The frustrations of not having a relationship with your doctor

June 29, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 7 Comments
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Thanks to the state of the NHS today (which, if you read this blog often you will know I harp on about endlessly) it is simply not possible to have a relationship with your GP these days (unless you’re incredibly lucky or live on some tiny island that actually has its own GP or something!) My GP practice has around 10 GPs plus locums. It’s pot luck who you get to speak to when you call and they phone you back, and then if they decide you should be seen you won’t see the person you spoke to that morning.

It also seems that they don’t have much of a relationship with the hospital and seem to have some sort of mythic belief in the power of the rheumatology helpline, as I’ve also mentioned before.

The myth

The patient calls the GP because they have an RA flare. This is a shocking waste of the GP’s time because these lucky, .lucky patients have an RA helpline that they can call and that will solve all their problems. They can speak to a lovely nurse* straight away and the nurse will wave her magic wand, waggle her magic pixie ears and solve the patient’s problem.

* Actually that’s the only true bit – the one we have at the moment IS a lovely nurse!

The facts

The lovely nurse, or even a secretary or receptionist, never EVER answers the helpline. It is an answerphone. That’s the way it’s set up. It’s not an answerphone on odd occasions when they’re exceptionally busy, it’s ALWAYS an answerphone. The message on the helpline says something like: ‘If you’re calling about a non-RA related problem, please call your GP. If you’re calling to change an appointment, please call reception. If you’re calling about an urgent need, please call your GP. If you’re calling to buy fish, please contact your fish monger. If you’re calling to moan about Brexit, please contact your MP. If you’re calling because you’re a moron, voted ‘Leave’ and can’t work out what a helpline is for, please call someone else and bother them. Now, if you really, really want to leave a message, we suppose you can. Give us your hospital number and name and telephone number and we’ll try to call you back in 24 hours – but no promises mind.’

I don’t know about you (actually I probably do, if you have RA) but I consider a flare pretty urgent.

While in an ideal world I would sit back on a couch, watch the telly and let my servants feed me grapes while I rested my knee and waited to see if it would clear up on its own, I do actually have a life (and no servants, and hubby is great but also has a life, and the cat just ain’t interested in helping), so I can’t just sit about and rest it. On that basis I can’t wait potentially 48 hours or more for the helpline to phone, and the nurse say, ‘Call your GP and get some prednisolone’ because then I can’t call the GP until Monday  as 48 hours is Friday morning and by the time I’ve heard back from the helpline the GP has run out of appointments. By that time I will have been flaring for over a week!

What Polly did Next

So … I went to the appointment grudgingly granted me by the grumpy GP. (Ooh, nice alteration that penguin!) Fortunately it’s with a much more pleasant locum GP than the one I spoke to on the phone. Unfortunately of course she doesn’t know me from Adam (or strictly speaking, as a doctor, she can probably spot I’m not Adam from the wobbly bits, so I should say she doesn’t know me from Eve). This means that she doesn’t know if I’m a moron or not, and therefore has to assume I am, as we always have to cater for the lowest common denominator.

‘How can I help you?’

‘I’m having an RA flare in my knees, as usually particularly in my left knee. It’s stiff, not very flexible and painful at times.’

‘Have you called the helpline, because really -‘

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, and what did they say?’

‘I said I’d called them, not that I’d spoken to them!’ I then explained, gently, ’cause she was a locum and therefore wouldn’t necessarily know any better, the realities of the helpline. (I didn’t mention Brexit or fish mongers.)

‘Hmm, you had a blood test only yesterday and your bloods were hardly elevated at all.’

‘They never are.’ The mere fact that my bloods are even a smidge elevated is a pretty strong indication of a flare with me. Sometimes I flare and there’es no indication whatsoever in the bloods. Now this is where a doctor relationship would come in handy. If she’d actually known me, known that I’ve had RA for nearly ten years, known that I’ve had umpteen flares in my left knee, known that blood tests are not a helpful indicator with me, known that I have a brain, we could have skipped the pointless bits, more of which are coming up.

‘Ah, well let’s have a look.’ Prod, poke.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!’

‘Did that hurt when I pressed there?’

‘No, I just thought I’d make screamy gurgling noises for fun.’ (Nope, I didn’t really say that either, I just said yes.)

‘Can you bend it?’

‘This much.’ Demonstrated a very slight bend.

‘Ah. Have you tried pain killers… like paracetamol?’

I’m afraid I just looked at her and laughed, finally managing to choke out a ‘yes’, followed by ‘interspersed with ibuprofen.’ She looked amazed that I’d been able to think of painkillers all by myself.

‘Well I’ll prescribe a course of steroids. Now if they don’t work, we’ll have to consider other possibilities like osteoarthritis, as they should work for RA.’

‘Well, they’ve worked every other time I’ve had them, so touch wood that they will this time too.’

‘Oh … right.’ Look of mild astonishment, either that I’d had them before (it’s in the notes dear) or that I actually knew that I’d had them before, who knows.

So I thanked her very nicely, ’cause I’m a well brung-up penguin … and I might run into her again, and off I went to the chemist to get my steroids.

Again, after nearly ten years of RA, I think I recognise an RA flare when I see one … I really hope I’m not proved wrong and that the steroids do work again this time and it doesn’t turn out to be OA. That would be sooooo embarrassing after this post!

To flare or not to flare – that is the question

March 17, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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I woke up yesterday morning with really bad pain in my hip/lower back, but by lunchtime it had passed off, so I had a lunchtime walk yesterday as usual, and very pleasant it was too, until about half-way round, when I got a very sharp pain in the side of my foot, just behind the little toe. (Same leg as the hip pain.) By the time I got back to work the pain was coming in short, sharp bursts lasting up to about 10 seconds and then was fine in between … but in between wasn’t very long! It was happening at least twice a minute. I took paracetamol and, three hours later, ibuprofen, but to no avail. We had to go shopping that night and I limped around the supermarket and then asked hubby to drive home as I was in too much pain. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever experienced but it was BAD. My foot just in that area was bright red and swollen, so that sounds like RA, but the odd coming and going of it doesn’t seem quite right. I THINK it was RA and I’m just a weird patient!

Anyway, of course being Monday last night was m-m-m-methotrexate night. I went to bed still in a LOT of pain, and woke up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘OOOH, my foot hurts’ and then again, some time later in the middle of the night, I think around 3:30, thinking ‘OOOH, my foot DOESN’T HURT!’ And it hasn’t hurt since. I have no idea what’s going on or why, but MAYBE it was lucky that that happened on a Monday and the methotrexate kicked in. I don’t think it’s supposed to work like that though, is it? It’s supposed to be a slow build-up, not a week by week thing. Perhaps it was just a short, sharp flare-ette and just finished then. Perhaps it wasn’t RA at all. They mystery of what is and isn’t RA is certainly … mysterious …

That reminds me of the time a few weeks ago when I was getting sharp pains and bad headaches that felt like they were on the outside of my skull. Not the first time this has happened, you may recall. Oh dear, I thought, I hope this isn’t giant cell arteritis – I think it’s that sort of symptom … and then I realised I was wearing a hair-slide that was being pushed into my head by my transcription headphones! Much relieved that I worked this out by myself and didn’t bother the poor, overworked GP with it!

Anyway, the good news is that the answer seems to be ‘not to flare’ at the moment, but I’m having a day off walks this lunchtime just in case it happens again!

But what if …

May 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 13 Comments
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So I’m increasing my methotrexate. Flippers crossed that all will go well, I won’t get any nasty side effects (except maybe appetite loss, which would actually be a great benefit!) and it’ll keep my disease in control for at least another five years … but what if it doesn’t?

Well I asked my consultant this at my last appointment. He’d said, ‘I’m happy to increase your methotrexate to 17.5 and then to 20 but after that we’ll have to start considering other things if that isn’t doing the trick’.

So I asked him point blank what other things? ‘Oh’ he said airily, ‘there are lots of other things available.’ Well it’s now or never I thought and said what’s been on my mind for a while: ‘I know about biologics, but I won’t qualify for them on the NHS, will I?’ He looked a bit startled and then had to admit that no, I didn’t stand a chance. With my fabulous blood results that never show anything wrong, I’ve got no chance of being offered them at all at the moment.

So … where would I go if the methotrexate doesn’t work or causes problems? Well, I can add sulfasalazine to the mix and see if that does any good. ‘Some people are on three DMARDs’ said the consultant, but even he didn’t sound really convinced about it.

So what it boils down to is that with the usual NHS foresight, if the methotrexate increase doesn’t work and then the sulfasalazine doesn’t work, I would have to wait until I was in a really bad way, unable to work, probably unable to walk (given that feet and knee are the worst bits of me) before they’d even deign to consider me for other treatments. As usual, let’s not make the effort to keep people OK and working – let’s wait until they’re falling apart before helping, even though surely doing it that backwards way doubtless ends up costing ‘the system’ more in the end!

Well, back to crossing those flippers and hoping it never comes to that!

Niggles and Grumbles

February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai | 6 Comments
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I’ve got grumbley hands and feet. I’m not sure that I’d use this description to the rheumatologist mind you, but it seems to fit. I’m not in agony; in fact,I’m not even in constant pain, but if I overdo it then the hands and feet … and knee of course, how could I forget the knee … grumble!

I’ve been getting a lot more grumbling going on over the last few weeks than I’ve had for ages. I think it all started with the flare that I had between Christmas and New Year, and there have been niggles ever since.

It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing – and in fact my hands have been better today, back at work and typing, than they were over the four-day weekend I’ve just had. (Fabulous birthday weekend away, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

At least I’m not grumbling much about work right now – we’ve had two weeks of it being dead quiet, and now it’s gone manically busy! It would be lovely it was a constant steady flow, but I’m much happier with it busy and buzzing than dead as a dodo.

Well, I don’t have a rheumatology appointment until May, and things are nowhere near bad enough to make me subject myself to one earlier, so I suppose by then the grumbles will either have done what they usually do miraculously in time for a rheumy appointment, disappeared – or they’ll be bad enough that I’ll be able to have a proper grumble to the doc about them! In the meantime I shall just grin and bear it … or possibly grumble and bear it.

How do I not overdo it tomorrow?

January 2, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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Today was my first day back at work – knee flare seemed to be pretty much over: the swelling had gone right down, it didn’t feel terribly hot, but it was achy now and then. Hurrah.

However, now the other knee had started to ache – RA, or just a reaction to me walking ‘funny’ because of the left knee flaring? I don’t know – but to add to the mix, today being my first day back at work meant it was also the first day since the holidays where I haven’t spent a significant amount of time with my feet up – and I’m really feeling that this evening, as I sit here typing with an ice pack clamped between my knees, and the heat pack waiting for me in bed!

Here’s the thing though – we’re moving offices tomorrow!

Fortunately hubby has the day off and has been volunteered, slightly unwillingly but with good grace, to be my feet, and the facilities manager in the building is also going to help us lug stuff, and then my two colleagues are both fairly fit … so hopefully I can pull out a conductor’s baton from somewhere and just direct operations!

Knee flare

December 29, 2012 at 11:22 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 6 Comments
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Well, whadayaknow? A knee flare turns out to be some kind of strange ‘dance’ move: you can see it here. Unfortunately it’s also what I’m having one of right now …. I’m dancing too: from the freezer to the microwave and the microwave to the freezer … mostly on one leg.

It started on Boxing Day evening – that’s Wednesday for those outside the UK! Just mild stiffness going upstairs – didn’t really think too much about it. Progressed to serious stiffness Wednesday morning which I assumed would pass of during the day. It didn’t. It got worser and worserer. By Wednesday evening it had started to be painful as well as stiff. I took paracetamol and grumbled.

Thursday my mum was doing a lunch for us and some friends. Splendid meal, good company but my sociability somewhat dampened by knee pain. That evening Mum asked if I did ice-packs or heat packs? DUHHH! Why oh why do I always forget those things?!

Pretty much since then I’ve either had an ice pack or a heat pack on it, or I’ve been moving around on it. It makes a huge difference. I can’t believe how stoooopid I am sometimes! But on the bright side, at least it’s starting to mend – or if it isn’t, then at least I’m starting to feel better.

Crash bang wallop

September 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’ve been cruising along very nicely thank you for the last few months. I made the mistake of getting used to it I think … Great, I feel fine  … let’s get on with stuff then. Well, you only live once, people to see, things to do, natural history surveys to complete, courses to go on, friends to see … Spanish to learn, embroidery competitions to enter.

Next time I see my rheumatologist, I thought, perhaps we can talk about reducing the MTX.

When will I learn?!

It started a couple of weeks ago with sudden, severe pain in my right thumb. Then it went away. I didn’t see it as a warning sign – I’d got too used to being footloose and flare free. Then it came back … and then other bits started to hurt too … ooooooooh-k, maybe this is a flare, I thought.

And it was.

Fortunately not a terrible one – one of my flare-ettes/aka fizzles, but bad enough to act as a little reminder. It’s over now … I think … but I’m back to being careful …

Well, apart from botanical drawing class an hour’s drive away on Saturday, more natural history recording on Sunday, interviewing tomorrow …

Will I never learn?

March 18, 2012 at 9:11 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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No … probably not!

It’s just possible, maybe, perhaps, that I’ve sliiiiiiiightly overdone it this week! The plan for this week was that on top of work (quite busy) I would also have: the dreaded surgery Patient Panel on Monday – bound to be acrimonious as they’re introducing a telephone triaging system which has gone done like a lead balloon with most patients; my second Spanish lesson on Wednesday (a drive all the way in tew the ci’ee (aka Norwich); on Thursday morning a reunion meeting for a course I attended last year (again in the ci’ee); an Embroiderers Guild talk to attend on Friday night (in the ci’ee); a botanical drawing course all day Saturday (an hour’s drive away); and finally taking mum out for a mother’s day meal (in the ci’ee again) today.

I had also committed to growing a sour-dough started for ‘Herman the German Friendship Cake’, with the extra starter to be passed on to three friends on Thursday and the cake baked on Friday.

What I hadn’t considered when taking all this on was the possibility that BOTH the ‘junior penguins’ might be off sick (there’s a dreadful sinusitis bug raging around our wee town at the moment!) and that I’d therefore be incredibly stressed at work, trying to meet deadlines and earn money for three! Hubby suggested I needed a notice above my desk: ‘Penguin: Working to earn your sick-pay.’

Something had to give – and unfortunately it was the reunion, which I was really looking forward to. I obviously couldn’t have the time off work with the other two both sick! I went to the patient panel – and walked out after 1.5 hours, having spent the first 45 minutes wasting time discussing stuff we’ve been discussing since it started in 2008. It was just starting to get acrimonious when I said sorry, I had to go, but I’d made my points by then.

I was already tired by Wednesday but determined not to miss the Spanish lesson, as it was only the second one, even though my brain was pretty fogged by the end of the hour and I’m not sure much went in! I must remember to say no to the generous offer of Spanish-strength coffee when  I arrive; I didn’t get much sleep that night due to caffeine buzz!

Nevertheless, the work got done, the cake got baked (and delicious), the talk got went to (see – told you by brain’s fugged – can’t do grammar proper at the moment)  and the plants got drawn, but I have a nasty feeling I’m heading for a flare – or at least a fizzle! Well no, let’s be honest, I’m HAVING the fizzle and hoping it’s going to be a damp squib and not a flare!

At least mum’s driving us into the ci’ee today for our Mother’s Day meal so all I have to do is eat and pay. Think I can manage that!

Knee Cosy

December 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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Oh crumbs – it’s snowing! You may remember that in my previous post I was winging about the cold the other day; well, it’s colder.

Yesterday the journey home was worse than I ever. I had a hectic day at work but I felt fine (if a little stressed) … and then I left the office to go home.

The moment my left knee found itself outside it started to complain, and the complaints got louder as I drove, to the point where I knew I wasn’t able to concentrate a hundred percent on my driving. Not good!

Although I get the ‘traditional’ sore and achy hands and feet of RA, the worst affected thing has always been my left knee, and if I have a flare that’s usually where it starts. This is the first year I’ve really noticed the cold affecting it though.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to keep that knee warm, specifically while driving. A lap blanket (Afghan in the US I believe) wouldn’t be safe, as it might slip into the foot-well and get tangled with my driving foot. (Fortunately, considering the sate of the left knee, I drive an automatic!)

I’ve decided the solution might be a ‘knee cosy’! I’m not quite sure yet how it would work. Perhaps a combination of a sports-style knee protector and a pouch that could incorporate one of those gel reusable hand-warmer type things?

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to discover I’m not the first person (by a long, long way) to think up the neat ‘knee cosy’ moniker, but people are using it as a name for lap blankets, not for my cunning plan. I may have to make this my Christmas craft project!

Acceptance?

October 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately (although writing very little!) about what ‘acceptance’ of RA means, and also about redefining my idea of ‘normal’. I hadn’t managed, and still haven’t managed in fact, to get my thoughts into words, but I think this afternoon I came as close to ‘acceptance’ as perhaps I ever will.

As I was relaxing in the bath (sorry, probably ‘too much information, especially for those that know me!) and letting my thoughts drift along pretty randomly, I started to think about some of my friends and colleagues: one’s still coping with the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake; one’s recently widowed; one’s, to put it bluntly, losing her marbles; one’s spending this weekend picking up the pieces in her house, since large swathes of the downstairs flooring were dug up on Friday to find a leak.

Good grief, I thought – I’m bloody lucky! I have a loving (and all-round fab) husband, a terrific family (especially the nearest and dearest, including the recent addition of Mrs Mooseface), I have great friends, I enjoy my job, I have time (never enough time of course, but some time) to indulge my passions of messing around with textiles, drawing and pottering about in bits of nature, and although one could always be better off financially, the finances aren’t a complete disaster! The interesting point is that at no point during these thoughts floating over the bubbles did I consider, ‘Yes, but I do have this bloody disease to deal with, so perhaps not so lucky after all.’

It’s not as though things are going great with the RA at the moment either. I wake up every morning in pain, although it often clears for the most part within the hour. I go to sleep most nights in pain. I have pain and stiffness during every day. This is perhaps extra frustrating because for around four months between a flare in March and sometime around August, I felt as though I was pretty much fine, almost symptom free, nearly in remission. And yet, in a way, this on-and-off low-grade (for the most part) pain has just become the norm for me. It’s just another thing to put on one side and live with – and yes, I do appreciate I’m lucky that I can put it on one side at the moment, it’s not so bad that it stops me doing all those things I consider myself lucky for, but what interested me was the fact that it was so far into the normal, everyday that I didn’t even give it a thought when considering other people’s problems and drifting into comparing my life to theirs.

I think I might have once ranted that I will never ‘accept’ this disease, and don’t even mention the word ‘embrace’ in the same breath as rheumatoid arthritis, but perhaps this is acceptance, Penguin-style.

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