Peter's story - my Addisonian crisis

Be warned, an addisonian crisis can creep up on you without you noticing!

Peter ThorntonMostly these days I enjoy a happy and, except for a few threats, healthy life. I am seriously into launching my new business project - DERMATUff Thin Skin Protection Wear and doing some business consultancy and lecturing. Thin Skin Protection Wear came to mind because of my own problem of very thin skin due to steroids and, before I invented the solution, very frequent skin tears. However sometimes things can go wrong or very nearly go wrong.

I left the Watershed Conference Centre in the middle of Bristol at about 7pm on Thursday 1 October 2009 and set off on the short walk to the multi-storey car park where I had left my car. The distance to my house in Woodbury near Exeter was about 80 miles and would take me an hour and a half.

It had been an excellent conference with the central theme being the subject of family business. It had been organised by my good friend John Tucker who runs the International Centre for Families in Business which was based in Cheltenham at that time.

I had been excited to be there because the date was shortly before the launch of my book, ‘Thorntons, My Life in the Family Business.’ which was to take place in Sheffield a couple of weeks later and many of the delegates were interested to hear more about it. As I walked along the street I became aware for the first time that evening that I was feeling slightly ill, first signs perhaps of a cold I thought. I got into my car and began to think ‘dammit I am really feeling ill which means the start of the inevitable couple of weeks of coughing and sneezing and feeling third-rate, never mind, it would not be a long drive home when I would be able to get straight to bed’.

After a strong and healthy childhood and youth I had, in my late 20s, suddenly begun to wheeze and cough during the night. Eventually my GP told me that I had got asthma. Every possible remedy was then provided, I had allergy tests, hypnosis, therapy and the latest drug Intal, but nothing would cure it. Drugs to control asthma were not well developed in the 50s and 60s. Eventually I was told that I would have to take cortisone, “it has some side-effects but nothing to worry about”.

From then on for many years it was a continuous cycle of a high dose of prednisolone (30mg a day tailing off to nothing over a period of about two weeks) together with an antibiotic. Perhaps a couple of weeks off before the whole cycle started again. Eventually when I was in my mid 50s in the mid-1980s I asked my GP whether he didn’t think that perhaps my adrenal glands might have been suppressed by my constant use of prednisolone.

He sent me to see an endocrinologist at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital who carried out a series of tests at the end of which he told me that my adrenals were completely suppressed and not producing any cortisone at all. He told me that I must be extremely careful, that I was at risk of an Addison’s Event and I must carry cortisone suppositories around with me all the time. For some reason I didn’t take this very seriously, I should have done.

I then went to see a clinician at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, Dr Derek Cullen. I was very impressed by the trouble that he went to. He decided that my pituitary gland was suppressed and asked me to carry out my own synacthin injections to see whether it could be revived. The body calls for cortisone from the adrenal glands to the varying extent that it is required by sending synacthin messages from the pituitary.

After six months of personal injections we gave up and from then on I have been taking a maintenance dose of hydrocortisone. I never had need of the suppositories and really forgot about this lingering risk.

Life continued its hectic pace, my second marriage broke up, I left Thorntons in 1987 and in 1992 the happiest event of my life occurred when I met my wife Julia.

Then another very significant event in my medical history occurred. I had heard about sinus operations and the dramatically beneficial effect that such an operation could have. Once again I suggested to my GP that I should see an ENT consultant about the necessity for this. The ENT consultant decided that an operation was urgently required and so it was organised for 1 January 1995. There was only one snag about this and that was that Julia and I had arranged to fly to the Virgin Islands on 5 January to get married there.

We decided to go ahead with both, the marriage was a great success but the operation was not. It had to be repeated about a week after our return from honeymoon. This time it was a dramatic success. Slowly the symptoms of my ‘asthma’ disappeared. I am supposed now to have bronchiectasis; unless I get a virus infection I have no symptoms. Normally I have completely stopped all the drugs for asthma/bronchiectasis.

I set my SatNav to take me home and then left the Bristol multi-storey car park at about 7:15 PM following its instructions. As I started to drive through the city out towards the motorway my symptoms worsened. I started to feel extremely cold and at the same time extremely thirsty. I turned up the heating in the car to its absolute maximum but still was shivering. I drank all the water that I had in the car very rapidly but still felt thirsty.

I could not manage to drive very fast and still feel properly in control, I dropped the speed to about 40 mph on the motorway. Eventually I arrived at junction 30 and exited the motorway taking the A376 towards Exmouth. In spite of the spoken instructions on the SatNav and the map clearly indicating the route I still made a wrong turning so that the SatNav had to recalculate.

Having no idea what was wrong with me but feeling absolutely dreadful I got out of my car in our driveway and tried to walk towards the front door, instead of that I found my steps were taking me towards the garage. I had to make a major effort to go in the right direction. I got through the front door dropped everything on the floor and staggered upstairs. On the landing I walked in the wrong direction but managed to turn around and go the right way. No, this was not the effect of alcohol; I had not been drinking at the seminar.

I threw off my clothes with all the speed that I could manage and collapsed into bed. I managed to explain to my wife that I felt strangely ill and then fell into a deep sleep. Fortunately I did wake the next morning but I might well not have done. Suddenly for no reason at all I realised that this was possibly an Addison’s Event caused by the virus that I had apparently picked up. I at once took 40 mg of hydrocortisone (my normal morning dose being 10 mg). Within a couple of hours apart from the obvious fact that I was suffering from some sort of virus and felt feverish I was quite normal again.

Strangely enough during the last couple of weeks something else has happened to me which I think could be a different sort of Addison’s Event. About three weeks ago I started to suffer from excruciating lower back pains. I saw the doctor got a mountain of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, went to see a chiropractor but was still in total agony. Suddenly last night I thought ‘this back problem is calling for extra cortisone from my body which it cannot give, take some cortisone!’. I doubled my cortisone dose at once and 24 hours later I am 100% better.

In other words BE WARNED the trigger for an Addison’s Event can be completely hidden, somehow try to stay aware of the possibility that those strange symptoms you are experiencing could be due to serious cortisone deficiency.