About five years ago, quite by chance, I was diagnosed with an exotic sounding, and for me symptomless, inherited condition called haemochromatosis.
It’s the name for when iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years. If left untreated, I learned to my consternation, it can damage your liver, kidney, joints, pancreas and heart. Weeks of further blood tests, an ECG and scans of internal organs, ensued and, to cut a long story short, all was fine.
I’ve learned a fair bit about haemochromatosis over the years, for example if both parents have the faulty gene you can pass it on to your children and that it’s known as the ‘Celtic Curse’ because there’s a higher incidence of it amongst Irish people. Must check out my family tree one of these days!
I now had to begin the treatment of phlebotomy, getting a pint of blood withdrawn until the iron levels came down which thankfully they did very quickly. This involved visiting the hospital’s haematology and oncology ward every few weeks for a while.
There I sat alongside very ill patients with cancer on chemo drips for hours, while I quickly gave my blood which was tested and then discarded. Despite the chirpy demeanour of many nurses and a few of the patients, it’s a scene I’ll never forget and whenever I go for the test results, which I did yesterday, I count my blessings for being fit and healthy.
The moving scene of Fay Ripley’s character Jenny in last night’s first episode of the new series of ITV’s Cold Feet removing her wig and make up took me back there again.
Thankfully a couple of good things have come out of the experience I now donate blood and have recently reached the milestone of 10 donations which helps others and keeps my iron under control. The annual check-ups are also useful as they check not just iron levels but also run a range of other tests.
This time last year I’d had a couple of rogue kidney function results when blood tests were done after I was dehydrated following gym sessions. Though symptomless I was casually told at the GPs I had CKD, the letters – which stand for chronic kidney disease – jarred, kind of branded me and I felt like I’d become a member of a club no one would want to join.
I was offered treatment options and given some leaflets about living with my condition. I clung to the hope that it would be third time lucky when it was time for my next blood test. I found out yesterday I was right and am no longer a CKD.
I’ve now seen the benefits and drawbacks of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s £30 billion Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) which incentives GPs to over-investigate, over-diagnose and over-treat. The British Medical Journal is running a campaign against the QOF’s too much medicine which, writes Dr Michael Fitzpatrick in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, is making GPs busier and also may have contributed to the reduced life expectancy of some elderly patients.
How to negotiate this disturbing phenomenon is an important issue all of us who are approaching retirement need to be acutely aware of.