This is the first of three posts this week from a patient wanting to share her story from 15 years ago. We are very grateful for her honesty. As health care professionals we are really only spectators to snippets of our patients lives. The ten minutes or so of each consultation provides a window through which we can begin to understand, but we don’t walk in their shoes; something it’s important to remember. Sarah – Curator
Discover I am pregnant. D and I are thrilled. Been trying for five months – as we did with F. She, at almost three years old, senses the excitement and when I explain, she says, “Me do wee on stick!” as if that’s all there is to it!
I have decided to believe what I have been told by the world and his wife – that “no two pregnancies are the same,” and that a positive attitude will see me through any morning sickness I might suffer. Even I have forgotten the months in bed last time, and look forward to a summer dressing in tent dresses and clogs.
Already feeling tired and nauseous until late morning so I have a huge breakfast in bed whenever I can. If this is as bad as it gets, I will be singing my way through to the birth. Maybe the acupuncture I am having is making a difference – as well as the folic acid, no alcohol for the last 6 months and eating like a pig.
Go to acupuncture and almost throw up. Feel very grim. Collect F from nursery and have to clamp jaw shut for fear of vomiting. Friends come over. I eat cake and feel very grim indeed. Put F to bed with no bath and follow on immediately myself.
I have chronic diarrhoea as well as the sickness. I ring the GP to get some stemetil. D goes to collect it for me. I am like a junkie waiting for her fix and gobbled it down. It makes absolutely no difference.
Diarrhoea still. I ring the GP. He says diarrhoea is not a feature of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) but prescribes codeine and rehydration salts. Actually, it transpires, diarrhoea is a feature of severe HG, usually occurring from 6 to 9 weeks and is part of the digestive system’s inability to cope with HCG, the hormone responsible for maintaining the pregnancy until the placenta is fully formed at around 16 weeks. HCG makes most people feel sick and tired but with HG it wrecks the digestive system, causes 5-20% of total body weight loss and can play havoc with other functions too. I know none of this at the time and assume I have a bug.
My brother and girlfriend come down from London for the day to look after F as D is working. I cannot bear anyone near me, so when F climbs into my bed with a nasty cough, it is all I can do to tolerate her there without heaving. I cannot bear D anywhere near me. I go to the loo and notice blood in the pan and suddenly I do not want to lose this baby. It is not just my baby, but D’s baby and F’s sibling. I still think I can battle through HG. I ring the out of hours GP and am told to go to the hospital the following morning.
We are all up early; D returns from a nightshift and takes us to hospital. It is to be the first of several trips in a short space of time. I have a bucket in the car. The place is deserted at 8.30. I have a migraine, banging away to its own macabre rhythm. We see a midwife, then go for a scan. The dot on the scan pulsates and D is delighted. I cannot stop crying. I don’t know why. I feel really ill. I really want this baby but already I wonder if I can actually have it. I know this is just the beginning.
I return to the midwife, via retching in the toilet and she takes one look at me and asks if I need to be admitted. I nod. I am installed in bay G5 – ironically police slang for a dead body; I feel I am more than half way there. D and F leave and I curl up around a cardboard hat sick bowl, head cracking, heart breaking.
HG well and truly established now. All the usual symptoms are present; massive amounts of acidic saliva filling my mouth all the time, reflux, wickedly bitter taste, churning stomach, dizziness, nausea, retching at the slightest movement and this awful, painful, gnawing hunger.
I have an acupuncturist and a hypnotherapist come to the house – good money spent on people who cannot touch my symptoms. The hypnotherapist – a man – clearly thinks that HG is just normal morning sickness in a lunatic woman who is afraid of vomiting. When he leaves, I throw up, again and again and again. Once I start, I cannot stop.
Within an hour I am back in G5 – another line in the opposite hand – it is not easy getting lines in really dehydrated people – they tissue my wrist and make a bit of a mess elsewhere. I am given cyclizine in my line and feel like a druggie – I drift away on a sea of toxic queasiness, and when my Mum rings on the phone, I can only grunt. I worry that she will worry. But then I think people should worry – this is not right; it is not normal and it is not fair.
Awake early and look at my photos of F and cry. No little trickly tears but great big sobbing ones. I don’t care who can hear me; I should not be in here with my little girl lying in her bed at home, motherless. The woman in the next bed has two weeks to go, has been in since Monday but has both lots of grandparents close by. I feel totally isolated; there is nobody in Sussex to help me.
I pick up by lunchtime and eat a morsel of lunch. I chat to the other women. One of them says she was sick with all of hers – she is having her third in three years – she had to have a bowl of cornflakes before she could get up on a morning. There is a world of difference between finding something difficult and finding it impossible. I want to hit her.
My parents arrive from the far north for a few days and I go home. I am relieved for F that she has someone else to care for her. I cannot cope with her noise or even the smell of her delicious baby hair. This upsets me a lot. I am even allergic to my own darling, precious daughter. I see her for a grand total of 6 minutes per day. She plays D up and when I hear it my insides twist with guilt and selfishness for putting them both through this. We are like a three-legged stool that has lost a leg – impossible to function and it is all my fault.
Major event – I come downstairs and sit on the sofa for an hour in the evening. However, by 8.30 I feel so ill I can barely make it back upstairs to bed. Awful night – too ill to sleep.
I feel appalling. Vomiting all morning so ring the out of hours service. They ring the maternity ward to find it is full. They tell me to go to A&E.
A&E is full of broken bones. I tell D to take F home – I don’t want her sitting here catching anything that is circulating. I sit, cradling my cardboard sick bowl. The Casualty doctor comments on the tissued bruise on my wrist and I tell him I have been here recently. He gets a good line in and transfers me to the gynae ward.
I have another ultrasound as a result of the bleed a couple of weeks ago. It is deserted in ultrasound at 8am and I sit in the waiting room fighting the urge to vomit. Just moving enough to get here has awakened the nausea that the drip put to rest last night.
The blob is still pulsating. The sonographer is excited. I feel very little. I am afraid I am beginning to feel detached. I cannot afford to feel anything but then, can I afford not to?
They decide since the baby is intact that I can go home. They ask me to sit in the day room. D and F arrive at 11.30. D is due at work at 1300. My pills are not ready. I am now on thiamine as well as everything else because starvation can cause Wernicke’s disease, a form of paralysis. The nurse rushes in en route to collecting my medications. D shouts at her. I shout at him. F shouts in general. The old couple also in the room look away.
D is so late for work that he rings up and takes leave.
Worse and worse. I have tried to eat as little as possible to prevent this horrific nausea and churning and expulsion of matter from any orifice. It is as though there is an army of beings inside of me who will not tolerate anything entering my system. Sometimes they use diarrhoea but usually it is good old vomiting. Even liquids are expelled – I pee so much I wonder where it comes from. I am eating little and often as advised. Three bites every 15 minutes. It stays down but feels like it is poisoning me. I am drinking two litres of water a day but am so dehydrated. Moving at all makes me retch. I am too sick to cry – crying makes me vomit. My food keeps trying to creep into my throat the quiet way. Constant regurgitation, gallons of saliva, this diabolical taste. I cannot bear it.
This is hell on earth.