Saturday, 12 November 2016

Coming soon - Wildflower Newcastle

Newcastle's vegan scene lost a little something special a few weeks ago when The Painted Elephant announced it would be closing. I was a big fan of their inventive, fresh, locally sourced plant-based fayre, so when I heard chef Asher Turnbull was teaming up with his equally creative friend and colleage Jessie to launch a new venture, I was fairly excited!

It's always nice to see a new vegan cafe opening in the North East, and Wildflower - which opens at 283a Westgate Road on Tuesday 15th November - sounds like a welcome addition to the ever-growing crop of quality establishments making Newcastle their home.

Dubbed a 'creative kitchen and event space', Wildflower will marry art, music and events with the exciting, vibrant plant-based foods that made Painted Elephant so special. In future, the space will play host to a plethora of different events, including themed dinner parties, still life drawing sessions, upcycling workshops, vintage and art markets and cooking demonstrations, bringing something a little different to the area.

The people behind Wildflower are hoping to raise £1,000 to help buy vital equipment and furnish the space. It would be so great if the vegan community could get behind them and make a small (or large!) donation to help them realise their dream. If you could spare a pound or two, you can donate at their Just Giving page here. You can also like Wildflower on Facebook here.

Please feel free to share this post amongst your friends and fellow vegans - let's help Wildflower to hit their target and give a local business a strong start to establish themselves and grow their offering.

Emily xo

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Where have you been?! My blood clot story

DVT, Pulmonary Embolism and Blood Clot Symptoms

Well hello there. It's been a while, hasn't it? The past few weeks have been so crazy, I'm not really sure where to begin. In a nutshell, Andrew and I went on the holiday of a lifetime to Toronto and New York at the end of August, On the flight back, I got Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which was misdiagnosed by nine different doctors over a period of five weeks. Because it went undiagnosed for such a long time, the blood clot in my leg 'broke away' and lots of small and medium sized blood clots travelled to my lungs. As a result, I now have multiple bilateral Pulmonary Embolism, which is a fairly horrible and just a little bit terrifying, life threatening condition.

I should start by saying that this is what happened to me. DVT and PE is such a personal thing, and having now met lots of other people with the same condition as me on forums and Facebook groups, we've all had very different symptoms and treatment programmes. I don't want anyone to think that they are going to get DVT or PEs if they are in the same situation as me. Multiple doctors have told me that it is very rare to get these conditions at my age, however it does happen, I'm living proof of that. If this blog post helps to save the life of one person, then that'll do me nicely.

Two days after our flight back to the UK, I began to develop a pain on the inside of my lower left leg. It felt as though I had a bruise which hadn't quite made its way to the surface yet. I'm a generally fairly clumsy person, so I reckoned I'd whacked myself with my suitcase and forgotten about it.

Two weeks later, the pain in my leg was still there, and it was fairly bad at this point. A bruise hadn't emerged from the depths of my shin, but it still felt as though there was one lurking, ready to pop up with a 'here I am, nothing to worry about!' That didn't happen. I Googled my symptoms - yeah, I know, but we all do it - and there it was, 'deep vein thrombosis'. It was always in the back of my mind having recently been on a long-haul flight, so when I attended the NHS walk in centre after work, I told the nurse I thought that's what it was. I was told by the nurse and the following doctor that there was no way it could be DVT as 'DVT always leaves a mark on the skin, it happens in the big veins in the back of your knees and you're too young.' I was diagnosed with shin splints (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know I was doing Insanity before my holiday and had recently started running, so this did make sense, even though it was only in one leg), and told to ice my leg and take paracetamol.

For the next two weeks I pretty much lived on painkillers, and when I wasn't at work I had a bag of frozen peas glued to my permanently elevated leg. The pain would come and go, and I carried on going to the gym, running 5ks most nights after work and even doing Parkrun on a Saturday. The strange thing was that my leg wouldn't hurt at all whilst I was exercising, and would only start if I had a day or two off. I thought the exercise was helping, so I carried on.

One Wednesday night in mid-September, I was woken up throughout the night in agony with my leg. It was so sore it hurt when anything touched it - even the bedsheets or the water from the shower. That same week, I arrived at work in tears after my usual 10 minute walk to the office took 30 minutes, and I was in so much pain I couldn't put any weight at all in my leg. Luckily, I was whisked off to A&E in a taxi by my lovely manager, so I could get checked out. The consultant sent me for X-rays which came back clear, but despite there being no evidence, he said it was most likely a stress fracture, but further investigation was needed. He gave me crutches, and advised me to go to a private physiotherapist for ultrasound treatment as the NHS waiting list is so long, and told me to go see my GP for a referral for an MRI scan.

The following week I saw my GP who prescribed me strong painkillers and referred me for an MRI scan. I went to a private physio who did ultrasound on my leg, and gave me a 'Cryocuff' which is a cold compression boot. I used the Cryocuff for five days and my leg still remained hugely swollen and sore. After I used the Cryocuff, my foot would be ice cold for hours on end. I would wrap it in socks and blankets, but it would not warm up at all, which made me worried there was something wrong with the circulation in my leg.

The photo above show my legs in comparison to each other - the leg with the tattooed foot is the one which had the blood clot. You can see that the legs are two different shapes, and that the leg with the clot was actually a different colour to the 'normal' leg. Soz if you don't like feet.

This photo shows the inside of my left ankle (i.e. that is my pinky toe closest to the camera). As you can see it swelled up so much it was definite cankle material. Sorry the photos aren't great quality - at the time I literally took them to send to my mum! I never thought it would be something I'd feel compelled to write a blog post about.

The following week I went back to my physiotherapist and he was really worried about the amount of pain and swelling still present in my leg. He called his friend who is a consultant at the hospital, and told me to go back and see him that evening. Back at the hospital, the consultant took more x-rays of my leg, and said it was likely to be a stress fracture. The x-ray showed no evidence of a fracture or anything wrong with my bones, but you could see how much more my leg had swollen in comparison to the x-rays which had been taken a fortnight earlier. The consultant gave me a support boot to wear and made me an appointment for the fracture clinic the next morning.

The following day I attended the fracture clinic, and after waiting for two hours, was told there was nothing the consultants could do for me as my leg wasn't fractured. At this point I broke down. I had been in so much pain for weeks on end, my leg was swollen and I couldn't walk without the crutches. I just wanted an answer as to why my leg hurt so much and why nothing would reduce the pain and swelling. The doctor asked me if anyone had done a blood test to rule out other medical causes, and I told him nobody had. He didn't test my blood. He gave me a sick note for 'tendinitis' and told me to make another appointment for four weeks time.

Two days after my fracture clinic appointment, I started to feel really unwell. I was sniffly, had a headache and felt like I was coming down with the flu. That evening, I walked into my kitchen, and had to lean on the worktop for support as I couldn't breathe. I felt completely winded - as though some invisible force had knocked all of the air out of my lungs. I thought it was because I was getting the flu, and went to bed early.

The next morning, I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed. I felt so lethargic and unwell, my head was pounding and I felt sick. I am NOT a snoozer. I have been known to get up at 5am to do an Insanity workout because I knew I wouldn't get the chance to workout later in the day, I am the girl who is early for everything, the one who feels the day is wasted if you get up after 7.30. I knew something wasn't right. By the time I got to the top of the stairs, I was struggling to breathe and had pains in my chest. I did it again - I Googled, 'lower leg pain and shortness of breath' and there it was - DVT and PEs. It was like a checklist of my symptoms. I called NHS 111 and explained my symptoms. She sent an ambulance, and within five minutes there was a paramedic at my door. He took me to A&E and they offered me a blood test called a 'D-Dimer'. The results of the test come back in SIX MINUTES. I couldn't believe nobody had offered me this sooner.

The D-Dimer results showed that I had a blood clot. I was whisked off to resus where I was hooked up to a drip and given an injection into my stomach to stop the blood clots from moving and to stop further clots from developing. I couldn't believe that I finally had an answer as to why my leg was so painful, but I was terrified about what would happen next.

After a few hours on a short stay ward, I was taken for a CT scan. The doctors put a contrast dye in my cannula so they could see the veins in my lungs. Unfortunately, I had a massive allergic reaction to the dye and went into anaphylactic shock. My head, tongue, mouth and throat swelled up and my whole body went bright red with hives. I had to be given an injection of antihistamines and adrenaline as well as oxygen and it was all fairly terrifying.

Once the doctors had managed to stabilise me, I was moved on to an observation ward where the doctors monitored my blood oxygen levels and my heart rate, as well as taking my blood pressure and temperature every 15 minutes. The consultant who was looking after me came to discuss the results of my CT scan and told me I have multiple bilateral pulmonary embolism which means that there are multiple blood clots on both of my lungs. I asked her how many, but she said there were too many to put a number on. I couldn't believe that I had gone from thinking I had shin splints to being in hospital with a life-threatening condition. The doctors started me on an anticoagulant drug called Xarelto which I will have to take every day for at the least six months. It makes me randomly bleed and stops my blood from clotting so I have to be careful not to cut myself. But I am alive and on the road to recovery. 1 in 4 people who have untreated PEs like mine will die from the condition.

I was in the hospital for two days before they let me go home. The doctors were mostly lovely but vegan hospital food SUCKS and I was very glad to be away from all of the machines beeping. Strangely, I managed to walk out of the hospital without my boot or the crutches. My leg was sore and stiff, but I was finally able to put weight on it, so I shuffled out, pleased to be on the way to recovery.

My clots were 'provoked' which means that there is a known cause and a reason that we can pinpoint. Some people get blood clots for absolutely no reason whatsoever, or they have a genetic condition which means they are susceptible to developing blood clots. As far as I know at this moment in time, my blood clots were a result of the long haul flight and 12-13 years of taking the combined contraceptive pill (I was taking Yasmin / Yaz AKA Lucette in the UK if anyone is interested). There are many different factors which affect someone's propensity to have blood clots - one is taking the combined pill, others are lifestyle factors such as smoking or being overweight - neither of which applied to me. Both DVT and PE have many different symptoms, and some people will only have one or two - if any. I had a fair few of the symptoms, but the information I had been given at the walk in centre (about DVT only occurring in the backs of the knees and always coming with a mark on the skin) simply was not true.

The recovery is slow and long. Some days I feel fine, on others I will randomly bleed from my gums or bring up blood from nowhere (I have had this checked out and it's supposedly a side effect from being on such a high dose of anticoagulants). I get tired very easily, I'm sensitive to light, I get the worst headaches I've ever had and get back pain. I also suffer from post-thrombotic syndrome meaning I get pain in my leg where I had the clot which is terrifying. It will be a while before I'm running or doing Insanity again, but I will get there. Many others are not so lucky.

If anyone has any questions about DVT / PE / Thrombosis I will be happy to answer them. Feel free to post them in the comments or email me - if you don't want to ask them publically.

I know this is a little different from my usual posts and it was really long, but I felt it was really important to document my story in case anyone else is having similar symptoms. There seems to be a general lack of awareness in the medical community about DVT / PE in young women, but we can and do get these conditions and I would not wish for anyone else to go through what I've been through. If my DVT had been diagnosed at an earlier stage, there is no doubt that my recovery would have been easier and quicker than it will be, and my condition may not have become life-threatening. Please listen to your own body and do not give up until you have an answer.

I'll be back with something a bit more cheery soon!

Emily xo
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