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Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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What’s different about chronic illness No. 4: the risks are high

I write about both the good and the bad that comes with living with chronic illness. Today is unfortunately about the bad.

On Monday we found out that a boy in F’s class at school, whose initial is I, died last week. His illness had taken over and there was nothing more they could do. His parents and the teachers knew it was only a matter of time until it took him. And it took him last week.

F cried and remembered J, another boy from her school who died last year. When she got home she told us she felt wobbly inside thinking about them, thinking that she didn’t want this to happen to her.

I wish I could tell her that it won’t but as I write, the daughter of a friend, who has the same illness as F, is losing kidney function by the week and is almost in stage 4 kidney failure.

Did you know that you can’t tell if your kidneys are failing, unless you test for it? Well, that is until it gets really critical.

This is why we need check ups so often. This is why we need to take her to the hospital if she gets stomach flu and vomits for more than a day.

This risk is always there.

It’s as far away as the sun, and closer than her shadow, all at the same time.

That’s what is different about chronic illness.

 

In memory of I, a sweet soul. Prayers and all our love and compassion to you and your family.

 


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5 tips for the caregiving husband. #heforshe

My sister and I were reminiscing the other day about things that happened in our childhood and as she talked I realised that I hadn’t thought about these events – big events – for years. I had never thought “what was that like for everyone else?” I started to see them a new light and it made me wonder what our history with Bartters and chronic illness was like for my husband, J.

The mystery of : what was wrong with our child? The emergency caesarean. All the hospital drama (our very own Greys, but without any of the hook ups). The years of intensive care and so many near misses.

I know what it was like for me.

But dear J, what was it like for you?

What is it like for a man when he finds out that his wife might lose her baby? His baby?

What’s it like to see the business end of a cesarean; cuts through seven layers of her body, edges pinned back while they put their hands in to pick up your little baby saying “grab the other leg”?

What’s it like to leave your wife on her own, barely able to walk to the hospital to visit F, because you need to go back to work? (just to clarify, I wasn’t walking all the way from home, that would be heartless! I was at the Ronald McDonald house next to the hospital).

I do not know what that is like, I can only imagine. I do know this: when you are sick or it is you that has had the baby, everyone knows what is wrong, they know they need to express sympathy of some kind. They do not expect you to come to work.

But the husband? They expect him to come in, be focussed, do their job. Carry on as normal.

Because while they understand the terrible situation you are in and have sympathy, there is still a job to be done.  They give you a day or two of leave and that is supposed to be enough. You might use some of your vacation days too but there is only so much extra leave that you can take before employers start to feel that they cannot rely on you.

So, husband with the wife who needs you and the child who is fighting for her life, what do you do?

You can’t do everything and someone is always going to be disappointed. Rock and a hard place, that’s where you are my friend.

Here are some suggestions, from a woman who has been on the other side, noticing what you have to deal with.

  1. Accept: you can’t do everything. And that’s ok.
  2. Breathe. Deeply. You get cranky and uptight when you do that shallow, upper chest only breathing. If your belly is expanding when you inhale, you are breathing well.
  3. Sleep: take naps. Lack of sleep really compromises your decision making abilities. It just messes up your thinking. I know you are trying to get those extra things done but just tell me you need to sleep and I will make sure you don’t get disturbed.
  4. Choose: don’t do it all. Let some things go. Choose what feels right for you. Make choices you can live with. We (the wives) may not always agree or understand your choices but you can escape us, at least for a while. You can’t escape yourself.
  5. Talk. Man, I don’t know how to stress this enough. Talk to your boss. Talk to us. And when talking to your wife: use simple language (especially at the beginning). We may look calm and rational on the outside but inside we are freaking out. We have no idea what we are doing and are scared. So don’t ask us to figure out what you mean, be obvious and clear. But don’t patronise us because then we will bite your head off. (Ah, there you go back to that rock and hard place)

 

Finally, why do I have the #HeForShe tag on this? Well, this post is also about feminism – the equality for both men and women. When we talk about babies and their illnesses, most of our thoughts go to the mothers and how they deal with it, what support they have. But what about the men? What support do they have? I hope this post highlights that we need to think about them too.

Breathe


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The blessings of tragedy

Last night I had an opportunity to get to know some fabulous women a little better.

As we each took turns sharing something about ourselves it struck me that there was something we had in common: a pivotal moment of hardship. Something happened that made us re-evaluate our lives.

The result? We became women who choose what we want in our lives.

Consciously choosing to spend our time on things that give us energy.

And possibly more importantly, choosing what we don’t want.

Someone expressed what I secretly hope to achieve with my new business: “I only work with people that I want to work with”. How amazing is that? Thank you for your inspiration, this is what I want to be able to say.

As for the rest of my life, I have been working towards this too.  My life is not filled with lots of people, but the ones who are in it are important to me, that love me and I love them.

The precious time that I have, I want to use for them (and it is precious. About 25% of my waking hours are spent on being a carer).

So the blessing of my tragedy of chronic illness is that I know that time is precious. I don’t waste it. (much)

Now, look back to my 20s I wonder what I was doing with my time and I realise that a I was doing a lot of “filling it”. How tragic.

So now, like the ladies I met last night, I am consciously choosing, fitting the important things in first. And trying not to fill all the gaps in the jar with sand – but trying to leave empty spaces where the air can get in and I can breathe.

for-web-Big-Things-First

thanks Christi for the image

 

p.s while I was looking for images I came across this. Just love it.

buy the damn shoes

 


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David (us) Vs Goliath (Health Insurance Co.) or The whims of change

Back in September 2013 I wrote this post Stupid insurance company, now I need to do press ups for my fingers (go on and click, it’s a short one and it without reading it this post might not make sense).

Well, after finally building up the strength in my fingers to get them super strong (I now have hands like a giant), we are back to the original, easy snap version of these tablets.

So how were we able to defeat the bureaucracy of these insurance giants with their “No! No! No!”?

What amazing feats of ingenuity and persistence did we employ to be able to get these tablets?

Well, I’ll tell you.

One day, J mentioned to the pharmacist (different person, different establishment) that it was a shame that we couldn’t get the original tablets anymore.

 

That’s it. That’s ALL we did.

The lovely person behind the counter said “if you want those tablets, you can have them”.

We did not question they whimsy of this process, we just took the tablets and ran.

Final word:

It’s funny how easy life can feel when a seemingly small irritation is removed. It’s a funny truth of the world that small irritations are only small if they happen just once.


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What’s different about chronic illness, No. 3: Becoming an Olympian of “Accept What You Cannot Change”

I have noticed that lately I have been avoiding writing about what it’s like to live with chronic illness.

At first it was because it was confronting and a bit scary to write it down. It was like it had become REAL all of a sudden, instead of just thoughts. Thoughts, that were like whispers of smoke, that you can send away with a wave of your hand, became solid, hard, here to stay.

Then I told myself “but life with chronic illness is not just about the illness. There is more to our lives”. This is true and I will continue to write about the whole life, not just that one part.

But there was something underneath that.

I had started thinking “who is going to keep reading this?” It’s depressing. It was getting me down. Surely I’m bringing everyone else down too.

Many aspects of life with chronic illness do get you down, wear you out.

Here’s an example.

F has a feeding tube, a Mic-Key button. There is a permanent hole in her stomach, an open wound that can’t close because of this silicone tube that is stuck through it. She needs it but her body knows there is a hole and wants to close it. There is a constant battle.

When she moves, it moves and sometimes it rubs, like the other day when she was playing in the sand with friends and sand got under her t-shirt and into the hole. What can I do? This is The Netherlands! Its almost 90% sand here! (ok, don’t fact check me on that but there is a lot of sand everywhere, you can’t avoid it).

Sometimes gastric acid leaks out and that burns.

Sometimes it just hurts, for no discernible reason.

For the first few years it leaked a lot, which hurt and made the hole bigger, which lead to more leaking, which made it hurt more … you can see where this is going. There was not a lot we could do and no matter what we did, it still hurt.

The frustration is indescribable. Your child is in pain and there is nothing you can do. Even after all this time it makes my heart sink like a stone into my stomach when F says “ow, my mic-key hurts”.

The sinking heart is not about her pain, it is about mine. Inside a voice is screaming to the world “what the hell am I supposed to do?”

I can’t do anything so I don’t really want to hear about it. I try to comfort her, to acknowledge her pain. I take care of it and relieve some of the discomfort but it doesn’t really help.

I think we all have a capacity to cope with the fact that there are horrible things in this world that we cannot change. When chronic illness is involved, there are so many things in life, from the teeny tiny to the big, that we get really good at acceptance. But there is so much opportunity to express this virtue that we use up our reserves of “Accept What You Cannot Change” and we become maxed out.

So one of the ways I try to manage is to hide away from the world news. I even get cross with J when he tells me about some new stupid rule the government are trying to introduce that will make the lives of the vulnerable worse. I get cross and ask him not to tell me. My “Accept What You Cannot Change” reserves are used up and that leaves only “Do Something About It”. And this is where it sucks. I don’t have the energy or the time to take action and “Do something About It” either.

That just leaves frustration.

So I don’t watch the news. I don’t talk about the state of the world or get involved in politics (housemates from Uni, you will not believe this is me). This works for me most of the time, helps keep things manageable.

I feel like I should say that I am working on increasing that capacity – finding patience or something. I will write about that soon, but not today.

I used to think we had the mic-key pain under control now  but I don’t know if that is actually true or if F has just stopped telling us. Today she said that it hurts everyday. Maybe she feels it too – that I’m maxed out and that there is nothing we can do – so she doesn’t say anything until it’s really bad, like that sand the other day. That just makes me cry.

accept what cannot change quote blue

Stoma / g tube care tip: About a year ago we starting using bamboo g tube pads. They are really soft, absorbent and reduce/prevent granulation at the site. We get ours from Patchwork Peddler. The redness, irritation, infection and pain has really reduced since using these. I am not affiliated with this company nor do I gain in anyway from promoting them. The pads are just really good and have drastically reduced the pain. F used to cry at some point every day from the pain at her g-tube. Now she doesn’t.

 

 

 


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Why 13 hour TV marathons are ok in my house

As much as I agree that television and electronic gadget time should be limited, I find myself turning to that magic box, TV, on a regular basis.  You could say it saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Take this weekend.  I let F do a 780 minute TV marathon on Sunday.

Why would I do such a thing? Well, have you ever read the “spoon theory“? Christine Miserandino explains the limitations that people with various chronic illnesses live with. It’s really good so if you haven’t read it yet click the link.

It was King’s Day in the Netherlands this weekend and on Friday all schools held the “King’s Games”. It’s a fantastic initiative to celebrate with sport. F loved it. She was really active all day at school and came home wanting to play outside until it was dark. On Saturday she was starting to wilt but was full of enthusiasm for picnics, playing and chinese roasted chicken (who doesn’t love this?) and although it was King’s Day we kept the activities light. But not light enough. It was difficult for us to have to rein in her fun and we didn’t do a very good job of it. Maybe she would be ok. How would we know what her boundaries were if we didn’t let her test them?

This is where the spoon theory comes in. She had used up all her spoons. In F’s case, her spoons are potassium (K) and sodium chloride (NaCl). Unlike the rest of us, her kidney’s don’t hold on to the K and NaCl so when she is active, she depletes the stores in her body, making her weak and nauseous.

She awoke at 3:30am on Sunday, unable to sleep and starting to vomit in a “normal for her when she is coming down with something or has overdone it” way. Despite holding her on my lap and being with her for an hour she couldn’t go back to sleep. I couldn’t stay awake without getting cranky so I told her she could play in bed but that I needed to go to sleep. Wise that she is, she let me go.

The TV marathon started at 8am and was only interrupted by bouts of vomiting and going to the loo.  The magic box did it’s work of distracting and entertaining and by the afternoon she perked up enough to nibble on crisps and raisins.

By 9pm, after hanging out on my bed for awhile (me reading, her still watching telly) I told her to close her eyes and go to sleep. My booked finished, I moved her to her own bed.

Yes there are better ways to distract and entertain even really sick kids but TV works for F.  Big plus: it is easy for me. Yes, yes, yes, I am a mum and I chose “easy” over “best for my child”.

I accept that I have double standards (I would never let S do this) but it came down to this: I was tired and I wanted something that would work.  So I make these choices that in isolation don’t look good. Ok, even in the big picture this one doesn’t look good (13 hours!). But it fulfilled a need – of F to rest, be entertained and be distracted from the nausea and for me to have an easy day. I guess I had used up my spoons too.