In July 2010, I noticed traces of blood in the sputum I coughed up. I know that checking ones sputum is a disgusting thing to do, but a yellowish colour indicates a chest infection and the need for antibiotics, so it had become a routine thing for me to check it from time to time. Initially I ignored the blood as it was brownish and only occasional. Then one day there was a bright red blob of blood and so I immediately trotted off to the GP who sent me for an X-ray. This showed nothing, but the GP referred me to a lung consultant at MRI.
The consultant’s registrar went through my whole medical history (including the Reynaud’s disease and acid reflux which didn’t initially seem relevant), gave me a thorough examination and ordered blood tests, lung function tests and a CT scan. When I saw the lung consultant (Dr W) on 25th August after all these tests, he said there was no sign of cancer and they couldn’t find the cause of the coughing blood, but had found scarring in my lungs and that I had something called ‘systemic sclerosis’ (hardening of the connective tissues). I was apparently at the mild end of the spectrum (which at the other extreme is life-threatening). This syndrome linked the Reynaud’s, the acid reflux, scarring in lungs and also the ‘shrinking mouth’ phenomenon (I had commented jokingly to friends that my lips were disappearing but assumed it was a feature of the ageing process). He wanted to do further tests for the blood in the sputum – including a bronchoscopy and referred me to a Rheumatology consultant (Dr G) for the sclerosis (but earliest appointment available was mid-November).
Of course I was straight on to Google to find out more about this systemic sclerosis and found that aching joints and fatigue were features (again things I had experienced but put down to ageing).