Two steps forward, one step back…

July 12, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 10 Comments
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Well, yes, the knee flare was completely over … for a few days. I was just getting back into the swing of things, gradually building back up the length of my lunchtime walks from a few hundred yards to half a mile, to three-quarters of a mile … thinking I’d soon be back to the mile-and half … and then I woke up in the middle of last Friday night thinking ‘Ouch!’ I’m telling myself it’s not really flaring this time … I haven’t decided yet whether I’m lying to myself.

I certainly don’t want another dose of prednisolone just yet… if they’d even give me one, which I doubt. Having said I never have side effects, Carla happened to mention that sleeplessness and irritability are major side effects of pred, and guess what… I had a really sleepless and irritable week while I was on it – I just failed to attribute it to the pred. Now it all makes sense. And OMG, the night sweats!! I had no idea that was a side effect and I get hot flushes anyway so I just thought, ‘Coo, bad hot flushes, much worse than usual!’ I was slightly worried that this was more than hot flushes as the ‘sweats’ part was a whole lot more dramatic …again, I hadn’t realised this is a common side effect of the pred.

Now I’m still ALL for the steroids – the side effects, now I realise  that’s what they were, were horrible, but the flare was much, much worse. The side effects I personally experienced were definitely the lesser of two evils and the pred let me carry on with my life and work, which I couldn’t have done without it. However, having said that, it does make the thought of another does quite unappealing if it can be avoided.

This time round the knee’s not hot, it’s not especially swollen and it’s not actually madly painful … it’s stiff but bendable, so really quite different to the definite flare I recently experienced.

Remember those knee-strengthening exercises I was doing, so that if I flared again I would have strength in the surrounding muscles and hopefully come out of it faster? No? Well you wouldn’t because I forgot to post about them. Unfortunately I have also forgotten to do them for the last few months, which is a pity really because I suspect that’s what the problem is now. As a horribly unfit person, having a bit over a week practically off my feet  means I do need to build up those muscles etc. again and I think the minor pain and stiffness I’m experiencing is probably all about that.

So, spend goodness knows how long fighting for a doc appointment, to be told, if I’m lucky, that they’ll refer me to physio, which will take six weeks minimum, by which time I hope I’ll have recovered anyway, or just carry on and hope? I’m going for the latter at the moment. Wish me luck!

Knee flare over!

July 6, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Posted in arthrits, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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Hurrah – I finished my week’s worth of prednisolone last night and I’m glad to say the knee is better! Oh … and the helpline phoned me back … on Monday … so five days after I phoned them. Yeah, like I said, they really are NOT for emergencies! I didn’t actually get to speak to her as she phoned on the home number even though I’d requested they try me at work. ‘If you didn’t manage to speak to the doctor or need some advice, do call us back.’ I did see the doctor and didn’t need advice, so I haven’t called back.

I’m still getting a bit of pain in that knee on and off, but then I usually do; I’ve got full ‘bendability’ in it and most of the time it’s not hurting, so I’m quite content … although I do feel as though I’ve just run a marathon, having been cheering on Andy Murray as I watched him (on the telly) fighting his way to the semifinals at Wimbledon!

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!

Wow – where did that come from?

June 27, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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I haven’t posted for a while because I haven’t really had much to post about – health-wise I’ve been good. I’ve been a bit stiff in the mornings for the last few days, but nothing to write home (or indeed blog) about. Then today I woke up stiff and tired, having had a migraine try to start in the night (successfully stopped with drugs!) I really couldn’t wake up for an hour or so this morning – not literally, I got up, had breakfast, went to work, but felt really brain fuggy. (Can’t blame the methotrexate as I take it Monday evenings and it’s Monday morning!)

Then when I got up to go to lunch, or rather tried to, I started to stand up and ended up collapsed back in my chair. No dramatic pain or anything – I was just so all-over stiff that joints weren’t doing what they were supposed to do! So after sitting a minute or two and flexing various bits (luckily on my own in the office so no one to see how weird I looked) I managed to get up and go for a short walk. I’ve been trying to walk about 1.5 miles at lunchtime but today I didn’t make 0.5 miles! The stiffness did mostly ware off but I was left with significant pain in the good ol’ left knee, where I usually get a flare if I’m going to have one. I’m really hoping I’m not!

Perhaps it’s the stress of ‘Brexit’ – the ‘Wow – where did that come from?’ title could also apply to that and it seems that partially to blame (apart from racists, stupid people and perhaps a handful of people with genuine concerns) may be the polls (as opposed to the Poles, which a lot of East Anglia would like to blame, I’m sad to say). The polls kept saying we’d vote to stay, so people decided that it wouldn’t matter if they had a ‘protest vote’. ‘Let’s vote leave, just so the government can see we’re annoyed with them – we’ll end up staying anyway.’ I’ve actually heard people say it, and then there’s this http://article in the Independent. No doubt people like this thought they were being terribly clever and original, but you get enough people doing the same thing (not that original after all guys) and guess what, we end up voting Leave.

Never mind the embarrassment of waggling stiff limbs about randomly in front of people, I feel embarrassed to be English at the moment! (I would say British but the Scots voted to stay!)

Hopefully the stiffness and knee pain will be a short-term issue. Alas, the same cannot be said for the state of Britain!

Baby Doc Shock!

May 18, 2016 at 10:04 am | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I hope those of you in the UK appreciate the Sun style headline! All will become clear shortly, but let’s start with a once upon a time, like all good stories. Once upon a time, two weeks ago in fact, I had ear ache pretty badly … I called the doc, saw the nurse practitioner, got antibiotics for an ear infection, was told not take my methotrexate that week so it didn’t fight the antibiotics (so to speak),  took the antibiotics, got better (but not 100%) and that should have been the end of that … only it wasn’t.

Guess who forgot NOT to take the methotrexate? Bad Polly Penguin!

So anyway, Monday night the ear was niggling quite badly again (and I’d been off the antibiotics for a few days) so I thought, right, I’d better call the doc tomorrow and not take the MTX. Of course yesterday morning the ear felt fine. ‘Still call the doc,’ said wise hubby … and I really, really meant to, but we were very busy at work and I completely forgot. The ear was fine all day. So I thought right, better not delay the methotrexate any longer and I took it last night (and had a most appalling stomach upset, incidentally!)

‘Still call the doc about the ear,’ said wise hubby again, ‘you don’t want it flaring over the weekend when you can’t get a doc,’ so I thought I would … and in fact the ear was niggly again last night and this morning, so at least that reminded me.

Got through to the surgery very quickly. The system is normally you speak to the receptionist, they get a doctor to call you back and then, if the doctor feels the need, you go in and see them. In this instance, to my amazement, as soon as I said what the problem was the receptionist said, ‘Can you come in now?’ So I did. Fantastic, I thought – red flagged because of my immunosuppression – I didn’t think they did that.

And now, finally … for anyone patient enough to have read this far, we get to the baby doc shock! I went in and saw the doctor, who I think is a locum (they mostly are as we have terrible recruitment problems – heaven knows why, it’s a lovely part of the world). She must have been just out of training. She was really lovely, hadn’t had the softness knocked out of her yet, excellent bedside manner, sweet as pie (much sweeter than the original ‘Baby Doc’) and very helpful. She checked both ears, checked my temperature, asked about the history of the last couple of weeks … confirmed I actually had some infection in both ears (which was a surprise) and asked me to come back in a week or so just to make sure everything was OK after I’d finished the antibiotics. All well so far.

‘Shall I take my methotrexate next week, while I’m taking the antibiotics?’ I asked. Baby doc looked thunderstruck. Heck! So much for the red flag for immunosuppression – she didn’t even know I was on methotrexate. ‘I’m on methotrexate for RA,’ I elaborated. ‘The nurse practitioner said not to take it last week because of the antibiotics, so should I take it this time or not?’ (I admit I failed to fess up to having taken the MTX last week!)

‘You’ve got RA? How long have you been on the methotrexate?’ she asked.

‘Oh ages,’ I said cheerfully.

‘But you’re so young for RA!’

My turn to be thunderstruck. Yes, I KNOW GPs have to know a smidgen of everything and there’s a heck of a lot of everything out there, so they can’t be expected to be experts on anything; yes, I know that she’s only just out of nappies … sorry, school … sorry, college;  yes, I know it’s a commonly held misconception … but … well, can I just say aaaaaaaaaaargh.

I didn’t say aaaaaargh to her. After all, she’d been very nice and helpful and I didn’t want to antagonize her … but I did point out that RA can hit at any age, and that mine had started nine years ago when I was 39. Unfortunately, perhaps, I didn’t really push the point … maybe I should have done. She’s probably still a ‘GP trainee’ and might have found the information valuable. Thing is, I was kind of in shock that she’d made that comment and I just didn’t react fast enough.

My apologies for the whole ‘RA’ and arthritis ‘community’ – I feel that I’ve let us down!

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

May 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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Isn’t that a fantastic title for a study of chronic pain to see if it is/might be related to the weather? Well, if you’re in the UK and have arthritis or chronic pain and  smart phone you can do more than just enjoy the great name – you can be part of the study!

All you have to do is agree to participate and download the Umotif app with the code word ‘cloudy’ – allow it to know your location and fill in the details (which really won’t take more than five minutes and probably less) each evening. I think you’re supposed to be able to set a reminder in the app, so that your phone will ping and remind you to complete the survey … as yet I haven’t worked out how tough!

To find out more about the project, funded by Arthritis Research UK, you can go to their website.

This sort of study needs lots and lots of people to really make it work, so if you’re eligible please do join in – it would be fascinating to see if any link to the weather is established. And as the article about this in Arthritis Care’s Inspire magazine points out, if nothing else the study might get a few headlines about arthritis, which ain’t that easy to do!

Even better, this really is ‘Citizen Science’ – anyone who wants to can explore the data, look for patterns and, if they find any, submit their ideas and hypotheses! Cool!

When Polly met Carla

May 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 12 Comments
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Sometimes I feel a wee bit isolated over this side of the pond – all my American blogging friends are meeting up for health blogging conferences and things and I’m stuck over here … but how cool is this?

Not only a card signed by all my ‘US mates’ who were at the latest conference … a really lovely thought of Carla’s (from Carla’s Corner), but also a wonderful picture of me, accompanied by some little friends doing one of my favorite things, yomping about the British countryside (in spite of a dodgy knee, presumably, given the stick) … and by our very own Leslie Vandever, better known in the RA community as Wren, whose art I just love!! I really will treasure this.

But this didn’t just arrive through the post … it was hand delivered by Carla, who came all the way from the States (via London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow as you do) to meet up with me in Norwich and present it to me … OK, so she didn’t exactly come all the way from the States to present it to me, but I’m mighty grateful that she came all the way from her London vacation base … and a day after returning from Edinburgh. We Brits thinks it’s a long way from London to Edinburgh but it’s apparently nothing to an American whose home state is five times the size of the UK … as Carla’s hubby (who reminds me a lot of mine!) pointed out.

They also treated me to a lovely lunch and thanked me for coming … huh? I’ve driven half an hour each way, and jumped on a bus from the park and ride … and taken a day off work* (woohoo) and they’d taken a day out of their vacation and a 5-hour round trip to buy me lunch and deliver this wonderful card and they’re thanking me?! So once again – THANK YOU CARLA AND JACK! And thank you Wren for the wonderful card, and thanks to all you RA bloggers at the conference for the singing of it! Hi to Cathy, Eduardo and Brit, whose blogs I already know, and the rest of you I look forward to ‘meeting’ on line in the near future … now I have your blog details to hand in the card!

It was such fun meeting up and none of those awkward silences that sometimes happen when you meet with people you don’t know well … I think we could have carried on talking for hours, but they had a train to catch and I was supposed to be going back to work.*

Thanks again guys -and maybe one day I’ll get out to the States and meet up with some more of you!

*It was supposed to be part of a day off but it kind of um … extended …

Gluten Free UPdate

April 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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So I did gluten free for a month before we went on holiday to Barcelona – where we had a FABULOUS TIME and ate all sorts of wheat-related products! I can safely say, I think, that it made absolutely no difference to my arthritis, which carried on being mild to moderate and twinging and whinging in exactly the same joints as usual. However, I’ve always had a dodgy stomach for years, the worst thing being wind – and almost as soon as I’d gone gluten-free the windiness massively reduced – almost entirely stopped in fact. That’s a big thing for lifestyle, if not for RA!

So then we went to Spain – wow, warmth, sunshine, fabulous food … but I didn’t bother to attempt gluten free while I was there, while at the same time not going out of my way to eat gluten! We had a pastry of some sort with a fruit salad for most breakfasts, a roll with some dinners and sandwiches for some lunches – we also walked very nearly walked my feet off … even hubby was getting a bit tired! I’ll post some photos when I get them on to my PC, but so far no time this week! We had a wonderful time and saw all sorts of amazing things and … with one notable exception, possibly caused by too much really exceptional paella, my tummy was fine! However, this fits in fine with the possibility of a mild intolerance rather than an allergy – no reason for stomach to react instantly in a bad way.

When we got home I’d run out of gluten free cereal and we weren’t going shopping for a day or two so I had bran flakes again – BAM! Stomach back to square one! Hmm, interesting. No more bran flakes I guess! So I then decided to play this week as gluten free cereal but not to worry about the other food and see how it goes. So far … not fantastic. I might well be going back to (almost) gluten free quite soon!

Unexpected Hospital Invoice

February 5, 2016 at 11:44 am | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 9 Comments
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I got an invoice in the post yesterday from the hospital, ‘Charge for prescription fee’. I haven’t had a prescription fro the hospital – what the heck are they on about? Then I thought, ‘Aha – it’s probably for my appointment on 8th Feb – the injection’ so I phoned finance and pointed out that I had a pre-payment certificate, expecting a whole load of argument about, ‘Oh, we don’t deal with those’, but no – it went very smoothly and she processed it through with the pre-payment certificate- all fine.

Then I took another look at the invoice for some reason – not sure why – and read it properly. ‘Charge for prescription fee 17.01.16 – as no credit terms are offered, please remit by return. If no payment is received within 30 days the invoice will be passed to our debt collection agency.’

Now I was pretty riled and slightly confused – but imagine how some poor little old lady would feel receiving that – OK, it’s not a large amount of money but the aggressive tone is enough to give you palpitations if you’re that way inclined. (I’m not, luckily – it just made me cross!) So I phoned the finance department back and said, ‘Oy, what’s this about 19th of January. I wasn’t there on the 19th of January.’ only (slightly) more politely. ‘Just a moment, I’ll check …’ <Hold music> ‘Yes, that’s right, it was processed on the 19th of January.’ Deep breath … ‘Yes, I know that … but I wasn’t there on the 19th of January so what is this for?’ ‘Oh … er…. we’ve only got the same info that you have – we’re just asked to process the invoice. So you didn’t have an outpatient visit?’ ‘No.’ ‘And you didn’t visit A&E?’ ‘No …’ Did I not just say I wasn’t there? Was that not clear enough? Obviously not. ‘Oh … well, would you like to check with pharmacy?’ So she gave me the pharmacy number and said, ‘But don’t worry, it’s processed on your per-payment certificate anyway.’ And I’m afraid that riled me even more – typical number-cruncher attitude – it doesn’t really matter what it’s for as long as the numbers balance. But I didn’t say anything except a polite thank you for the pharmacy number.

So I phoned the pharmacy – ‘Oh yes, it’s for an injection – it was sent to your GP on the 19th of January.’ ‘

‘It better not have been – because they can supply their own quite handily I believe – they don’t need them sent from the hospital. Are you telling me I’m being charged for something I’m not going to get because my next appointment is with the hospital, not the GP? Or is it perhaps a dose that’s been sent to the hospital rheumatology department, because I do have an appointment with them on 8th February.’ And of course that’s what it was. Hurrah.

Is it really that hard to put on the invoice ‘For hospital methotrexate injection on 8th February’ and take out the whole ‘You are an evil person who hasn’t paid instantly for something you didn’t even know about’ bit? Apparently so. Grrr …

And that only took 20 minutes to sort out and was a one-off. A very intersting post from Carla over at Carla’s Corner, on the time needed to cope with a chronic illness. I have a tiny weeny fraction of what she has to cope with and it still gets me grumpy and slightly stressed.

Really hoping to get a full day’s work in

January 26, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Posted in arthrits, arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Well the knee is certainly a whole lot better and I’m now tapering off the steroids – I ended up with 11 days on 40 mg and then a taper down to nothing. The bad news is, not surprisingly, it’s not 100% better yet, and so far I haven’t managed a full day’s work since this started. Fortunately (not from a financial standpoint, but otherwise) we’re not that busy right now. I’m not too worried as that’s often the case in January and there are things simmering away that should come in over the next few months, and it does mean that if I just can’t manage a full day then so be it. At least the boss can’t get cross with me! (Having said that, I’m probably my own harshest critic, so I guess I can get cross with me!)

On top of the whole knee thing, yesterday I had what was pretty much certainly a full-blown methotrexate-related stomach upset, so I’m very glad now that I’m going on the injected stuff in a couple of weeks! Feeling OK today, if a little tired, but I was a complete wreck for a while last night – thank heavens for Imodium is all I can say!

Still, even if I don’t last all day today at work, I’m confident that I’ll be doing so by the end of the week, so things are on the up! I hope things are going well for all of you too.

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