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Posts Tagged ‘Hip Aspiration’

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Today was a rather confusing day. I woke up in a lot more pain than usual and several jonts in my arms had started to swell and seize up again; not surprising when I was having to bear my weight through them when using the zimmer frame to walk about.  Disappointingly, I needed more help than I had done over the past couple of days and the nurses soon noticed and assured me they’d get in touch with my doctors and the Pain team.

Late morning, the Physios arrived to see me. Despite my painful arm joints, I had to keep on using the zimmer as the ‘lesser of two evils’; I couldn’t come this far in building up my walking, only to let my hard work go down the drain to protect my arms. Plus I was making progress. Since the cortisone injection in my hip the previous day, I was finally able to lift that stubborn left foot of the floor a few centimetres and take a proper step. This did a lot to reassure me that I would get normal function back, because I was still very worried it would be lost at this point.

The Physios had their concerns too: now that I’d had the procedure to my hip, the rest of my recovery was down to rehabilitation and they mentioned that I was due to go to a Residential Mobility Rehabilitation Unit for a few weeks. However, although I’d benefit pysically, they said that because of my age various people felt that it might not be the best place for me emotionally, being mainly old people there. Instead, they had put the suggestion forward to provide the same support within my own home, which to me sounded much better.  But I knew I had to have that support in place straight away, because I wouldn’t be able to manage on my own and they agreed. They left shortly afterwards, telling me that they would communicate my thoughts and, if it was agreed that I could avoid the Rehab Centre, would start putting the ‘home plan’ into action. They would see me on Monday to make a start on using crutches.

I have to admit, I was a little worried that I’d end up at the Rehabilitation Centre; my Nan had spent time in one, so I had a clear image of what they were like. It sounded promising that I’d get the support at home though and nothing was going to happen just yet, so I tried not to think about it too much. My main concern for now was to sort my elbow and shoulder joints out, so they wouldn’t prevent me from using the zimmer and carrying on with my walking. The day passed as normal; then, at some point in the afternoon, a doctor I hadn’t seen before came to see me. I assumed that he was one of my Consultant’s juniors, come to assess my joints and pain, (which was quite severe by this point), but instead he declared that I was free to go home!

I was a bit stunned as he left the room. Obviously, it was great news that I could go home, but only hours earlier I had been facing the prospect of a Rehab Centre and talking about my next Physio session on Monday…. then again, it was Friday and I know how they like to clear people out before the weekend if possible!  A nurse came in to tell me that my medication was all ready and I asked her all the questions I hadn’t managed to get out with the Doctor: mainly about the support I would receive at home. This wasn’t something she’d been aware of and so she left to chase it up, returning to say that I could only leave when that was arranged and the appropriate equipment provided.

A lot of confusion ensued.

The Physios returned and weren’t very happy that it was all happening so sudden and fast – they had a few hours, last thing on a Friday afternoon, to liase with a different County Trust about providing my care at home – something that proved very difficult, taking over a week to put in place – and to get me up on crutches, ready for home. I was already struggling with the zimmer, but putting weight through my locked elbow using crutches was agony; I knew so and they knew so, but it seemed I just had to grit my teeth and get on with it. I didn’t manage very well – a couple of steps – and the stairs were a nightmare that drove me to tears, but by this point I felt so confused and frustrated with the situation that I just wanted to go home. The Physios had their doubts but the decision had already been made..

Back on the ward, nurses and auxilliaries kept popping in to say their goodbyes. Eventually, my Rheumatologist came to see me and the whole situation suddenly felt too much. Here I was, feeling worse than I had been, unable to do much for myself or to use the crutches to get around and yet being sent home all of a sudden; moreover, I was being told different things by different people about whether I was ready to be home or not. And so I got a bit emotional. I don’t really remember what bothered me the most, I think that was probably the issue – I didn’t know what I felt myself anymore – just bewildered.

My Rheumy explained that I wasn’t actually admitted under his care (as I had come via A&E), but the care of the doctor who had visited me earlier, and it was this doctor’s decision to discharge me. He also explained that now they’d done the procedure, there was little else they could do for me in hospital, but that he was happy to request I stay until Monday if I felt I needed it in order to cope better. But who asks to stay in hospital? If they thought I was well enough to go home, I wanted to go home! Aslong as I had the support they had promised in place. He took a look at my joints before he left for the weekend. There was nothing he could do about the shoulders, since they had only been injected the previous week, but he agreed that we should inject the left elbow. This elbow has troubled me for some time now, swells painfully and locks at an angle, but doesn’t respond very well to cortisone injections; however, it was worth a shot (excuse the pun) if it gave me a better chance with the crutches.

In the end, they weren’t able to provide me with the equipment I needed for home that night and so I had to wait for it the next day. It somehow made staying there harder than it had been, but at least I knew I would be home soon and it gave me a little bit of extra time to practice using the crutches.

I was right to be worried though. Even then, I didn’t realise quite how hard a transition it would be to go home, but we would do it and manage.

L

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Not much to report for today. I had another session of Physiotherapy with the walker this morning, with a different Physio, who discovered that I had a physical reason for not being able to lift my foot from the floor. The swelling and inflammation in my hip was causing a slight impingement of the muscle, making it feel like the joint was loose; this should settle down once I have had the procedure to inject cortisone into the joint tomorrow, so nothing to be too concerned about for now. I still feel like I have made some progress with my walking though and was glad that I kept up with the exercises that they left me yesterday. I have been making a mental note to do a couple each hour or so and soon noticed a difference in how my knees/ankles were moving. I might not be able to lift that foot from the floor yet, but I was at least taking steps in a more natural way than before and following through with a good knee bend – baby steps, but all in the right direction.

My Rheumy visited later on in the afternoon and was pleased to see me on my feet, making the most of being able to stand again! He agreed with the Physio, that there was a physical reason for me not being able to lift the foot, and said it should benefit from the procedure tomorrow. I am due to have cortisone injected into both hip joints via ultrasound guidance, nothing too major but because it is such a deep joint it has to be done using local anaesthetic, in a sterile environment and with a lot of preparation. I am a little concerned this time round; when I had something similar last week, I was in so much pain that I probably tolerated more than I would usually, so maybe this time will hurt? I’m not having it done by the radiographer either, but my Rheumy’s Registrar, who doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence (not that I doubt his competency, I think it is just his manner). I just have to tell myself that the overall benefits will be worth the pain, and remind myself that anything that can prevent that original pain coming through again has to be worthwhile.

I had a number of visitors today, which was lovely; my boyfriend’s mum and grandma came for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then my dad and boyfriend came in the evening. They found a wheelchair and took me for a ride round the (huge) hospital, which doesn’t sound like much but it was great to escape the confines of my room and get a breath of semi-fresh air from passing the front entrance, shame about the smokers! My boyfriend was allowed to stay past visiting hours so that he could help me wash and change for bed, he even shaved my legs for me bless him. Despite having to swallow my pride on numerous occasions during my stay, I was not ready to show off my hairy leggedness during the procedure tomorrow!

I got a bit emotional this evening too; I don’t know if it’s because of the extra morphine but I suddenly felt quite ‘loved up’ and started telling everyone I loved them and how grateful I was for their support. I know I will probably cringe at this tomorrow, since I find it hard to be open with my feelings a lot of the time. Even though they run deep and I want people to know just how much I love and appreciate them, it isn’t always easy to just say so, so maybe I should be thankful to the morphine for giving me the opportunity.

Because, I know I keep saying it, but if it wasn’t for the people I have around me, this would be so much harder; I’m not sure how I would cope.

L

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I can see my toes again!

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We made some progress today, in that I was able to sit up a bit more and eventually moved into a special reclining chair that one of the lovely male nurses managed to wrangle for me. This proved to be a fantastic help over my remaining days in hospital; it was remote controlled, raising and lowering as well as reclining, and so I was able to sit/stand without bearing too much weight through my hips. It was also a lot more comfortable than being stuck in the bed all day, with my legs stuck out in front of me; it’s surprising what relief a change in position can bring. Now that we knew there was no damage to my spine, I was able to switch between the two and make further steps towards getting myself more mobile – things were looking up.

And then came the ward rounds.

My Rheumatologist’s Registrar came to see me with a few other curious doctors. He told me that there was no infection present in the fluid they had taken from my hip on Friday and so it was looking like the Synovitis and Joint Effusion was down to an exacerbated Still’s flare.  He said he believed that the Still’s was getting worse because the Tocilizumab wasn’t working, despite the improvements to my bloodwork. He then went on to say that that the problem was, I had tried all the different mechanisms of drugs by this point: Enbrel, the anti-tnf, Anakinra the il-1 receptor antagonist, Abatacept the T-Cell inhibitor and Tocilizumab the il-6 receptor inhibitor.

As a result, he said I had run out of options and that my main hope was for them to look into future clinical trials that may include Still’s Disease patients. He mentioned the possibility of returning to anti-tnf therapy but felt that there was only a limited chance that I would respond after forming antibodies to Enbrel previously.  I was lost for words and he went away leaving me in a lot of doubt and feeling quite scared about the future. I have always known that my Still’s Disease was difficult to treat and did not follow the typical pattern; my Rheumatologist and I had often joked about how complicated I was, but we had always had a plan of action, another drug in the pipeline if the current one didn’t prove a success. I had always had faith that we would get on top of things eventually, even if it was a long, hard struggle to get there. Was I wrong to be so positive, naive even?

For the rest of the day I was out of sorts; I became tearful when I needed help from a nurse to go to the toilet, frustrated with my dependence and disability all of a sudden – was this going to become the norm for me? I spent a lot of time talking to my friends and family about it and they reassured me that I needed to see what my Rheumatologist said first; as I said before, he had always kept me optimistic about my future. He came to see me at about 6pm that day; I can’t remember the conversation now but nothing he said made me feel like a lost cause. Instead, he suggested that we persevere with the Cyclosporin a bit longer (with the Tocilizumab), since that had always brought some level of control in the past and I had only been on it for a few weeks at that point – some of which may not even have counted, since it is possible I may not have absorbed any medication while I had chronic Gastritis.

He admitted things were pretty dire and couldn’t offer me any guarentees, but he at least didn’t make me feel like I had completely run out of options.  I was able to relax a bit more and focus on the here and now again, taking small steps towards getting back on my feet and home – washing at the sink, using the toilet, getting between the bed and chair on my walker etc.

But I have to admit, the Registrar’s claims have been niggling away at me ever since.

L

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This morning was an extremely difficult time, but I was closer to getting things more under control and was finally receiving the right care.

They woke me at 8.00am to take me down for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan of my hips and spine; unfortunately, the porter collected me before the pain medications were dispensed and by the time we got down to Radiography, I was distressed and shouting out with the excruciating pain once again, especially after being ‘patslided’ numerous times (this is undoubtedly a useful way of manouvering immobile patients, but does not protect you from the pain of such movement). They had to call up to the ward to bring some relief down, since I needed to be still for the 40 minute scan and at this point it wasn’t looking likely. Even the Morphine didn’t really settle things down; I was realising that by the time it got to such extremes, it took repeated doses to get back on top of it. They asked me if I wanted to postpone the scan but I felt that it was needed to get to the bottom of what was causing the pain. The sooner we found that out, the sooner we could treat it properly.

So I told them I wanted to go ahead, grit my teeth and attempted to take my mind elsewhere.

The MRI Scanner

I’ve had many MRI scans in the past and usually find them quite relaxing, despite the noise. They lie (sometimes strap) you on a stretcher that moves into a tunnel, where the scan takes place. In the above picture it looks like the patient has gone in headfirst, but in my experience my head has been at the entrance – much less claustrophobic. Usually, they give you headphones (often with music), both to protect your ears from the noise and to communicate with you from outside of the room; they also place a buzzer in your hand, which you can press at any time you feel distressed or want to stop. The scan is not painful. It basically consists of rotating magnetic signals being blasted at your body as you lie very still – you cannot feel these but they are expressed as noise patterns that change with different frequencies etc. So for five minutes it might sound like you’re surrounded by knocking, the next five by drilling, the next five by clicking, tapping, zapping and so on… A lady I met even described one of the noises as reminding her of frogs croaking first thing on a wet morning in Borneo!

I tend to just shut my eyes and relax, as if going to sleep; but this particular scan wasn’t that easy though. It was torture just making myself lie still, as my body kept trying to tense up to protect itself from the pain; I had to consciously relax every muscle and breathe. I think I cried through a good ten minutes or so of it but knew that wasn’t helping, despite it being an automatic response. The pain was still severe but eventually I managed to distance myself from it; I can’t exactly explain how – I’ve read a few books on meditative practices, so maybe they came in handy? I knew that each change in the sound pattern meant a certain amount of time passing and soon enough it went silent and a voice in my ear was telling me it was finished. To say I felt relieved would be an understatement!

Obviously, it takes time for someone to analyse the MRI scan pictures and give a full report, but sometimes things are apparent straight away. For me, they noticed that I had a lot of fluid surrounding my left femoral head (ie. Left Hip joint) and a smaller amount around the Right. I was taken straight to another part of the department to have this removed by aspiration and ultrasound. By that point, I was allowed further pain relief and this dose worked enough for me to feel a lot calmer. It’s embarrassing to look back on now, but I caused quite a scene that morning howling like a banshee and such. Thank goodness the worst was now over.

I was quite nervous about the hip aspiration. I’d had it done as a child but they put you under with gas at that age; this time it would be an injection of local anaesthetic. The team of people with me were lovely and great at making me feel at ease; the Radiographer in particular had a very calming effect and I felt in very safe hands.  He used the ultrasound scanner to examine my left hip first and to pinpoint just where the fluid had accumulated around it. This is similar to the scanners you see unborn babies with – a cold gel is placed on the surface of the skin and onto a ‘probe’, which the radiographer slides over the area in question, sending ultrasonic waves through the skin. These waves bounce off things inside at different levels (according to density I think), to create the pictures you see on the screen – the main thing I learnt is that fluid bounces back as black, so when he was looking for the fluid around my hip joint, it appeared as a large black shadow around/within the hip, which appears a greyish-white as that is denser.

Once he found the fluid, he needed to find a straight path to it from the skin surface without passing through any major blood vessels – there is actuallly a lot more time spent preparing the procedure than the procedure itself. Happy that he’d found a route, the radiographer then slowly began to administer the local anaesthetic by long needle; he did this in stages to ensure that I was as numb as possible, but as he came closer to the joint itself, he began to warn me that I’d feel quite a bit of pain but it would be shortlived. The pain didn’t come. He kept asking me “are you sure you can’t feel anything?”, while jabbing the needle further in, and I kept shaking my head. It was a bit like the movie ‘Death Becomes Her’ where the doctor can’t understand how her very broken wrist isn’t troubling her!

I asked him if this was something to worry about and he pulled that confused, thinking look that doctors do sometimes, as he explained that most patients find it at least uncomfortable to have a needle in the joint capsule. He said if I really wasn’t feeling anything, then he’d be concerned that I had some nerve damage to the hip itself and that this should be investigated too. For now though, we concentrated on the aspiration. With the needle in place, he was able to aspirate 5ml of fluid from the hip capsule; this didn’t look an awful lot to me – one small syringe, whereas my knees used to drain 2-3 much larger syringe-fulls as a child – but apparently it is a lot, as there is very little ‘spare room’ within hip joints. I was told that this explained the level of pain I was in and the lack of response to pain relief. He told me that they could have given me all the pain relief in the world, but as long as that fluid was stretching the joint out of place as it was, I’d have had excruciating pain. Hopefully, with it now gone, things would settle to a more bearable level.

I was confident that they would; in fact, I was pretty sure that I noticed an improvement as soon as the fluid was gone. I was by no means cured – the fluid needed to be sent for testing to rule out septic arthritis and we needed to find out if anything other than the Still’s Disease was causing the hip to produce so much fluid / get the full report on the MRI scan etc…  I have had very fluidy joints in the past, but I can’t remember where it fits in with things. Since this has become a major issue this past week, I will look into it myself at some point. After the hip aspiration, I was also given an abdominal ultrasound; something I was due to have that day anyway. It showed that my liver and spleen were enlarged, but since this is common with my flares, it didn’t cause him too much concern.

The rest of the day blurs in with the rest; I was to remain slightly propped up on my back in bed to take the pressure off my hips until the full MRI report was back, but with no turning timetable; instead I had to be checked for pressure sores and, when developing the starts of them on my heels, had to rest them on an inflatable. The auxillaries had to do everything for me – wash me, dress me, toilet me, help feed me… but when you feel so poorly those things don’t bother you, you’re grateful for the help and they were brilliant at providing it. I slept a lot but my Kindle came in handy as I managed to hold it above me to read for short periods but then my friend downloaded some audiobooks onto my blackberry, which was even more perfect! People were always popping into my room to see if I was okay and I had plenty of visitors, so strangely, I never felt bored!

It was decided that we would go ahead with my fifth Tocilizumab infusion that afternoon; the initial feeling on examining the fluid from my hip was that it was ‘viscous and stringy’, a good sign that there was no infection present. If it turned out there was, I’d be hooked up to IV antibiotics straight away anyway… it was one of those ‘risk-weighing’ decisions and I guess there was more risk in leaving the Still’s untreated by this point.  My infusion ward was only next door and my regular nurses took it in turns to pop round and check on the infusion and to see what ‘trouble’ I’d got myself into. They all have a way of making you feel that they care about you as an individual and they have a lot of patients going through their ward each week/month/year.  I guess this is an example of how good care can be in hospital too – from one extreme to the other.

My consultant visited that afternoon but I don’t remember much about the conversation now. All I know is that I was pleased he took the time to see me and it again reassured me that I was on the right track. One thing that we both agreed though, is that I’ve had some nasty flares and some severe joint involvement over the years; but this hip pain was totally out of proportion to anything I’d ever experienced and we needed to get to the bottom of it fast.

L

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