health · Just for fun · top tips

How To Cope When Dealing With Hospital Administration Systems

Something that no-one realises about chronic illness, until they become ill themselves, is the sheer amount of extra life admin it generates. It’s simply incredible how much time can be taken up by what should be simple tasks – booking appointments, getting hold of medication, finding out test results, getting in touch with the right person if your symptoms change… It can actually become extremely stressful and difficult to cope with hospital administration systems and the issues they can create through sheer inefficiency.

I think the worst instance of hospital administration failure that I encountered was when I was telephoned by the hospital and told off for missing an MRI appointment after my first pituitary surgery. I had indeed missed the appointment, because the letter had got lost in the post. As I had been expecting a scan appointment, though, I had actually called the hospital two weeks earlier to chase up, and been put through to the MRI department, who had told me that I was not booked in for any scans. I later discovered the hospital for some mad reason has two MRI departments, so presumably my scan was with the other department, and at no point did anyone think to tell me to check with both departments. Well done, hospital. Good use of public money.

I was first diagnosed with my pituitary tumor aged 21, which means that I’ve been dealing with the hell that is hospital admin for 11 years, the vast majority of my adult life. And that means that I have a few tips to share!

I used to think that the difficulties I encountered in getting anything done was because I was dealing with the National Health Service. I’m so grateful for the NHS funding my treatment that I would just remind myself to be grateful for it, and put up with the terrible admin, endless phonecalls and feeling of being lost in the system. Then one of my friends developed a serious medical issue which they had treated privately… And they encountered the exact same problems! It seems that terrible admin may well be a universal healthcare experience. So here are my top tips for how to cope with hospital administration, without falling into a pit of total despair…

how to cope with inefficient hospital administration systems without giving in to despair

Top Tips For How To Cope With Hospital Administration Systems

1. Be Organised

You have to be organised. Just because your doctor tells you something will happen doesn’t mean it will, without your intervention. Keep a note of what appointments you’re due to have, and if you haven’t heard from the hospital or doctor’s surgery well in advance, get in touch to check what’s happening.

2. Get Ahead Of The Game

Try to get in touch with your hospital nice and early if you haven’t heard anything. It gives you the most time to get something sorted. There’s nothing more stressful than realising that, for instance, you’re going to have a gap in treatment because the hospital has forgotten to send you a prescription or order the right tests. So make sure you chase up on things sooner rather than later.

3. Remember it’s not anyone’s individual fault

When you’ve made six phone calls and still made no progress with getting an appointment sorted, it’s incredibly frustrating. Try to remember it’s not the fault of the people you’re talking to, who are mostly just human beings trying to do their jobs in an imperfect system. You’ll get better progress by trying to be friendly and build a rapport with the staff you talk to, rather than getting annoyed.

4. Think outside the box

Most hospital departments and doctors surgeries have a public number you can call, but of course when you do, you end up speaking to someone who knows nothing about you or your issue. As a result, you can find yourself explaining yourself over and over again to different people, and feeling like you’re getting nowhere.

It’s time to think outside the box! Firstly, get Googling. In hospitals, often the consultant or head of the department you’re under will have their own secretary and you may be able to find their contact details online, or even on the letters you’re sent from the department. You may have better luck contacting the secretary if you have specific issues with your treatment or new symptoms.

Over time, you may also be able to build up other contacts. Some hospital departments have specialist nurses attached to the department who run certain tests or follow-ups. If you can find the public phone number for the specialist nurses, they may be especially helpful in chasing up on things for you. I love the specialist endocrine nurses at my hospital, they’re so lovely and super helpful.

5. Take up cathartic screaming

Ultimately, despite all your best efforts, your encounters with hospital admin systems will likely still be frustrating and inefficient. At some point, it’s best to accept this and try not to let it get to you. All you can do is try your best to smooth the process, give timely reminders, and chase up on things that should have been organised for you.

Make sure you can have a good rant to a friend or family member about how frustrating it all is. If you find yourself getting too stressed out, try to take a step back and give yourself a break. You can always start making phone calls again tomorrow.

What are your worst experiences with hospital admin? Do you have any tips for how to cope with hospital administration systems? Let me me know in the comments!

baking · food · health · mental health

Baking For Mental Health

You may have heard of art therapy – but have you ever heard of culinary art therapy (or CAT)? Increasingly there’s a move to recognise that cooking and baking can be good for our wellbeing – and there is actual scientific evidence that baking is good for mental health. As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, I’m a big fan of baking (especially gluten-free baking!), so I wanted to explore this further in a blog post looking at why baking is good for our mental health, and sharing some top tips to help you get started with baking therapy…

Baking for Mental Health

Why is baking good for your mental health?

Firstly, let’s look at some of the reasons why baking is good for mental health…

Shifting your focus

Baking requires focus and concentration. You need to find the right ingredients, weigh them out, and run through the process of turning them into delicious baked goods. Baking is also often quite a physical process – activities such as kneading bread, or mixing together ingredients, get our bodies involved as well as our minds. It’s a great distraction that forces your mind away from focusing in on sources of stress and anxiety. It also gives you a sense of control and purpose, paying attention to the present and what’s going on around you. As such, it works as a form of mindfulness, which is a great way to manage anxiety and stress.

Taking Time For Yourself

Baking takes time – whether it’s fifteen minutes to whip up a quick batch of cookie dough, or four hours on a celebration cake. That’s time that you’re carving out of your day for yourself. Taking time for ourselves is an act of self-care that’s really important for wellbeing.

Get Creative

Baking is a form of creative self-expression. As such, it’s a way to release stress and an outlet for emotion. Baking can help us to express our feelings, and getting creative is a recognised way to manage mental wellbeing. Repetitive creative motions – like baking, knitting, or even DIY – actually help your brain release dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ chemical.

Engage your Senses

Baking engages all the senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Engaging those senses is pleasant and uplifting, and can also reawaken fond old memories and associations – such as baking as a child. And of course, we all enjoy biting into a lovely slice of cake at the end of the baking process (and maybe licking the spoon beforehand as well!).

Share the Love

One of the aspects of baking that can be so satisfying is the opportunity to share what you make with other people, friends and family. Making other people happy is itself tremendously rewarding – and who doesn’t feel happy when they’re presented with a slice of homemade cake, or a cookie? Gift-giving is an important part of human cultures across the globe, and interestingly studies have shown that it is actually often the person giving the gift – rather than the one receiving it – who reaps the greatest psychological benefit from gifting. It helps us to feel valuable and experience a positive self-concept, increasing self-esteem – so it’s not surprising that sharing our bakes is good for our mental health.

Baking for Mental Health: How To

So, you’re convinced about the benefits of baking for mental health. You’ve decided to give baking therapy a go, and you want to get on with it. But how do you actually make it work? Here are some key pointers to get you started.

Low Pressure Baking

Baking is not going to help reduce stress and anxiety if it becomes a high-pressure situation. For instance – baking a birthday cake, or agreeing to create dessert for a large dinner party, or host afternoon tea, places a lot of pressure on yourself. That creates more stress and anxiety. Instead, keep your baking low pressure by baking for yourself, in situations where it doesn’t really matter if the outcome is wonderful or if you burn the brownies.

Keep It Simple

Linked to the above, following incredibly long and complicated recipes is only going to work as good therapy if you’re already a very advanced baker. Try to start with simple recipes, and learn new techniques one at a time rather than trying to take them on all in one go. When I’m feeling in need of a bit of baking therapy, I generally try to go for straightforward recipes that yield yummy, satisfying results, like these gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookies, these mochaccino brownies, or this delicious rocky road recipe. Let’s be honest – if baking therapy is a thing, then chocolate therapy is most definitely real as well.

Maintain A Sense Of Humour

Bakes go wrong. This can be really frustrating. The other day, I was planning on making raspberry macarons at home. I’ve made macarons a bunch of times, but this time it went horribly wrong (I still don’t really know why!) and I had to throw out the entire batch and start again. And, if I’m honest, it put me in a godawful mood. All the fun went out of it – especially when the subsequent batch I made were still not really up to scratch, even though they tasted pretty good. It was the ultimate baking therapy failure: I ended up in a worse mood than I started in.

What did I do wrong? Not maintaining a sense of humour! Bakes go wrong. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Try not to let it stress you out, and try not to go into each bake with super-high expectations. Take a picture of the horrible mess you’ve created, text a friend or post on social media, and have a good laugh at yourself. You’ll live to bake again another day, and if you find yourself getting stressed out by your bake rather than enjoying it – just stop!

Bake Vicariously

Okay, so baking may be great for your mental health – but let’s be honest, it’s not always practical to crack out the mixing bowl. Whether you don’t have the energy, the time, or simply the drive to actually get baking, there is a Next Best Thing. You can bake vicariously with the aid of The Great British Bake Off (known in the US for some reason as The Great British Baking Show).

Don’t get me wrong, other baking shows are available. But I haven’t found any that have the charm of Bake Off. There’s something very lovely about the camaraderie of the show, and it’s a great form of escapism that will get you weirdly involved in the process of creating types of cake that you’ve never even heard of.

Baking Therapy: Your Experiences

Are you a keen baker? Have you found baking to be a great form of expression and therapy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

health · top tips

How To Cope With Having A Mystery / Undiagnosed Medical Condition

I’ve previously written about how it feels to have a mystery or undiagnosed health condition. This post follows on from that, and looks at tips and strategies for how to cope with undiagnosed illness or while managing an unknown medical condition.

tips for how to cope with undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Tips For How To Cope With Undiagnosed Illness

1. Acknowledge and talk about your feelings

Having a mystery health condition is really hard and stressful. It’s completely natural and normal to feel sad, frustrated, angry, stressed out and more. Trying to keep your emotions pent up isn’t healthy. It won’t help you cope with undiagnosed illness, and it won’t help you feel better in the long run. Give yourself a chance to feel those emotions, and accept the way you’re feeling.

Ideally, talk to someone – a friend, family member or partner – about how you’re feeling. Not only will it help you deal with your emotions, but it will also help them to understand what you’re going through.

2. Communicate your needs

One of the most common complaints from people with chronic illness is that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. It can be especially upsetting and frustrating when it seems that the people closest to you don’t understand – or worse, that they’re not even trying to understand how you’re feeling. You can end up getting that your needs are sidelined or ignored, or that no-one is prepared to help.

Remember that the only way that people will understand is if you tell them. Try to be proactive about communicating and give people a chance to listen to how you’re feeling and what you need from them. I remember a few weeks after my first brain surgery, I had to travel across London. I was very wobbly and it was my first time out on my own, but outwardly I looked like a normal 21 year old.

At King’s Cross station, it was very busy but thankfully I got lucky and found a seat while waiting for my train. Everyone else with a seat in that area was middle aged or older. An elderly woman walked up and stood nearby, and started giving me angry looks and clearing her throat. Clearly she expected me to give up my seat for her, as the youngest person there. But she never actually asked for it.

If she had asked, I would have explained that I really needed the seat, and probably someone else nearby who wasn’t in such need would have offered her their seat. But she never actually asked, so I never explained, so she never got to sit down. No doubt she thought I was incredibly rude, but she didn’t communicate her need, so no-one accommodated it. This really drove home to me the importance of asking for what you need. You might not get exactly what you’re going for… But if you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing at all.

Be specific if you can – for instance, rather than saying “I get very tired and need to rest”, you’ll get better results from saying “I get very tired and can’t be on my feet more than about ten minutes at a time. Then I will need to sit down for half an hour”. You may think that your emotions and needs should be blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain… But it’s not always the case.

3. Be kind to yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. When you’re frustrated and stressed and finding it hard to get things done, it’s easy to push yourself too hard and forget to give yourself a break. But it’s important to look after yourself and your mental health. Don’t spend all of your available energy doing life admin – make sure you occasionally have time to have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, or whatever it is that you enjoy.

But being kind to yourself isn’t just about having a spa day. It’s also about listening to your body and believing in yourself. When you’re experiencing medically unexplained symptoms, it can be easy to start worrying that they’re all in your head. When there is no label that explains the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may feel that people don’t take your illness seriously – or that you shouldn’t be severely affected by it. Try to remember that a diagnosis is not a permit to be ill. You don’t need permission to be sick. Your experiences – your pain, fatigue, whatever other weird and wonderful symptoms you’re experiencing – are real. And you need to listen to your body and its needs, and take care of yourself.

4. Be your own best advocate

It’s a hard truth that when you have a chronic illness, the one who cares most about finding a diagnosis and a treatment is YOU. Yes, it’s your doctor’s job to work out what’s going on, but no matter how committed your healthcare providers are, at the end of the day it’s just that – a job to them. Whereas to you, it’s your life.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. That is likely to mean different things to different people. It might mean chasing up those appointments that are slow to arrive, or those test results that no-one seems to want to discuss. Or, it might mean having the persistence to keep going back with the same symptoms that no-one seems to want to investigate, or pushing for a second opinion . It might mean using these techniques to get your doctor to listen to you. Whatever you need to do to push your best interests.

5. Seek out support to help you cope with undiagnosed illness

You don’t need to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for support. It can be difficult to find external support networks, because most charities and support groups focus on specific illnesses… Which is difficult if you don’t know what illness you have. But support is out there for the undiagnosed.

You can join Facebook support groups such as Undiagnosed Illness Support Group or Undiagnosed Chronic Illnesses… And many more. Equally, you may wish to look online for ways to connect with people who experience similar symptoms to you, even if you don’t have a diagnosis yet.

Do you have any tips on living with an undiagnosed medical condition or mysterious unexplained symptoms? What are your recommendations for how to cope with undiagnosed illness? Let me know in the comments!

coronavirus · health

Please Become A Blood Stem Cell Donor

Normally when I write my blog, I just hope that my readers take time to read my posts and enjoy them. Today’s a bit different, because today I’m asking you to do something. Please, please, please sign up to be a blood stem cell and/or bone marrow donor.

Why am I asking you?

This is Adeline

She’s nearly four years old and was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow failure almost two years ago. Ever since, Adeline has been waiting for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Recently, it seemed a donor match had been found, but her family have now heard that this has fallen through, and once again no matches are available.

adeline davies bone marrow failure become a blood stem cell donor the sickly mama blog

This is what Adeline’s mum has to say:

“One 3 minute phone call, I expected to get a date for transplant but instead heard the words: ‘The donors we have are not an option any longer,’ and ‘there are currently no matches for Adeline.’ It felt like a dagger in the gut and in the heart. Back to the start, just with far less hope.”

“The only way of saving Adeline’s life is a bone marrow transplant. So we need all the help and all the sign ups we can get!
Please register with DKMS, Anthony Nolan or any stem cell/bone marrow registry. All it takes is a few mouth swabs and you can save a life like Adeline’s.”

You can follow Adeline’s journey here.

Did you know?

Because of Covid, nearly 19,000 fewer people joined the stem cell register this year. That’s a massive drop, and given that many people struggled to find a donor match even before the current crisis.

Already, only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best possible stem cell match, and that drops to just 20% for people from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. More donors from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds are desperately needed.

What does blood stem cell donation involve?

90% of blood stem cell donations are done by Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection, a straightforward process similar to donating blood, although you will need injections in the days leading up to your donation. There’s no need for an overnight stay in hospital.

10% of donations are done via bone marrow transplant. This requires a general anaesthetic and a couple of nights in hospital. You can find out more about each method of donation here.

What if I can’t donate?

Not everyone is a suitable donor due to age and/or health conditions. Unfortunately, I’m not eligible to donate due to my pituitary tumour, which is why I’m trying to help out by spreading the word and encouraging others to become a blood stem cell donor if they can. If like me you can’t donate, please share the word on social media and in person to encourage others to sign up, and consider making a financial donation to the charities that run the donor registries.

Plus, remember to wear your masks, wash your hands, and social distance to limit the spread of coronavirus. A Covid infection could be the difference between life and death for someone waiting for a blood stem cell transplant.

Please, if you can, become a blood stem cell donor

So please do consider signing up to the donor registry today. You might just save a life.

health · medication · top tips

How To Decide Whether To Have Surgery/Radiation/Take the Medication…

I’m a member of lots of Facebook support groups for people with pituitary tumours and other chronic or long-term illnesses. One of the most common types of post is people saying they’re not sure whether or not to go through with whatever treatment has been recommended by their doctor. It’s a big decision, and not something that strangers on the internet can really answer for you! But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any process or technique you can use to make healthcare and treatment decisions… That’s why I’m writing this blog.

I want to share a process I learned doing National Childbirth Trust classes when I was pregnant, which I think is a great technique to follow to help you make these kinds of decisions. It doesn’t have to be restricted to use in healthcare settings, either.

The process is called “BRAIN” and it’s an acronym to help you to remember the questions you should ask about your recommended treatment. You should consider:

  • Benefits – what are the possible benefits of this treatment?
  • Risks – what are the risks of doing this?
  • Alternatives – what alternative options are there? Why are they not the recommended option?
  • Intuition – what does your gut feeling tell you?
  • Nothing – what would happen if you don’t do anything?

I think this provides a really great format to have a constructive conversation with your healthcare provider, and to ensure that you’re fully informed about your treatment. It can be helpful to take this list to your appointments so you can work through each question when you see your doctors (if you’re anything like me, you forget what you want to ask if it’s not written down!), to inform your treatment decisions.

I’ve also written previously about my experience of pituitary tumor surgery and making the decision to go ahead with surgery (twice) – you can read about that here.

birth · health · post-partum · pregnancy · thyroid

Could You Have Post-Partum Thyroiditis? I Do!

Any regular readers of this blog will know that for a few months now I’ve had some mysterious medical issues that my doctors have been somewhat baffled by. I’ve had blood tests, an MRI of my pituitary, and a scan of my thyroid with radioactive technetium. Despite being told at the hospital that the results of my scans would be available within a couple of days, it took a month before anyone actually got back to me with the results. I tried to take that as a sign that it wasn’t anything incredibly serious, but anyone who’s had extensive dealings with my hospital’s admin systems would know that you wouldn’t want to stake anything particularly important on their effective functioning (like, say, your long term health…)

Anyway, I finally heard from a doctor, and he confirmed that they believe I have a condition called post-partum thyroiditis. Even though I already have a pre-existing thyroid condition, I’d never heard of this quite common post-pregnancy thyroid illness. So what is post-partum thyroiditis?

Post-partum Thyroiditis

What is post-partum thyroiditis?

Long story short, this is caused by your thyroid gland going a bit haywire due to a rebounding immune system after pregnancy. It typically starts with having thyroid hormones that are too high (hyperthyroidism) for a few months. Then it either just returns to normal, or the thyroid hormones dip too low (hypothyroidism) for a few months – or even permanently.

How would I know if I have it?

Post-partum thyroiditis is actually quite a common condition with around 5 – 10% of women experiencing it, although a lot of the time the symptoms are just ascribed to normal post-pregnancy recovery. Most women initially experience hyperthyroidism – symptoms can include a racing heartrate, anxiety, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, achey muscles, twitching or shaking, feeling hot or sweating a lot, and weight loss. Obviously most of those could easily be ascribed to the post-birth recovery period and/or sleep loss thanks to your new baby.

The only way to know for sure if you have post-partum thyroiditis is to have blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. So if you’re concerned that you may have this condition, please make sure you speak to your doctor about it.

How is post-partum thyroiditis treated?

Hyperthyroidism as a result of post-partum thyroiditis (let’s just call it PPT) is not usually treated beyond beta blockers to reduce the impact of the symptoms of fast heartrate, anxiety, etc. Conveniently, I’m already taking beta blockers as my doctors tend to prescribe them at the first sign of hyperthyroidism, as my heart loves to go too fast and will take literally any excuse to do so.

Hypothyroidism might need to be treated with replacement thyroid hormone if it becomes severe enough. I’m hoping we don’t have to go there.

How long does postpartum thyroiditis last?

How long is a piece of string? Unfortunately, it seems that postpartum thyroiditis is a very variable condition and each woman has a different experience, so there’s no way of saying how long my postpartum thyroiditis will last. It could be a few months, a year, or even longer – sometimes the side effects are permanent.

What are the risk factors for postpartum thyroiditis?

The big question for me was whether my existing pituitary condition (which affects my thyroid) creates a risk factor for postpartum thyroiditis. A quick Google indicates that I’m not the only person with a TSHoma to go on to develop post-partum thyroiditis. But because my pituitary tumour is so rare, when anything out of the ordinary happens the doctors don’t really know what to expect. However, previous history of thyroid issues is a known risk factor for post-partum thyroiditis, as is a history of auto-immune illness.

What are the implications for me personally?

It’s just a case of wait and see, and hope I don’t end up with low thyroid levels, as that could make things complicated in terms of treating it and my pituitary tumour. So please keep your fingers crossed for me!

In the meantime, I’m back to monthly blood tests to monitor my thyroid level and regularly checking in with the hospital.

Are you a postpartum thyroiditis patient in the UK? I’d love to hear about your experience! Let me know in the comments.

health · top tips

How To Get Your Doctors To Listen To You

It took me about five years to get diagnosed with my pituitary tumour. That’s a guess, really – looking back, the first symptom I had was my hair starting to fall out, which started when I was around 16 years old. I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 21, and I spent so many years wondering: how do you get your doctors to listen to you?

Now don’t get me wrong, my illness is super rare, but five years is still an incredibly long time to wait for a diagnosis. For the majority of that time, I had steadily increasing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, and was consistently told it was all in my head. I went to the doctors numerous times about:

  • Hair falling out
  • Heart palpitations and fast heartrate
  • Fatigue
  • Getting ill all the time – I caught every cough and cold going, and half the time it would turn into a chest infection or sinusitis or tonsillitis

My GPs pretty much just kept doing the same blood tests, which came back fine, or simply suggesting I was stressed and asking me how things were at home. I actually got to the point of wondering whether it was possible to be so stressed that your hair falls out without actually feeling stressed out about anything at all (other than the fact that your hair is falling out, ironically).

It was only when my resting heartrate suddenly jumped to 140 beats per minute (a normal heartrate is 60 – 100 bpm) and there was something unambiguously WRONG with me that they started taking me seriously and sending me for more tests and scans, and eventually worked out what was going on. I’ve since experienced, both with my own medical problems and those of others, numerous other occasions of feeling not believed/not listened to by doctors. So, I wanted to share my best tips for getting your doctor to listen to you and take you seriously.

5 Ways To Get Your Doctor To Listen To You

1. Be Organised

When you’re on the spot with a busy GP who you feel is being dismissive of your concerns, it can be difficult to remember everything you wanted to say or all the questions you wanted to ask. Write your key points down in a notebook or on your phone before you go, and take it with you to the appointment. You can also jot down the key points the doctor says during the appointment, to ensure you don’t forget anything.

Stick to your guns and make sure you say everything you wanted to say at your appointment (but make sure you get straight to the point and don’t waffle – doctors are busy people!). If your doctor interrupts you, you can go back to what you were saying later on (easiest if you have a list of your key points). If your doctor asks you only closed questions (yes/no questions), you can expand on your answers and give more detail.

2. Be Specific

If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, write down:

  • How frequently they are occurring
  • How long they last
  • The impact this has on your daily life
  • Anything you’ve done to try to treat the symptoms and how successful this was

And tell your doctor this specifically. If you say something like “I’m getting quite a lot of bad headaches”, this is open to interpretation. How bad is “bad”? How often is “quite a lot”? On the other hand, if you can say “I’ve had five headaches in the last two weeks. They lasted between three and six hours, and I had to go to bed every time because paracetamol didn’t help. I’ve had to take three days off work because of it”, that helps your doctor to gauge exactly how serious your symptoms are.

3. Bring A Friend

Having someone else there (partner, parent, friend, housemate) can also be helpful, especially if that person can attest to the impact your symptoms have had. When my husband was quite poorly with his gluten intolerance, he kept going back to the doctors about his symptoms and getting fobbed off. When I went with him to one appointment and also talked about how he had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t himself, we finally got the doctors to listen and refer him to the hospital for proper investigation of his symptoms. I think if you’re relatively young and fit-looking, it helps to have someone else back you up when explaining how I’ll you’ve been.

4. Ask Questions

If you feel like you’re being fobbed off or you’re not getting the treatment/investigations you expected, asking questions is the way to go. Questions like:

  • “I thought you might want to do some blood tests. Can you just explain to me why you’re not doing that?”
  • “If you’re not concerned at the moment, are there any particular symptoms I should look out for that would be more of a concern?”
  • “If my symptoms don’t improve, how long should I wait before I come back to see a doctor again?”

Asking questions can help to open up more of a dialogue between you and your doctor, and also give you more reassurance about why the doctor is making certain decisions.

5. Remember Your Options

Ultimately, if your doctor isn’t listening to you, you can always ask for a second opinion from another doctor. Although the ideas listed about should help to get your doctors to listen to you, they won’t always work and not all doctors will be interested in listening. Changing doctors may be a better option than feeling like you’re banging your head against the wall with a physician who isn’t taking you seriously.

What are your top tips for getting the most from your interactions with doctors and healthcare staff? How do you get your doctors to listen to you? Let me know in the comments!

how to get your doctors to listen to you sickly mama blog graphics
health

Going To Hospital During Covid-19 Lockdown

I recently had to attend hospital for an MRI scan and scan of my thyroid gland, as my doctors try to work out why I’m experiencing high levels of thyroid hormones at the moment. Although the UK has started easing Covid-19 lockdown measures, obviously in hospitals they’re still very strict about the lockdown rules, so I thought it might be helpful to write about my experience, to help ease your mind if you do need to attend hospital at the moment.

Going To Hospital During Lockdown

28 Days Beta

The hospital seemed very quiet and empty. I’m used to going there regularly with all my health issues, and it’s always a bustling place. Not currently! There were whole corridors completely devoid of human life. It was like being in a really boring zombie movie, where the zombies are quite neat and tidy and make sure to mop the floors once in a while.

photo of hospital corridor during coronavirus lockdown 2020
I am legend(ary with a broom)

In waiting areas, chairs had been moved to a distance of 2 metres apart, and where there were fixed groups of chairs, they taped off every other chair to create gaps. In one department, they had actually zoned the waiting area and each person was directed to their own personal zone! It did mean there was less capacity for waiting, and I saw one guy who turned up very early for his appointment being turned away due to lack of space, so that’s worth being aware of if you’re usually an early bird.

Everyone’s An Expert

Everyone is required to wear face coverings in the hospital at the moment. I brought my own mask (sparkly face mask by the amazing Velvet Jones Bespoke), but they were handing out free paper masks at the main entrances, and most people just seemed to be taking the free masks… Not sure that’s great for our cash-strapped NHS, but there you go.

wearing a sparkly sequin face mask at hospital during the coronavirus lockdown 2020
If you’re going to wear a face mask, it might as well be sparkly!

As a result, walking around the hospital you get the impression that everyone you see is a surgeon, because they’re all wearing surgical masks. There are a lot of sloppily dressed surgeons out there, I can tell you.

Visitor Free Since ’93

Now all hospitals are different at the moment, my hospital has started allowing some limited visiting of inpatients, but if you’re attending as an outpatient you’re not allowed anyone with you, unless they’re your carer or you’re a parent accompanying a child.

Break It Off

The food halls, shops and coffee outlets at the hospital were mostly closed. There was one coffee shop, the canteen and one mini supermarket open, both using social distancing rules. Everyone behind the counters wore masks and were behind plastic screens as well.

I had a big gap between my first and second appointments, so I was relieved that the main food hall was still open. Tables had been moved two metres apart and there was a man with a disinfectant spray constantly on hand, swooping in and cleaning tables when people left. It was very quiet though, only a few people in the whole place. You were allowed to take your mask off to eat and drink in there!

hospital dining hall during the coronavirus lockdown 2020
Table for one

One MRI, No Waiting

From talking to staff, it sounds like they’re doing fewer procedures and seeing fewer patients than usual, which is good news if you’re one of the patients they are seeing! The MRI scan lady proudly informed me that they no longer have a backlog (because they’re doing fewer scans than usual) and the technician who did my thyroid scan said it was the first time they’ve done that type of scan in three months.

That was my experience of attending hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully it’s useful if you need to visit hospital as well. Or if you’ve had experience of going to hospital during lockdown, perhaps you can share your experiences in the comments below!

health · thyroid

My Experience Of Having A Radioactive Thyroid Scan With Technetium

My doctors told me they wanted me to have a scan of my thyroid to try to help work out why I’m currently experiencing hyperthyroidism. I had a letter inviting me to a technetium thyroid scan, which also specified that I was not allowed to eat seafood or take vitamin supplements containing iodine for 48 hours before the scan. Easy enough! But what is it like to have a radioactive thyroid scan? I’ve written about the whole experience below…

Radioactive Thyroid Scan – My Experience

Before The Thyroid Scan

I arrived at the Department Of Nuclear Medicine at 8.20 on Monday morning, and my immediate thought was that they probably have the most badass name of any hospital department. I got signed in, and waited for my name to be called. The chairs in the corridor were all arranged at two metre intervals, with tape marks on the floor to show safe distancing.

The Technetium Injection Process

Predictably, when my name was called it was pronounced wrong, but that broke the ice with the technician doing my injections, who was lovely. I was taken to a side room to have an injection of a radioactive isotope called Technetium, which sounds like a made-up element from the Marvel universe, but is apparently a real thing. They used to use radioactive iodine for these kinds of scan, but this has now been mostly replaced with technetium, which gives a lower radiation dose.

Before the injection, I was asked some questions. The technician checked whether I have claustrophobia and whether I was able to get up and down from a couch, which I thought was good practice checking for hidden disabilities. Then there was the usual “you’re a woman so please sign on the dotted line that you’re not pregnant” and they checked my identity one last time.

The injection itself was nothing at all! They jab you with a tiny needle, flush the line with saline solution, then give you the technetium injection. Because it’s radioactive, the needle has a little tungsten jacket to protect the technician’s eyes and fingers from the cumulative effect of giving multiple radioactive injections every day! Then they flush the line with saline again.

Before The Gamma Camera Scan

Once you’ve had your injection, you wait about twenty minutes before your scan. I was put in a little side room for radioactive people to wait, because you’re actually emitting gamma radiation during this time. You would never know it at all – you honestly can’t feel a thing! The effective radiation dose of a technetium thyroid scan is about 3.2 millisieverts (mSv) – the average annual dose from background radiation in the UK is 2.7 mSv. So it sounds like a lot, but actually if you live in Cornwall, your average annual dose of radiation is 6.9 mSv, due to the high levels of radon in the ground in Cornwall. And the annual limit of radiation exposure for nuclear industry workers is 20 mSv – so when you put it in context, it doesn’t sound so bad. None of us would worry about spending six months in Cornwall! (Unless you’re a city kid, I guess…)

After twenty minutes, I was called in to have my scan, in a machine called a gamma camera, or scintillation camera. Here’s a picture of the one I was in:

gamma camera scintillation camera machine radioactive thyroid scan with technetium experience sickly mama blog

The Technetium Thyroid Scan Itself

I was asked to have a couple of sips of water, take off my necklace and face mask, and lie on the bed part of the gamma camera machine. Then the panels that you see on the left in the picture above swiveled so one was above my head and one below. They lower the panels until they’re very close to your head – the one above me was almost touching my nose!

The process of taking the pictures was weird because you can’t actually tell that anything is happening at all. There’s no noise like in an MRI scanner – you literally just lie there feeling a bit silly. Each picture took 1 – 5 minutes and at one point they reconfigured the scanner to get a close up of my thyroid gland. Then it was done!

My Experience Of Technetium Thyroid Scan

Overall, this was a really easy procedure. Anything that involves radioactive material can feel a bit scary, but it was totally painless, easy, and comfortable. If you are claustrophobic, you may not enjoy the experience of the scan itself as the machine gets so close to your face, but it’s better than an MRI scan because the machine is open at the sides, so you’re not trapped in a tube, it’s much quieter, and the scans are taken much much more quickly, so you don’t have to spend much time in the machine at all. Plus the staff were very aware that it could be uncomfortable for claustrophobic people and asked if I was okay with the scan etc. while it was ongoing.

What happened after my thyroid scan?

It took a long time to get the results of my technetium thyroid scan and get a diagnosis, but I did eventually get there… Click here to find out what happened next.

health · medication · pituitary

Medical Mystery: An Update

So alas, I am once again in the position of being a medical mystery… Now, I love a murder mystery, preferably an Agatha Christie. But the only medical mystery show I’ve ever watched was House M.D., in which the patients invariably had to almost die before their doctors worked out that they did not, in fact, have lupus. I’m not so keen on the near-death approach to diagnosis, if I’m honest.

So back in early April, I re-started my medication (cabergoline). I had stopped it in late pregnancy in the hope of breastfeeding, but the symptoms of my TSHoma tumour returned after a few months, so I had to start taking it again.

As per usual, the doctors wanted to monitor my thyroid levels. My tumour produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH – hence why it’s called a TSHoma), which causes my thyroid gland to over-produce thyroid hormones. So as the medication works, you would expect my TSH levels to reduce, and my thyroid hormone levels to reduce too.

Because my health issues relate to the endocrine system, all the twists and turns of this mystery thriller basically just involve different blood test results. For some reason no major TV networks have shown interest in picking up a pilot based on this concept.

So: my TSH levels have indeed been reducing since re-starting my medication. But my thyroid hormone levels have actually been increasing. Quite a lot. I now have thyroid levels way above the normal range. This makes no sense if the high thyroid levels are caused by the pituitary tumour.

Cue dramatic music. Dr House gives the camera a quizzical look.

Interchangeable Hot Younger Doctor 1: “Could it be lupus?”

The other interchangeable hot young doctors smile and roll their eyes. They don’t know much, but they know that, for some reason, it’s never lupus.

Instead, it looks as though something else is causing the raised thyroid levels. This could potentially be a thyroid condition like Graves Disease, which is an autoimmune illness that causes the body to over produce thyroid hormone, or potentially a growth on my thyroid gland itself. We don’t know. At first, I think the doctors hoped it was just a weird blip on my blood test results, but repeat testing has shown the same pattern.

So my doctors have put me on a higher dose of cabergoline, to make sure that the TSHoma tumour on my pituitary gland is definitely being treated, and ordered some more blood tests to see if it could be Graves Disease. I’m hoping to hear from them this week to find out what we know and what other testing needs to be done. I’m guessing they’ll want to rule out lupus.

A quick search online shows there are only four known cases ever of someone with my condition (TSHoma) also having Graves Disease. One of the trickiest things when you have such a rare condition is that when something out of the ordinary like this happens, you’re just flying blind. No-one really knows what’s going on. Sadly, it seems unlikely that a grizzled, curmudgeonly doctor will reveal he’s known what’s going on the whole time and has just been holding the information back for 50 minutes in order to build dramatic tension.

So please keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll update you as soon as we start to unravel this medical mystery…