A Presumptive Diagnosis

Aside

The marrying of Evidence-based medicine and Experience-based medicine.

Have you ever sat in a Dr’s surgery, told the Dr everything about your signs and symptoms, and then you hear those fated word:

“WELL IN MY EXPERIENCE”

Many years ago, we trusted Dr’s to use their experience to know what was wrong with us.  These days, we can now have blood tests, scans, x-rays and more, to back up that experience.

Some Dr’s are single (they only use Evidence, or they only use Experience.  Some Dr’s have successfully married the two.  Others are in a relationship, but is very shaky and they have to work hard to keep the relationship on an even keel.

If your Dr is a “in my experience” type Dr you need to remind them that actually Doc, it’s not just about your experience, it’s also about your skills to interpret results of blood tests, scans, images, or any other investigation, to build a full picture.  Its about your ability to keep an open mind, your realisation that not every blocked nose is a cold, that every high BP is from poor diet and lack of exercise.

You might have had Jane Doe in here with a blocked nose that was hay fever last week.  But I don’t get hay fever, my nose is not normally blocked like this, and it is giving me a major headache.

If ever a Dr says to you “Well in my experience” and they have never met you before, then there experience could mean diddlysquat, if it not balanced with correct interpretation from clinical investigations, blood tests, x-rays, scans, or what ever else needs to be done before a confirmed diagnosis is made..

Dr’s must learn to park their experience at the door when they first come into the room to see a new patient because their experience, however vast, can mean a missed diagnosis, a wrong presumption, the brushing aside of what appears a “minor abnormality” which can be a major cause, or the vital clue to the true condition.

 Let me give you an example.

As those who have read my blog know, my husband Derek has Antiphospholipid Syndrome.  It means his blood is more susceptible to clotting.  To prevent this happening he takes Warfarin.

In May 2012 the Dr’s stopped his warfarin for 5 days without any anticoagulation cover.  We, at this time, trusted Dr’s to know what they were doing.

The day of the biopsy he felt “unwell”, the day after his biopsy he was seriously sick.

Enter the Presumptive Dr.  Experience based diagnosis and treatment began.  In the experience of all the Drs we dealt with, on balance of presumption, he had Sepsis.

Immediately treating that sepsis was the right option.  However, they still had to make sure it was sepsis, not just use their experience and accept it.

After giving the high dose anitbiotics, what they did was ignore the facts as presented.  When we spoke to each Dr we told them:

  • Derek had not had warfarin for 5 days (and was still not taking it)
  • Derek had a blood clotting disorder which, without warfarin, meant he had a high risk of clotting
  • He felt unwell at the time of the biopsy

The Evidence Based Medicine did not support a diagnosis of sepsis, especially when you add the signs and symptoms together.   The clinical evidence showed no sign of infection based on a number of blood tests.  The blood tests only showed his body was fighting inflammation which is a classic sigh of an APS flair, or CAPS.  They could not identify any bacteria or any of the many signs, only an indication of inflammation.

Yet because sepsis was the obvious diagnosis based on experience, no other investigation even was done when the evidence didn’t support it.  It was put down to just one of those things.

In Sept 2012 the same thing happened.  Between 2 and 16 Oct we visited many Drs, telling them all the same story.  He had stopped warfarin for 5 days, then had prostate surgery, and  had been unwell the entire time.

All that was heard was Warfarin and prostate surgery.  Clearly he had some form of infection, firstly a UTI, then a reaction to antibiotics, then a throat infection, another reaction to medication, a kidney infection……. Infection, infection, infection.  Never did he have a blood test. All the diagnoses were experience based presumptions, without evidence.  2 tests were done during the week, one throat swab and one swab of a rash.  Both these came back clear.  No one listened to the real symptoms and none of the Dr’s put all the symptoms together.  Just because there was symptoms 1 yesterday, didn’t mean it should be ignore when symptom 2 happened.  In the 2 weeks from 2 to 16 October, Derek only had 1 blood test.  Nobody queried his history of cessation of warfarin and the history of blood clots.  We told of a history of his INR going high above range, then a bleeding event in the previous 2 weeks.  All were ignored because those we spoke to had no experience with those, so they couldn’t comment.

This is where experience based medication falls down.  To use experience, the Dr must first have experience.  Because it was rare, they did not.

On 16 Oct Derek was finally admitted to hospital  He had had blood tests on the Friday which when finally looked at 4 days later, and were all way out of range.

He was rushed to hospital via ambulance, but still his own Dr, knowing his history, told the Ambulance officers that it was suspected sepsis.

On the morning of 17 Oct he had a CT.

This CT showed a small pocket of pneumonia and an accumulation of fluid around the lungs.

What was also mentioned on the CT report was what “has the appearance of a clot, and the left adrenal gland appears enlarged”.

These two findings were ignored as insignificant compared to the fluid around the lungs, and the presumption that he again had Sepsis.

For 6 days they ignored the history of APS, cessation of warfarin, and the findings on the CT and instead treated him (unsuccessfully) for sepsis.  No matter the treatment, his body continued shutting down.

It wasn’t until a junior Dr visited Derek.  Having left all presumptions at the door, she started from scratch.  She asked questions, studied his body, all the time taking note.  She then went and read the reports.  Including the report from 17 Oct.  It was only then, because a Dr threw all presumptions of the previous 2 weeks, out the window, that the true catastrophe revealed itself.

I am not saying that immediate treatment for sepsis wasn’t a good idea, but when they didn’t find any evidence of it, then they should have kept looking.

Yes, treat the easiest condition first, but consider other options, including, if all else proves negative, that zebra hiding in the dark corner.

“In my experience”

If the Dr says this to you and you have never met him/her before, point out that any experience they had before facing you, although useful, needs to be successfully married to evidence, and they need to have experience of using that evidence.

What you are looking for from them is their training and knowledge in interpreting investigations, with an open mind to the possibility that they have never experienced YOUR particular circumstances before.

Experience is great once they know what is wrong, but making a presumption based more on their experience than on fact, can leave many people remaining undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, untreated or feeling sicker than before.  When it happens time and time again, some patients just feel like giving up.

It can be hard to be taken seriously when you have to go from Dr to Dr because you KNOW there is something wrong, and all you get is Presumptive diagnoses, the treatment for which, is clearly not working.

It is hard to advocate for yourself, but if you are able to, when the Dr seems to be diagnosing you based on HIS/HER experience, not yours, ask them what they are basing their diagnosis on.  Get them to explain how they came to that decision.  Ask what evidence they have.

It can be hard, but if asked in the right way, and if necessary asking the same question in several different ways, it can make the Dr rethink their own ideas.  Sometimes however, the Experience and the Evidence are divorced. They will never live happily together with the Dr, and at this time, you need to find another Dr.

Low Cortisol or an Adrenal Crisis – Learning the difference

(Low Cortisol or an Adrenal Crisis – PDF of this blog.)

CHECK OUT THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON THIS POST HERE

Many with Addison’s Disease, especially in the early years after diagnosis, don’t have a clear understanding of what an Adrenal Crisis is­.

Some are very sick and believe it can be treated at home, others are low on cortisol and believe they urgently need Emergency Department treatments.  It can be very hard to tell the difference at times.

Then we have the Dr’s view, based on books, not on experience, which is, don’t know so won’t treat.

THE FACTS:

  1. Low Cortisol WILL lead to an Adrenal Crisis, if not dealt with;
  2. Adrenal Crisis DOES need Emergency Medical Treatment;
  3. Adrenal Crisis WILL lead to Death (or worse) if not treated urgently and correctly;
  4. Dr’s DO cause Adrenal Crisis’ because they don’t know, or don’t listen to their patients.

I am guessing the first thing you are asking is “What is worse than Death?”

Quite simply it’s Permanent Brain Damage, Permanent Heart Damage, Permanent disability.  Severe damage to other organs, and in many cases if you survive, PTSD.

An Adrenal Crisis can come on rapidly, or it can come on because you haven’t controlled the symptoms of low cortisol.  It may be because you have an infection and don’t know. There are many reasons for cortisol being used up quickly in your body.  Some of them obvious, some not so.

If you suffer a Genuine Adrenal Crisis and don’t get appropriate treatment fast, the ultimate outcome will be death.

Those with Adrenal Insufficiency and just as importantly, those who live with someone with Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) need to learn the difference in symptoms. And it isn’t something you can learn from a book because we are not all modelled on a book.  We are all human, with different functioning ability in our body.

It is also hard because there is a point when symptoms of low cortisol and an impending adrenal crisis meet.

And it is these symptoms that cause confusion.  If you can treat them by taking extra cortisol, then it is low cortisol.  If you can’t resolve the symptoms with oral medication, then it is the beginnings of a crisis.

Low Cortisol or Adrenal Crisis

From Low Cortisol to Adrenal Crisis

Click the image to see how the symptoms can present, and how they meet as you move from low cortisol to crisis. Most of these symptoms are not “in the book” as an adrenal crisis, and are not considered by many Dr’s as important enough to treat by bumping (updosing).

We all hear that if you have a major trauma, or vomit several times, or have a high temperature, inject.  If you have to inject, go to hospital.

But what about those symptoms in Blue above?  Should you be taking extra HC if you feel all or any of these symptoms.  Some of them occur every day for some people.   Other’s never experience them.

It’s always a guessing game.  Do you Up Dose, Stress Dose, or Inject and race to hospital.  What are these options?

Updosing:

To Updose is what Derek does when we are going out.  He will also do it if he is doing something more than normal around the house.  Perhaps he is going to help me do a little gardening or we are going to a Show, or out to Dinner.  Or if he begins to feel a certain sort of tired.  And here is the other problem.  How do we know if he is just tired because he has done more than normal, or tired because he is low on cortisol.

There is no hard and fast rule.  He had to learn to listen to his body.  We know that when he is tired, he gets sore hips or starts yawning in a certain way.  These are his first symptoms of low cortisol but it doesn’t mean he has to up dose.  It may just mean he needs to sit and rest.

The biggest clue for Derek is if he can’t keep his eyes open, he feels weak, or he gets a mild gas he can’t shift.  When this happens he will take an extra 2.5-5 mg of Hydrocortisone.  He will then lay down to rest and the symptoms will normally resolve themselves.

If he suffers more painful gas under the ribs, has gas that doesn’t ease on burping, has a headache and feels “blah”, he will “Stress dose”.  He will take 10-20 mg Hydrocortisone in one hit.  He will also then try to get to a Dr within 24 hours to find out why he is that low.

I has taken almost 4 years to learn the difference between all his symptoms, and how to respond to each.

When new to Adrenal Insufficiency we asked each of Derek’s treating Dr’s, including his Endocrinologist, if the symptoms he had were AI related.    The immediate response was no because it isn’t in the “book” as a symptom.

There is a belief within the medical community that If it’s not “in the book”, then it can’t be a symptom! In fact, you will not find any mention in medical books, about the concept of Updosing for minor stressors, or needing to take an extra 5 mg if you are going out somewhere.  Yet those that do updose, have less need to Stress Dose or inject.  That’s not to say the don’t do the latter two, they just appear to manage their illness a little better.

A good example of the need to updose to prevent the need to stress dose occurred recently.  We went to a quiz evening at a pub.  It takes 2 hours, and technically is a lot of stress free fun.  Derek has been twice now.  The first time he took 5 mg HC (2.5 mg more than normal) before going.  The second night he didn’t.

By the end of the second night you could see he was suffering from low cortisol.  He found it hard to move, was very stiff and sore in the hips, he was burping more than he should, his speech was quiet, and not “normal”, he was finding it hard to think clearly and he just wanted to go to sleep.  By the time we got home it was all he could do to get into bed.

According to the books, and many Dr’s, there is no need to take extra for these types of activities.

The next morning he woke and was very sluggish.  He found getting out of bed very hard and was not sure he would be able to work, but knew he had to.  He had to push himself all day.

The result of not taking an extra 2.5 mg for the non stressful quiz, was several days of being sluggish, with no energy and feeling ill . That 2.5 mg, although small in relative terms of his daily dose, would have been enough to make it a fun night, and be able to function the next day.  Not taking it meant he had to take things very easy work wise on Friday, and do nothing Saturday.  If it had been earlier in the week, but the end of the week he would have been stress dosing rather than updosing.

Stress Dosing

Stress dosing is something that IS in the books.  But it is not normally recommended until after you need it.  The problem with that is, sometimes it is too late.

When Derek gets really bad gas that won’t shift, we know it is a good sign that something is wrong.  After listening to the Dr’s, and ignoring it, and Derek ending up in Crisis in Hospital, we now take note of it.

This is when he will Stress Dose.  He will take 10-20 mg in one hit.  We will also either get an urgent appointment with his Dr, or I will take him to an after hours medical center, to get him checked over.  He normally has an infection.  He then continues with stress dosing for several days while most likely on antibiotics.

This gas, which the Dr’s have told him is NOT a symptom of an impending crisis, was the ONLY symptom he had before his last crisis.  It’s not in the books, therefore it isn’t real, but they can’t explain why ignoring it leads to a crisis.

When Derek went into Crisis in 2014 his Endocrinologist said he didn’t understand why the crisis happened.  Simply, we followed his advice and did as he said.  We don’t make that mistake now.

Once you get to this point, your meds may stop working because your stomach becomes upset, and you stop absorbing your them.  You are now on the steep slippery slope to full blown crisis.

Adrenal Crisis

If you have a full blown adrenal crisis, INJECT.  Don’t wait until you fit the medical definition of dangerously low blood pressure, unconsciousness, or constant vomiting.
Derek vomited for 1 day when he had his worst crisis, but he was in crisis for a week before they worked out what was wrong.

The Medical books that describe Adrenal Crisis also describe Hypovolmeic shock.

Hypovolemic shock
Hypovolemic shock is an emergency condition in which severe blood or fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body. This type of shock can cause many organs to stop working.Causes
The amount of circulating blood in your body may drop when you lose too many other body fluids. This can be due to:
• Burns
• Diarrhea
• Excessive perspiration
VomitingSymptoms
Symptoms may include:
• Anxiety or agitation
• Cool, clammy skin
• Confusion
• 
Decreased or no urine output
• General weakness

• Pale skin color (pallor)
Rapid breathing
Sweating, moist skin
• UnconsciousnessThe greater and more rapid the blood loss, the more severe the symptoms of shock.
• Low blood pressure
• Low body temperature
• Rapid pulse, often weak and thread
Acute adrenal crisis
Acute adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there is not enough cortisol. This is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.Causes of adrenal crisis include:
• 
Dehydration
• Diarrhea
• 
Infection and other physical stress
• Injury to the adrenal or pituitary gland
• Stopping treatment too suddenly with glucocorticoid medicines
• Surgery
• Trauma (eg Burns)Symptoms
Symptoms and signs of adrenal crisis can include any of the following:
• Abdominal pain or flank pain
• Confusion, loss of consciousness, or coma
• Dehydration
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Fatigue, severe weakness
• Headache
• High fever
• Loss of appetite
• Low blood pressure
• Nausea, vomiting
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid respiratory rate
• Slow, sluggish movement
• Unusual and excessive sweating on face or palms

Dr’s treat hypovolemic shock as an incredibly serious recognised condition that must by given the highest priority.  Yet Adrenal Crisis, which can have the same symptoms, and same outcome of Death, is frequently ignored.

Many Dr’s, especially in Emergency Departments, have read a book once, a long time ago, about Adrenal Insufficiency.  The problem is, that book takes a long time to become medical education material.  The studies must be done, published, then peer reviewed. It then has to be used when writing “the book” (which can take years), then the book must be published (which can take another couple of years).  Once that has happened, it must be considered, and then accepted, as a good teaching tool.

By the time this has happened, there has already been better research, which is being peer reviewed, and published.  That research then has to wait years for the next “book” to be produced or updated.

The information is already old before it goes in the Book.  And Emergency Department Dr’s don’t read all the latest research when it comes out, if they did, they wouldn’t have time to work, so they skip over the specialist stuff that they were told in medical school they would never encounter.

Because many Dr’s don’t have the latest information, as the patient, you must have it. Join support groups so you can learn what is reliable, and what is old.  Good support groups keep abreast of all new information and medical knowledge.  Despite what Dr’s try and tell you, Dr Google can be your friend if used properly.

I have been in an emergency department and seen Dr’s use Google to find out about Derek’s conditions.  Yet some of these same Dr’s repost around the Internet, that great sign below that we have all seen.

If you have the unfortunate pleasure of attending a hospital because you are in an Adrenal Crisis you may be lucky enough to be treated by a Dr that has heard of Adrenal Insufficiency.  Unfortunately many do not get that lucky.  They suffer at the hands of Drs who do not understand a crisis.  Yet they understand shock.  For this reason, you must know the difference between the three dosing styles.

UPDOSE – STRESS DOSE – INJECT

Learn your body’s signs and symptoms, and which option is needed.  And don’t be afraid to use it.

REMEMBER:
Too much one day won’t kill you.
Too little in one day will.

If you’ve updosed, tried drinking something to increase your salt/electrolytes and you still have symptoms, then Stress Dose.  If you take 10-20 mg and after an hour you still have the symptoms (especially the overlapping symptoms) then it is probably time to inject seek medical help.  If you vomit twice and can’t keep medication down, inject and seek help urgently.

IT IS BETTER TO PREVENT A CRISIS,
THAN TREAT A CRISIS.

Dr Google has good research. Use it

Does your Dr have this somewhere?

Sometimes "Google" and the internet have better medical knowledge than your Dr. Don't be afraid to use it, just make sure you use legitimate medical sites.

Show him this one instead!

For Want of an Emergency Injection!

Some people wonder why I keep going on about Adrenal Insufficiency, and key trying to raise awareness. The reason is, knowledge can save lives.

Recently I wrote a booklet called “Did you really just say that”. It is a compilation of quotes from Medical professionals to Addison’s patients and was written because of a discussion in a closed forum about what Dr’s had said to various patients about Adrenal Insufficiency.

The reality of what has been said by medical professionals (some who should know a lot more about the condition) and why we all have a problem with it, has been hit home to us all in a way none of us thought possible.

On 4th of January a beautiful young lady called Katie (24) had a common virus. This was something any normal person would shake off. She had started to feel unwell so went to bed. At some point during the night she was found by her parent unconscious and not breathing after they heard her fall..

They called an ambulance. They could not give her an emergency injection at home as they didn’t have one. The Ambulance service could not give her an emergency injection, they didn’t carry one.

Her Dr had previously said:

“It’s not a big deal, you should just take your hydrocortisone and you should be fine, don’t be over dramatic with the injection, you live near ER’s it’s not that necessary.”

Derek was also told after diagnosis that in New Zealand we were never that far from a hospital, so would never need an emergency injection. We ignored the Endocrinologist that said that and always make sure he has his on him. And this proves us right to do so.

Those with adrenal insufficiency are always told “don’t take extra hydrocortisone unless you have a temperature, are vomiting or are injured.”

With Adrenal Insufficiency,
when you go down,
you can go down fast!
Really fast!!

Kate was a college junior. After struggling for a while, in 2015 she began to improve and was able to return to college and start “living” again.

Then one day at the beginning of this year her mother announced on her facebook page”

medical

“On Sunday Katie became just slightly nauseous, a possible stomach bug. She said she was managing, no vomiting yet. Sometime through the night she must have become very ill. With Addison’s Disease the electrolytes can plummet dangerously low very suddenly At 6:30am Dave and I heard a loud crash. She had collapsed in her bathroom. It took a minute, two? to get into her room as her door was locked. She was not breathing. Dave began CPR, EMT’s were summoned and arrived in 2 minutes. Thank God we live close to the station. Thank God we were home. She was rushed to the trauma unit, unresponsive, but stabilized medically. We were told she had suffered cardiac arrest and later informed of multiple strokes. She was moved to the critical care unit and placed on hypothermic cooling to save brain function.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday she remained on full life support. She is fighting. Yesterday she responded to me warming her feet and nodded her head when I asked if she wanted a warmed blanket. She was on so many means of support that her room had to be specially cooled due to the heat of the machines.

…… 36 days on:   “[we both felt] bullied by this pompous, arrogant man who has no right to be a Dr. So much for taking a life threatening disease seriously. And so this continued from one [hospital] Endo to the next. Not one ever treated this disease with the knowledge or respect or seriousness that it deserves. Katie was so under and over medicated that she was hospitalized more than 45 times the first 4 years after diagnosis.

For the past year she had it more under control without using an Endo, her GP was managing her better than anyone before.

So as I sat in our friend’s home yesterday, the three of us crying as [my daughter] lies in a subacute care home, we wondered; would she be our beautiful vivacious Katie right now had she not been undereducated and intimidated by her Dr’s?
For now I will have to speak up for [my daughter] and all of the Addison’s patients because she can’t speak and likely never will. Her time spent in a PVS condition has been painful, muscles contracting, infections, and unable to communicate or even swallow. We are in a cloudy state of day to day confusion with no real prediction of her future. We are for now, just day to day.”

 

For those that don’t know, a PVC condition is a Persistent Vegetative State. A coma like state that she is not likely to come out of. She suffered a heart attack and multiple strokes.

I was going to post this originally on Rare Disease Awareness Day which was 29 February. But that day we were notified of a 13 yr old boy who had Addison’s, who had also got a virus. He went into crisis before his parents realised what was happening. He too suffered irreparable brain and heart damage. He passed away 5 later.

Addison’s Disease Kills! And you never know when you may get a virus that will kill you, or how fast it will hit.

Quite often even though an Addisonian is admitted to hospital in Crisis, if they pass away, Crisis is not put down as the cause of death. It will be the heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, flu, or some other thing. Even if the Crisis caused the CVA/MI, or the pneumonia could have been survived if not for the AI. Hence many don’t realise that Addison’s Kills.

Am I angry/frustrated that this can happen in todays medical world? YES

Do I over react about the way Derek and others are treated by some in the medical profession regarding Adrenal Insufficiency? YES

Do I believe Wellington Hospital (CCDHB) should take more responsibility for their lack of communication that gave Derek this Life Threatening medical condition? ASBOLUTELY.

Do I believe that more medical staff need to be aware of this condition, and what to do? YES, especially ED staff.

Do Derek and I live in fear that he will again end up in hospital with multi-organ failure due to an Adrenal Crisis? OF COURSE. But we will not let that rule out lives and dictate what we do.

Having said that, we will take precautions against things like stomach bugs, the flu etc. So don’t be offended if you turn up on our door step with “only a common cold” or “just a little tummy upset” and expect to be welcomed with open arms. This little tummy upset that you are exposing my husband to could potentially kill him. That is not to say we will turn you away, but we will keep our distance.

Derek has gone into crisis in front of medical staff even after telling them we thought he would. When asked by his Endo later why he went into crisis, we thought about it. It was because we listened to his Endo about something we thought was an early sign of extremely low cortisol and impending crisis which the Endo was sure wasn’t. In fact, the Endo was adamant that it was not a sign of low cortisol. So Derek didn’t take extra cortisol until it was too late. He went from “just not feeling right, with this one symptom to crisis within an hour. Most of that time was spent in ED trying to get help.  We know better now.

The medical staff at the hospital ED department didn’t recognise the crisis when it happened. Why? Because a Crisis is never Text Book. Each Addisonian will react differently in crisis.  You will not get ALL the symptoms, only some of them. One of the key symptoms the medical staff look for is a decrease in BP to <90/50. The fact is, many AI sufferers have an Increase in BP to start because they have swallowed down so many steroids trying to avoid it. They will check your temperature but they won’t consider it high unless it is over 37.8 (Addison’s causes low body temp, many sitting around 36.0). They don’t tell you that in the medical books though. What medical staff look for is the signs and symptoms as written in the medical books. Unfortunately when you are that sick, you are being shipped off to ICU because you are in shock and your body is shutting down. Personally, I don’t want to see Derek like that again, and will therefore always insist he is treated before he gets to that point.

Two things help keep Derek and others stay out of hospital. One is self-education, and the other is a good support network.

Being told “just take these pills and you will live a normal life. Oh, and learn how to inject, but only after you have vomited 3 times” is not education. In fact, after you have vomited 2 times, you are probably verging on unconscious and incapable (unable to behave rationally or manage one’s affairs). You very seldom have the ability to give yourself an injection and very often don’t believe you need it because by then you brain is not telling you the truth. You are not going to be able to call an ambulance. You must be proactive and seek help before you get to that point. And those around you must make themselves aware of the symptoms so they can also help you.

We are lucky, we have the emergency injection, and have never needed it, although we almost had to use it in the emergency department, but they finally gave Derek the life saving injection he needed and were then shocked to see how quickly it worked.

But for the want of a US$10 injection Katie may not be in the PVC she is now in. Her family may not be sitting by her bed daily watching her in pain.  There is no knowing if giving this beautiful spirit her injection when she was “just feeling unwell” could have saved her from this. But it sure as hell would have given her a fighting chance!

Drs need to understand that what they say, can and does, have a big impact on their patients lives. Yet they never accept when they are wrong (or hardly ever).

 

aiunited

Enter a caption

For more on Katie and her battle, please read
http://aiunited.org/katies-story-adrenalcrisis/

 

Did you Really Just Say That?

In the last couple of weeks I have been compiling a list of comments from Medical Practitioners to Addison’s disease patients.  I have called it “Did you really just say that”.
Unfortunately, although these are specific to Addison’s disease, it is not just Addison’s patients that this happens to.
I am sure many with Chronic Illness have heard similar comments about their conditions.

did you really just say that 

Please feel free to download it and read it.

Now you know it, forget it!

That is the Mantra of the Lecturers to Medical Student’s after being told about rare diseases.

I was talking to a Medical Student (just completed her 5th year) while I was with someone at the Emergency Department of a hospital recently.

We began talking about Chronic Illnesses and the fact that the families of those with Chronic Illness know more than many Dr’s about their particular condition.

She asked me about Derek’s illnesses…. “do you mind me asking what he has?”

No, I did not mind her asking. I am all for education.

I told her Antiphospholipid Syndrome. “Oh” she says, “I have heard of that”.

To say I was very surprised would be accurate.

I then asked her how she had heard about it.

Apparently, they were told about it in a Gynecology Lecture, had to learn about it in relation to pregnancy, and had a question on it in their 5th yr Exam.

They were then promptly told to forget about it, as they would never meet anyone with it.

She was not aware that Men could get it, or that it was something that can and does occur outside pregnancy!

Given that I know at least 4 women with it, and Derek has it, it isn’t that rare.

She knew nothing about the Catastrophic variant  or even that such a beast existed.

This is not the first time I have heard this about rare conditions.

Every time we query a Junior Dr or fully trained Nurse they say the same thing about Addison’s Disease/Adrenal Insufficiency. “We are told it exists, what the symptoms are, then told “but don’t worry, it is so rare you will never meet anyone with it”.  They are then shocked to hear about Derek.

If he is in hospital, the Medical Students are told to go see him, they will never meet anyone like him again!

No, they won’t. Because if they have a patient with either of Derek’s conditions, the patient will probably die before they are diagnosed.

Then there are those patients who suspect they may have a rare chronic illness is who are frequently (almost always) told “No, you can’t have that, it is too rare!”

Another useful thing all Medical Students are taught is: “if you hear hooves, look for horses, not Zebras.”

Just because a condition is rare does not mean it doesn’t exist.  It also does not mean that a patient is imagining things.

So what does this mean?  It simply means you look for Zebra’s if the Horses aren’t in the room.

How can you rely on the Medical Fraternity, when they so often get it wrong.

That is not to say they should know everything. What they should be doing is listening to their patients. Don’t rule out things just because they are Rare, or not “normally” found in that sex.

Listen carefully to your patients. If what you think is wrong comes back negative, give your patient the benefit of the doubt. Do the basic test to see if it IS  a “Zebra in the Room”. If you want to be arrogant, do the test to prove your patient wrong.

What is the worst that can happen?  The Patient is right, and you have to apologize.

Heaven forbid a Dr should find out they are not GOD!

I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

The Hippocratic Oath is an ethical code attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, adopted as a guide to conduct by the medical profession throughout the ages and still used in the graduation ceremonies of many medical schools.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica Last Updated 11-9-2014

hippocraticoathThe part of the oath that people still quote is:

“With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.”

It has been turned into a simple line “FIRST DO NO HARM”.

Breaking the Oath

Our belief is that Dr’s do their best to keep us well, make us well, or treat our ills. But even if they can’t, they will not do anything that could cause us harm.

We trust they will do “everything within their knowledge and skills” to follow these rules.

We have seen what happens when they don’t.  Read A Catastrophic Event

What if they have the knowledge, they have the information, they have the people trained to deal with an illness, to ensure they “do no harm”, but they fail in the very basics of actually utilising the knowledge and skills at their disposal, and they do harm?

In an previous post I talked about the fact Wellington’s Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB), failed us by not “bridging” Derek with Clexane when the stopped his warfarin for surgery. While investigating what happened we found out thay actually had documents that had a plan written down for people with Thrombocytopenia (low Platelet count) and a blood clotting disorder.

This plan required that if they ever stopped his warfarin, he should be put on Clexane, to prevent clotting. Unfortunately we didn’t know this.

Why didn’t we know?  Because our knowledge was based on previous behaviours by CCDHB.

CCDHB Did Harm Twice

CCDHB’s Guidelines for Therapeutic Anticoagulation Management (TAM) states that Warfarin needs to be stopped for 5 days for invasive procedures. During this time you must be bridged with Clexane. Once the invasive procedure is completed, as long as you are not bleeding, you are then started back on Warfarin. You are kept on Clexane from stopping warfarin, to the point at which your INR is at a therapeutic level for you.

They don’t specifically mention a prostate biopsy in their TAM document, but they do mention procedures such as gastroscopy’s, endoscopies etc. The idea being that if it is “invasive”, i.e. taking a biopsy, where there is a risk of bleeding, Stop Warfarin, Bridge with Clexane, Restart Warfarin, stop Clexane.

We have now discovered that when Derek had his Biopsy in May 2012 CCDHB did not follow their own written procedures. They stopped Derek’s Warfarin. There was no Bridging Plan.

CCDHB’s Plan for Biopsy:

Stop Warfarin for 5 days before biopsy.
Have Biopsy.
2-3 Days after Biopsy, restart Warfarin, if bleeding has stopped.

Nowhere in the medical notes, is there any reference to Clexane.  Hence we were not surprised when Derek was told to again stop warfarin for surgery.

But Wait…. There’s More.

An important piece of information we have recently found out about Warfarin.

We always believed that the ONLY time Derek was put on Warfarin and Clexane at the same time was when he first suffered his DVT and it was to try and speed up the dissolving of the DVT. WRONG!

The reason you use clexane when starting on warfarin is because, when you first start warfarin, it actually works in reverse. Until you are therapeutic, the warfarin increases coagulation of your blood, until your body adjusts, which takes around 3 days but should always be checked with INR testing.   So, to prevent something going wrong i.e. a thrombotic storm, you are put on Clexane to keep you safe, i.e. Clexane is used to take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

The key to all this is a thing called Thrombocytopenia. This is the term used when your Platelet count is chronically low. Derek’s Platelet count sits between 105 and 120 (Normal Range is 150-400).

Like many things, Derek wanted to know more about Platelet Counts, warfarin, Sepsis and CAPS, so started looking at medical sites and looking at his blood results (we keep the all). In doing this we discovered that, apart from Antiphospholipid Syndrome, there is another reason for low Platelets. It can be an indicator of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIVC). When you have APS, and you suffer DIVC, it is considered CAPS.

One thing that does NOT cause low Platelet Counts is Sepsis.

Back to the medical records. This time, we went to the Hutt Valley DHB records of when Derek presented at Hospital the day after Biopsy.

Remember, CCDHB did NOT bridge Derek for his Biopsy.

In Derek’s HVDHB medical records for the admission on the day after his biopsy (he was still not on any form of anticoagulation) it clearly states “Bloods Sent”, which means they had drawn blood to do a blood workup. This is routine practice in ED for diagnosing when someone presents as ill, rather than an accident.

One of the most basic blood tests done is a Compete Blood Count (CBC). This includes your platelet count. It also shows if you are fighting an infection of any type. It won’t tell you WHAT is wrong, but will tell you if SOMETHING is wrong.

When you suffer Sepsis, your Platelet count increases (150-400 is normal). So you would expect to see a CBC Platelet count of over 300. With Derek you would at least expect to see him IN range if he had Sepsis. In Oct 2012, when the Infectious Disease Registrar was contacted, he tried to convince people Derek had Sepsis. His platelet count of 125 would indicate otherwise, and at the time, Derek was suffering CAPS.  Inflammatory markers were up, but platelet count was down.

When looking at HVDHB’s notes What we found instead of the blood results was the next note on the HVDHB file for that day stating “Blood and Pro not sent to the lab. We can only presume that by this time it was decided to transfer him to CCDHB and as they were passing his care to another DHB they didn’t need the Bloods processed, and so destroyed them.

Derek was put in a Patient Transfer Ambulance and taken to CCDHB (different District Health Board, so different process etc).

After reading that the bloods were not done at HVDHB we had a look at the CCDHB admission records. The only mention of Bloods in the CCDHB’s notes wasFollow up Hutt Bloods. They never took any bloods of their own, ever.

They only took bloods for cultures. Because bloods for cultures are put in a special bottle, they cannot be used for a general CBC.  There is also no indication in his file, that they ever followed up with Hutt because if they had, they would have seen that Hutt destroyed their bloods.

CCDHB simply did cultures. And what, you ask, did the cultures show? NOTHING.

Based on no evidence, and having failed to do a basic blood panel, there was an ASSUMPTION of Sepsis. Not a PRESUMPTION. To be a presumption, you must base your belief on the weight of the evidence available. As there was no evidence of sepsis, and no bloods taken, they erroneously presumed Sepsis.

When he was re-admitted a week later because he was still very ill, they assumed again, based on no evidence, and no positive cultures, that it was still sepsis, and threw higher dose antibiotics at him.

The better presumption based on weight of evidence being Cessation of Warfarin, NO Bridging, an Invasive Procedure, followed by starting of warfarin again with no cover of clexane, would be a Mild CAPS event.

We have now had 2 separate, independent Dr’s suggest the same thing. To prove, or disprove either theory, all they needed to do was a CBC. However, this was something that was never done. Therefore a diagnosis must be based on weight of evidence, which leads to CAPS.

Not only did CCDHB try to kill Derek during Surgery, but also during his Biopsy. This is not acceptable practice and clearly fails the Oath of taking care that they suffer no hurt or damage”

It seems that the more we look into Derek’s medical care, the worse we realise his care has been.

Our goal at present is to  make the medical profession be held accountable for their lack of care and concern.  Ignorance is no excuse for almost killing Derek, not once, but TWICE.

Adrenal Insufficiency vs Adrenal Fatigue

Status

In America April is Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness Month.

Awareness Ribbon

Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness Month

INSUFFICIENCY = the inability of an organ to perform its normal function.

What is Adrenal Insufficiency and what is Adrenal Fatigue?

A recent article on AI vs AF. http://www.health.com/mind-body/adrenal-fatigue-facts

Adrenal Insufficiency as described by Patients.UK:

Adrenal insufficiency leads to a reduction in the output of adrenal hormones, ie glucocorticoids and/or mineralocorticoids. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency:

  • Primary insufficiency – there is an inability of the adrenal glands to produce enough steroid hormones (Addison’s disease is the name given to the autoimmune cause of this insufficiency). Glucocorticoid and often mineralocorticoid hormones are lost.
  • Secondary insufficiency – there is inadequate pituitary or hypothalamic stimulation of the adrenal glands.
  • Signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency may include:
    • Fatigue
    • Body aches
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Low blood pressure
    • Lightheadedness
    • Loss of body hair
    • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)

Epidemiology

  • Primary insufficiency – this is a relatively rare condition. The annual incidence is about 1 in 10,000 people, with a prevalence in the UK of about 8,400. All age groups can be affected but the most common onset is between 30 and 50 years. More women than men are affected. (In New Zealand, that would be approximately 400 people at any given time)
  • Secondary insufficiency – bearing in mind the many factors that can lead to suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (of which the most common is exogenous steroid use) it is not surprising that this is a relatively common condition. One American study found that 31% of patients admitted to a Critical Care Unit were suffering from secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Aetiology

Addison’s disease is the term used to describe adrenal insufficiency but it can have many causes. 70-90% of cases of Addison’s disease have an autoimmune basis. This is characterised by progressive destruction of the adrenal glands – most likely the result of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, although 50% of patients have circulating adrenal antibodies. Clinical and biochemical insufficiency only occurs once >90% of the gland is destroyed.

Adrenal Fatigue as described by the Mayo Clinic:

Adrenal fatigue is a term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems. The term often shows up in popular health books and on alternative medicine websites, but it isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis.

Your adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones that are essential to life. The medical term adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease) refers to inadequate production of one or more of these hormones as a result of an underlying disease.

Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones.

Proponents of the adrenal fatigue diagnosis claim this is a mild form of adrenal insufficiency caused by chronic stress. The unproven theory behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands are unable to keep pace with the demands of perpetual fight-or-flight arousal. As a result, they can’t produce quite enough of the hormones you need to feel good. Existing blood tests, according to this theory, aren’t sensitive enough to detect such a small decline in adrenal function — but your body is.

It’s frustrating to have persistent symptoms your doctor can’t readily explain. But accepting a medically unrecognized diagnosis from an unqualified practitioner could be worse. Unproven remedies for so-called adrenal fatigue may leave you feeling sicker, while the real cause — such as depression or fibromyalgia — continues to take its toll.

So what does that all mean to Addisonians?

awareness

If you are told that you have “Adrenal Fatigue” congratulations because you can be cured! But be careful because you may actually have an undiagnosed serious medical condition.

So why then, can’t Adrenal Insufficiency be cured?

If you have been diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency you have a chronic (life long) medical condition. Your adrenal glands do not produce the Cortisol that your body needs, to live. They can not be transplanted.

Cortisol is called the Stress Hormone because everything your body does, needs cortisol to do it, and if you are under stress, you produce more. When you don’t produce cortisol, and you are under major stress (illness, accident etc) your body goes into shock, and if not treated, YOU WILL DIE!
Why am I telling you this?

To understand Adrenal Insufficiency, you need to understand the difference between this and “Adrenal Fatigue”.

“Adrenal Fatigue” – can’t be diagnosed with blood tests/ MRI’s, CTS’s. Will not kill you, and does not cause a life threatening “crisis” when you get sick.

“Adrenal insufficiency” – Diagnosed with blood tests/ MRI’s, CTS’s. If you become ill, and you do not receive the correct medical care, IT CAN KILL YOU.

So why then, do people get a diagnosis of “Adrenal Fatigue” every day somewhere in the world, and those with Adrenal Insufficiency mostly get diagnosis when in ICU in Adrenal Crisis, and close to death, or at autopsy because they died from an Adrenal Crisis?

Is it because there are so many “Dr’s” putting “Adrenal Fatigue” out there as the answer when they don’t have an answer. Is it a lazy diagnosis. If you have Adrenal Fatigue, be very careful, you may actually have a genuine, life threatening form of Cushings or Adrenal Insufficiency.

Now here is the scary thing for those who have been told they have adrenal fatigue. It is now believed that 30%+ of those who have been diagnosed with “Adrenal Fatigue” have had a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) which can include something as simple as a bad concussion, and have had damage to their pituitary gland which shows up well after the event (20-30 years later for some), and they have been miss-diagnosed.
How Can You Help?

70%+ of people with Adrenal Insufficiency receive facebook posts, emails, books, or some other form of information on how This person, or That Person, had AI and is cured!

“Look, read this. If you rest, eat a clean diet, get off the Steroids, you will be cured.”

To all those well meaning people that send their friends, relatives etc, information how someone recovered. Trust me. IF YOU HAVE PAI AND STOP YOUR MEDS YOU WILL DIE! No doubt! It may not happen over night, but it will happen within 3-5 days.

Ok, it is here that I will say that a very very small sub group of people with Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency are lucky. With the right medical supervision, they can reduce their oral hydrocortisone slowly, and “kick start” their adrenal glands. BUT it is a VERY LIMITED FEW Secondary AI. And that is because of the way they got AI in the first place.

If you know someone, or you have someone in the family, a friend, a work make, who has Adrenal Insufficiency (more commonly called Addison’s Disease) support them by learning about their condition. Each person, and how they manage their illness, is different. The best friend or relative you can be, is to ask them about their symptoms or problems and how they deal with it on a day to day basis. BELIEVE them about it, and ask what you can do to help if they are ill.

Learn what to do in an emergency, and how to be their advocate when in Hospital.

One of the first signs of an impending Adrenal Crisis, is the inability to actually realise they are about to go into crisis. They find it hard to make a decision.

For Derek, when he appears unwell and I ask if he is ill it is generally when he says he doesn’t know, that I know he is suffering the most. When he is actually going into crisis, he is even less sure about what he should do.
So what DON’T you do? DON’T tell them that your cousin’s, wife’s, sisters, husbands, brother had AI and is cured!

Not all Doom and Gloom

clearlyaliveamberThere are many with Adrenal Insufficiency who can actually lead a good life.

When you are first diagnosed, you are told you can live a “normal” life. That is not strictly true. If you are lucky, then with good Dr’s, good education, and good management, you may be able to live a “good” life.

Throughout the internet you can find examples of those that suffer daily, those that regularly go into crisis, and those that compete in the international arena in sport, are award winning Music artists, even one US President.

Don’t be fooled though, the Olympic Athlete, the Gold Record Selling Music Artist, and the US President all have or have had, a great medical team around them at all times, checking them, keeping an eye on them, adjusting their medication and trying every day to make their Patient look “Normal”.

Most people can’t afford that 24/7 care. They find ways to manage their illness so they can have more control, and achieve what they want.

One of my Hero’s (if you can call a woman that) is a young lady called Amber, who is an inspiration to many in the way she pushes through her illness, to be Clearly Alive.

(Thank you to those who’s images I have used in this blog, especially Amber)

Worst-Case Scenario

What if I had an accident, not bad enough to require an ambulance, but that required me to go to Hospital?

Since Derek became ill I have had a “worst-case scenario” played over and over in my head.

For two years, I have imagined what would happen if I became incapacitated. For some reason, I couldn’t drive. What sort of impact would that have on the fact that I was the only driver in the house.

I have played it over in my mind many times, thinking “what would I do”, “how would I deal with the problems”. “What if I had to get Derek or Bevan to a medical appointment, or I had to do grocery shopping”.  “What are all the problems I would have to deal with?”

Who could I call.

My worst-case scenario? To break my right leg at home.

 Actual Event

Stepping down off the back lawn onto the steps. I felt my ankle roll to the outside. My mind immediately went to the thought of, “NO, This can’t happen”. So I tried to correct. But to do that I had to put my left foot down on the step. Great, I will be fine.

Imagine my shock when I realised too late that the step I was aiming for wasn’t there. I didn’t stop with both feet on the same level.

I stopped when I was layed out flat on the ground, having landed very heavily on my left knee. It hurt, but not as much as my right foot. That was screaming.

But over riding it all was the thought, “Crap, Derek is going to get a headache, need to go to bed, and I think I should probably go to A&E”.

I lay there for a few minutes, running everything through my mind, tears running down my face. I wasn’t sure if I was crying because of the pain, or because my worst-case scenario might be coming true.

While there, I worked out that I have hurt my left knee. I knew that because I could feel the blood, and I could feel the hole in my jeans. I still hadn’t risked moving my right foot. It was still yellowing for attention, and I was refusing to give it.

The reaslisation that I was the only one with a Drivers Licence, or that could Drive dawned on everyone. Offers of “I’ll call and ambulance”, “Do you want me to call an ambulance?” and other phrases including the word ambulance were used.

No, this was not bad enough for an ambulance. I felt sure I could get to my bed, rest it, and then see what was happening.

All this time I was pumping adrenaline like crazy.

This is a good example of how fast Derek reacts to an emergency. He walked over to me at his normal speed, and just stood there asking if I was ok. Not able to actually react in a normal way. I could tell that, because all he did apart from asking me if I was ok, was to call Bevan, who was already running to my aid from inside the house.

I finally managed to sit up and reassess the situation. My foot hurt, my mind jumped to “crap, broken it”, then moved slightly more slowly to “nah, it’s just going to be a bad sprain”. Ice, rest, and then a trip to A&E to get it strapped, and find some crutches for a couple of days.

I worked out how to stand up, with assistance. I then tried weight bearing. Great, I can stand on my foot.

1 step, 2 steps, that was it. No more. I was NOT able to stand on my own two feet.

Somehow, in that short time, Bevan had come up, assessed the situation, realised I needed help, and went and found my mother-in-law’s walking stick. Well done that son. I hadn’t even noticed he had left before he was back.

Bevan and our Boarder helped me inside (with me sliding down the stairs from the top of our back yard) to my bed, I was given ice.

As I lay there I realised that, even though I knew my eldest son who lived at the other end of town needed to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and that I was about to spend 5-6 hours in A&E, I sucked in my pride, accepted it as a fait accompli, I phoned him and told him the situation. He said he would turn off his dinner (which was almost cooked) and come get me.

No, I wasn’t having that, I wasn’t going to inconvenience him that much for a sprained ankle.

I took pain killers and lay there for an hour waiting for him. At first it was fine, I didn’t mind waiting as I knew it was just a sprain. I had time to go through each plan of how to get to work the next day as spraining my ankle wold mean not being able to drive for 24-48 hours.   I would need crutches but that was it.

By the time my eldest arrived to take me to hospital I was desperate. I couldn’t walk, I was in a lot of pain, even with pain meds,  and shock was setting in.

Derek on the other hand, was laying there, he looked worse than flat but not as bad as he has been some times. He took panadol, and just deal with the headache as best he could.

I worked my way to the car and got in the passenger seat. My instructions to my son was, on arrival at hospital, get me a wheelchair. I was NOT going to try and walk.

We checked in, we could see it would be a 4 hour wait at least. What was a girl to do. Post on facebook of course, where my daughter read about it.

At some point my daughter and her boyfriend (a paramedic in training) turned up. This was a great opportunity to send Derek home. He had taken extra meds, but still looked worse than me.

Finally I am taken out the back and seen, very quickly, by a Dr. Quick exam, “yes, think we might get an x-ray”.

1 found of x-rays and a 5 minute wait later and I get the good news. “Yes, you have sprained the outside of your right foot. But I need another x-ray of it. A slightly different one. That spot you say is the extremely painful, is where you broke it! But there may be another break as well”

Boom!

There it was!

Worst-case scenario now a Reality!

I am cast. Both figuratively and literally.

Oh, and I have to get Bevan to a Medical Appointment tomorrow a long way from home!

Boom! There it is again.

For the next two weeks I will probably be in a plaster case, at which time I have to see an Orthopaedics Specialist to see what they want to do. Even if taken out of the cast and put in a moon boot, I will not be able to drive for another couple of weeks.

Up to 4 weeks of not having a driver in the house.

Yup. My worst scenario is now playing out in real life.