My consultant came to see me on Monday morning and I decided to tell him how the relentlessness of my asthma has worn me to the core. I wanted to be clear that this isn't due to depression or is only about this immediate situation. I wanted to try to convey that I feel as I do because of the years of breathing difficulties, the incessant attacks, the repeated infections, and the lack of proper recovery between hospital admissions. This isn't just about my current situation. There was a time when things weren't quite so relentless, and I was younger so perhaps I had more stamina, but now I get no relief and there always seem to be something, some health difficulty, causing a problem. I don't have the energy any more.
The problem is that I want to live. I was apprehensive telling my consultant all this and actually saying, 'I can't live like this any more,' because I didn't want him to think that I'm suicidal. I'm not. If anything this is the opposite of being suicidal. I want to have a life beyond my disease, to have energy for living and doing things, for there to be more to 'life' than hospital appointments. I do try to get out and do things, to make the most of what I can when I can, but life has shrunk and asthma and illness have taken over far too much.
I'm not just feeling sorry for myself, although yes, perhaps there is a small aspect of that in there too. However, the overriding thing is needing more to life than I now have, and needing some improvement in my health to have that. All aspects of my being - physical, emotional, spiritual - are depleated, having had chunks ripped from them by the endless battle to breathe, with infection, with side effects from medications. At times I feel as though there is nothing left to me except illness and disease.
So I told Dr H all this, and I told him that I can't live like this any more, and he went very quiet, and he looked the saddest I have ever seen him. For a moment I felt guilty for inducing that sadness, but it was also good because it meant he understood, and he did understand. After a few moments of silence he slowly came back and then said, 'But you know that I don't have anything more to give you.' I do know, and that is the problem. It's not his fault, it's just that I'm at the end of the treatment line and have been for a long time. There had been the possibility of a new drug - mepolizumab - specifically developed for people with severe refractory asthma, but earlier in the year NICE (National Institute for Care Excellence) refused to approve it, seemingly largely on the grounds that it's too expensive and will benefit too few people. Dr H and a cohort of other specialists in difficult asthma submitted an appeal, the results of which are expected sometime in June, but Dr H has also told me that even if NICE approve mepolizumab this time I may well still be precluded from having it because my steroid dose is so high.
Dr H has been my consultant for twenty two years, during which time we have tried practically every medication there is. Still my asthma has deteriorated and I've been dependent on high dose oral steroids (prednisolone) for something like eighteen years. My current dose is 60mg and this is a reduction from the 80mg I was on six weeks ago. Steroids keep me alive, but they are also destroying my body in lots of ways too.
On Monday morning Dr H asked me if we'd ever tried a different steroid. We haven't. He said that in theory there should be no difference in therapeutic effect between steroids, but actually he has seen one steroid in particular - triamcinolone - have very good effect in some people who previously got little benefit from prednisolone. It is an old medication and, as far as I'm led to believe, it isn't used much in asthma. It used to be available as an inhaler, but Dr H was talking about it in its injectable form. It's given as a four-weekly injection into deep muscle where it is slowly released over time. It has been used in some where there's been question about their adherence in taking medication, but that's not the issue with me. The issue with me is how well I am absorbing the prednisolone and how well my body is utilising it. There's no question that I am absorbing some of it, because if I weren't I wouldn't have the side effects I do (most notably these days the diabetes), but to how much positive use is my body putting the prednisolone?
So this question of trying triamcinolone has arisen. I have talked about it with J, the Complex Lung Disease Nurse. I've asked friends who have severe refractory and/or brittle asrhma if they have experience of it and talked with those who do. J introduced me to another patient who's been on it for seven months with good effect and I was able to ask her questions about the pros and cons (for her there have been no cons!). I have read the patient information leaflet about it that J gave me. I've read various articles about it online. I want to try it. I'm aware that it may have no effect, but it has no chance of having any positive effect if we don't try it. I'm also aware that it may cause more problems with my diabetes, but I think/hope this could be dealt with in collaboration between Dr H and my diabetologist/endocrinologist, which is something I have put to J.
I hardly dare hope that there might be the possibility of some improvement in my health.
After my conversations with Dr H, J, and the patient to whom I was introduced, I haven't been sure if the triamcinolone is something that has been offered to try or merely suggested as a possible maybe. I needed to clarify this so I emailed J and he responded, 'I'm game if you are.' I am. I want this opportunity with all my being. Dr H has been away since after he saw me on Monday morning so there hasn't been any chance to talk about it further or for J to discuss it with him either. But he's back now and will be doing his ward round later today. J said he'll talk to him, and I'm sure they will both talk to me too. Dr H is always much more amenable to ideas if he comes to believe that they were always his (and maybe this was, but from something that J said to me I'm also not sure that it wasn't originally J's idea), and J knows him so well that he's excellent at achieving this. The final decision lies with Dr H, but I have a strong chance of being allowed this possibility of a little bit of hope with J on my side.
It's a frightening thing to let myself hope for this because I want it so much that I'll be crushed if it's taken from me. I am desperate for an opportunity to live again. I may find out if that opportunity is to be allowed within the next few hours.