A very long awaited update – having major surgery soon.

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time, I’m really not very good at keeping up with this whole posting frequently thing anymore it seems – but was I ever?! To say a lot has happened since I was in hospital under my GI doctor in June is an understatement, and a very long story.¬†From discharge on the nutritional drinks I continued to go downhill, loosing weight rapidly symptoms just worsening and not able to tolerate more than 800 calories of the drinks a day, and the amount I could tolerate of them was continually decreasing. Bed bound and needing a wheelchair for a combination of reasons in order to leave the house, which was generally only for doctors appointments. Constant abdominal pain, nausea and many other different unexplained pains and symptoms. By August I had lost 20kg since the beginning of April and was very underweight. However, in August I also found out what was wrong…

I have a couple of very rare vascular compression syndromes:
– Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS), to simplify this is where the 3rd part of the duodenum (first part of the intestine) is compressed in-between the Superior Mesenteric Artery and the Abdominal Aorta. Which makes eating incredibly problematic as there is not much space for anything to get through your duodenum from your stomach.
– Nutcracker Syndrome – yes this is a real thing and yes this is actually its name. Nutcracker Syndrome is where your left renal vein is compressed in-between your SMA and Aorta. For me this has also caused Pelvic Congestion Syndrome due to the blood flow issues with having a compressed left renal vein. Both of these conditions cause me a significant amount of pain and problems too.

By September I just couldn’t keep going as I hadn’t been able to sustain myself nutritionally on the elemental drinks, I was continually losing weight and was down to only being able to do about 200-300 calories a day of them. I was admitted to hosptial under my GI again for him to try and stabilise me. I ended up having to have a nasojejunal tube feed put in, which actually ended up being a completely horrific experience of placing the tube. I ended up having to have it done in radiology rather than endoscopy which meant I was unable to have any sedation. It unfortunately was not a simple or quick procedure due to my compressed duodenum, it was incredibly painful and long, involving a lot of crying, my whole body shaking and passing out at the end. I was on the NJ tube for a week however I was not able to tolerate it, whilst feeding it caused me a significant increase of pain that was not bearable, and it was causing me a lot of tachycardia when on the feed too. I ended up having to be taken off and the only option was to put me on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN). TPN is IV nutrition which goes in through a central line (I have a PICC line), it completely bypasses the GI system, providing you with nutrition straight into your blood stream, the end of the catheter sits just outside the heart in the Superior Vena Cava. The fact that it means no nutrition is entering my GI system gives me relief from the increased amount of pain and symptoms I have when I have anything going in there.

We did some tests to confirm my diagnosis with another scan in order to send it to an experienced vascular surgeon. I met with the surgeon and really liked him, he was easy to talk to, understanding, I liked what he proposed and he had a sense of humour! He wanted me to have an angiogram and a venogram to assess things a bit further before discussing next steps. Not a pleasant test to have done, especially when you end up being able to feel the entire venogram happening inside of your abdomen – very painful and uncomfortable! Not to mention having to lie completely flat and still for 5 hours afterwards which is not Ehlers Danlos Syndrome friendly in the slightest, my unhappy and unstable joints were screaming at me in pain for the entire 5 hours begging me to move them.
The scan showed it all clearly and we went ahead with planning surgery to fix the SMAS and Nutcracker.

I’ve now been in hospital for the past 10 weeks on TPN waiting for surgery. Have had several complications including sepsis, and ongoing very abnormal haematology blood counts and liver enzymes through the roof. The last two being unrelated to the sepsis, and deemed incredibly odd to have happened for several different reasons. I had the lipids in the TPN reduced and switched to the old type as my liver enzymes at one stage went up to 37x the normal value. My haematology blood counts I ended up with thrombocytopenia and low WBC, RBC and Haemoglobin. Though platelets being the worst and were dropping each day, there is still no clear explanation for this, but it most likely is due to the TPN for some strange reason.

We have had to try and re-stabilise my PoTS prior to surgery to make sure I am safe enough for it with the anaesthetic and also post op. My PoTS has been getting progressively worse pretty much since I came off the medications that kept it stable, which was about a year and a half ago. Initially after coming off it wasn’t too hard to cope with, but things just started getting worse and worse to become in a really awful state. I’m back on two medications, which I was on previously, however they are not effective enough and I’ve got some very strange things going on with it all too, my PoTS professor did want me to get checked over by cardiology prior to surgery as well.
I have also had some incredibly weird things going on with my headache too, but don’t know what is going on with that and hopefully we can figure that out more once I have recovered from surgery for the compression syndromes.

Surgery is imminent, I am having two procedures in one operation. Vascular surgery to transpose my left renal vein and gastrojejunostomy for the SMAS to bypass the compressed section of the duodenum. Having surgery will hopefully allow me to eat again and relieve me of all the pain and symptoms that both these conditions cause. I have two very experienced surgeons and an incredibly supportive GI doctor and I feel completely comfortable with the plan. Just keeping my fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly and that I will be able to sustain myself nutritionally in order to go home, as I need to get off of TPN in order to go home from here. So fingers crossed I will be able to and will be home for Christmas!

It’s been a very long hospital stay, however I actually can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks. I’ve been incredibly lucky to not only be under some amazing doctors but to also have been looked after by the most incredible and lovely nurses I have ever met and I don’t think I will ever meet any as great as them all again! And despite pain and feeling really unwell, distraction in the form of incredible nurses to chat to, laugh and joke with has truly been the best medicine. I have managed to maintain being completely mentally stable, upbeat and positive – and I am very proud of myself for that.

Will write more about everything and my recent experiences once I’m able to after surgery.

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Motivation.

I think motivation is something a lot of people struggle with, chronic pain/illness or not. Whether it’s motivating yourself to get out of bed when you know all the day has in store for you is pain and illness or whether it’s motivating yourself to write that essay for school that is due in soon, or get up and go to work.

When you’re sick and in pain and have been for months or years motivation can be one of the hardest things. Just getting out of bed can feel like climbing a mountain, climbing a mountain is an achievement but so is getting out of bed when you’re chronically ill. Depression often comes with chronic pain, it did for me. And for years I saw no point in getting out of bed to face a day where all I knew was in store for me was pain and misery caused by the pain and every day was like that. I saw no point in school because I didn’t even want to live if all I was ever going to be was in pain, I saw no life or future for myself that I wanted so what even was the point in school. The pain defined me and it held me back. After moving back to England in Spring 2013 to seek better psychiatric help, I was still severely depressed, I didn’t see the point in doing anything if I didn’t have a future, so I just stayed in bed day after day with no motivation or desire to do anything because I just didn’t see the point in anything if all I was ever going to be was in pain.

After 7 months of pretty intense therapy my depression started to lift for the first time since getting sick. It was only then once I had started on my path to acceptance that I started to get my motivation back, that I wanted to live my life despite the pain, that I saw my future and for the first time in a long time I wanted it even though I knew I would still be in pain probably for the rest of my life.

Doing anything and being motivated when you’re sick and in pain can be the hardest thing, but even if you just get out of bed on a bad day, that’s an achievement.

I truly believe in therapy, I believe it can work if you let it in and put in the work, it can change your life and make the difference between life and death. That being said I get that some people may not want to go to therapy, they may feel like it’s not for them and that’s fine to. I also believe that if you are going through something like chronic pain/illness that you need someone to talk to about it, though it doesn’t have to be a therapist. But therapy helped get my motivation back among other things. It’s less than a month now till I start college, starting to get a little bit nervous but I’m excited at the same time. I’m feeling pretty motivated for it, I want to achieve my goal of passing so I can get into university. And I’m going to do it despite the pain!