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Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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Rock and a hard place: Back to a PEG?

for the last 3 and a half years we’ve been going to the hospital to get Fs Mickey button changed.

Now, technically, we can do it at home. Unfortunately the first time we tried it F had an infection in the wound and it really hurt. She freaked out and since then Nurse H does it. She’s the specialist stoma nurse and F has known her almost all her life.

it was going well until today. For various reasons nurse H isn’t allowed to do it anymore. Today I was getting trained and doing it with her and it all went tits up.

F has got really strong stomach muscles. (Although according to her she hasn’t because you can’t see the “stripes on her tummy”. What can I say? She obviously has a great role model in me, not).

She was tense. Tense muscles contract. I tried to pull it out and it got stuck. Nurse H took over and she had to practically yank it out and shove the new one in. That’s not how she did it, she’s a professional but it was almost impossible for her to do it.

So after 3.5 years building up to F allowing me to do it, we are back to square one.

Nurse H’s suggestions? Back to the child psychologist to help F get over this fear (of something that is actually uncomfortable and sometimes painful).

Or go back to a PEG. This can stay in for years (but you never know how long) but requires surgery to put in and change. And there will be a tube dangling from her body again.

Rock and a hard place.

(I was going to call it Hobsons Choice but I googled. What we have is a dilemma (2 unappealing choices). A Hobsons Choice (this or nothing) might be easier. Then I wouldn’t need to decide.

so, what to do?

Unpleasant experience every 2-3 months, potentially scarring her psychologically (some more).

Or surgery every 3years or so. And having to be careful every minute of the day so that the dangling tube doesn’t get caught on something.

Rock and a hard place.

The coach in me is saying “that’s not a helpful perspective” and she’s right. But I need to find some energy so that I can let go of this very stuck and comforting perspective (as long as it’s a rock and a hard place it’s really easy to put off making a choice).

I think it’s time for some Dr Seuss

WITH YOUR HEAD FULL OF BRAINS AND YOUR SHOES FULL OF FEET

YOU’RE TOO SMART TO GO DOWN ANY NOT SO GOOD STREET


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What’s different about chronic illness No.5: always sicker

Soemtimes it feels like the only reason we have school holidays is so that F can fit in her “get sick” time and not miss school.

Every holiday contains some days of sickness. Every one.

This December was no exception, except that it started with S. She got 5th disease, otherwise known as slapped cheek syndrome.

S was a bit itchy, achy, cried more easily but otherwise was actually kind of okay. I would describe her as being a bit off for a few days.

Then F got it. It just hid her harder. Because she is actually ill almost all the time, any other illness can really put her out of action.

She had to take to her bed, couldn’t keep on playing.

THEN she got impetigo on top. How cruddy is that? (pun intended).

My heart ached and I didn’t know what to say as she cried in bed, not understanding why S only got a bit of a rash but she, F, was sick in bed, with painful, itchy, sores all over her face.

You see, she knows. She sees the difference. She does always get sicker than her little sister. Than anyone else.

And she knows that it means that she has to miss out on fun, playing and parties. Not her brother, Not her sister. Only she misses out.

My heart still aches and I still don’t know what to say to that.

Do you?

holding-hands-mother-and-child2

p.s. she didn’t scratch her impetigo sores, not once. She had them all over her lip and chin, really like a beard. And she didn’t scratch them once. She is my hero.

 


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Dutched up: Rocking the clogs expat style

Earlier this year I started hanging out with other bloggers on Facebook. It was great to be among other writers, hear their stories and be on this writing journey with them.

Then one day Olga asked if anyone else wanted to contribute a story about living in The Netherlands to their anthology. Never thinking that my story would be accepted, let alone published, I said yes.

So, after a great amount of work by Lynn and Olga in collecting our stories and editing, our book is finished. 27 bloggers contributed and I am one of them. I am so proud of us all for saying yes and making this happen. Thank you NL women bloggers.

I write about chronic illness so my story is related to the Dutch healthcare system. We have stories covering all parts of life as a foreigner here in Dutchland. It’s funny, it’s sweet. It’s all so true. If you have every lived here, know Dutch people or visited, there is something here for you. Please check it out.

Check it out on amazon.com here

for amazon.co.uk use this link

for itunes click here

book cover


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Life hack for Nausea

This life hack for nausea is not a list of things that will make nausea go away. If you have Bartters Syndrome, hyperemesis or have had chemo, you’ll probably feel nauseous whatever you do. This is a tip on how to still leave your house and relax, despite knowing that at some point you are going to hurl. It’s going to get a little gross but I know you can handle it.

Nausea can last a long time. F vomited everyday for 5 years. There was no way we were going to stay at home for 5 years and never go out. At the beginning we didn’t even know if there would ever be an end to it. We had to find a way to live normal lives, taking into account that our little girl was going to hurl at some point.

So we came up with this kit:

  • small bucket or container
  • Small bags. Sandwich bags are good, as are smelly nappy bags
  • dry tissues
  • wet wipes
  • Bottle of water

Vomiting is gross so the wet wipes are going to be handy to clean stuff up. Why both kinds of tissue? Because sometimes a cold wet wipe will make you heave and you’ll want something dry.

Why the bucket? The one thing worse than the smell of vomit is the feel of it inside a bag. So put the bag in the container and be sick in the container. This works really well for kids too; it’s much easier for them to hold and aim into than a paperbag. Once you or your kid is done, just tie up the bag. Bonus! The smell is contained until you can find a bin (really handy for when you are in the car).

What if you get caught out? You are actually feeling good for a change and you think you are past this highly effective exercise for ripped abs. Then something happens and nausea hits you. You don’t have your kit with you. What do you do?

We have taught F to look for a drain or some patch of grass. Your puke will disappear more quickly and be less visible. Never go for tarmac, paving or any other solid, hard surface. Why? One word: splashback.

So this is my advice based on years of experience. My little girl has bitchin abs from hurling and I have a gold medal in catching projectile vomit. We know what we are talking about.

Lana, this post is inspired by you. I hate that you need chemo but I’m glad that my weird bits of knowledge might be able to help you.

 


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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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Bonding

They say that the first few hours after the birth of your child are critical for bonding.

If that’s true, I’m fucked. And F has a really great connection with some NICU doctors and nurses whose names I can’t even remember.

At 29 weeks my labour started and they managed to halt it after 30 hours.  My birth plan, which I hand only just started thinking about, became this: keep my legs crossed for as long as possible. Her lungs aren’t ready yet.

A week later you came into the world just before midnight, by ceasarean. 5 eager doctors waiting to whisk you away.

Before they dashed off I got a glimpse of you in the incubator about a meter and a half away. These doctors were greedy to have you to themselves, their reluctance to take those 30 seconde so that I could get a glimpse of you were clear (ok, let’s be fair, they needed to take action quickly to save your life so they couldn’t hang around).

That was the last I saw of you for 24 hours. You were a tricky little lady, with your tiny veins and losing fluids so quickly. They have never had such a challenge to keep a baby hydrated before (and I hope it never happens again).

I did not recognise you that second day. You were so tiny, and so different than the baby I had seen the day before. Wrinkled. Where had all the softness gone?

It took two of them to pick you up, hold your limbs in place and keep all those tubes and wires in place, and place you on my chest. I don’t think you could have found two happier people in the world at that time than us.

We didn’t get long, kangarooing is very tiring for premature babies, and you had to go back in to your incubator,your new womb.

Over the next 5 weeks we didn’t get t spend much time together and I didn’t get to hold you much. You were really ill and sometimes I wasn’t even allowed to touch you at all.

The next few years were a roller coaster where I felt that I never gave you the attention that you deserve because there was so much to do to keep you out of hospital, to get you feeling well.

I always thought that we only started bonding when you were about two and a half. This week you turned 7 and I realise that I was wrong.

We have been connected, bonded since the moment you existed.

I did not have a “big moment” or rush of feelings when I looked at you the first time. There was no sudden falling in love. I was in love with you already.