed than usual.

I hope it’s NOT more inflamed than usual. Did I speak to soon about averting a flare? Today certainly didn’t help on the stress reduction front – all clients want their work now (if not last week), and one thought I could proofread 90,000 words in two weeks. Well, I could if I had nothing else to do … grrrr… Oddly enough I feel more stressed now with both computers working than I did yesterday with both computers not working. Does this say something about computers, I wonder?

Phew – coming out of a flare!

February 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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At last I’m on my way out of a rather prolonged flare! While I’m sure that my consultant would be pleased to point out that it wasn’t much of a flare – I mean I didn’t even need a steroid shot – it was quite enough of one for me, thank you!

I had a very good birthday this year, in spite of being in the middle of the flare. Hubby had the day off too, which he doesn’t often manage, or at least not to coincide with mine, and we had a leisurely morning in Norwich including a trip to the Castle Museum and lunch at ‘The Waffle House’. Because of the whole flare thing we decided to come straight after an early lunch and I spent the afternoon lounging around in bed reading some of the many great books (mostly embroidery-related) that I’d got for presents, before heading off to Mum’s for a yummy meal in the evening. While I’d have liked to have been able to DO more on my birthday, it was still a jolly good day!

I suppose at least I’m finally learning to pace myself. Talking of which, the OT is NOT in my good books at the moment. I drove for forty minutes in stinking traffic through rain and hail and sleet and snow and fog (and semi-darkness for part of it) to get to my OT appointment only to be told, ‘She’s gone home’. Luckily for both of us I suppose a) I like her and b) I know she wouldn’t do that deliberately and c) she phoned and apologised profusely this morning.

I told her she could make it up to me by fitting me in between physio and a hair appointment next week, which she is doing. I shall come away feeling thoroughly pampered after all that: not quite a luxury spa treatment, and believe me, our local hospital doesn’t bear much resemblance to a luxury spa, but the closest I’m likely to get to one for a while!

Wax bath therapy

November 20, 2009 at 7:52 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 10 Comments
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I’m slightly confused because my lovely physio has suggested wax bath therapy for my hands … and referred me to an occupational therapist for it. My confusion arises from the fact that I would have thought that wax bath therapy was a physio sort of thing to do and definitely not an OT thing! I wonder if the OT will say the same when I see her? I wonder how long it will take to see her, given that it took seven months to get a physio appointment.

Anyway, if anyone has ever used a wax bath could they let me know; I’d be really interested to know if it helped at all. I did find a research paper that said it could be helpful in RA if combined with exercises but not on its own – well my hands certainly get plenty of exercise with all the typing and craft stuff, and I do some simple range of motion type exercises in the mornings too, so perhaps the wax thing will do some good.

Physiotherapy – what’s it all about?

November 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Wren posted a comment asking about physio and I thought it might get a bit long-winded for a comment answer, so I’m making a post out of it!

This was Wren’s comment – sorry Wren, just realised that this answer is going to come a bit too late for your appointment! “On another subject: How often do you see your physio (physical therapist)? What do you do at the appointments? Are there special exercises? I’m curious because I keep reading of others having PTs they go to frequently, but this is something that I’ve never done, or even had suggested by my doc. I’m seeing him on Saturday morning, and I plan to ask about it, but in the meantime, how does this work for you?”

I personally see my physio every two weeks at the moment, but that’s a timing that we decided between us and it’s changed over the months I’ve been seeing her. I started seeing her weekly when things were really bad and we’ve moved on to two weekly. We tried three-weekly but that didn’t work out – by the time I saw her after three weeks my shoulders were in agony!

There are indeed special exercises, but again they’re entirely individual to each patient. I think it’s fair to say that generally you don’t do any exercises during a flare, reduced exercises during a “fizzle” (if you have fizzles, as I do!) and you try really hard to do them when things are fine, but frequently forget! Luckily I have a very understanding physio (this is afterall the woman who recommended a year’s supply of cake, but she says I’m not allowed to post that story!!) and she appreciates that it’s hard to remember to do the exercises when things are good!

What we do at the appointments is 1) Talk through how I’ve been over the last couple of weeks since I’ve seen her 2) Decide what needs doing this time 3) Do it. Usually, what needs doing is either ultrasound on my knee(s) or ultrasound on my neck and shoulder(s) or both. Again, I’m lucky to have such a flexible and understanding physio. By the time I got to see her, I’d been seeing another physio privately for months. Long story – see here and we’d established that ultrasound works for me. Again, it’s a very personal thing. Some people find acupuncture fantastic, especially, apparently, for knees – I don’t. Some people find ultrasound completely useless – I don’t.

If there’s a different joint giving me problems we’ll talk through that and discuss if there are any exercises that might help, or whether ultrasound, TENS etc. might help.

I have a whole selection of exercises that I should do regularly for my neck, shoulders and knee, and a bunch of others to ease morning stiffness in other parts of me. The knee, neck and shoulder exercises are more to strengthen the muscles in those parts, so that they can do a better job of supporting the joints, rather than to actually do anything to the joints themselves.

The attitude of the nurse practitioners is ‘use it or lose it’, so the consensus seems to be that the more you exercise (within limits), the better. Not being the world’s most active person the only time I’m likely to overdo those limits is when I’m having a flare (where minimal exercise is fine) or if I’m doing crochet, embroidery etc. and don’t want to stop although my hands hurt!

I hope this helps explain the whole physiotherapy/physical therapy thing a bit, but it is, I stress again, only my own very personal viewpoint, and I know that every physio is different (because I’ve seen at least five over the years) and every patient is different. I reckon if you find a physio that suits you it can only help, so why not give it a try?

Stress, stress and more stress … but feeling OK!

March 11, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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So, are my flare-ups related to stress, or not? I thought they were but I hope they aren’t, because if they are I’m in for a big one any time now!

Yesterday I had my first ever row (maybe too strong a word, but very strong disagreement) with a client, on the phone. I was, to say the least, short with them. I was convinced I was standing firmly on the moral high ground as they’d made a bit of a mess of things, and I told them so… only to realise mid-conversation that I’d also made a mistake. While theirs was more serious, it caused an earthquake in my moral high-ground leading to rather a landslide.

It took the rest of the day to try to repair some of that, and to TRY to stop constantly worrying about it, while also trying to get on with some work.

It was all put into perspective somewhat when I got home to find that one of my friends had lost his job, another’s cat had died and a third’s husband had had a stroke!

All in all not one of my best days. I ended it by telling myself firmly that tomorrow WOULD be a better day, and it has been. (Not that that would have been hard!)

As for the RA, I had practically no problems yesterday and although I was pretty stiff on getting up this morning, it didn’t last too long. My neck and shoulders are stiffening up again now, and slightly achy, but that may just be because it’s been over two weeks since I had physio, as my physio isn’t well and had to cancel the last appointment. Employing positive mental attitude to assume that’s what it is, and not the start of a stress-related flare!

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.

OOPS!!! Missed a physio appointment

February 12, 2009 at 9:55 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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Well I’m feeling a right idiot at the moment! I have had a physio appointment on a Wednesday afternoon (or very occasionally a Wednesday morning) since just after Christmas. Last week my physio said, ‘I’m not in on Wednesday next week, but I’ve got one on Tuesday morning if that’s OK?’ It was fine, so we booked it on.

I’m sure you can see what’s coming … I didn’t put it on the calendar, and quite late on Tuesday afternoon I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, wonder what time that physio appontment is tomorrow?’

OOOPS! By the time I phoned to apologise they’d all gone home for the day, but I hope she got the message. Perhaps she’ll have forgotten by the time I see her again, as she’s not in next week anyway!! So I’ll have gone THREE WEEKS without physio by the time I see her again.

Still – things seem relatively good at the moment, so I’ll just have to keep using the TENS machine and hope things stay stable until I see her again …

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!

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