Sunday, December 9, 2012


There's not much in the category of vivid memory when it comes to the nearly eight weeks I spent trying to get through the worst of the Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG).  My eyes were mostly closed and  the rooms were kept dark so even if I were inclined to open them, few details would have shown themselves.  Life was mostly tactile, the soft curves of a cross always held in my palm, the nubby cool of a washcloth on my forehead, the pinch and burn of various needles here and there.

There were two needled ports in me at all times and then various stickings along the way.  One of the needled ports needed to be moved regularly to avoid edemas, but the edema came anyway, soft potatoes underneath the skin of my leg, up and down the sides and tops of my thighs.  I had to avoid rolling on them.  That needle brought the slow drip of the Zofran pump into my body.  It was less a needle and more of a safety pin and was just as much fun to have poked into you.  It was Michael's job to continuously do the resticking every twelve hours.

The Zofran pump is supposed to help.  People would tell my mother who would tell me that the Zofran pump made all the difference for the women they knew, their daughters-in-law, their friends of a friend.  But the Zofran had zero impact on me.  Every time the home healthcare woman came to check on me, she'd up it and up it and up it.  They'd call and check on me and they'd up it again from afar and they'd tell me stories about how they had been sick this way, too, and they forced themselves to eat a hamburger rather than have the naso-jejunal tube put up their noses.  I didn't have a feeding tube yet.  I was only a few weeks into the nightmare - not that I understood the passage of time.  Not that I knew a difference between night and the darkness of day.

When I did get the feeding tube, that was my other port.  It was TPN, Total Parenteral Nutrition, which sounds a lot like what it is.  Your entire dietary needs come from a bag of thick, ivory-colored slop, through a portal in your arm, and tunneled into a vein that brings blood into the heart.  That port required actually surgery, the first of my life, though really, it's probably more appropriately called a procedure.  Either way, there were masks and quiet in the room, and before that, a promise from one of the nurses that it would be better after that. 

It wasn't better after that, except I could try to find comfort in the fact that I wasn't dying from malnutrition and neither was my baby.  

The last of the needles, they were the worst.  Every six hours, I had to be pricked with a tiny, tiny, baby needle to check the toxicity of my blood.  It was nothing.  It's what every diabetic does all the time.  

The irony is I used to have a weird pride in having my blood drawn as every phlebotomist who has ever come across my veins has remarked on them with wonder and admiration.  They're big, plump, lovely veins - a runner's veins, coursing with blood and health and eternity.  But the longer I was sick, the smaller and deeper my veins became.  They withdrew, blaming me for the lack of water, for the lack of movement, the lack of everything wholesome.

And the prickers stopped admiring them, instead cursing my veins, calling other nurses in to try to find a point of entry, bringing in that one nurse from another floor who was always so good at pricking patients.  She was a large, red-headed nurse and I feared her even though she was nice.  I just knew she wasn't going to let me get away with not getting pricked.  I begged and pleaded, but she took a cotton ball and "shined" me up, then pricked and pricked, finally using a butterfly needle in a small vein on the top of my hand.  

I hated those butterfly needles the most because like everything else, they promised they wouldn't hurt as much.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The unwritable things

For the past three years, I have been meaning to write about my illness (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) while pregnant with Atticus.  I have had every intention of doing it.  I've spent the time in my head that writers often do before putting something on paper, but it's never gone any further than that.  I've waited for the phrasing that usually starts it all for me, or some other moment of entry - a scene, a bit of dialogue, a comment made in passing.

But none of those things have come.  Now, of course, Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is in the public eye as reports of the Duchess of Cambridge being hospitalized for it has hit the news.  Of course, I feel heavy for the suffering she is going through.  That's my first feeling, but after that, my feelings are so complicated and messy, I cannot find words for them.

This is not a great place for a writer to rest.  It's certainly not a starting point.  I don't mean to suggest that writing from a place of questioning is problematic.  Quite the opposite in fact; for me, it's absolutely necessary.  But a place of questioning and a place of confusion are very, very far apart.

But I'm going to try to start anyway.  My experience as a writer tells me the results will be ugly and painful to edit, but since Hyperemisis Gravidarium is both ugly and painful, the most I'll be guilty of is  mimetic fallacy.

Let's start with how we call it.  Is it a disease?  An affliction?  A condition?  A disorder?  An allergy?  An illness?  I've heard HG called all these things.  I've also heard it described as a severe form of morning sickness, a description I find so underwhelming as to be insulting.

I'm not unsympathetic to women suffering from morning sickness and its varieties and severities are so infinite as to require sympathy, but it should not be in the same category.

The best way I have to explain HG is this: think of a moment when you are wrapped around the toilet either from a virulent flu or from a night of virulent drinking.  You've vomited and vomited and vomited and vomited.  You don't even have any bile left and you wish you did because there would at least be some release.  You're cold, you're sweating, your body is exhausted from the tensing and energy all that puking takes.  Your mouth is a graveyard.

In that moment, you really, sincerely, and truly would rather be dead than alive.  It's not just something you say.  You are quite certain you cannot live through one more second of the nausea and you pray for God to make you pass out.

That's HG, 24/7, for weeks and weeks and months on end with absolutely no grace in its severity.  There are no moments of release from the unrelenting nausea.  You do not sleep through it.  You do not pass out.  You just try to keep breathing, which is increasingly difficult as the act of expanding your rib cage aggravates the nausea.


Atticus just walked in.  He is sick with a bad cold and his patheticness makes him absolutely irresistible.  Mothers out there, you get this, right?  I don't want my kid to be sick, but man, is he ever huggable when he is.  So I'm off to be with him, putting the HG behind me as the ultimate grace of the experience, Atticus, needs me.

More on HG and how to call it soon.