amber rahim

Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about

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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.



If the illness doesn’t get you, an arrogant doctor will (try)

I just want to preface this post with a statement: the majority of the doctors and health professionals I have met are good.  My daughter’s team are fantastic and are one of the main reasons I will never move away from Amsterdam (and maybe they don’t know this but they are not allowed to move house or change jobs either!)

This post is about that rare health care professional who leaves an impact, who just blows you away.  But not in a good way.  So here’s my story.

The first time that I ever felt defeated it was not because of the demands of the illness, it was because I was face to face with the most idiotic doctor that I have ever met.

At 14 months my daughter had her second operation; to place a PEG feeding tube.  A hole is cut through the  stomach to the outside and tube is inserted and held in place (by the plastic triangle you see in the picture).


The operation went well and a week later they removed the plaster that was placed underneath the white triangle (I only know what it is called in dutch, plaatje).  It all looked good, no infection so we went home.

At home I noticed that her clothes kept on getting wet.  At first I thought she had spilled something on herself but two clothes-changes later I realised that she was leaking.  It was like a magic trick: her clothes were dry, she drank from her bottle and abracadabra, her T-shirt was wet.  I did all the checks: triangle in place, not too loose; clamp was closed; no holes.  The PEG was ok but she was leaking directly from her stomach!  It is bad enough that her kidneys are leaky but now everything she drank just came straight out again in seconds!

Leaky bucket

How could we stop her dying from dehydration if nothing stayed in?  I know that this cartoon and these words don’t really go together but this illustrates what was happening (and I use humour to deal with almost everything).

I took her to hospital and she was admitted.  It was the weekend so we had to wait hours for the gastro specialist to come.  (A piece of advice – if you are going to get sick and go to the hospital, don’t do it at the weekend.  It’s like a ghost town).

Finally the gastro doctor came to see what this obviously crazy mother (me) was getting her knickers in a twist about.

I explained.  She looked at me like I was a moron and told me “they always leak a little bit in the beginning.  It’s normal.  The hole needs to close a bit and that takes a week or so”.

She wouldn’t listen to me; that is was a flood, not a drip.

She didn’t listen to my explanation about Bartters; that my daughters condition means life threatening dehydration and she can’t afford to “leak” for a week or so.

She patronised me some more and I cried.

She walked away.

I had no words.  I had been dismissed as if I was a panicky, neurotic mother who jumped at her own shadow.

We had survived 14 months of various calamities such as septicemia, frighteningly high fevers, gastritis, weeks in intensive care, non stop vomiting and I had stayed positive and pragmatic.  Now I felt helpless.  I knew that we were going to lose her.  Not because of the illness but because of arrogance and stupidity.

I was not going to let this happen!

I called the nurse and asked her to watch.  My daughter was sitting up and I gave her a drink.  The nurses eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up as my daughters clothes became drenched.  She looked at me with apology in her eyes and dashed off.

Investigations were done.  It turns out that they had cut the hole too big.  We came up with a plan: gauzes, regulate the rate of fluid with the feeding pump, only little sips for my thirsty baby.

It got resolved.  It often does.  But we need to be more than parents, more than carers.  We need to be crusaders, ready to withstand the lashes of disdain and condescension meted out by that special group of arrogant doctors who believe that just because we are parents, we know nothing.  It only takes one doctor like that to crush your spirit.

Most of the doctors at our hospital are great (please don’t ever develop your career and move on, stay here for us!) and my daughter was alright in the end.

But I will never forget the day when that doctor almost killed my baby because she was too arrogant to listen and too stupid to see.

So to all you good doctors and nurses out there I want to say thank you for listening.  We parents sometimes get in the way, ask a lot of questions, insist that you really do just check that again.  It’s our job.  Thank you for knowing that part of your job is to let us be heard.  We are a major part of the care team.


Taking empathy too far (sharing the pain, literally)

For years now I’ve been thirsty.

I have a dry mouth, I overheat easily and I get headaches.

My skin is dry and flaky.

I get more spots than I ever did as a teenager.

I am an expert in how to hydrate and know all the signs of dehydration.   That’s why I know that I have chronic but extremely mild dehydration.

I know I should drink more, it will make me feel better.

Yet I don’t.

It would be easy to say that I’m so busy looking after my daughter and keeping her hydrated that I don’t have time for myself.  In the first few months, that was probably true.  6 years later I can’t use that excuse.

Thinking about it now, I rationalise that it is helping me to build empathy.  The definition in the Oxford English dictionary is: “the ability understand and share the feelings of another”.  So is it helping me with this?  Well, yes.  I feel rubbish and so does she, so we are sharing.  Although her dehydration is severe while mine isn’t, I can better imagine what it is like for her.  So there is understanding.

Yet while I can understand more I do not understand everything.  How can I?  I’m not her.  I don’t know what this is like for her, through her eyes, her body.  I have never felt so dehydrated that someone saying the word “food” has made me vomit.

So what am I doing?  It makes me crabby.  My head hurts.  I become short tempered.

Why am I doing this to myself?  I have a suspicion that it is deliberate.

I have never actually consciously thought “how can I be hydrated when my baby suffers from chronic dehydration?”

Yet it is like I am punishing myself, denying myself, for being healthy.  It is hard to watch someone you love be in pain, be ill, with no end in sight to the suffering.  Sometimes it is the “chronic” part of the illness that is the worst.  When will it stop?  Never.

There is truth in this, I am deliberately denying myself.

It’s such a passive aggressive thing to do to myself and I am stunned.  I abhor passive aggression.  I would much rather have a heated debate, an argument, let things get messy, than be subjected to the stealth campaign of passive aggression.  If it isn’t out in the open, how can you deal with it?

So this is me bringing it out in the open.  “Hi, my name is Amber and I have been subtly sabotaging myself for the last 6 years”.

Admitting it to you, now, has given me a renewed sense of relief.  Phew.

How did I finally see it?  I have been working with my coach to create my version of a fulfilling life.  To find the courage to take a leap and choose my path, the path that is filled with things that make me feel good, that give me energy, make me happy.  It’s not a stunning path, nor is it amazing to anyone but me.  It is my path.

While walking on this path, I have been practicing opening my eyes and I am amazed at my discoveries.  The most recent one is what I am writing about today: my self sabotage.

I now drink at least one glass of water as soon as I wake up.  This small act alone helps shake off some of the grogginess of a disturbed night and takes some of the puffiness out of my eyes.  (It is the best beauty secret and it’s a secret because it’s practically free.  Rehydrate your skin?  Forget Olay.  Drink some water.  Oh and sometimes have something a little bit salty with it to help get the water into your blood where you need it).

I have days when I succeed and days when I don’t, but I am getting better at taking time to drink regularly, throughout the day.  The way my daughter does.

When I do this, the difference in me is noticeable.  I can focus, I feel less tired. I have energy to be more patient with my children.

Empathy is still important to me but I have finally realised that I do not need to be sick to have empathy for sickness.

And the guilt?  That is still there.  At least the self harming has gone.