How Many Times Must a Story Be Told…?

Sorry I’ve not been blogging recently. I put the blog to one side to concentrate on another project but I didn’t realise how long it would take. Needing to take breaks every five minutes to replenish my brain when I’m writing doesn’t make for speedy progress. Today, however, it has been May 12, ME Awareness Day, and I managed to share a link to Robert Saunders’ excellent ME-related version of Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’ on my (mainly non-ME specific) Facebook page. I read what I’d written to introduce the piece again just now and decided it was worth sharing it here too. If you’re involved in the ME world in some way, you’ve probably come across Robert’s splendid video already, but if not then do please take five minutes to listen – and maybe to share it with others.

Here (for a change) is the non-Facebook version of Robert’s introduction to the video.

Even if you think you know something about ME, some of the quotes used in the video may surprise you:

‘I split my clinical time between ME/CFS and HIV and I can tell you if I had to choose between the two illnesses, I’d rather have HIV.’ – Dr Nancy Klimas, Director, Institute of Neuro Immune Medicine, NSU.

‘People with ME are more disabled and have a lower quality of life than people with most other chronic illnesses including heart disease and multiple sclerosis.’

‘When the full details of the PACE Trial become known, it will be considered one of the biggest medical scandals if the 21st century.’ Carole Monaghan, UK MP

The PACE Trial spent £5m of UK taxpayers’ money and purported to illustrate the effectiveness of graded exercise therapy for ME. However, it was eventually discovered to be so full of flaws that it is now being taught in some university courses as an example of how not to do research. In spite of this, PACE is still highly influential worldwide, including here in the UK, its researchers being so embedded in the higher echelons of the medical establishment that mere facts seem to do nothing to damage their ‘credibility’ in the eyes of their peers.

Time and again, the faults and subterfuge which lie behind PACE have been laid bare, first by patients – many working from their sick beds – and more recently by commentators such as Dr David Tuller who have taken the trouble to look at the evidence and understand that the trial, and the biopsychosocial theory which underlies it, need to be exposed as the sham that they are. Time and again, the argument is won, and the PACE researchers are left mumbling the same excuses which didn’t hold water the last time around, yet to change the consensus view of the illness appears to take decades rather than years. Press coverage is slowly improving but the PACE researchers have a powerful lobbying group, the Science Media Centre, on their side, and though journalists are often well meaning, their idea of balance seems to be to present both sides of the argument, irrespective of where the truth may lie. The equivalent of most articles about ME would be a feature on the shape of the planet which gave equal time and weight to the views of the Flat Earth Society.

As the song puts it:

How many times must an idea fail

Before it is seen to be flawed?

How many flaws can a Trial embrace

Before it is seen as a fraud?

So the process of exposing the truth is an arduous one and of course people with ME have little energy to spare. We fight the illness as best we can but it is a cruel truth that we also have to fight an intransigent medical establishment. Thank goodness for those few healthy people who are willing to help us.

The slow process of getting to the truth has to go on. Graded exercise as promoted by PACE is very dangerous for people with ME. It can – and does – leave patients bedbound, sometimes permanently so. Not only that but the persistent presence of the biopsychosocial lobby means that most research money, especially here in the UK, goes into various ‘rehabilitation’ research programs such as PACE rather than into much needed biomedical research.

Of the 14 million people worldwide estimated to have ME, about 25% are housebound or bedbound, many as a result of graded exercise programs. Many of these severely affected can’t tolerate light so they spend their lives in darkened rooms. Some are not even well enough to talk to those close to them, so they Iive lives of total isolation.

The photos in the video illustrate the worlds of a solitary room in which many such people must live. When the song talks of people screaming in the dark then, it is not exaggeration – except that in reality the scream will most likely be a silent one.

Thanks for listening and reading. Please help by sharing this. Thanks, too, to Robert Saunders and all involved in making this powerful video.

How many times must a story be told

Before you will see what is true?

Further reading:

David Tuller’s initial analysis of PACE. Just reading the summary gives you a good understanding of the scale of the ‘errors’ involved:

Out of the Blue: an account of what it can be like to go down with ME – and a few useful links (from the Spoonseeker blog):

 

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A (Second) Letter to Dr Phil Hammond

Dear Dr Hammond – I was very pleased to hear about your vision for the way ahead regarding CFS on your 25 October BBC Radio Bristol show with Jennifer Brea (available on listen again at 2-21)

You said: “I remember when HIV first hit in the 80s in the UK … it was the patients themselves who learnt all the research and became very assertive and demanded the best care… I see that same movement happening with chronic fatigue. We need to unite people across the globe and use their wisdom and experience to get better research and that’s the route to an optimistic future, I think.”
I very much agree that this is the way ahead. We patients are doing our best to move things along this path. Unfortunately “becoming assertive” in the way that has been so successful for HIV campaigners is being interpreted by some health professionals as ‘harassment’. I’m glad you do not share this view. We are not trying to be difficult for the sake of it. All we are trying to do is to help uncover the truth about this illness which devastates so many patients’ lives.
With this in mind, I wonder if you have the time to answer a few questions which arose from your interview with Jennifer Brea. You were kind enough to respond when I wrote to you about a year ago and any response you can make again now would be very much appreciated.
1) You mentioned to Jennifer that some of your young patients improve when they have graded exercise therapy at your clinic. When you responded to me last year, however, you said that ‘the mainstay of treatment ( at the clinic) is activity management’. Which of these do you actually use at the clinic? Or is it both?
2) You were also telling Jennifer that when you do graded exercise therapy, you cut back on the amount your patients are doing. I wonder if your approach is the same as that described in the Magenta protocol, where patients start on a baseline level which is the same as the median amount which is currently being achieved each week. The total level therefore remains the same but there is more consistency in the amount of exercise day to day. Once this baseline level has been achieved every day for 1 to 2 weeks, then according to Magenta, participants are advised to increase exercise by 10 to 20% a week. This means that any cutback in exercise is not substantial (really more a smoothing out than an actual reduction) and does not seem to last very long. Is this indeed what you do in the clinic? In which case, the overall emphasis seems really to be more about increasing the level of exercise rather than cutting back. Or do you do things another way? If so, why do you not use the same regime as Magenta?
3) Jennifer remarked that the regime in your clinic as you described it to her seemed very like pacing, but the Magenta advice to increase by 10 to 20% a week seems much less flexible than that. Even if the increase is not rigidly imposed, the therapist – and inevitably the patient – will feel under pressure to deliver it. The most crucial issue is: what happens if symptoms start getting worse? Are patients encouraged to cut back on exercise or to carry on regardless? The Magenta protocol doesn’t seem to say what the advice will be but the PACE protocol is clearly in favour of carrying on as far as possible in spite of worsening symptoms. Is this the advice given in your clinic I wonder? If so, then it certainly isn’t like pacing. And if otherwise, what is the advice given?
I’m sorry if these questions seem fussy and pedantic but it seems to me that a lot of the problem in understanding CFS is that so many factors are not precisely defined. From a short conversation, it can seem like a graded exercise program is very similar to pacing but the devil is in the detail. Similarly, so many researchers have made the mistake of assuming that patients diagnosed with different diagnostic criteria all have the same condition.
As you said in the interview: “we’ve noticed there are some kids who do improve when they have graded exercise therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy – and some who don’t, which suggests… either we’re dealing with different conditions or chronic fatigue syndrome is a variety of different things.” As Jennifer put it (with your agreement): “we have to make sure we are treating the right patients with the right treatments.” This is true not least because the wrong treatment can lead to long term disability.
So I couldn’t agree more that we need to distinguish between the different types of patients, but we’re not going to do this as long as we keep on using a dogs breakfast of different criteria to identify patients, frequently conflating ME/CFS with generic chronic fatigue and even making up new variations as we go along. I’m afraid that a prime example of the latter appeared in the original protocol for FITNET-NHS, which – for no very good reason – proposed using a version of the NICE criteria which did not require the presence of post-exertional malaise. I understand that this has now been scrapped but why on earth was it thought to be a good idea in the first place? Unless we start describing patients precisely and consistently, we will never get anywhere.
You mentioned that some of your patients do not respond well to graded exercise and it would be interesting to see if such patients fit the Canadian criteria rather than Fukuda or NICE. You also showed great interest when Jennifer described the use of the VO2 Max test to try to make sense of patient response to exercise. You even suggested collaboration. Would it not be possible to make that happen? It is indeed important to distinguish between the different types of patients so why are you not using some of these (what seem to me to be) obvious strategies to help you do so?
I think it is great that you are helping so many children who respond well to your therapies but you acknowledge that many do not and I can only agree that there is a very great need to distinguish between them, not least for the sake of those who you describe as having severe symptoms for a long time. As you say ‘that is where most of the attention needs to go’. Once again, I can only agree. I applaud what is obviously your heartfelt desire to help such children. As a concerned and assertive patient, I urge you to do whatever you can to bring that about.

 

Letter to Dr Phil Hammond

Following last Saturday’s interview with Prof Esther Crawley on BBC Radio Bristol, I sent the following letter to Dr Phil Hammond who hosted the programme. I think it explains a large part of the reason why patients with M.E. have problems with Dr Crawley and why we don’t want her involved with the proposed MEGA study:

Dear Dr Hammond

Thank you for putting the concerns of ME/CFS patients to Prof Esther Crawley in your interview on Radio Bristol last Saturday. Unfortunately, as I have tried to explain as briefly as possible below, her responses were largely factually incorrect. I wonder if next time you have her on your programme, you could also invite the investigative journalist David Tuller whose original in-depth analysis brought the many and in some cases outrageous defects of the PACE Trial to wider attention. This led to numerous condemnations of PACE from eminent researchers in the field of ME/CFS. Here are just two of them:

Prof. Ronald Davis of Stanford University said: “I’m shocked that the Lancet published it…The PACE study has so many flaws and there are so many questions you’d want to ask about it that I don’t understand how it got through any kind of peer review.”

 Prof. Jonathan Edwards of University College London said: “It’s a mass of un-interpretability to me…All the issues with the trial are extremely worrying, making interpretation of the clinical significance of the findings more or less impossible.”

 PACE’s recommendations for the use of CBT and graded exercise therapy (GET) for ME/CFS have frequently been reported by the British media but the important work of Mr Tuller has been ignored, so grossly distorting the information which has been made available to the British public. It would be an invaluable service if your programme could help to redress this imbalance.

When asked about the recent PACE reanalysis on your programme, Prof Crawley replied as follows: Continue reading “Letter to Dr Phil Hammond”

None The Wiser…

Does Esther Crawley’s latest research really tell us anything about the prevalence of pediatric CFS/ME?

 

After a quiet time over the holidays and into the new year, ME/CFS has been back in the news again. This time the coverage has in many ways been rather helpful. Dr Mark Porter, writing in The Times painted quite an accurate portrait of the condition: usually starting after an infection; involving numerous symptoms rather than only fatigue; the fatigue itself “persistent and recurrent”; and “exacerbated by physical or mental exertion”. There was even a description (though not by name) of the all-important post-exertional malaise. Pacing was also well described: “some of the strategies are counter-intuitive”, “it is important to avoid the boom-and-bust cycle”, only the exhortation to avoid daytime sleep seemed to me to be off the mark: in some situations this is a useful strategy to restore natural rhythm but in my experience as a patient it’s not always feasible or desirable. Nevertheless I liked Dr Porter’s perspective on the possible psychological repercussions of having ME: “feeling awful for months on end will dampen the spirits of the hardiest person” and severe ME at least gets a mention: “when severe it can leave victims housebound and often bedridden (the worst cases require hospital treatment)”. Not that the hospital is likely to have a clue what to do about it but at least there is some acknowledgement of severity.

The piece on the BBC News website focused more on the new study from the University of Bristol which served as the trigger for this latest splurge of publicity. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at Age 16 Years claimed that the prevalence of pediatric CFS was 1.9% in 16-year-olds, higher than previously thought. The BBC article rounded this up to 1 in 50 and contrasted it with the 1 in 1000 (it said) who are actually diagnosed. Hmm.

The study also claimed that CFS affected almost twice as many girls as boys at age 16 and was more likely to affect children from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the article, the study authors said this dispelled the commonly held view that CFS/ME was a “middle-class” illness, or “yuppie flu”.

I think I would dispute the fact that this is a widely held view any more (except perhaps among journalists), most of the general population having either forgotten about yuppies or being too young to have heard of them at all. But I suppose it is a useful enough finding – if it can be trusted, that is, but more of that in a moment… Continue reading “None The Wiser…”