• Karen Law

Behind the PPE: what helped me feel safe

Yesterday I went for an endoscopic procedure. It was done to get biopsies to check how my body is reacting now that I’ve eliminated wheat, dairy and soya from my consumption since before Christmas. This will be one of the first hospital appointments since lockdown began to be eased. It meant that reception and nurses all wore masks and I’d had a telephone conversation the day before so they could check me for Covid risks.

5 medical professionals looking down at viewer from overhead.
Circle of medics

After the initial checks by nurse for temperature, blood pressure etc I was sent back to waiting area until my doctor was ready for me. I was called eventually and led down a corridor to the theatre. I could see a figure at the door of a room off the corridor and it looked like my consultant. When I say that it looked like him, I mean that it looked like he was a he, that he had the same colour of hair and looked about the same height and build as my consultant. Getting closer my assumptions were confirmed as he spoke and I was close enough to see his eyes. He was clad head to foot in PPE, of course, because of Covid19.

We started speaking as he lifted his arm up to invite me to connect through touch. Obviously a hand shake is out of the question, so I raised my forearm up also and we bumped arms.

This was my fifth experience of this procedure, if I’ve recalled correctly. It’s not pleasant at all. I choose not to be sedated as I do not like the feeling. The first time I had an endoscopy was when food was stuck so that might have had an impact on it. However, my body tried to remove the strange thing being introduced but I was not fully ‘compos mentis’. This was not a good combination for me. I don’t know now how I exactly reacted but I was not happy. I’m sure there was probably thrashing around and there might even have been quite violent reactions. All I know is that they had to abandon the procedure. They’d got some food removed and the rest came up while I was in recovery. They had to take me back down two days later to get the biopsies to confirm diagnosis. I choose to have these procedures now with just a throat spray to numb the back of my throat and some of my oesophagus. It tastes horrible but is effective. But I remain awake and alert and can concentrate on keeping calm.

The reason for the food being stuck is Eosinophilic Oesophagitis and this can only be diagnosed by biopsies which show a density of eosinophils higher than 15/HPF (high power microscope field). At the last biopsy, for wheat, the density of eosinophils in my oesophagus were over 200! There shouldn’t really be any. And they appear to be there as a reaction to something. It’s an immune mediated response to food groups usually, although it can be other things in the environment. It also causes other physical changes to the tissues which are visible to the eye, such as ‘tramlines.’