Raising a Little Lioness

‘What’s your name?’, we ask her. ‘Lion’, she replies and adds a lion roar to confirm this. Ask her again two hours later. ‘Lion’, she will reply, roar and laugh with glee. She knows her real name well. But on day 13 of 14 of our dear friends tobramycin, ceftazidime, flucloxacillin and colistin visiting if she wants to be a lion then so be it. You roar and you laugh as loud as you can. For you are our brave lioness.

Dolly has a PICC line too.

Dolly has a PICC line too.

Smiling with family!

Smiling with family!

Lioness bed hair!

Lioness bed hair!

Play in hospital with my brother. He misses me.

Play in hospital with my brother. He misses me.

Tonight after her last dose of IVs at 10pm, her PICC line will be removed and she shall come home again. This is her second hospital admission, her second GA and second course of strong IV antibiotics. A not welcome beast has arrived – pseudomonas. A pseudomonas complete with antibiotic resistance and a mucoid layer. Scum. Learning she had pseudomonas was in some ways similar to receiving the initial cystic fibrosis diagnosis. Shock, anger, upset, guilt, hopelessness and powerlessness. One of the few bugs we absolutely did not want her to get. Where were you lurking you ba**ard? Why her?

She fell asleep to Peppa Pig as the anaesthetic took control for her PICC line. She blinked only when the toe pricks were taken for her tobramycin levels. She carries on as normal. Her wee smells (ceftazidime), she’s gone off her food and has been separated from her siblings for two weeks. Yet, she has the energy and self-determination to throw her very expensive nebuliser across the room. She’s refusing this necessary treatment that she will take for the next three months. Play therapists have been deployed to make ‘it fun’. (Tips welcome.) Whilst not ideal I encourage her determined spirit, for it is that spirit that she needs to live with this awful condition.

It’s been hard at times to imagine the future. We are filled with fear. For the moment our hope has been dampened and we are full of worry. Worry is the reason I am awake now when I should be asleep. Worry is the reason I am cleaning every nook and cranny of the house with medical grade sterilisers, even though we cannot eradicate the bug from our home. I cannot wipe every page of each book, every lego brick and cuddly toy. But I feel at least I am doing something. Worry is the reason I follow orphan drug blogs, medical journals, CF research sites avidly. Worry is the reason that I believe her ongoing cough that remains despite these antibiotics means she has not cleared pseudomonas. Worry is the reason I am finding it hard to imagine the future. I am waiting you see. Waiting for the moment I read an article or piece of information that will change her future. A drug, a treatment, a cure even, that her life and future can be returned to her. For Pseudomonas makes her future bleaker. Time is precious. A cure or treatment cannot come fast enough. Around 50% of those with cystic fibrosis die before aged 40.

I was a person who really never did any fundraising before this, didn’t often donate either if I am honest with you. Now, if someone is running, swimming, baking or who knows what else I know the passion they feel for their cause and want to give what I can. Fundraising makes me feel like I am doing something. It removes some of that sense of powerlessness over the condition. It is something for her future AND the future of all of those with cystic fibrosis. For their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and family. By giving one person a better life you are affecting all of those people. I have no active fundraising at the moment but we have an ongoing page here. 

But one thing you need to know about lions, they are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are endangered and we must protect them. Like my lioness her future lies in the wider global community of researchers and pharmaceutical companies (like Vertex). But we carry on for now at home. We love her, cherish her and live life ‘as normal’ supported by the excellent care provided by her CF multi-disciplinary team.

I shall leave with this video by OneRepublic.  Please watch and be inspired, thank you for sharing the story of this amazing teen with CF.

P.S. Many thanks to our amazing family and friends who have supported us through the difficult weeks. Every message, meal and hug has been appreciated.

We weren’t expecting you, but you are here now. Cystic Fibrosis – The Diagnosis

In medical school, the cystic fibrosis lecture was memorable. The lecturer, I do wish I could remember his name because I want to thank you for the hope he instilled, was passionate. He conveyed his excitement about the new drugs in development for CF, raved about the possibilities of gene therapy and said ‘there will be a cure one day’. It was like a performance, an uplifting speech, much of which went over my head as he talked about delta F 508, CFTR and so on. Interesting, I thought, but that will never apply to me as we don’t have the CF gene in our family. For sure we don’t; I’d have bet £1 million that we didn’t. Especially as I’m half Ghanaian. No way. That’s the thing, you imagine that these things always happen to other people. That’s what my doctor husband thought too when he sat through the same lecture one year earlier.

Our daughter’s life had a brief 3 week period of no known CF. We received cards and gifts, fell in love with her and celebrated her welcome into our life. She will be my last baby and she took quite a journey to get here. We were thrilled to meet her.

Here she is!

Here she is!

It’s always on the power of hindsight you look back and see hints of things to come. The newborn heel prick was memorable as she was reluctant to give her blood. The midwife came another day to try again. I nearly said ‘don’t bother’ as those things won’t apply to her. The test took longer than usual to come back. Odd I thought, I think they are repeating it. Still, I thought nothing of it. Some three weeks later while feeding in the middle of the night I thought, ‘it’s still not back I better just give a call’.

Didn’t need to because at 9am one Tuesday morning a worried sounding health visitor called to say we needed to go to the children’s hospital at 2pm that day. She sounded like she didn’t want me to ask her any questions. Panic ensued and I Googled the name of the person we were to see. Palpitations set in as I saw that she was the CF specialist nurse. My husband tried to reassure me saying it was probably nothing and that the blood tests were going to be repeated.

Now, I often tell patients to use the Internet with caution as there is a lot of misinformation out there. Googling positive CF newborn screening I found such misinformation. Confident that this was a big mistake and that the test would be repeated we went down, I nearly told my husband not to come. As a doctor, I had no idea that the heelprick test could be diagnostic. Merely a screening tool for other tests I believed. There she was a lovely healthy baby with nothing wrong with her.

As we arrived at the hospital I knew something wasn’t right. We were ushered into a room quickly, taken out of the waiting room. I felt this to be a bad news room. When the specialist nurse and consultant walked in carrying and large folder with our baby’s name on I thought, this isn’t good. This isn’t good at all. Why was the consultant there, what did he want?

They began by asking how the pregnancy went and how she was doing. “Fine, OK, she was just breech that’s all,” I said. From then on he explained how the test had shown the 99.5th percentile for the enzyme produced in CF patients. The blood sample had already been sent all over to labs here and there. Long story short, two genes were found. “That means that she has a positive diagnosis of cystic fibrosis,” he said.

Stunned.

Terrified.

Devastated.

Shocked.

I looked down at my baby. It was like I had been told she was dying. That’s what it felt like, looking back on it now. I was shaking so badly I thought I would drop her. My dear 3 week old baby, what life does she has ahead of her I thought. Tears ran down my face as I looked at hers, so innocent and so new. How was this tiny baby going to live her life like this I grieved. “Is there any chance that its a mistake?” I asked. I knew it wasn’t but just had to be sure. I was simply unprepared, not that you could be, for the diagnosis. I would pull myself together for a few minutes then burst into tears again. My two year old tore road the waiting room as if nothing had happened. We asked questions, we absorbed answers, though probably only a fraction of what was said. It seemed completely surreal. This couldn’t possibly be my child. My husband looked pale, in shock and spoke quietly. He felt the need to be strong, matter-of-fact, optimistic to support my postpartum collapse.

I felt that her future had been re-written. I felt that she was facing an unknown world. I wondered if we were up for the job for looking after her. I remembered patients I had cared for on a respiratory ward and I remembered the battles these patients had faced, the antibiotics, their life in hospital, their lines, their life. I remembered the lady I helped prepare the papers for her lung transplant. All of this flashed before me. In a moment, I imagined quitting my job, my child being ill, my family and a trillion other worries all at once. Our family’s future was also re-written. It was too much to take in.

This is where the consultant said, “you must not change any of your hopes and dreams for her or for you all.” “You must live a normal life.” Lots more was said about her going to university, school and travelling the world. I realised by the end of the two hours we spent there that we did need to carry on as normal. She needed us to be strong for her, to be her rocks of support, her advocates and love her unconditionally.

Coming to terms with the diagnosis and quest for information I found it hard as words like, life threatening, fatal, lung transplant and so on stood out. I chose not to read information that told me her life expectancy is 41. I know now that those diagnosed through screening can do very well because we catch it early.  We are now around 3 months into prophylactic antibiotics, Creon, daily physiotherapy and the amazing multi-disciplinary care team support we have for her. This is where I truly understand and appreciate how each individual contributes synergistically to brilliant care. I shall not go into details as every patient has their own care plan and experience of this journey. What I will say is that now, more than ever, I know we must be grateful for the NHS and the service it provides.

Reactions from family and friends were unpredictable. That was very hard. All I can say is call people, communicate even if you don’t know what to say. We experienced a sad sense of abandonment which will stay with us forever. If you don’t know what to say, say just that “I don’t know what to say”. Cards and gifts stopped and her birth stopped being celebrated. Some even said “I bought a present for her but I feel that I shouldn’t send it now”. Please do. It has taught me that no matter what every child’s life must be celebrated and welcomed. Each child has taken a difficult journey to get here. That said, support has been great. It’s brought many family members closer together. Our family unit of six seems stronger than ever. I’m extremely grateful for my rekindled relationship with my youngest brother, who has been outstanding. Thank you to him and to you all.

If you would like to know more about what cystic fibrosis is please look at the CF Trust website. If you have a few spare pennies or pounds (not that many of us do these days) please consider a donation to the charity. In America? Try the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

I am hoping that in her lifetime we shall find a cure. I believe her future, though uncertain, looks bright. But there’s much to be done.

My daughter and I

My daughter and I

Journey into Medicine – Tubes

As I walked into the patient’s room I became overwhelmed with the number of tubes, pumps and equipment attached to and coming from his body. I wasn’t sure whether to cry or faint. How on earth did science invent this all? How can we understand the body so well to make this all work? I wondered how many nurses, doctors, hours and minutes it took to attach them all. Every orifice was used, skin pulled and punctured and new holes were made. There were sounds and smells. A sucking noise, a pumping sound, and a loud bubbling as fluid drained from his chest into two huge vessels. There was little space in the room to move, each tube was attached to some complex piece of machinery laid on the floor or on carts, every available space in the room.

In intensive care his body was no longer working for him, he was simply one step in this complex tangle of machinery and equipment. My husband and I used to wonder why there was an ad saying “plastics make it possible”, now I understood, these tubes were keeping him alive. As we moved his heavy body, he was completely unaware of us being there. Where was his mind when his body was so obviously taken over? He was only 48 years old. As I turned to leave I was shocked by an equally moving site, dozens of colourful pictures, cards and letters from family members and work friends. “Get well soon”, “You can do it” they all said. There were pictures of him on trips with friends, at work, hugging and kissing, laughing, water-skiing and smiling. The image of his life as it should be was deeply upsetting to me and the nurse in the room. I wanted to cry again. I was glad to leave the room.

As I walked past the waiting room, it was filled with about 8 of his family members. They had been there all day; they’d made the room theirs with knitting, snacks and magazines all over. I wanted to know what operation he had, I found out from the nurse that he has just gotten sick, with what I don’t know. This again made it harder to handle, how could you get so sick to need all that equipment, surgery would have been a nice explanation for the severity of his situation. Still, he was apparently expected to make a full recovery, which seemed like a miracle.

** These are based on events, but genders, details and so on have been changed to protect identities. When appropriate, consent was obtained.