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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

 

The Eighth Amendment: How it Affects Pregnant People with Chronic Illnesses. Part I

*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.

It’s more than just abortion

But the Eighth Amendment also affects pregnant people who choose to stay pregnant. The big issue I personally have with the way the Eighth Amendment is being portrayed in the media and by the “pro life” side. It is that it’s made out to be solely about abortion. The Eighth Amendment is so much more than the issue of abortion. This week, as the first part of this series, we will look at the issue of consent during pregnancy and birth.

According to the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) National Consent Policy

“because of the Constitutional provisions on the right to life of the unborn [Article 40.3.3] there is significant legal uncertainty regarding a pregnant woman’s right to [consent]”.

 

This section of the HSE’s policy allows the HSE to apply for injunctions from the High Court. These injunctions compel pregnant women to receive treatment when they have not consented. Sometimes, what the HSE are seeking injunctions for is not seen as best practice by international standards.

In Ireland pregnant people are frequently induced early without any medical reason. They are cut without consent, medicated without consent and not properly informed of the procedures forced upon them. This issue of consent was highlighted in the 2014 Association of Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMS) Ireland survey of 2,836 women, where less than half of all respondents said they were given the opportunity to refuse consent to tests, procedures and treatments. Less.Than.Half.

Strike 4 Repeal protest Credit Siobhan Venables

 My own story:

Looking back at my first birth, I was affected by the Eighth Amendment. Induction was to be scheduled just nine days after my “due date”. It was my wish to go the full fourteen days but my consultant said that was not hospital policy. I was afraid to argue because I had seen stories of women brought to the high court and even threatened with social services because they went against hospital policy.  Frustratingly, the midwife who began my induction said by the way I was looking, I would have given birth on my own a couple of days later.

My second birth was quite similar. I wanted so badly to have a home birth but just seeing I had a pre existing condition made me an unsuitable candidate. The midwives knew I wanted to do this so badly. They hadn’t even heard of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome so why was it a straight up no without a consultation with the head of the Home Birth department? Now, having a hospital birth was the best option in the end but I was not given a choice from the get go.

No informed consent, no wishes respected

I specifically told the hospital I did not want an epidural. I was not to be offered an epidural. If I wanted, I would ask for it. Did that happen? Of course not.

The midwives wore me down, they kept insisting and being in pain and exhausted, I gave in. I had no choice in either of my labours. I was not informed that induction would be far more painful than a natural labour or that it would be far more lengthy.

There was no indication that I would be going through my first birth alone because of the Swine Flu epidemic. I was given my orders and at 22, I just went along with it. I was not one to kick up a fuss (that’s changed now). After all, doctor knew best. Or so I thought.

 Long-term effects

For the following six months after my first birth, I had nightmares every night about being induced and being alone for the majority of my labour. My husband was only there for the very last bit of my labour and for the birth. He was with me for the entirety of my second, which made the experience far more positive.

I was told by a midwife recently that if I had been in the UK, that even with my EDS, my choices would have been respected after I had been informed about any risks.

I spoke with other Irish people with chronic illness/disability about how the Eighth Amendment has affected them. This blog has been a long time in the making because I wanted to do justice to their very important stories. Stories that show the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people affected by the Eighth Amendment:

Two women with signs protesting against the eighth amendment
Strike 4 Repeal protest
Credit Siobhan Venables

The Eighth Amendment affected Jennifer with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome:

Initially I hadn’t wanted to give birth in a hospital. My ideal birth was a water birth in the comfort of my own home. I wanted to share a bed with my partner the night our child was born. I hated the idea of him being sent home on his own after helping me through everything.

Unfortunately, I was told what I wanted wasn’t possible. I was told my BMI was two points higher than they would like. Although I never had any complications associated with high BMI that was that. The water birth was not going to happen in the hospital. The head midwife told us the HSE had padlocked an entire wing with brand new birth pools and my obstetrician admitted it was partly because disinfecting the birth pools had been deemed too expensive. I settled on an active birth, low lighting where possible, two birth partners (which I fought for), quiet voices and positive language. There was to be as little intervention as possible.

Jennifer’s Birth Story

At 41 weeks I was brought in for an induction, we had started sweeps a couple of weeks before, but I had excess amniotic fluid so our baby was essentially bobbing and couldn’t engage for long enough to get labour going by himself.

It was a Thursday I was brought in, I was given the max dose of hormone gel on my cervix between then and Saturday. I had contractions and ironically was allowed to go and have a normal bath in my early stages of labour.

The birth I didn’t want

On Saturday I was told my waters needed to be broken. My mother and partner were there with me. I was brought into a procedure room; the ones that don’t have a full bed but instead something closer to a lounge chair. The air con was on and loud enough that we had to raise our voices to be heard. I was told it couldn’t be switched off. When they broke my waters there was meconium in them. The midwives were starting to panic. We were given an hour to get my labour moving or I would be put on a drip.

I asked if I could send one of my birth partners to get my birthing ball from the car and was told they would give me one instead. So I went to the bathroom that was through the maternity triage ward. When the birthing ball finally arrived it was too short for me and under inflated. It far from ideal as I had a badly misaligned pelvis that went untreated throughout my pregnancy and never fully healed.

I was put on continual monitoring, I tried to ask if there was another way as this would prevent me from moving much and I was told we would see. This was about 1pm and it didn’t come off the monitors until after I gave birth at 5 am.

Emotional and physical scarring

It took 5 people to get an IV line into me. Two midwives and two doctors attempted and failed. Eventually an anaesthetist was successful. All of them tried multiple places. They had no issue finding veins but my skin was too stretchy and tough for them to get the plastic part of the line under my skin. Three years later I still have multiple scars from their attempts.

We were left with a midwife to get my labour going once all of that was done.  She was very matter of fact with me and somewhat lacking in bedside manner. She left the room for something and I cried.

I already knew even my most basic wishes weren’t going to be taken into consideration. It was rapidly turning into the labour I was hoping to avoid.

It was rapidly turning into the labour I was hoping to avoid.

My tolerance for pain is high. I’ve walked around on a subluxated hip and fractured tailbone for three weeks without pain medication. I cope quietly until I can’t.  Because of that, my drip was turned up the max amount at every interval. The midwife who relieved the previous one was amazed I was already in the highest dose when she came in. I ended up having one breath between contractions. I was no longer coping well and kept saying I wanted to go home. They checked my dilation, 3cm. I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to get to 10 at this rate. Determined not to have a C-section, I gave in and asked for an epidural.

Before the epidural was administered and we were waiting for the anaesthetist I asked to go to the bathroom. I was told I wasn’t allowed because of the monitors and she would give me a catheter instead. It felt very unnecessary and it hurt.

Hurt, starved and threatened

I was cathetered three more times. The last two I wasn’t even asked, I didn’t need to go, she had to press hard on my stomach and force urine out of me.

When I did get the epidural it only worked on one side of my body, it took 4 hours to rectify. Apparently because I’m a larger lady (I’m a size 18).

Breakfast was served at 7am. My waters were broken before lunch.  I was denied food for my whole labour in case they needed to do a C-section. I went about 23 hours without eating.

C-section and episiotomy were threatened against Jennifer.

I didn’t end up needing either and I didn’t have any tears from giving birth. I did get two minor tears either side of my urethra, where my clitoral hood meets my inner labia.

Man holding sign protesting against the eighth amendment
Strike 4 Repeal Protest
Credit: Siobhan Venables
Medical trauma affected my sex life

I discovered about a year later I also had a tear under my clitoral hood where it connects to the clitoris.

The midwife who pushed either side of my vagina as my son was crowning caused this. It affected my ability to climax for about two years.

These were caused by the midwife who pushed either side of my vagina as my son was crowning. It affected my ability to climax for about two years.

“I did not give consent”

I had wanted to do delayed cord clamping but due to the meconium that wasn’t an option and I’m ok with that. It was my wish to let my placenta to come away naturally. Once my son was delivered they took him to the other side of the room to clear his lungs and check him over. Meanwhile I was given an injection to hurry up my placenta without my permission, which caused a massive bleed, they thought I was haemorrhaging initially. I understand this may have been necessary but there was no discussion, explanation or warning about the injection. I did not give consent.

Thankfully I have a happy healthy child and physically I have more or less recovered. Emotionally and mentally less so. I will not be giving birth in a hospital again unless I have complications during my pregnancy or labour that put my future children or me at risk.

How The Eighth Amendment affected Sarah with Crohn’s Disease:

I have Crohn’s disease, and I had a very rocky end to my pregnancy.

In the third trimester I developed pneumonia, and began having a massive flare. I was given great treatment in the maternity ward and went home.

At home I was spending days on the couch or running to the toilet. I had little energy and each trip to the doctor I was told that once baby arrived they would see what they could do. The main thing was plenty of rest and not losing weight, which I did a good job of- I was huge!

My previous baby was quite small, 5lb 10. I’m pretty petite myself, so I really wasn’t worried when they said this baby was small. I went for weekly scans, and every week baby was there moving away happily growing quite slowly but no signs of anything amiss.

She had an almighty strong kick so I felt pretty confident. I know these things aren’t perfect but one day the consultant called me in. She started tossing around terms like “hospital won’t accept liability” 

‘hospital won’t accept liability’

and when I asked if there was something wrong, she said she couldn’t guarantee this until baby was here.

Unnecessary induction

Something about the way she spoke made me feel like there was something wrong. Apart from my own illness, my vitals, baby’s heartbeats, scans and everything had been going well. I asked her when did she want to do the induction (I didn’t think I had a choice or was giving consent by the way, this sounded like a life or death matter) she said tomorrow.

Without much warning she told me to lie in the bed and said she was going to do a sweep. I was 36 weeks. The sweep was agony in my already inflamed pelvic area.

Sarah’s Birth Story

The next morning I was hooked up to the drip and ready to go. All was going well for the first while, I had strong contractions but I was up and moving about. After a while nothing still, so they turned up the drip and I had even more intense contractions.

Then my Crohn’s kicked in and I had a lot of tummy trouble, and a massive onset of fatigue. I’ll spare the details but I’m usually one to laugh about this and make toilet humour. Not this time. I began to have spasms, which I get when things are bad.

“Don’t be a Martyr”

That was making me push, except now was no time to push. The nurse decided that to spare my body, because in her words ‘baby doesn’t want to come out’ they would turn the drip up again to full.

After this I was told not to be a martyr and have an epidural. Admittedly I cried because none of this my choice.

Admittedly I cried because none of this my choice.

I had a natural birth in the past and knew what my body was capable of. This however was my biggest nightmare to be so ill and scared and having things forced upon me.

I very narrowly escaped a forceps delivery by sheer will. The epidural helped some in the end and all the pushing was stage was over and I held my beautiful girl. She was perfect, as I knew she would be. She was content and happy and safe in there, and could have stayed a few weeks longer.

Postnatal trauma

That’s not where it ended for me though, some time after I suffered faecal incontinence.  It’s been an ongoing issue since. My specialist reckons I should not have had the procedure.

A slow birth wouldn’t have put that strain on me, or a Caesarean if they genuinely felt there was a risk.

My opinion was I could have been monitored in hospital and given fluids, medicines. I think they knew there was no risk. They were just too cautious- to the point I wasn’t allowed to make informed decisions. It was all decided for me, it wasn’t my body and when it was handed back they had damaged it with unnecessary medical interventions.

Woman holding sign at protest against the Eighth Amendment
Strike 4 Repeal protest Credit Siobhan Venables
No bodily autonomy

Sadly, the stories featured today are not uncommon in Ireland. I have rarely come across a birth story where a mother’s wishes were completely respected. Never has a birth experience 100 per cent positive. In 2017, pregnant people do not have bodily autonomy. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities know exactly what their body is capable of. We are stronger than most people in a number of ways. People with long-term health issues face so many obstacles on a day-to-day basis. We already have so much taken away from us because of our disabilities. When it comes to birth and labour, we feel even more helpless. The control over our own bodies is taken away. The Eighth Amendment is directly responsible. Ireland’s Eighth Amendment will continue to take away our rights until it is repealed.

Change needs to happen now

C-Section birth rates in Ireland are three times the recommended figure

. Rates of episiotomy and induction are also alarmingly high in Ireland. These facts are old news, sure, but it just goes to show how controlling the maternity system is over pregnant and birthing people’s bodies.  We have a dictatorship of a Health Service and something needs to change. There needs to be a massive overhaul of our maternity system and that starts with repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Some might say I am being dramatic here but Ireland in 2017 is like living in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Pregnant people are just vessels that need to be controlled and threatened when they disobey.

In any other area of medicine, a patient’s consent must be sought. The hospital in question would have a lawsuit on their hands if they didn’t.

But then again, we know Gender Bias in medicine is a very real thing.

*It’s not just women who can find themselves pregnant. Nine-year-old girls can get pregnant. Transgender men can get pregnant. This is a human rights issue and not just a “women’s issue”.

Thank You to Jennifer and Sarah for sharing their stories with me. I know it can’t have been easy to write it all out and living through the memories again. You ladies are rock stars.

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

 

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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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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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.

giphy

“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

 

Is gender bias affecting women’s medical treatment? The Zebra Mom investigates.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So for awhile now I’ve been thinking about writing this piece as I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes about sexism and gender bias in medicine. I know myself that I’ve experienced some sexism in my time as a regular visitor to the GP and hospital.

The definition of bias: inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

“When we talk about gender bias in medicine we usually either mean an unintended, but systematic neglect of either women or men, stereotyped preconceptions about the health, behavior, experiences, needs, wishes and so on, of men and women, or neglect of gender issues relevant to the topic of interest.”-Gender Bias in Medicine; Katarina Hamberg

I think the experience of sexism and gender bias that stands out to me the most, personally, is the time I went to my GP explaining I had zero libido, that it was borderline painful to have sex and that it was affecting my relationships.

The GP (who by the way was a woman) told me to just do itthat the more sex I had, the more I would want it.  Now I don’t know if I am off the mark here but I’m sure if a man went to his GP and told them that they had no libido or that it hurt to have sex that they wouldn’t be told to “just do it”.

Now, I’m not a doctor but I think I if I was, that I would at least do some blood work and if nothing showed up, refer the patient on to a Gynaecologist/Urologist for further investigation. Or you know, have a look down there to see if anything obvious stands out!

So, I wondered if there was solid, scientific evidence to suggest whether gender bias actually exists in the medical field. I have been told hundreds of stories over the years as a health journalist about women being fobbed off. Sadly, this treatment has cost women their lives.

I recently spoke at a conference in Manchester and while I was there I spoke to a GP who also suffers from hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. When I brought the subject up of whether women’s pain is taken as seriously as men’s; she responded: “Absolutely. It’s a feminist issue, for sure.”

Of course, we can’t go on anecdotal evidence. To prove something actually happens we must look at it from a scientific point of view. I contacted the amazing Gill Roddie (follow her on Snapchat: gemeroodles) to ask her for solid articles about this issue. Gill teaches Biology in third level and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to science. Her science snaps are definitely worth the watch, so do check her out.

Does the research show that women’s pain isn’t taken as seriously as men’s? Yes, it does.

gender bias in medicine

It’s a disturbing thought, but there is a plethora of mounting evidence to back up these anecdotes. Women’s pain is taken much less seriously by doctors than men’s, fact.

This gender bias has a number of serious implications; including that women in acute and chronic pain are left to suffer for longer in hospitals. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health problems because women are emotional” even when clinical results show their pain is very real.

Research has found that when women and men present in A&E with the same severity of abdominal pain, men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated, while the average wait for women is 65 minutes. Similarly, women are consistently prescribed less pain-relieving medication, even when controls for weight are applied.

One reason for this blatant display of sexism may be that doctors often perceive women are being more irrational or emotional than men, and therefore see their complaints about pain as being ‘all in their head’ rather than having a physical basis.

Clinical studies have also found that doctors are more likely to think women’s pain is caused by emotional issues rather than physical causes, even in the presence of clinical tests which show their pain is real. Researchers J.Crook and E.Tunks found in their study ‘Women With Pain’ that women with chronic pain conditions are more likely to be wrongly diagnosed with mental health conditions than men and often prescribed psychotropic drugs, as doctors regularly dismiss symptoms as being a part of a mental illness.

I myself can back this up, again with anecdotal evidence. When I first went to my GP about my symptoms of pain and fatigue, I was told that I was depressed. Another GP told me my chest pains were caused by stress. I told him I wasn’t stressed at all and he said “Oh, well it must be subconscious stress.” Again, no investigations, just a script for Lexapro. We now know that my pain and fatigue symptoms were a result of my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and the chest pain is either a subluxated rib or costrochronditis.

But this assumption also does no favours for the male population either. Men are seen as more rational and when they say they are feeling acute pain, doctors take their symptoms seriously as having physical cause rather than assuming an emotional basis. But what if it is emotional?

A 1990 study by Karen Calderone from Rhode Island University indicated that women are more likely to be given sedatives for pain, while men are given pain medication.

This indicates that women are perceived as being more ‘anxious’ than truly in pain.  This research suggests that doctors focus on returning women to a ‘calm and rational’ state rather than actually relieving their pain.

This means women are often left in severe pain for longer periods than men. Sedatives can make women appear calmer but all the while continuing to feel pain acutely. This means they stay in extreme discomfort for longer periods and this can lead to serious symptoms. Conditions may go unnoticed and undiagnosed through this type of medical treatment (or lack their of).

In Hamberg’s paper she noted that in a large variety of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, neck pain, and knee joint arthrosis, men are investigated and treated more extensively than women with the same severity of symptoms.

Personally the most disturbing thing I’ve read during my research for this article is learning that the more attractive a health care professional found their patient, the less treatment they received. This confirms what most patients with invisible conditions say, that their pain isn’t taken as seriously because we appear healthy.

In the research paper ‘Beautiful Faces in Pain’ it was found that due to this “beautiful is healthy” stereotype, doctors assume people who look ‘better’ on the outside, are healthier and subsequently require less treatment. Since sexism and patriarchy is present when it comes to hierarchy in hospital settings, men are more than likely to have senior positions. They are responsible for decision making and since the majority of men are heterosexual, it seems quite possible that women’s pain is underestimated due to the perceived attractiveness by the males responsible for their treatment.

While I’m sure most health care professionals will say that they treat each patient with the same level of care, regardless of their gender, the facts and figures say differently.

You can not deny the solid, scientific facts that show that gender bias is very real in medicine.

Sexism is seen in A&E waiting rooms and hospital wards. Gender bias and sexism is present in almost every area of society, so why would medicine be any different?

Gender bias is literally physically hurting women as well as emotionally. Imagine if those chest pains I was suffering from was something more sinister? What if it was my heart giving me a warning sign? What if I ended up in cardiac arrest? I may be presenting you with hypothetical situations here but, for many women, this has happened and sadly, it has cost them their lives. Until gender bias and sexism is rectified in medicine, women will continue to face difficulty in accessing appropriate treatment.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

Disability and Social Media

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Sorry for the radio silence, I had been in London again for tests and treatments and then I had some pretty bad issues with my neck. After almost two weeks and muscle relaxers, it’s finally under control. Interestingly, the muscle relaxers seemed to help my general widespread pain. I do have chronic tendinitis pretty much all over my body so obviously muscle relaxers would be helpful. Unfortunately my GP won’t allow me to have them long term in case I start sublimating and dislocating more often. Anyway, I’ll update you with London in next week’s post but I really wanted to get something off my chest this week.

How many of you out there have had people accuse you of faking your illness based on things you post on social media? It really can be a lose/lose situation for those of us with disabilities. If you post yourself getting out and having fun, you’re not that sick and if you post yourself lying in bed in pain, you’re attention seeking. If you do both? You’re not being consistent and therefore lying about your illness. It seems people are under the impression to be truly disabled, you have to be miserable, housebound 24/7 and silent. Out of sight, out of mind.

Recently I had the displeasure of being accused of faking my illness by a family member. Why? Because the wide range of photos on Facebook show my life for what it is; inconsistent.  Some days I am in my wheelchair and some days I socialise with friends. Anybody with a chronic illness knows that you have your good days and your bad days. When you do have your good days, you take advantage of them. I was told by said family member to get off the internet and “go for a long walk.” I’m sure some of you reading this are scoffing at the very idea. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my non spoonie friends stood up for me especially when the conversation got nasty. Funny thing is this person hasn’t seen me in five years, so it’s not like they have seen me at home contorted in pain with heat packs attached to me and medicated up to my eyeballs.

Disability and Social Media

I’m sure a lot of us with invisible conditions face these judgements and questions pretty regularly. Unless you live the spoonie life, you don’t know what it is like to be ridiculed and made to feel insecure simply by sharing your life, the good, the bad and the ugly.

For most, social media is a way to pass the time. It’s entertainment. But for those of us who do not have the luxury of having a vibrant social life, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc are what keeps us connected to the world on a personal level. Have you been told you’re “always on Facebook”? Well, I don’t know about anyone else but many of my fellow spoonie friends also use Facebook to connect with loved ones. I scroll through my feed to check in on them and to see how other loved ones are doing since I am not able to get out and visit people as much as I would like to. Of course I do enjoy the entertainment aspect of social media, I like the Buzzfeed quizzes and the odd meme too. I am vocal about all aspects of healthcare and politics too. I’m a pretty opinionated person, I don’t think that should be frowned upon though.

Social media is a fantastic way to raise awareness of the various conditions that fall off the radar. Thanks to selfie campaigns and social media challenges like the ice bucket challenge for ALS (or my beloved REDS4VEDS campaign) the general public know more about diseases that previous generations may not have ever heard of. Even simply sharing a meme or infographic about a condition can educate thousands or possibly millions of people worldwide.

me good day:bad day

Posting our feelings about our condition or how the health system/Government let us down may come across as moaning or self pitying but for the majority of us, we just want to be heard. It is so frustrating to live in a country where there is an incredible lack of care (both senses of the word) and to witness the poor quality of life those with chronic conditions have. Again, when you’re isolated from the outside world, you don’t get to vent to someone in person, like most people do. We can’t just get up and leave the house to visit a friend for a cup of tea and get things off our chest. Most people ignore these posts, and you know they will but, you also know that your fellow spoonie friends will respond and be empathetic. Sometimes just seeing a comment saying “I hope you feel a bit better tomorrow,” can brighten up your day.

Posting a wheelchair selfie or a “good day” selfie doesn’t have any motive, we post photos without thought, just like everyone else. People post photos of themselves in the gym, or their food. What’s so wrong with us posting photos showing the complexity and inconsistency of our lives? Again, it’s about awareness. I think so many people are under the impression to be truly disabled, you must be missing a limb or in a wheelchair full time. As I’ve said, we do have our good days, they are far and few between and so on those days, we take photos and post. To be honest, most of the time it’s just a way to keep all the photos in one place. I also love when Facebook sends me a memories notification. I often get to see photos of a day I’ve completely forgotten about or a post of how ill I have been. I look back and see I’ve survived so far, and that can sometimes boost my motivation to keep fighting for recovery.

The thing about social media is it has given people the confidence to be cruel and rarely have to deal with the repercussions of their words because they post in the comfort of their own home. In reality, the majority of keyboard warriors wouldn’t say these things to your face. Also, these people forget they have the free will to scroll on by or unfollow someone if they don’t want to see “depressing” posts (yes, my life was too depressing for this lovely family member). There’s a plethora of posts on social media that aren’t to everyone’s liking or taste and most of us choose to either ignore them because it’s not worth loosing a friend or a family member over.

Anyway, I just wanted to get this off my chest because it is something that has been bothering me for awhile.

Until next time,

Z.M

 

 

 

The Zebra Mom in the News

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So this week’s blog is coming a little early because we are flying off to London tomorrow. This week has been very tough on me because my legs have become so weak that I can not stand up without help. I am on day two of a migraine and nausea too. So driving 3 hours up to Dublin and flying to the UK is going to be very hard on me. This will my third trip in a year going over to London for treatment and testing.

This trip I am having autonomic testing and physiotherapy. The children are also going to see their physio on this trip.

The last couple of weeks have been mental though. We have been on three newspapers, another on the way and I have been on the radio too talking about the lack of care in Ireland for patients with EDS. I am also lobbying for medical cannabis to be granted for those with chronic pain. I found out just yesterday that one of the newspaper articles below was read out in the Dail (Irish Government building) during a presentation about medical cannabis. Apparently my story of just wanting to be better for my children moved a lot of people. Medical cannabis could make that a reality.

The Zebra Mom in the News

Article from The Southern Star by Kieran O’Mahony

‘I’m left helpless to ease their pain’ says Clon dad in bid to get UK treatment

Echo photo

A CLONAKILTY man who says it pains him to see his wife and two young children suffer from a cureless condition, has set up a funding page to help them access treatment abroad.

Martin Nevin set up a GoFundMe page for his wife Evie (30) and their two children Alexander (7) and Olivia (2) who suffer from Hypermobile Ehlers Danloe Syndrome (EDS) and Dysautonomia.

The chronic, multi-systemic conditions have left his wife and children susceptible to joint dislocations and chronic pain and fatigue, as well as many other issues which can severely affect their standard of living.

In a poignant post on the page, Martin outlined why he set it up.

‘It pains me to see these three fantastic people suffer, to watch a woman with so much talent restricted from sharing it with the world, to see a boy with the will to climb a mountain withdraw from fatigue and to see the sweetest and the happiest little girl ever cry with agony due to dislocated joints.’

‘I can do nothing but watch their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless to ease them and that is why I’ve set this page up so my family can get the treatment they need,’ said Martin.

Although the condition is slowly being recognised here, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help sufferers, leaving the Nevins with no choice but to seek treatment abroad.

‘The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes are a group of connective tissue disorders which cause the body to produce faulty collagen and collagen is the glue that holds our bodies together. We are also affected by Dysautonomia, which means out autonomic systems don’t work properly. While Alexander and Olivia are not very affected by this condition, it does affect me and it can cause me to faint by simply cooking dinner,’ Evie told The Southern Star.

Evie and Martin have been told by the HSE that there are no plans to help patients with EDS in Ireland, so they are looking to London for treatment. ‘It’s a little too late for me now, as my body was neglected for almost 30 years, but the children are lucky to have been diagnosed so early,’ explained Evie. ‘So with help in the UK, we hope that they won’t become as affected as me.’

Evie said she is almost house-bound seven days a week, and she has been unable to work for several years due to her condition.

‘We want to give our children the best possible chance at a normal life and it’s really only now that I am getting tests and treatments for myself.

‘While we look to getting treatment abroad, we’ve been told that the Treatment Abroad Scheme won’t cover the costs to the UK, because our doctors are private consultants and the Cross Border Directive won’t cover our tests because they need to also be available in Ireland, which they are not.’

Evie and Martin also received another big blow with the recent announcement that chronic pain won’t fall under the Medicinal Cannabis Bill.

‘Medicinal Cannabis is often recommended for EDS patients in the US because patients are often resistant to pain medications, particularly opiate-based pain killers,’ added Evie.

Evie herself has been working tirelessly to get this condition recognised in Ireland and has written extensively on this for many newspapers and journals, as well as spearheading a campaign for all EDS sufferers.

The family recently attended the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London where they met with professors who specialise in EDS and Autonomic Dysfunctions.

‘We have had to break up the trips over to London which is more expensive, so every time we go back they add on other tests and consultancies, so we are going to be fundraising for the foreseeable future.’

The family have set up a Go Fund Me page to raise the vital funds to avail of the treatment in London and they and their friends have already been fundraising by holding events in Clonakilty.

See www.gofundme.com/2befu24c or see ‘The Nevin Family Treatment Fund’ on Facebook.

Interview on C103’s Today show

Play from 56:20 to hear my interview below

 

Article on The Irish Examiner by Sarah Slater

Cork family pleads for help to battle rare illness

A young mother and her two children are battling an illness that is consuming all of their short lives.

Nevin Family

Evie Nevin, aged 30, her son Alexander, 7, and daughter Olivia, 2, have the rare and debilitating condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

Although EDS is slowly becoming more widely known in Ireland, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help people with this condition.

There is no cure for EDS, but with careful management and specialised physiotherapy the quality of living for someone with EDS can be improved.

Most Irish EDS sufferers are referred to Rodney Grahame, consultant rheumatologist at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, London, who has said: “No other disease in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in such a way as EDS.”

Members of the EDS community have campaigned for specialist treatment here, to no avail. They recently learned that there are no plans by the Government or health services to implement any.

Evie, from Clonakilty, Co Cork, is prone to hip and wrist dislocations on almost a weekly basis. She is extremely effected by changes to pressure and can be left bed-ridden with pain from something as small as a rain shower.

I went from getting up at 6.30am and getting home at 9pm working as a journalist in 2012 to being someone just existing in 2013,” she explains.

“I remember being very self-conscious all the time because I rarely had the energy to get dressed and people only really saw me in my pyjamas. I got called lazy a lot. That hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew it wasn’t laziness.

“When Alex was diagnosed my heart broke. I felt so guilty. My genes did this to him but, thankfully, I’ve moved past that now because what’s the point in feeling guilty? He’s lucky that he has been diagnosed so young and that he has an excellent school who support him by providing resource hours, an SNA and movement breaks.

“It was confirmed for me before Olivia was born. I felt her skin and saw the hint of blue in the whites of her eyes when she was born.

“My heart goes out to Martin. He didn’t ask for this at all. When we first met I was still relatively ‘normal’.”

Evie’s husband Martin, 29, has thrown himself into fundraising to get his family the specialist treatment they need, as well as being a videographer. He’s also determined to keep their spirits up.

“I feel like such a burden to him, but he never makes me feel like that,” says Evie. “Even on days when I’m in agony and not so pleasant in my manner, he doesn’t complain. He has never once made me feel bad for being sick or for the kids inheriting my genes. It’s all down to me and my issues.

“He took his ‘in sickness and in health’ vow very seriously! He’s a brilliant dad and husband and treats us when he can so we have things to look forward to. When you’re stuck at home six days out of the week, most weeks, looking at the same four walls, you need something to keep you looking forward.”

For now, the focus is on fundraising, but the Nevins are facing the fact that they may have to emigrate to properly deal with the condition. They have been told they cannot access either the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS) or the Cross-Border Directive (CBD).

“The TAS only covers treatments available on the NHS,” says Evie.

“The Hypermobility Unit in St John’s and St Elizabeth’s in London is a private hospital so our consultancies and treatments won’t be covered.

“The CBD will only cover medical issues that are also available here in Ireland and the tests and scans I must have in London are not available in Ireland.”

In a statement, the HSE said: “EDS is treated across Europe by multidisciplinary teams, often led by physiotherapists, with extreme cases being sent to orthopaedic for corrective surgery. EDS is readily treated in Ireland by physiotherapists. There is no specialist centre in Europe or the UK.”

Evie refutes this: “There is no treatment available here, no matter what they say. The people in charge will say rehab in Harold’s Cross is an option, but they are in no way experts and the reviews from my community haven’t filled me with any confidence that they could take care of me and my complex conditions.

“Right now, we are aiming to move abroad somewhere where there is better care and where the air pressures are more stable than Ireland. The kids are becoming affected by the pressure changes too. Both of them wake in pain when we have particularly nasty weather.

“Obviously I can’t blame the Government for the weather, but I do blame them for not setting up a clinic for people with connective tissue disorders.

“We need somewhere with a multi-disciplinary team like in London. We need consultants that communicate with each other. Things slip through the cracks because of the lack of communication and a holistic approach.”

One development that could make a huge difference to the family’s lives is medicinal cannabis. Those with EDS are often resistant to pain medications and they find it difficult to manage their pain. Medical cannabis is recommended for EDS patients in the US.

There is an increasing call by medical support organisations for greater access to medicinal cannabis for patients with debilitating conditions.

A Health Products Regulatory Authority report published last month advised that, if a policy decision is taken to permit cannabis under an access programme, it should be for the treatment of patients with three conditions — spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.

“When health minister Simon Harris announced that only three conditions would be approved, none of which are related to chronic pain, I was devastated,” says Evie. “I had been hopeful and excited at the idea of having some normality back in my life.

“Medical cannabis could be seriously life-changing for my family and me. In the US, EDS experts highly recommend cannabis as a form of pain relief as many patients are resistant to painkillers, specifically opiate-based pain medications.

“I have changed pain medications so many times because I’ve become resistant pretty quickly to them. This is now starting to happen with my current medication, Tramadol.

“I’d rather have medical cannabis over my Tramadol because taking 5,000 painkillers a year can have serious repercussions on my body. If I can access cannabis safely and with help from the HSE, I may not develop symptoms of long-term opiate use such as depression, hormonal dysfunction, and respiratory depression, to name just a few.

“I have used cannabis-based products to manage my symptoms. I use a MediPen, which has been helpful for my chronic fatigue, but not for my pain. I have smoked cannabis and I find that, on days when my Tramadol isn’t working, it’s the only thing that helps manage the pain.

“I also find it good for my appetite because I don’t eat a lot when I’m in a lot of pain. I’m so nauseas and I find Tramadol suppresses my appetite sometimes. There are days I’d be lucky to get 800 calories into me. I would like to be able to access cannabis legally so that I can function a bit better in my day-to-day life and be a better mother and wife to my family.”

For now, another round of tests and physiotherapy for Evie, Alexander, and Olivia at St John’s and St Elizabeth hospital in London, as well as flights, accommodation, and private medical consultations in Ireland, mean the young family need to raise in the region of €10,000 for the first trip.

Martin says: “It pains me to see my family suffer. I can do nothing but watch when their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless.

“So I’m asking the public for their help, as a father and as a husband, to send my family to get the treatment they need. Anything you can spare, even a few euro, will make a massive difference.”

You can find out more on their GoFundMe page, or on Facebook.

The symptoms

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects the joints, skin, and blood vessel walls.

Sufferers usually have overly flexible joints and stretchy, fragile skin. This can become a problem if a wound requires stitches.

There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes and symptoms vary.

Overly flexible joints can result in dislocations and early-onset arthritis. Fragile skin may develop prominent scarring. Those with the vascular disorder are at risk of often-fatal ruptures of major blood vessels. Some organs, such as the uterus and intestines, may also rupture. Pregnancy can increase these risks.

In other forms of the disorder, fainting and low blood pressure occurs because blood vessels stretch. Stomach wall lining is fragile and bowel ruptures can occur. Constipation and other motility (movement) disorders feature, as does gastroparesis (paralysis of stomach; inability to process food).

Excessively loose joints are the hallmark of hypermobility disorder as suffered by Evie, Alexander, and Olivia. Large joints and small joints are affected. Partial and total joint dislocations are common. Many experience chronic limb and joint pain.

ENDS

It has been a crazy couple of weeks and thanks to these journalists, we have reached our first goal of 10,000 Euro! When the Irish Examiner piece came out over 2,000 was raised in that day alone. I am truly blown away by stranger’s generosity and kindness.

Another good thing that came out of all of this is that I have had parents from all over the country ring me to ask for advice regarding their children. Sadly, and also not surprisingly, many families are given diagnosis but then offered no support or solutions. In Ireland we have to fight for every support we get. This is no country for disabled people. The entire health system is lacking in every sector.

Standing up and speaking out does work. You just got to keep chipping away at the block. I truly believe my story has made a difference in regards to awareness and lobbying for medicinal cannabis.

Next on our press list is an article with the Evening Echo. We hope that some more newspapers, radio stations and TV stations get in touch. Not so that we can fundraise, but to raise awareness and give chronic pain patients a voice.

Until next week,

Z.M