Posts tagged personal

6 Notes

Academic family trees, or, why Isaac Newton is my great-great-grandfather

Matt Williams, a fellow Computer Science PhD from Cardiff University,  came up with the delightful idea of compiling “academic family trees” from student-teacher relationships. After all, if it’s good enough for rock bands, its surely good enough for overqualified hackers. And because Matt and I had the same doctoral supervisor (the esteemed Prof. Roger Whitaker), not only are we brothers in this sense, but we share all our ancestors.

So the tree shown in his blog post is also valid for me. And it turns out that I am a direct line descendent of both Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei! And there’s a close cousin branch with such luminaries as Euler, Leibniz, and Turing. I can only imagine how these great men would feel if they could see me now. Disappointed, I suspect, at my current status: led on the sofa, Nexus in hand, making entirely undeserved attempts to bask in their reflected glory.

20 Notes

Current status: earlier today edition. Sun, sea, Kindle. Didn’t suck.

Current status: earlier today edition. Sun, sea, Kindle. Didn’t suck.

14 Notes

We spent the entire weekend in the kitchen

Yesterday, I made a bacon and mushroom frittata for breakfast and paprika chicken with pasta for dinner. Today was bacon sandwiches on fresh-baked bread for breakfast and roast chicken with mashed potato and gravy for dinner.

In that time, I’ve also put 2.5 kg of beef brisket into brine to make salt beef; made 1.25 litres of bourbon BBQ sauce; and made 6 portions of tomato-butter pasta sauce. The former is for a visit from some of Danielle’s friends from America in a few weeks; the pasta and BBQ sauces were for a care package for my friend Toby, who is going in for knee surgery tomorrow.

I’m bloody tired now! Thankfully, Danielle helped with all this (whilst also making saltine chocolate toffees, which were also partly for Toby.)

12 Notes

Yesterday was my TUAW birthday!

Yesterday was my TUAW birthday!

38 Notes

Health update #11: final diagnosis

If you missed the news at the time: I had a pulmonary embolism back in January of this year that resulted in two months off work feeling like utter crap.

Today was my final (for now, anyway) appointment with my haematology specialist. After being formally diagnosed with a PE in January I spent three months on the blood thinning medication warfarin (often called Coumadin), then I came off the meds so I could have a full blood and genetic screen to look for a whole host of underlying reasons that could have caused the PE in the first place. This process took several months due to a cock-up by the NHS; the nurse who initially did my blood test didn’t draw enough blood for one of the important tests, and this wasn’t noticed until a month later when I had the appointment where I was supposed to get my results.

That’s all done now though. The results are: there are no results. Out of the wide range of things they screened for, only one was slightly abnormal — I have factor V Leiden deficiency on one gene (the other gene in that chromosome is fine, fortunately). In the absence of other factors this doesn’t represent a significant risk of a second (even more serious) PE. There is a risk of that, but there’s also a risk of nasty haemorrhage complications from being on warfarin long-term, so my doctor’s opinion is that I don’t need any regular preventative medication at the moment. This is great news.

There are some downsides, however. When I do something that puts me at further risk — basically, any long plane, train, or car journeys of four hours or longer, or if I have to be admitted into hospital for any reason — I have to manage that risk. I have some supersexytime compression stockings to wear (sigh) and I have to get Danielle to give me low molecular weight heparin injections (so, Clexane, Lovenox, drugs like that) the day before I fly. These injections hurt (double sigh), so that’s something I could have lived without.

Still, though, glass half full and all that: avoiding a long term requirement for warfarin, with all the risks and dietary restrictions and drug interactions it comes with, is great news.

22 Notes

Achievement unlocked: booked a honeymoon

Danielle found the hotel and this evening I have:

  • renewed my UK driving licence
  • found and booked flights
  • found and booked car hire
  • booked an airport hotel for the night before
  • unblocked my credit card after my bank’s trigger-happy fraud department blocked it
  • booked airport parking
  • pondered how much I hate travel websites (recall that I write travel websites for a living…)
  • ordered a pre-paid currency Mastercard (gives a better exchange rate than using my normal bank card)
  • mooted the purchase of a second Kindle so we’d have one each
  • filled all the pertinent details into TripIt

Phew. And I still have travel insurance to figure out, which is a barrel of fun because of my pulmonary embolism.

38 Notes

Health update #9

Great news today, on several fronts:

  1. I had an abdominal ultrasound test which came back clear. This is very good news for reasons I didn’t understand when I had the test: they were checking for tumours that could have caused my pulmonary embolism! I’m glad I didn’t spend the last week worrying about that unpleasant possibility.
  2. For the second day running, my INR reading was above 2.0 (meaning my blood now takes a lot longer to clot than it did before I started my medication). This means I’m now within my “therapeutic range” and can safely rely on the Warfarin to prevent future clots - so I can stop the painful daily Clexane (Lovenox) injections I’ve needed for the last week and a bit. That’s a huge relief.
  3. My anti-coagulation clinic nurse now feels that my INR levels and Warfarin dose have stabilised to the point where I no longer need daily blood draws to monitor my levels - instead we’re moving to tests every 48-72 hours. This has also come as a relief; after a week of having blood drawn ever day, the inside of my elbows are very bruised and the bleeds have become quite painful because of that. It’ll also save me a couple of hours a day in trips to the hospital and waiting for a phlebotamist.

On top of all that, I am feeling somewhat better lately. My body is gradually breaking down the existing blood clots, so my breathlessness and high heart rate are abating. I can now get up and around much as I used to, albeit for shorter periods before I become tired. I’m not up to walking the dogs yet.

Next step will involve future referrals and more tests, starting when I come off the Warfarin dose - three or six months from now (there seems to be some debate about how long I will need to stay on the medication). These will be aimed at working out exactly why this happened; the implication is that the pulmonary embolism is itself a symptom of something deeper - a genetic condition, for example. However, we might push to try and get this done sooner through my GP. I’m not clear how it’s safe for me to come off Warfarin in the future without knowing if a clot can re-occur.

25 Notes

Current status.

Current status.

32 Notes

Health update #8

I went to the anti-coagulation clinic yesterday for my induction session, so I had the full ramifications of my current condition explained to me. It’s rather more complex than I had hoped. Here’s how my immediate future looks:

  • I will be getting daily warfarin tablets of variable dose levels for the next week, combined with daily blood tests to monitor my INR levels (a measure of the time taken for my blood to clot). Each day’s dose will be tailored to the test results from the previous day until they settle down to a steady rate.
  • Until I manage two day’s readings of an INR level above 2.0, I need to continue the daily Clexane injections (the ones I keep complaining about). Boo.
  • Hopefully in 7-10 days, they’ll have settled my warfarin doses down (each person responds differently, hence the careful adjustments) and that’ll be me for the next six months.

Warfarin is, however, a drug which interacts with your body in a variety of subtle ways. Many other drugs interfere with it, including most antibiotics and some common over-the-counter stuff like ibuprofen and some cough syrups. I will have to simply avoid all of these. Plus, of course, my blood will be less able to clot, so any minor cut or scrape could potentially be serious if it doesn’t clot on its own.

Diet is a problem too. Changes in the level of my vitamin K intake drives the warfarin activity haywire, so I will need to avoid foods rich in it (including spinach, kale, broccoli, egg yolks, and many more), and eat foods with lesser amounts of it at a steady rate. Alcohol is more of a problem. Many advice sites say you should completely avoid alcohol when taking warfarin; the NHS advises no more than a couple of glasses of wine on any day as great consumption will inhibit the warfarin’s function and put me at risk of a clot forming. Either way, I think I can rule out being drunk anytime soon.

All this will last for six months, after which I’ll be referred to a haematologist to look for underlying conditions I may have that could have caused this. As I am only 32, a non-smoker, and reasonably fit and active, I should in theory be at zero risk of blood clots. This means I might have an underlying genetic condition or other disease at the root of this.


27 Notes

Current status.

Current status.

71 Notes

Achievement Unlocked: Get A Diagnosis (health update #7)

My CTPA yesterday (I was a real baby about the cannula, incidentally) has clearly shown the presence of pulmonary embolisms — blood clots in my lung.

Which on the one hand is bad news, because it means this was something that could easily have killed me sometime in the past few weeks (“about 15% of all cases of sudden death are attributable to PE”, as Wikipedia notes). Indeed, a PE was what killed my friend Owen a few months back.

But on the other hand, when considered against the unpalatable alternative diagnosis I could have had — including heart problems and unusual drug-resistant strains of pneumonia or pleurisy — a PE is a manageable condition treated by a long-term course of oral warfarin. Taken in that context, this isn’t such bad news and it’s certainly a sincere relief to have a solid diagnosis.

I need to go back to the hospital today for another Clexane (Lovenox to you Americans) jab to tide me over to an appointment tomorrow with the haematology department where they’ll take me through what this means. I’ll stay on the Clexane for a few days (groan; they really hurt) until the Warfarin tablets can take over. I’ll also need a programme of regular blood tests to monitor my progress. They’re also going to do an ultrasound of my legs to check the blood vessels out there (PEs usually start as deep vein thrombosis clots in the legs that travel to the lungs).

I’m not sure at the moment what recovery time is like, although Danielle and I have noticed that I am somewhat less breathless over the last few days. This will be because the Clexane is preventing the existing clots from growing, and natural processes in my body are slowly reducing them in size. I’ll know more after my appointment tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who has sent well-wishes, via Twitter, Facebook, this blog, email, SMSs, etc. Thanks to my friends Richard and Rhiannon, Toby and Lucy, and Scott and Ali, who all immediately offered to do anything they could to help us out — lifts to hospitals, for example. And most of all, thanks to Danielle for looking after me (and also calling the PE diagnosis really early on!)

And thanks to Clexane for quite possibly saving my life.

28 Notes

Current Status

Not a fan of the needles and this IV catheter itches like the dickens.

Current Status

Not a fan of the needles and this IV catheter itches like the dickens.

34 Notes

Health update #6

Had a call from the hospital this morning; I have a CT scan booked for next Monday, which will hopefully either find a blood clot in the lung or rule that out as a diagnosis. Next steps beyond that depend on what that test finds; if it’s a clot, it’ll probably be oral warfarin for six months, and might complicate the plans Danielle and I had to travel to Europe a few times this year.

If it’s not a clot, it’ll be more CT scans, looked at the lining of my lungs (for something like atypical pneumonia or pluracy — but all my doctors keep shaking their heads and saying “you just look too well for that to be it”) or the cardio unit to look for heart troubles like HCM. In the meantime, I’ll be getting daily jabs of enoxaparin sodium (brand name Lovenox in the US and Clexane in the UK) to guard against a blood clot, well, killing me. Cheery stuff! But all under control at the moment, except for my child-like hatred of hurty needle pain.

52 Notes

Diagnosis: Murder

Not really, but it sounds snappier than Diagnosis: We Still Don’t Know But You Can Go Home Now. I spent nearly six hours in the Emergency Admissions Unit of Nevill Hall hospital, where the following facts where gleaned:

  • an electro cardiogram was clear, with no heart rhythm problems
  • my blood test results were clear, with no interesting numbers except…
  • I had a high d-dimer result, which is a test that indicates I might have a blood clot somewhere (but a test with false positives, so only might)
  • a second blood test for blood gases (wrist injections hurt!) showed O2 levels in my blood that were low, but not oh-my-god low (95%)

On the basis of the blood gas being not so bad, the doctor was happy to discharge me, after giving me an enoxaparin shot to thin my blood in case I do have a clot. I have a few more of those to be going on with, and Danielle is going to enjoy prodding me with needles I’m sure.

Next stage is an upper-body CT scan to look for signs of blood clots, then after that it depends on what that finds. Probably more scans, concentrating on either my lungs or heart. But for now, I’m just happy to be home.

51 Notes

More health stuff

I’m being admitted to hospital tonight, for observation and further tests.