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The Eighth Amendment: How it affects People with Chronic Illnesses Part II

The Eighth Amendment affects people who have the ability to become pregnant In Ireland.

The Eighth Amendment states that the foetus has the same rights as the person who is pregnant. Ireland and Malta are the last two European countries where abortion hasn’t been made legal. The Eighth Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution in 1983. It means that abortion services are unavailable in Ireland. Even in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Approximately 12 Irish people per day are forced to travel to the UK to have an abortion.

Last week we discussed how the Eighth Amendment affected women during pregnancy and birth. This week we are going to explore how the Eighth affects people who are sick and have the ability to become pregnant.

Fellow blogger, Cripple, Baby! has kindly allowed me to share her story. Catherine like me, has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

How the Eighth Amendment could have affected Catherine with Cancer:

For me, the Eighth Amendment brings to mind of when I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2013.

No I was not pregnant, no I was not planning to become pregnant, and no I was not planning on having an abortion. Yet the tone was set for many a discussion around such subjects, the very minute I was diagnosed.

One might assume this conversation would take the form of discussing options for egg preservation, in case of future fertility problems. Although this was never mentioned really, only glossed over. A simple “I’m sure you’ll be ok” was all that was given in this respect.

My period was a good sign

Something I realised was vastly different from the experiences of UK cancer patients, through discussions on support forums. I can only assume such options aren’t granted free by the HSE, and perhaps some doctors just see it all as a bit “icky”? I really have no idea. In fairness, I never pushed the issue. The only guidance I was given with that side of things was the nurse whispering to me during chemotherapy inquiring about my periods, stating that a regular flow was a good sign at least.

No, this was not the route of the pregnancy conversation. The one and only topic was around what would happen if I became pregnant during my treatment.

Of course I was advised to use all the contraception possible, to not purposely become pregnant during this time obviously, that would be insane. But as we all know, even with all the contraption in the world shit happens.

In this scenario the woman has two choices (in other countries) continue the pregnancy, reduce your treatment (or not, but it would be advised) or plan a termination, in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. Neither option is easy. Yet women make these choices for themselves, all around the world, every single day. And we trust they know what is best for them. Neither case in this regard deserves judgement, they are and should be, case-by-case decisions made by the women themselves and fully supported by both medical staff and loved ones.

The hypothetical foetus

So when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013, I was quickly informed of what would happen if I became pregnant. They would reduce the treatment in order to give the foetus the best chance of survival. At first this seems like just good advice, a reassurance that if needs be they will do what they can to help me. I am a young woman of child-bearing age, so it’s all relevant. But this mantra was repeated again and again during my treatment, by various medical care professionals. Many a conversation about saving the life of my hypothetical foetus. To get the point across that in this scenario, in this country, I would have no choice.

It’s something I’ve looked back on often. Sometimes with amusement, but mostly with dismay. It just makes me feel very uneasy. My life is more important than a hypothetical, or real, foetus. The life of a fully grown adult is not equal to that of a zygote. Before we even bring choice into it, that’s simply the case.

As heartbreaking as that can seem in situations where a pregnancy is not viable, or comes with a hefty price. This statement excludes cases of late-term “abortions” due to fatal fetal abnormalities, as we all know that late-term “abortions” are simply not done for the craic (in any country) and any further explanation on that would frankly be stupid and I hope unnecessary. When a matured, wanted foetus is dying in its mother’s womb, it’s horrendous for the parents. It’s not something to be mocked, or mislabeled. And it certainly isn’t something Irish parents should have to deal with, alone, in a different country. A financial burden on top of saying goodbye to their child in peace.

Shit happens

Luckily I finished my treatments without any accidents. But shit does happen. It happens to Irish women each and every day. So I have to put myself in their shoes. What would I have done? Could I have been able to access medical support after coming home from England? Would I financially be able to even afford a termination? Is it possible that I would I be held by the state if I informed my doctors of my wishes? Would I even feel comfortable telling loved ones? Looking at such a broad issue, simply in my own terms, my own real experiences, just  does not cut it. And it shouldn’t cut it for anyone.

To truly look at this Eighth amendment and the restrictions it poses on Irish women rationally, we must not only look at it from how our own lives have gone to date. We must ask ourselves, “what if…?”. This is only one, small scenario that I can place myself in, even though it did not happen to me. Even though (under normal circumstances) I really don’t think I would ever choose an abortion in my life time. There are so many scenarios; so many stories that are not our own.

Abortion isn’t always an easy option but many have no regrets and know it’s the right choice for them; for all sorts of reasons that are none of our business. Many also have no choice.

No one can 100%, truly say “I will never terminate a pregnancy”, even when it seems completely unthinkable in our current lives shit happens.

Criminalising abortion doesn't stop abortion. The Eighth Amendment bans SAFE abortion. Click To Tweet

How the Eighth Amendment could affect Laura with Psoriasis:

I have psoriasis. I’ve had it since I was nine, I’m 30 now. It had peaks and troughs but since being an adult it has more or less stayed the same. It’s not just flaky skin that’s itchy. It’s unsightly red blotches all over. The Psoriasis is on my face, breasts and bottom. No where is safe.

It has affected my self-esteem greatly and at times my physical health when it cracks and bleeds. When I was 15 it was so bad on my arms that I couldn’t raise them further than my chest and my mother had to dress me. That was pretty humiliating.

I’ve been called several names because of it ‘scabby’ being the most popular and nothing makes me retreat to being a child who wants their mother, than an adult who stares.
I’ve had several treatments and have tried many diets and none have worked for an extended period of time. The most relief I had with these treatments was three months.

Hope for relief

So, this year I was informed I was a suitable candidate for a series of injections. These are relatively new. The injections work by changing how your immune system produces skin cells. Psoriasis is an overproduction of skin cells.

One of the main side effects is that my immune system will be lower than the average person. I will be more likely to get a cold/flu and it viruses and illnesses will be harder to shift.

The biggest warning I got was not to get pregnant. I probably wouldn’t carry full term and if I did, we both would have lasting damage. I’m a married woman and perform my ‘wifely duties’ as a certain religious organisation calls it. We use two types of protection but nothing is 100% safe.

This is why the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed. If I were to get pregnant it could be very detrimental to my health and the foetus. I also know, from having relatives with these conditions, that I couldn’t care for a special needs baby, while ill myself. It would be a likely scenario if I were to have a baby.

Potential pregnancy

My injections are life long, so I can’t get pregnant at all. My health is more important than a foetus. I have a husband and family and friends.

If I were to get pregnant, I would be devastated, particularly as I use two methods of contraception. I would have to arrange an abortion and that would be very upsetting.

Nobody likes having to get an abortion but I firmly believe my health and well-being are more important.

I also suffer with my mental health and to be honest, I’d be afraid that pregnancy would make it worse, due to the impact it would have on my life. My physical and mental health would be put on a back burner if I were to get pregnant under the Eighth Amendment.

I know I would be pressured to put the foetus’ health and needs before my own, even before it’s born. Sometimes I struggle to care for myself, never mind a helpless baby.

People have asked me if I can come off my medication to have children. The truth is, I don’t want to. It may be selfish but I want a quality of life for myself and not having children is a side effect of that. I did initially grieve before starting treatment but now I am fine with that decision. A door has closed but a new one has opened and so far, I haven’t looked back.

No woman has an abortion for fun. —Elizabeth Joan Smith Click To Tweet

How the Eighth Amendment could affect me:

During my last pregnancy, I was in a wheelchair from the first trimester until my daughter was three-month old. Having EDS, there are some risks involved in pregnancy. You are at risk of pre term labour, miscarriage and of hemorrhaging, to name but a few issues. I lost my son’s twin at about seven weeks into my first pregnancy.

Almost immediately into my second pregnancy my pelvis became an issue. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is a pretty common condition during pregnancy; but not early on in pregnancy. Most women complain of the pain in their groin, back, legs and hips in their last trimester and usually manage with crutches.

The foetus growing inside me was just two inches when my body turned against me. The pain was unreal. I have put up with dislocated joints-even popping them back in myself but this was something else. I could not physically walk without crying. Some days I did try not to use it in order to stay mobile and avoid muscle wastage but even then I had to use special crutches. For days after I attempted walking I would be stuck in bed screaming in pain. Before pregnancy, I was on opiates and they barely took the edge of my chronic pain.

My waters broke weeks before I was due to give birth. I went into the maternity hospital and told them I felt a pop and a trickle. So they examined me and came to the conclusion that my waters hadn’t broken. I went for an appointment in the high risk clinic a couple of weeks later and mentioned baby had been a bit quiet. So they scanned me and lo and behold, half of my waters were gone. So I was induced that night.

Traumatic birth

I was put on IV antibiotics to prevent infection. We were both pretty lucky we hadn’t picked up an infection with my waters leaking.

Several hours later I gave birth but then I started to feel very unwell. I was vomiting and passing out. I was having a massive bleed and the midwives were calling for blood. Luckily, they stopped the bleeding on time and I lost half my blood volume. It took a year and high doses of iron for me to feel “normal” again. The whole experience traumatised me.

Three months and a lot of hard work and I got myself out of the wheelchair for the most part. I still have to use it if I am out of the house for an extended period of time. My pelvis is almost always dislocated and affects my back and legs as well.

Pregnancy could leave me permanently immobile

Progesterone plays a massive role with my condition as it causes my joints to become even more lax. If I were to get pregnant again, it is very, very likely that I will not be so lucky (not so much luck as I put in a tonne of work) to get out of the wheelchair. I have been warned not to get pregnant again. The contraception I am on at the moment but it will have to come out as it is affecting my health. I can not have any “unnecessary” surgery like a tube ligation or hysterectomy. A C Section can not be performed without it being an emergency because I am susceptible to infection, stitches don’t hold well and I would suffer with chronic regional pain on top of the wide-spread chronic pain I suffer with now.

I have two children. I have a husband who is my carer. He does almost all the cooking and the cleaning while looking after our two children and a budding business. There are days where he must help me get out of the shower and even dress me.

If I were to have another baby, I would never have a “good day”. I would be in even more pain than I am in now. An American doctor who used to be an Oncologist has stated that EDS would be one of the top three most painful conditions to live with.

Abortion would be the best decision for our family

I can not put myself in more pain. It is not possible to put my family through more than what they already experience. I have to be a mother to the children I have now

. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is an inherited condition. My children have a 50/50 chance of having this condition. Both our son and daughter have EDS. Our two-year old daughter is more affected than my son-suffering three dislocations already. I can’t subject another child to this life of pain. I will not. Accidents happen and if I were to get pregnant accidentally, I would have to have an abortion no ifs or buts.

Travelling for any amount of time leaves me bed/couch bound for days. Stress causes my symptoms to flare. If I should need to have an abortion, I should be able to go to my local hospital, have the procedure and go home that night to my own bed, to be surrounded by my family. I should be able to be open about what had just happened and not hide it in shame. I would be making the right decision for my family. The family that is living and breathing.

Up until pretty recently, I was anti choice. It was when I had to travel to the UK for treatment not available in Ireland that my mind was truly changed. I empathised with all the Irish women who had to travel. I cried at the thought of these women being alone because their partners couldn’t get the day off work or because they were raped and didn’t want to tell anyone.

The Eighth Amendment needs to go.

I’m fighting for repeal of the Eighth Amendment not just for me, but for my daughter. EDS gets worse when a girl hits puberty and most of the time, during pregnancy. If she’s already this affected now, it does not bear thinking of how the condition will manifest later on in life. She needs to have bodily autonomy. This condition takes away so many freedoms over our bodies, we do not need anything else taken away from us.

I have started a Facebook page, Disabled People for Choice in Ireland to show the world that despite what the anti-choice might think, there are those with disabilities who believe in choice, no matter the situation.

You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes… Click To Tweet

Some facts from the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland:

  1. The Eighth Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo.
  2. The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law.
  3. Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures.
  4. At least 150,000 women have travelled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980.
  5. Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.
  6. People who procure abortion within the country risk a 14 year jail term. Doctors can be jailed too.
  7. The majority of people in Ireland support much wider access to abortion than is permitted under the 8th Amendment.
  8. The life and health of a pregnant woman has a much greater value than our constitution places on it.

Thank You to Laura and Catherine for sharing their stories with me.

If you would like to tell your story, email hello@thezebramom.com

 

The fault in our genes and the guilt that goes with it

When you’re child is seriously hurt you can feel so helpless. You might feel guilty for not having a sharp eye on your little one when they injure themselves. If you have a faulty genes and a genetic condition that you’ve passed on to your child, there’s an added guilt.

Last Saturday two year old Ollie Pops N’ Clicks was playing happily with her Dad. We had a lovely day up till then, hubby and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary. My Dad cooked us a beautiful lamb dinner and after we retired into the sitting room in front of the stove. Despite having a pain flare, I was content. That is until Ollie started screaming.

She was pulling on her Daddy’s clothes and then all of a sudden her arm was hurting. Nobody could touch it and if we tried to move it she cried. Hubby knew immediately that we were faced with something that happened in 2015. Ollie was just seven months old then. Her elbow was dislocated. She was behaving the same way she did that cold night in November of 2015.

Ollie 7 months
Ollie the morning after she dislocated her elbow the first time

So, we had to leave Bendy Boy with his Granddad for the night as we sped up to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) of the University Hospital. She fell asleep before we even made it out of town. I thought maybe she was OK now but when I touched her arm she woke up screaming.

What is a 45-minute journey felt like hours. We arrived into A&E and we were surprised to see how quiet it was for a Saturday evening. Then again, it was still pretty early. The drunks and those involved in fights wouldn’t be in for another few hours yet.

At the hospital

After we checked in, we sat in the waiting area. Looking around I saw a teenager with their arms in a sling, an old man with bandages around his head and another man with a black eye. I was worried that this scene would upset my already frightened two year old. You could tell exactly what was wrong with these people. All you could see when you looked at Ollie was a little girl with a sourpuss face protecting her little arm.

Just like before, the Triage nurse saw us fairly quickly, when we explained what we think had happened and that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. This is a result of my faulty collagen genes. We were taken into the ward.

The last time Ollie was seen in A&E at just seven months old, she had to have an X-Ray. It was torture for us both. I had to move her tiny little arm around in different positions. She cried, I cried. This time however, there was no need to X-Ray because of her history.

When I told the on call doctor that I had EDS, he asked could he have a look at my hands. He bent my fingers back and pulled on my skin. He nodded and turned to little Ollie who was finishing off her second ever dose of painkillers. In two years she’s never been ill enough to need any type of medication. The only time she’s had Calpol is the first time she dislocated her elbow.

Like a punch to the stomach

me and kids
You do what you can to protect them

Anyway, he attempted to take Ollie’s hand but she was petrified. He did eventually manage to get it and within seconds. He confirmed it was dislocated and he said it’s pretty safe to say that my beautiful daughter has EDS. She has inherited my faulty genes. It was like a punch to the stomach.

We knew this since pregnancy but every time I hear a doctor say it again, the guilt gets to me. Ollie is not officially diagnosed with EDS. We hope to rectify that soon just in case social services do get involved during a future trip to A&E.

Like nothing ever happened

Within forty minutes of arriving at A&E we were out the door. Ollie was back to her old self again and I’m pretty sure she was on a sugar buzz after that medicine. She kept talking about how the doctor fixed her and that she was all better now. We arrived home and the three of us sat on the couch to unwind after a stressful couple of hours.

Ollie climbed on me and fed until she was ready for sleep. She then sat up and threw herself on to the couch. I watched her sleep for awhile. She looked so peaceful and you’d have never had known she was in agony just an hour before. We carried her into her new room and didn’t see her till morning. It really is amazing how resilient kids are and that does make it a lot easier to live with a condition like EDS.

Ollie after hospital
Like nothing happened

I know I cannot control my genetics and that I shouldn’t blame myself for Bendy Boy’s diagnosis and Ollie’s inevitable diagnosis. But, I can’t help it; this illness comes from me. If Ollie is dislocating this early on in life it doesn’t bare thinking what will happen, as she gets older.

What does the future hold?

When she starts playschool, when she’s old enough to play outside with friends, when she climbs a tree for the first time. Then there’s puberty. The majority of girls with EDS experience an increase in symptoms when they reach puberty. This is because the hormone, progesterone wreaks havoc on our bodies. Progesterone makes us lax. It’s why girls and women suffer more during their periods and in pregnancy.

How many more times is she going to be in hospital with an injury? Is she ever going to work or have a normal life? These questions whiz around my head. I try to say to myself what I would say to anybody in this situation; cross that bridge when you come to it.

Overcoming the guilt of faulty genes

But, I will eventually overcome this guilt. How? Because I know I am the best person to get my children through what they will face later down the line. I know what they need, who they need to see and where I can take them to make all this happen. The fight for access for appropriate medical care of which there is none in this country will be my biggest challenge. I will take them to the doctor or hospital as many times as they need and I will do it with empathy.

They will be believed when they tell me they are in pain, because I know what it’s like not to be believed. Not being believed by my parents, by friends and by doctors affected me greatly and I still carry that pain around with me. That pain can be just as great as the physical pain my genes have caused me. An old friend once said that she would rather face a pack of rabid Rottweiler than a parent who wants to protect and fight for their children. If you mess with my kids and their health, I’ll go through you for a shortcut.

Be your child’s champion

The Fault in our genes

Having EDS myself makes me the best advocate for my children. Any patient with a rare disease becomes his or her own expert. I will now be the expert for my children too. From how their genes work to the treatment they need, I will be their champion.

It is a great comfort knowing that they will always have each other to lean on for support. Even when I am not there anymore to fight for them, they can fight together.

So, for anyone out there who is feeling guilty for passing on their crappy genes, know this; it is not your fault. I know more than anybody that it’s hard not to. Take a leaf out of my book; take that guilt and turn it into something positive. Raise awareness of the condition, fight for proper treatment, do everything in your power to make your child’s experience with their condition better than what you experienced.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

 

You know you’re a mom with a chronic illness when

Being a mom is hard. Really freakin’ hard. You have sleepless nights that go on for years. Then there are snots, wee, poo, endless requests, and endless questions. Stresses of school, work, childminding, and meal prep grind you down. I could go on and on. Now, imagine being a mom with all of these stresses and then add a chronic illness into the mix. For the most part, it makes no difference to your kids if it’s all they know. You can be the mom who spends all day resting on the couch or in bed for hours and your kids will still think you’re awesome.

You can be the mom who spends all day resting on the couch or in bed for hours and your kids will still think you’re awesome.

Well, my kids do and I would consider myself a pretty mediocre mother. But I’m often told I’m too hard on myself.

I do cut corners-daily. I’m disorganised. I put things off. I loose my shit regularly. My chronic illnesses are a mix of physical and mental ailments. EDS, POTS, Autonomic Mediated Syncope, anxiety and depression all plague me. Sometimes separately but most of the time they join to create a storm of symptoms.

While most mothers will make a home cooked meal, I depend on my air fryer to cook quick and convenient food. Once a month I do manage something home cooked and special like my Crispy Chinese Pork or my Lemon Chicken Pasta. But for the most part the kids live on chicken or fish goujons or chicken and pesto pasta. Daddy does the majority of the cooking but with a budding business and all the other household chores, he simply doesn’t have the time or the energy to be making food from scratch.

“Why don’t you do meal prep and freeze?” I hear you say. Yep, I get these notions all the time. But then fatigue plagues me or my wrist pops out of place from chopping. In a town of 5,000 people, we have approximately 12 take aways. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a meal on wheels service for those with chronic illness? Or wouldn’t it be great if the village mentality still existed where the whole community helps out those who are struggling? Wouldn’t it be great if we were provided with balanced dishes that tasted just as tasty as a burger and fries from the local chipper? There’s a business idea right there.

In my mind, I’m supermom. I come up with all these Bree Van de Camp type ideas like cooking breakfast muffins or making clothes for the children. In reality, I’m lucky to get dressed and put my make up on once a week. Most people don’t have to decide on whether to wash and dress themselves or feed their children. Most people don’t have to decide whether to cook a decent meal or to stay awake long enough to make sure the children don’t kill themselves.

I’m not a “fed is best” advocate, far from it. I truly believe what we feed our children is of the utmost importance. The science shows that what we feed our children in infancy and childhood directly affects their long-term health and eating habits as they grow into adulthood. I know we could make better choices and soon I hope to collaborate with some foodies to offer some recipes that are suitable for the whole family and that are “spoonie” friendly for parents.

So now I have had that little rant off my chest, it’s time to make things a little lighter. Here are some of the signs of being a mom with a chronic illness.

You know you're a chronic illness mom when.

You spend a good portion of your day in pyjamas

It’s probable that you own more pairs of pyjamas than actual clothes. You figure, I don’t need to go anywhere today so what’s the point in spending spoons on getting washed and dressed. But, when you do get washed, dressed and put make up on your good days, you feel more human. Sure you might be exhausted from prepping yourself for the outside world but it does wonders for your mental health.

You get takeout more than you should

Sometimes when you literally can’t move during a flare up, you can’t get up to pee, never mind having to stand at the kitchen counter and then dealing with the heat of the cooker.  But when you manage to make a delicious home cooked meal, you feel like Gordon Ramsay (minus the constant swearing…mostly).

Your kids get full meals while you live on crackers and coffee

You do your best to nourish your kids. You’d rather spend your spoons on making sure they are well fed. You get so nauseous or fatigued that the last thing you want to do is eat. So you when you are feeling peckish you’ll grab the first thing that comes out of the fridge or cupboard. It’s taken me years to figure out how to eat healthier snacks that have some form of nutrients. I do like crackers on days that I’m nauseous so I buy pre hummus for some protein. A pre-made salad or a handful of nuts are a light handy snack that will give you the boost to look after your munchkins.

You say yes to your kids even when you shouldn’t just to have some peace and quiet

Saying yes when you should to all sorts of things that you know you shouldn’t. You just want them to be quiet for five minutes. We simply don’t have the energy to argue when we are in pain or fatigued. Don’t beat yourself up when you say yes to that extra packet of crisps or chocolate.

You say “not today” frequently

We say yes to the things we shouldn’t and no to the things we should. You would love nothing more than to take the kids out or let them have a play date in your house. The guilt is real. You want to give your kids all that they desire but sometimes it’s better to save your spoons for a day you feel better.  Then you can all enjoy yourselves. There will be a day you can yes to that playdate or day trip. Rest up today for what you want to do tomorrow.

You manage to wash and dress the kids while you look like you’ve been dragged through a bush backwards

Your kids are dressed beautifully with shiny teeth and brushed hair almost every day. They could pose on the cover of a shopping catalogue. You on the other hand, you look so dishevelled that you could easily pass for someone who’s just found her way to civilisation after being lost in the woods somewhere. If I need to look presentable while still feeling comfortable I put on my sports bra (cause under wired bras are the devil) and a jersey cotton jumpsuit like this one from Boohoo. I feel super comfy but I look super chic. Plus jumpsuits are a great time saver-no need to pair up tops and bottoms. Jersey cotton is a chronic illness sufferer’s best friend.

Chronic Illness mother with glasses and messy hair
The disheveled look is so in right now Credit: Adobe Stock

TV is your best friend

You’ve probably watched everything there is to watch on Netflix. When the kids are at school and you’ve managed to one productive thing that morning, you find yourself in need of a rest. If you’re anything like me; reading a book during the day will simply not do. Two pages and I’m out like a light. TV is always there for you-no matter what. You can be transported to another place and forget, just for 30 minutes, that you’re on the couch involuntarily.

TV is always there for you-no matter what. You can be transported to another place and forget, just for 30 minutes, that you’re on the couch involuntarily. 

As soon as you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness you should automatically have a free subscription to Netflix. Netflix and chill and pills for us! Oh my!

The Internet is your social life

Going out for coffee, going for drinks with the girls is a rarity. People used to come by to have a cup of tea and a chat but they’ve stopped coming. Since you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, lots of things have changed. So social media becomes your social life. You can connect with others in the exact same situation with just a couple of clicks.

Even though you may have not met these people in real life, you feel super close to them because they know exactly what it’s like for you.

We do have the tendency to get lost in social media though. I noticed this about myself recently so I signed up for a creative writing class. It’s just 2 hours, one night a week. Nothing to heavy and I find writing a good therapy. With so much life experience, I’ll have a lot of inspiration to draw from.

With chronic illness, the housework is a constant stress

You would love nothing more than to move ever piece of furniture out of the way and get cleaning the collection of food, dust and small toys. The pile of laundry is giving Everest a run for it’s money and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t keep up. Sometimes you wonder if you’ll end up on an episode of Hoarders. But, in reality, your house is probably not as bad as you think. In fact, you could probably walk into almost any family home and see the same messes. If you do feel overwhelmed, check out my blog about household products that can help you manage your household with a chronic illness.

When you do manage to get to the bottom of the laundry basket you’re not a domestic Goddess, you’re a domestic badass. Celebrate with cake and a rest. That’s an order!

Chronic illness mother holding an iron
You are a domestic bad ass Credit: Abobe Stock

When you achieve something you feel like a total rock star

You’ve woken up and it’s one of those rare days you feel semi human. You do a few loads of washing; you get dressed and even put on a bit of make up. Then you prep dinner while the kids are at school. It’s all done from scratch and smells amazing. Even organising your meds is a huge achievement for you. Whatever you managed to do today, it’s an achievement and needs to be celebrated.

Simply getting up out of bed and leaving the house for a cup of coffee with friends is something to be proud of. Those days can be few and far between so when it happens, you appreciate so much more.

Maybe you have a chronic illness but manage to live normally, that doesn’t mean you are not struggling. It is so important not to compare yourself to others. I personally don’t believe in thinking I’m sicker than anyone else. Everyone’s illness is his or her own. We all handle things differently. A lot of the time, fear of pain and fatigue and of course mental illness as a result of the physical illness can hold us back. No two stories are exactly alike.

So celebrate your achievements no matter how small they may be. Try not to dwell on all the things you couldn’t get to do today. Focus on what you did manage to do, even if it was “just” getting dressed.

Until next time,

Z.M

 

Back to school guide for parents with chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

It’s that time of year again, folks! Yep, the summer is well and truly over. We did it! We made it through but now, a new challenge begins.

While getting the kids back to school means our routines will settle again, it also means early mornings, arguments, searching for school books, shoes, lunch boxes, pencils etc etc. Mornings in our house are well, stressful. A symphony consisting of whining, shouting, shrieking and wailing.

In addition to the energy we spend getting ready for the school run each morning, stress can also really take it out of us and even cause our spoons to dwindle before the day has even begun.

This year I am determined in making a change, not just for me and my illness but for the entire family’s mental health. Stress first thing in the morning puts everyone in a fowl mood for the day. I am trying my very best not to sweat the small things in an effort to chill out and ease stress related symptoms.

I know I am not alone when it comes to the stress of the morning rush. Millions of families across the world go through the same thing. We all wish for the same routine, to wake up refreshed, have our breakfast and coffee as a family, to all get ready individually and walk out the door on time and kiss each other goodbye as we all go our separate ways. It may seem like a scene from The Brady Brunch or The Waltons but there are some small tricks I’ve learned over the past few weeks in preparation for the coming school year.

If my chaotic morning routine sings to you, why not join me in my attempt to be more of a Zen like zebra on a Monday morning.

Sunday night, everybody dreads it. You feel you’re wasting a perfectly good day off doing laundry, sorting homework, lunches and looking for books and hearing excuses like “I didn’t have time to do x y and z”.

Below was the trigger for my Sunday night dread. The moment that theme song came on, it was time for bed and began my anxiety, fearing Monday morning.

Not exactly an ominous tune is it? To me it might as well have been the Imperial March or ‘Jaws’ music.

Uniforms

This year, I am going to encourage my 8 year old to help me with the laundry on Friday afternoon. As soon as he comes straight home from school, he is to get changed. This is when his uniforms will be washed. He is well able to use the coffee machine for when Daddy needs his morning pick me up so he is well able to turn on the washing machine.

I know this will serve him well when he is older. I have met so many men (and women for that matter) over the years that didn’t have a clue how to use a washing machine once they cut the apron strings and flew the nest from their mammy.

During the week, my son will get changed straight away and put his uniform away while I prepare a snack for him. If the uniform gets dirty during the week, I usually just do a spot clean. If it gets particularly dirty, a quick wash will usually do the trick.

Homework

For now, my son does not get homework for the weekend. But during the week he can spend quite awhile doing homework due to his sensory issues and poor writing skills. Luckily his Occupational Therapist is going to recommend a laptop this year so hopefully that’ll speed things up. Bendy Boy usually does his homework in the kitchen. He is so easily distracted so we will set up a designated homework space for him this year. After he gets home from school, I usually let him have an hour of rest before we begin homework and physiotherapy. Then he must do his homework and physio if he wants to go out and play with his friends or watch some TV. This has worked for us for the most part in the past but when the days are sunny (almost a rarity in Ireland), I much prefer him to spend time outdoors in the fresh air and socialise with friends. Unfortunately we have had issues getting him to do his homework after play. “I’m too tired. I don’t want to etc etc”, there is nothing to look forward to now.

stressful homework

Lunches

It’s Sunday night. Sugar! No bread! No lunch meat! No fruit! This is also a regular occurrence and sometimes it even happens on Monday morning. Jesus, we really sound like the most unorganised family, don’t we?! If you have a chronic illness though, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from. Brain fog…am I right? Anyway, this year all lunch box items will be organised on a Friday and rationed for the week.

Lunches can be so stressful, especially when you have a child that’s fussy or has sensory issues. One day they’ll eat sandwiches, the next day you’ll find them squished at the bottom of the bag (I was guilty of this). I am gagging at the very thought of bread in my teeth at the moment! We can’t all be like Martha Stewart or Bree Van de Camp and cook up uber healthy three course gourmet lunches (regardless of health, who has the time?!).

Give them what they like. It’s that simple. No use sending in kale and cucumber sandwiches if you’re just going to find them buried in the bottom of the school bag.

Bendy Boy gets hangry and I mean hangry. Don’t know what hangry is? Let me enlighten you. You know that feeling you get when every little thing bugs you? Someone’s breathing, chewing or you know…their very existence? Then you eat something and everything is alright again. That’s hangry. Think of the Snickers ad. Well, that’s Bendy Boy. When he’s hungry he’s in no fit state to be in school.

Obviously send in nutritious food but make sure it’s something they enjoy! Looking for some lunch box ideas? Check out this blog by awesome sister and nutritionist, Fiona.

As noted in Fiona’s blog, getting the kids involved with lunch packing the night before can take the stress out of what should be a pretty stress free job.

Like Fiona, for me, nothing could be touching and nothing could be soggy. Our poor, poor mother.

Make sure each day that you or your child empty the lunch box and clean it when they get home from school.

Monday-Friday

I refuse to have a screaming match every weekday this year. Nope. It’s not happening. If we sleep in, we sleep in, if we are late, we are late. It’s school. The world isn’t going to end. I am not going to give myself a migraine by stressing out. I’m not going to dislocate a hip running up the stairs like a crazy woman.

Between Friday and Saturday we are going to get everything ready so that we don’t suffer from Sunday night fear and we can enjoy the day relaxing or going on a family outing. So uniform will be ready on Friday and books will be sitting in his bag and by the door waiting.

On Sunday we will prep lunch and make sure coat, hat, scarf and shoes are waiting on the coat hook and shoe rail (right next to the front door).

One of the major causes of arguments in the morning with Bendy Boy is his distraction and forgetfulness. He goes and plays with toys instead of getting dressed and washed, he spends time singing instead of brushing his teeth (if he even remembers to do it). Half the time we have to remind him to do the next thing (now get your shoes on etc). So we have come up with a plan. He will have a chart in his room that will help him get ready on time in the morning. These are available all over the internet like this one . We are going to make one ourselves from card paper (spoon friendly activity) and write each task for the morning.

  1. Make bed
  2. Get dressed
  3. Eat breakfast
  4. Put dishes in dishwasher
  5. Brush teeth
  6. Wash face
  7. Brush hair
  8. Put on your shoes, coat and schoolbag.

Your job

Because kids have the attention spans of well, children. We can’t rely on them to be responsible for all school prep. So have your own chart on the fridge to check off over the weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly.

  1. Uniforms
  2. Lunches
  3. Check homework
  4. Check for notes in bag about school trips or events
  5. Make sure books and pencil case are in the bag
  6. Have your own clothes ready for the morning
  7. Keys ready by the front door
  8. Check forecast. If the weather is particularly cold make sure to get up earlier to defrost your windscreen and in case traffic or road conditions are difficult to get around.
  9. Set your alarm.
  10. If your kids are getting off school early set a reminder in your phone to pick up or organise someone to pick up in case you have an appointment or other engagement.

One final thing, make sure you try and get a decent night and wake up before the kids and take your meds so you’ll feel more equipped to deal with what lies ahead.

walking to school.jpeg

Do you have any tips or tricks to help save time in the morning? Let me know in the comments below!

As my Dad always taught me; fail to prepare and prepare to fail!

Until next time,

Z.M

x

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The Zebra Mom Trials-Pill Drill

I have been given this product as part of a product review. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So, I’m on a mission right now to find the best gadgets for “spoonies”. Things that make life bit easier can mean the difference between living a normal life and being bed bound. Last time we looked at the Oska Pulse which is a truly life changing device. However, there are some meds that I still need to take multiple times on a daily basis.

I am useless at remembering to take my meds. Brain fog has a lot to answer for that. So I could just set a reminder on my phone, right? Yeah, I could but I live in a house where the minute you set something down, it gets swallowed. Plus, when the alarm goes off, I usually just silence it and if I’m in the middle of doing something I say to myself “Yeah, I’ll get my meds there in a minute.” Then I forget and wonder why I’m in so much pain or feeling dizzy an hour or so later. This is where the Pill Drill comes in.

What is a Pill Drill and how does it work?

Wired.com have described the Pill Drill as  “the FitBit for taking medication”. I couldn’t agree more (not that I have a FitBit).

So the first thing you need to do is to set up the hub. The hub is the heart of your kit. Once you set it up in whichever room you tend to keep your meds, it will remind you when to take your meds and keep track of your intake.

Pill drill cover

Once you’ve taken your pills, you scan the pod from your weekly pill strip. Each pod has a built in scanning tag. The lids are very easy to open and close. Which is handy for people like me with weak hands so ensure you keep it out of reach of children.

The weekly pill strip comes with two pods for each day (e.g Monday 1 & Monday 2). If you take pills more than twice a day, you can order extra pill strips (RPP $29.95). The pill strip also comes with a strap to keep the pods secure while travelling.

In Ireland we generally don’t get medications in pill bottles but rather in boxes so I haven’t used the scanning tags myself. But, if you have pill bottles, you can attach scanning tags to them. You will receive 12 scanning tags (A-L). You can order an additional tag set should you need them (RPP $12.95).  They would also be helpful for items such as inhalers, injections eye drops or other irregular shaped items. The tags are can be placed in the three tag holders provided. More are available should you need them ($4.95).

In addition to scanning your pill pods, you can also scan your mood cube. The cube has five faces which displays a range of feelings you may experience on a day to day basis. These include: great, good, OK, bad and awful. The cube will register your mood and track health patterns over time. This cube is also especially handy for those who care for loved ones. If you’re not around, you can be notified in how the person taking the meds is feeling over the day. Once you scan, the carer/family member/loved one will be instantly notified. This is an optional feature.

The Pill Drill app syncs with your hub in real time. Here, you can edit and modify doses, receive reminders and log doses, receive adherence updates and track mood and symptoms. The app is totally optional.

My thoughts on the Pill Drill

I did have slight issues setting up the Pill Drill and connecting it to the WiFi. It didn’t take long for us to sort it out though. If you are not tech savvy you might need someone to give you a hand. The Pill Drill website does have an FAQ page to answer the majority of questions you may have in setting up.

Once everything was set up, it was pretty easy to use. I no longer forgot to take my pills and taking them at a scheduled time every day did improve my symptoms.

Each week my husband fills the pill pods (I find it very difficult getting pills out of their trays) which means I don’t have to spend five minutes fumbling around trying to get pills out each time I needed to take them. I do need to order a second set of pill strips as I take some meds up to four times a day. Pill Drill states that they ship to the US, Canada and Australia but you can contact them if you would like to order them in your country. I will use my addresspal (An Post) account to have the extra strips delivered to me.

The kids enjoy scanning the mood cube for me. I didn’t use the option of linking the Pill Drill to my carer but I do plan to do this as he is away for entire days every week or so. I really like the availability of this feature for those who do need caring for. It is reassuring to know that even if you’re not around, that you can make sure the patient is not putting themselves in danger or causing unnecessary symptoms by missing their meds. Knowing how their feeling is lovely too. If you get a notification that the patient is feeling very unwell, you can go to them/call them/doctor.

The app is really only needed if you need to modify dose and/or are out of the house and away from the hub. If you’re away from the hub, your phone will remind you to take your meds and you can log your dose so that you your adherence score stays consistent. I would recommend relying on scanning the pills on the hub rather than logging the dose on the app (if you’re at home) so that you’re not tempted in knocking off the alarm the hub makes. This is because you may forget or delay to take your meds. So if you’re home, use the hub as consistently as possible.

One thing that would make the Pill Drill even better is a feature to remind you to order more pills from your doctor and/or pharmacy. Since it tracks your in take already, I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult to incorporate such a feature. You might say you would know how many pills you have left seeing as you put them into the pill pods each week but if you suffer from brain fog, you live a busy life or someone else is filling your meds, you may forget to order a new script.

Product rating: 4/5

The Pill Drill Smart Medication Tracking System retails at $199.00 with a 30 day money back guarantee. The kit includes:

Pill Drill hub, 2 pill strips (Monday-Sunday x2), 12 scanning tags, 3 elastic tag holders and the mood cube. The app is available on the App Store (Apple) and Google Play (Android).

For more information about Pill Drill see the website or Facebook page.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

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Friday Feelings with My EDS Journey

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

This week I spoke to Emma from My EDS Journey. For a number of years Emma worked for a local charity helping people with disabilities but she has had to cut the number of hours that she can work dramatically as her condition, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, has become unstable.

You can find Emma on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Miss clicky

“Hi everyone, my name is Emma I am 40 and I live in a very nice area of the south east of England. I suffer from hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS).  This affects me in a number of ways, but mainly mobility, gastric, autonomic and pain are my problem areas.

My biggest passion is singing and I absolutely love musical theatre but unfortunately at the moment due to my current condition singing lessons and theatre visits are on hold! I took up blogging about 6 months ago as an outlet to communicate with others in a similar position to me and so we can share our knowledge and experiences living with a chronic condition. You can find my blog at http://edsjour.blogspot.com/edsjour.blogspot.com

Now that we know a little a about Emma, let’s look at her Friday Feelings entry:

giphy

Dear Diary,

Today is Friday, with most people I expect looking forward to a busy and varied weekend and perhaps socialising or spending time with friends and family.  For me however, this evening will be the same as any other, curled up watching TV or listening to music while trying to get comfortable.

My energy levels are currently very low and I am going through a bad period with my EDS, I wonder what my next problem will be as something new is always cropping up!

I like to take each day as it comes and not think too far ahead as my health is unpredictable and thinking about the future is scary and uncertain.

Due to the nature of EDS and it mainly being invisible to others, a lot of people don’t understand how it affects us, they may say “you are looking better today” or “ you need to keep up your exercises” as though these words are a magical cure.

I only wish they could see what is going on in the inside and then they would understand the phrase “make our invisible visible”.

A big thank you to Emma for taking part in Friday Feelings and being so open with us. Can you relate to Emma and her feelings of uncertainty about the future? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to write your own Friday Feelings entry?

Send

A high res photo

A short paragraph about yourself

What illnesses you have

Your diary entry with the following topics in it:

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?

and links to your blog and social media to hello@thezebramom.com

Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.

Until Sunday,

 

Z.M

 

x

 

 

The Zebra Mom Trials-Oska Pulse

I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

I contacted Oska Wellness a few months back as I had heard about the Oska Pulse and had seen some reviews. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical. But, my curiosity and desperation got the better of me so I made contact with Steve Collins one of the founders of Oska Wellness. He requested a Skype call and what a call it was! I felt as though I was talking to a friend, we spoke about music, Ireland and his family heritage. We spoke about the device and I was carefully hopeful after hearing about some of Steve’s stories. Steve told me “be skeptical, but don’t be surprised if it works. You won’t even realise it’s working, one day you’ll find you’re doing something you haven’t been able to do for a long time”.

So, what is the Oska Pulse?

According to oskawellness.com:

“Oska Pulse mimics the body’s own recovery processes to relieve pain, muscle stiffness and inflammation, using optimized pulsed electromagnetic field technology (PEMF) to encourage recovery at a cellular level.” It is a first grade, FDA approved medical device.

What are Electro Magenetic Fields?

Sounds a bit Star Trek, right? Ok, so I’ll break it down a bit.

So first of all, I think it’s important to know what electromagnetic fields are and how important they are to our survival.

The Earth has it’s own electromagnetic field and without it, we wouldn’t be here. The Earth’s magnetosphere is a shield that protects us from the powerful solar winds given off by our sun. Without it, our atmosphere would be blown away out into space.

We all use this technology on a day to day basis. Our phones, microwaves and computer screens all emit electromagnetic fields.

So how does this technology work as a therapy?

PEMF therapy is applied by running an electrical current through a copper coil which creates an electromagnetic field.

This type of therapy is said to improve circulation. With improved circulation, your cells are in a much better condition allowing your body to heal more effectively.

Electromagnetic field therapy has been in use since the invention of electricity. It was widely adopted in East and Western Europe but its use was restricted to animals in North America until recently. Veterinarians became the first health professionals to use PEMF therapy, usually to heal broken legs in racehorses.

In 2004, a pulsed electromagnetic field system was approved by the FDA as an adjunct to cervical fusion surgery in patients at high risk for non-fusion. 

Although electricity’s potential to aid bone healing was reported as early as 1841, it was not until the mid-1950s that scientists seriously studied the subject.

Ok sounds great, right? But if you’re like me, you’ll want some hard core proof this technology works. So I did a bit of reading about PEMF. I read some articles and reviews and it gave me hope but, I was still a bit skeptical about whether it would work for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. After all, it’s been noted as one of the most painful conditions.

So it arrived after a couple of weeks. I charged it for awhile and used it that evening. My science fanatic husband used an EMF detector on the device and sure enough, the Oska Puse was emitting electromagnetic pulses every few seconds.

A few weeks later my husband was refilling my Pill Drill and he called into me ” Babe?! You know you haven’t been taking your painkillers, right?”

I stopped and thought about it. Lo and behold I realised I was only taking two Tramadol in the morning. I had previously been taking the max dose (400mg per day).

I upped my use of the Oska to see if it would help my Dysautonomia symptoms as Steve had told me  a young woman with POTS had noticed an improvement with her symptoms. Once I upped my usage, I did notice a difference with my POTS symptoms.

The Zebra Mom Trials

So how do you use the Oska Pulse?

Please note that if you have a pace maker or internal defibrillator you will not be able to use the Oska Pulse.

The device is about as small as a phone and can easily fit into a pocket or handbag. A strap also comes in the package so you can simply strap it on to you as you get on with your day. I use mine first thing in the morning for an hour. I use it again in the afternoon for about 2 hours and then finally another 2 hours in the evening. You can use it while on the computer working, reading a book or even making the dinner.

Skeptics might say this device is producing a placebo effect but we were both skeptical from the beginning. I  went to my pain specialist just last week and told him about the Oska Pulse. He was in absolute agreement that this technology works and he was not surprised at all that the device was working for my chronic pain. This pain specialist has an amazing reputation and is highly regarded in his field here in Ireland so for him to believe in this product and technology, it says a lot. I know this isn’t a placebo effect.

I’m now thinking about possibly working outside of the home, something I haven’t done since 2012. I’m pushing my daughter on the swing and playing hide and seek with the kids. My day to day pain has all but vanished.

Now, of course no tablet or device is going to stop me from dislocating and stop the pain that goes with it. But knowing that the horrible day to day excruciating pain that I normally experience is not going to stop me from living my life, has given me hope. Once I start getting my injections into my hips and spine, I should hopefully be in a position to throw myself into physiotherapy. Getting myself strong should reduce dislocations so between the Oska Pulse, injections and physiotherapy, I will hopefully be able to go back to the old Evie who danced, played tennis, went horse riding and a social life.

The Oska Pulse has put in me in a position to start my recovery. I can start seeing the light between the trees. Not using pain killers has also made me feel more clear headed and the rebound pain I often get from using Tramadol has disappeared. Using Tramadol over a long period of time can have a number of pretty nasty side effects which I started noticing.

If you are like me living with chronic pain that has stopped you living your life, you should definitely try the Oska Pulse. You have nothing to loose. Oska Wellness offers a 90 day money back guarantee so if it doesn’t work for you, you can simply send it back.

Product rating: 5/5

If you would like to try the Oska Pulse and receive a $55 discount click the link here. Or you can use the coupon code 180387 at the checkout! For more information, see the Oska Wellness Facebook page.

Further reading:

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20170613/Clinical-study-suggests-Oska-Pulse-as-effective-method-to-reduce-pain.aspx

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy – Dr. Kathy Davis, PhD – May2017

OSKA-PainJournal with tables – no logo

Next time I’ll be reviewing the Pill Drill I mentioned above.

Until then,

Z.M

x

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Autonomic Testing: What you need to know

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So a few weeks back I returned to London for some autonomic tests. While I was fairly prepared, there are a few things I would do differently. Even though I had been briefed by the investigations unit, I feel that some people who are due to have these tests would benefit from a few extra tips.

These are the tests that I had:

Autonomic Function Screening tests, plasma Catecholamine blood samples, head up tilt test (Autonomic Protocol), liquid meal test with autonomic responses, modified exercise test with autonomic responses to gravitational changes, cardiovascular autonomic responses to arm movements and a 24hr blood pressure monitoring using the autonomic protocol & analysis.

How do you prep for these tests?

Food and water

You have to refrain from any food four hours prior to testing and you can not drink anything until the lead up to the tests. So, I would recommend buying a breathe freshener spray as my mouth gets really stinky when I don’t drink water for awhile. So if that happens to you, you might want to bring some with you.

mouth spray

Luckily, my appointment was at 11am so I did have time to get up and eat something before we left. For 48 hours prior to testing you must refrain from eating anything with caffeine (coffee, tea, coca cola etc) bananas, chocolate, cocoa, citrus fruits & vanilla.

Clothing

You should wear loose fitting clothes for testing as the hospital informs, they suggested shorts in the documentation but London in spring is cold! I brought a few different things to wear and knew what would work for the second day of tests. What worked best was a loose t shirt (make sure the arms are loose or short too) and leggings. They only attach the vast array of wires and monitors on your upper body. The lowest they go is your hip area.

Medications

I wasn’t sure whether I should take my meds or not and it didn’t say what to do on the documentation so I refrained from taking my Midon but took my pain killers as the mornings are the worst time for me, pain wise. Luckily, I had booked a wheelchair to travel around London in so there was no chance that if I did faint, that I’d crack my head on the pavement. If you’re unsure yourself, give your investigation team a call or send an email to ask what to do in regards to your medications. It didn’t dawn on me until that morning on whether I should’ve taken my meds or not.

Punctuality

If you’re travelling abroad or far from where you live, make sure that you know which train/bus etc you need to get or what route you need to take if driving. I would advise for anyone having these tests in London, to check online whether there are any delays on the tube line you’re taking. I have a tube map app that was very useful for our trips around London. Give yourself plenty of time to travel. Be sure to get to the hospital in plenty of time so you can fill out any paperwork. Because we had the two kids with us, we did get delayed a bit so I was late for my tests but what we didn’t have time to do on the first day we did on the second.

How do these tests work?

Autonomic Function screening tests

This comprises of six tests. They are performed whilst you are lying flat, which will assess cardiovascular autonomic function.

The exercises vary in length, ranging from 15 seconds for the shortest and 3 minutes for the longest. The exercises examine blood pressure and heart changes in response to various stimuli: breathing exercises, cold, problem solving and isometric exercise. There
is a rest period between each test to ensure that your blood pressure and heart rate returns to baseline before commencing the next test. The autonomic function screening test also contains an active stand test. You will be asked to stand for a maximum of 5 minutes, whilst measuring your blood pressure and heart rate.
So, the breathing exercises were very straight forward. You are asked to breathe in deeply and then breathe out slowly for 15 seconds into a small tube. Then you’re asked to breathe quickly like you are hyperventilating.
The cold test was not pleasant at all. You’re asked to place your hand on an ice pack for 1.5 minutes. It doesn’t sound very long but trust me, it feels like forever. I won’t lie, it does hurt but as soon as that 1.5 minutes is up, you take your hand off and feel instant relief.
The problem solving test was tricky for me as I have a Dyspraxia diagnosis and people with this condition tend to perform very poorly when it comes to mathematics.
You’re asked to do fairly basic maths of adding and subtracting but when we got  to the big numbers, I ran into trouble. Plus the pressure of having to perform and brain fog thrown in, the odds were stacked against me but, they’re not measuring your math skills or intelligence, they want to see how your autonomic system reacts to these particular exercises.
Finally we did the isometric exercise test and this was simply having to squeeze a ball. With my weak hands and the wrists that are susceptible to dislocation, it was difficult for me but I was assured I did just fine by the lovely woman, Kiran who looked after me so well.
Plasma Catecholamine blood samples
Blood samples were taken from my arm using a small butterfly needle. Catecholamines / Metanephrines are a group of hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine) which circulate in the blood and help regulate blood pressure and heart rate. The levels of catecholamines/ Metanephrines in the blood changes with posture (the levels increase from lying to standing). Blood samples were taken while I was lying, following the 10 minute rest period, and while I was on the tilt table in the standing position.
On some occasions, a spot catecholamine/ Metanephrines blood sample is taken during testing. This usually occurs if the clinical autonomic scientist observes a sudden marked increase in blood pressure and / or heart rate which correlates to certain symptoms. This test is performed to determine whether there are any sudden increases in the catecholamine levels, which could explain the symptoms.

Tilt table test

A tilt table test is a non-invasive diagnostic test to determine whether your symptoms: dizziness, light headedness or loss of consciousness; are due to changes in the blood pressure and / or heart rate. At the  beginning of the test, you will be asked to lie flat on a table. Two straps are put around your body to hold you in
place. After about 10 – 15 minutes of lying flat, the table is then slowly tilted to raise your body to a head-up position – simulating a change in position from lying down to standing up. The table will then remain upright for
either a maximum of 9 or 45 minutes (maximum time depends on the test requested by the doctor), while your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored continuously. This allows doctors to evaluate your body’s cardiovascular response to the change in position.
Liquid meal test
This is a procedure that’s used to examine the effects of food on blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR) and / or symptoms.
A liquid meal is used as the effects on BP and HR can be observed after a 45 minute period. Solid foods can take a lot longer to digest (up to 7 hours). There are two options for the liquid meal:
1) complan (original flavour) + glucose + milk
2) glucose + water
Most patients will have option 1 during the test. However, I had the glucose solution as I am lactose intolerant. It is so sweet, like sickly sweet. I would love my sweet treats but this was just gross. Both meal options are suitable for vegetarians and are gluten free.
So at during this test I was asked to lie flat on the examination couch for 10 minutes to get a baseline of my BP and HR. Then I had a tilt table test. Then I had to rest again until I was asked to drink the liquid meal. Then came by favourite bit, resting for 45 minutes. It was pure bliss, no noise, no lights, nobody crawling on me or calling for me every two minutes. It was every mother’s dream. I’m pretty sure I dosed off for awhile too.
During the 45 minute rest period, my BP and HR will be monitored continuously. During the 45 minutes however, my heart rate (HR) dropped very low. My usual HR is 80-90 BPM but mine dropped to 50 for awhile. The on call doctor was called to check my stats but no intervention was needed as my HR came up by itself. After 45 minutes, I had another tilt test to see if there have been any changes to BP and / or HR following the meal.
Modified exercise test
I was asked to lie flat on an examination couch for 10 minutes or until a baseline of
my BP and HR was established. I then stood for a about 2-3 minutes. I was then again asked to rest prior to performing the exercise. For the exercise, I cycled on a bike whilst lying flat.  It was tough but I needed to cycle at a continuous set speed, with the
resistance of the bike gradually increased over a set period of time. I performed the exercise as long as I could which was just 3 minutes. My knee and hips were giving out.
Following the exercise, I had yet another period of rest before standing again for 5
minutes. I couldn’t last that long either. My BP plummeted making me feel dizzy.
Cardiovascular autonomic responses to arm movements
 So I basically had to hold my arms out in front of me and then above my head for a few minutes. I think I only lasted a minute. My body has become so deconditioned that it physically hurt to hold my arms out in front of me. I could feel myself getting tachycardic during the tests.
 24hr blood pressure monitoring using the autonomic protocol & analysis.
I had to wear a small portable blood pressure monitor, which is on a belt and a blood pressure cuff, which was fitted to my upper left arm. The monitor will takes your blood pressure and heart rate every 20 minutes during the day and every hour during the night.
You are advised to continue with your normal activities, which will help to show your investigations team a typical profile of your blood pressure and heart rate during a 24 hour period. The monitor can be removed for a bath or shower during this period. I was also given a diary. The diary contains a list of extra activities that my team wanted me
to perform whilst wearing the monitor (these activities including measuring your blood pressure & heart rate responses to mild exercise, food and postural changes). I couldn’t do all of these activities as we were either out of the hotel, I was tending to the children or having a bath.
During the monitoring, you can eat and drink as normal prior to your appointment. Your doctor will advise you whether you need to stop any medication prior to and during testing.
 
After the testing, I did feel exhausted and a bit sick. Booking my wheelchair was the smartest thing I did in preparation for my trip.
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A couple of weeks later Prof Mathias spoke with me on the phone (this consult does cost extra on top of the couple of thousand pounds I paid for the tests) and I received a diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Autonomic Mediated Syncope and my Orthostatic Intolerance/Hypotension was confirmed.
If you have any questions, you can comment below or message me on my Facebook page: The Zebra Mom
So until next week,
Z.M
x
 

Friday Feelings with Zebra Writes

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

This week I spoke to Sara from zebrawrites.com. In a previous life, Sara worked as a school psychologist and now she works part-time as a behavioural therapist. Sara writes about her experiences on her blog.

Sara’s primary diagnosis is Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). You can find Sara on Facebook and Twitter.

Sara

 

Now that we know a little about Sara, let’s have a look at her Friday Feelings entry:

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“Dear Diary

Fridays are hard for me because I am very tired by the end of the week, especially if I have been working. I most often spend Friday evenings at home, enjoying the company of my pets and my husband. I prefer to meet up with friends on a Saturday or Sunday during the daytime, in a quiet place. My intractable migraine make me extremely sensitive to light, noise, and smell – so I have basically given up on attending parties or visiting bars during prime hours. When I’m feeling particularly well I do enjoy playing trivia with friends at a local bar on a weeknight (when it is quieter).

At this moment I feel both hopeful and frustrated. I am still young, and there is so much that I want to do with my life.

I want to be a mother in the future, and I hope that I will have the energy to be a good one – but I know that sometimes I will fall short of my expectations for myself – in this and other endeavors because of the limitations that my illness imposes on me. I have hope that new medications that are on the horizon may be able to control my daily migraine pain, but also am tired of waiting. I worry that my body will continue deteriorate. In the meantime I’m learning to sit with the pain and be as functional as possible while enduring it. I’m doing my best to strengthen my body with physical therapy. I hope that it will be enough.

I think that people have difficulty understanding chronic illness unless they have experienced it for themselves. It is hard to understand the fluctuating nature of our pain and level disability or ability on any given day. I also think it’s difficult for people to understand a condition for which there is no cure or finite ending.

EDS is not (likely) going to kill me, but it’s also never going to go away. It is a part of who I am. When confronted with this fact, most people want to “fix” it, or come up with a solution.

They might offer unsolicited advice, or suggest you’re not taking care of yourself well enough in order to ease the discomfort our condition makes them feel. I know that they mean well, they really do. So if you are a person with a chronic illness I challenge you to educate others about your life, and what it is really like. If you are a person who knows someone with a chronic illness, I challenge you to quit trying to “fix” it for them, and ask them about their experiences and true feelings.”

Thanks to Sara for taking part in our Friday Feelings blog. Can you relate to Sara’s story? Do you get unsolicited advice? How do you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?

Send

A high res photo

A short paragraph about yourself

What illnesses you have

Your diary entry with the following topics in it:

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?

and links to your blog and social media to evienevin87@yahoo.ie

Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.

Until Sunday,

Z.M

x

 

 

 

Friday Feelings with Pain Pals Blog

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

As it is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month, during the course of May, we will be reading the diary entries of EDS sufferers. Each person experiences their illness differently and I think it will be interesting to see these differences throughout the month.

This week I spoke to Claire from Pain Pals Blog. The mum of two previously worked in health care but medically retired nine years ago. She now works in the education system and enjoys Spoonie friendly hobbies.

Claire was diagnosed with hypermobile EDS at 42. She also suffers from migraines; dysautonomia/POTS, chronic nerve pain, gut problems, Raynauds, neurogenic
bladder and reactive depression. You can find Claire on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. 
EDS - Claire pic 

“Hi, I’m Claire. I am a married mum of 2 boys aged 21 and 18, and a girl aged 14 living on borders of South London & Surrey, UK. My career was nursing and I trained and worked in various London hospitals, and then worked as a palliative care nurse in a local hospice – a fantastic, rewarding job that I loved. I was medically retired 9 years ago when my back gave up on me. Now I am kept busy with the family (more needy as young adults than they were as toddlers). 

I am a school governor at a local primary school, and I am about to become Chair of my old school’s friends’ committee. We keep old pupils in touch as well as arranging careers events for current pupils. I love meeting new people and interacting with the pupils at both schools. I love reading and belong to several book clubs, posting reviews on the blog, and when I can get there I love the cinema and streamed theatre live events.”

So now that we know a little about Claire, let’s have a read of her Friday Feelings entry.

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“Dear Diary,

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. On a typical Friday night I will usually be found curled up in my PJs! How much of the evening meal I help with really depends upon what sort of day I have had and how fatigued I am. These days my hubby, Duncan is based at home with me, and in theory the kids can take over the kitchen duties but, it is usually like Piccadilly Circus as they come and go, leaving us to keep pace with who is eating or not! Some weeks I will try to join in with Spoonie Speak – a chat set up on Twitter for those of us who can’t go out, but like a chat in our PJs. Like lots of spoonies Netflix, Amazon & TV play a big part in my life but, this week I am actually going out on Friday for the leaving dinner of the current Chair of the friends committee.

I really want to go but do get a bit anxious about making arrangements in case I have a bad day, can’t go and let others down. Not to mention missing out.

My physical health has really deteriorated recently and since having a spinal cord stimulator implanted for the chronic pain, my POTS symptoms have really gone mad. I feel frustrated, tired and worn down  by the constant pain, fainting, dislocations, drug side effects, losing my independence, the uncertainty of how I will be from hour to hour and struggling to make plans. Something I really struggle with is the fatigue and the subsequent guilt at needing to rest. On a beautiful day I can’t stand not being to jump up and just go for a walk in the park.

Some days I feel like I am constantly saying sorry for needing help to have a shower, for fainting, for being unable to cook, for being pushed in the wheelchair, even for not being able to lift the iron.

I try not to think too hard about the future for me – on bad days I can’t think about living with the pain, particularly the chronic back and leg pain, for another week let alone another 40 years! Sounds dramatic but that is how it feels. I also know that there is very little that can be done for the extreme joint pain – I have been told I need shoulder and hip replacements, but that it isn’t possible because of the dislocations and I’m still too young.

I don’t want to “give in” to the illness any more than I have to. Sometimes this is easier said than done – and at times the future feels uncertain.

But I do tend to do what I can when I can and probably don’t pace. I want to keep as active as I can for as long as I can, but the severity of POTS symptoms this last 6 months has left me feeling really low and really ill. Hopefully the different consultants can sort me enough to get me back on an even keel – but the lack of “shared” care is frustrating; repeating the same story over and over, no one knowing what other specialities are doing!

What does worry me for the future is the kids – the younger two anyway. The 18 year old has bad and frequent migraines, with neck pain, hand and arm pain. The youngest is now subluxating and dislocating, has daily pain in joints, can’t hold a pen in a normal grip, writes slowly and has pain. All 3 are dizzy on standing and lose vision – and all three are overly anxious. Two have had counselling, one self harms, one is on anti depressants, we are well acquainted with CAMHS!

I do accept that hardly anyone will have heard of EDS and have got used to suggestions of having collagen injections but what is tougher is the lack of understanding about what chronic illness means. No, I won’t get better. It is genetic so no there is no cure, not even for the kids! I feel that I have to justify myself for being tired, cancelling plans, etc. I hate having to ask for help and would love it if friends would just remember that I can no longer drive and offer a lift without me having to ask. Some people can’t understand why I use a wheelchair when I can stand and walk – pain is invisible, as are the implants in my back, and damage to my joints, but these are what making standing up and walking a near impossibility some days. I feel that other people’s lives are so busy and that I should be fitting in with them, after all I’m at home all day.

It is frustrating when I’m told how well I look and this happens when I’ve put on some lippie and blusher.

You don’t see me at my worst because I can’t actually get out of the house then! But I would probably rather people think I’m putting best foot forward and being positive – chronic illness doesn’t stop you wanting to look good, go out, have a laugh; even if you can’t always actually do this.”

 A big thank you to Claire for taking part in Friday Feelings and being so open with us. Can you relate to Claire? Do you feel guilty not being able to perform certain tasks? Let us know in the comments below!

 Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?

Send

A high res photo

A short paragraph about yourself

What illnesses you have

Your diary entry with the following topics in it:

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?

and links to your blog and social media to evienevin87@yahoo.ie

Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.

Until Sunday,

Z.M

x