I came to you as a scared, vulnerable teenager. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walked out with a script for antidepressants. I hoped this would fix everything.
No such luck. I am a zombie. I didn’t care about anything. My friends are scared for me.
Months later I return with the same complaint. My joints hurt. I’m still tired. A new symptom arose. Chest pain.
“You’re stressed”, you said.
“I don’t feel stressed”, I responded.
“Subconscious stress,” you said.
I walk out with another script for a different antidepressant and sleeping pills.
This goes on for years.
It’s all in my head, you said. That the “physical symptoms were a manifestation of something psychological”.
Those words made me genuinely depressed. I wasn’t being listened to. The weight piled on, intensifying my depression. I didn’t feel like this body was mine.
You didn’t listen.
I became pregnant and things escalated.
“It’s just the pregnancy”, you said.
I moved clinics to find a doctor who would really listen to me.
Once again, I explain the pain, the fatigue, the stomach issues, the dizziness, my heart racing and pounding in my chest.
I came to you as a scared, vulnerable mother. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walk out with yet another script for another antidepressant. The fifth medication of its type that I’ve tried.
I am in too much pain and too tired to function. I can’t muster the energy to get dressed. My friends and family don’t understand. Being judged for being in my pajamas all day. I am just lazy.
“If this is all in my head, and nothing is working, what is the point in living?”
There were days I looked at my pills and thought that if I took them all, that the pain would end, that I would be free and I would no longer be a burden on my family.
I fight the urge and win.
Three years later, while just about managing an internship, I interview a woman with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Her story sticks with me. The doctors didn’t believe her either. Nor were they willing to help.
A year later I speak to this woman again. We get to talking about my issues.
She asks one thing that changed my life forever.
“Are you hypermobile?”, she asks.
“No”, I say.
“I’m stiff as a board!”, I exclaim.
Turns out I am. Very hypermobile. I score 8/9 on the Beighton scale.
The woman gives me the same of a doctor to see. I decided to see what you, my doctors thought.
“Could it be Ehlers Danlos Syndrome?”, I ask.
“Oh God, no! That’s as rare as hen’s teeth,” you say.
I leave, defeated.
One November day, I faint at home. That’s it. I need answers.
I go to see the recommended doctor. My stomach is in knots. That’s normal before I go and see doctors of any type now. I prepare myself to be told the same old thing. That I was depressed, I was anxious, that it was all in my head.
I am examined, I am spoken to with respect, I do not feel like a neurotic child.
“No wonder you have been depressed. Nobody was listening to you”, he says.
For the first time in my life, a doctor really listened, like no other doctors had done before.
Tears stream down my freckled cheeks with relief.
I walk out, cigarette in my hand, shaking with relief and with disbelief.
Finally! I was listened to. Finally, I have my answers.
A letter is sent to you, confirming my suspicions.
Nothing changes though, I suspect you don’t believe the diagnosis.
I never took another antidepressant after that day.
It was all over, or so I thought.
Then I soon realised, the diagnosis meant nothing without someone to help.
And here I am, six years later. I am bouncing from consultant to consultant. Medicated up to my eyeballs. No real investigations are done and some tests are simply not available in my own country.
To England, I go with family in tow. My two children now facing the same life of disbelief and pain.
But things are different here.
I meet you, dear doctor, for the first time.
You are small and sweet. You’re gentle and kind.
I feel safe with you. You are thorough.
I had no choice but to travel and spend money we did not have, but I am glad I did.
You really listened and didn’t brush me or my feelings aside.
So many from my country have been here before. Desperate for help.
A world expert’s diagnosis, that will shut the rest of them up.
And it did. No more questioning on whether this was the real diagnosis.
I had wondered myself if the diagnosis was correct because all the others, these “experts” made me feel that way.
I return home. The rain pours as we land. It matches my mood.
I am coming back to a country that does not care about my well-being or my children’s.
I jump to another doctor after another again. And again, questions the diagnosis. I am so sick of doctors at this point. But, this next one is different.
You really seem to care.
There is no rush, you have taken the time to listen.
You follow my lead, you let me take the reins on my treatment.
I almost jumped for joy leaving the doctor’s office. I could not believe my luck.
You seemed determined to help.
My pain worsens. I am a ball of tears every time I see you now because I am at the end of my tether. Other doctors want to try these expensive treatments that may not work. They haven’t worked before. I just want relief from the pain.
I just wanted you to tell me you’ll help.
Yet I walk out with a script for antidepressants-again.
The memories flood back, of not being believed. I am now a nervous wreck going to any doctor again.
I take the first pill. It begins again.
I can’t get out of bed, I am more tired than ever.
Sleeping for three days after taking one of those tiny pills so I don’t take anymore.
I return to you, scared because the pain is as bad as it’s ever been.
Feeling like the tin man, I just need some oil to move with ease.
“Anti-inflammatories will help”, you say.
I take the script, skeptical.
It’s still early days but I just know this isn’t going to work.
Something is very wrong with me.
I can’t keep fighting for help, doctor. I am already too tired.
Is it so much to ask to just want to be normal? To be like my friends.
There is only so much I can do on my own.
I am trying, really, I am to be normal.
Distracting myself with things that I can do.
I just want help with the things I can’t manage alone.
*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.
[pullquote]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.[/pullquote]
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.
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:
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.
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.
[pullquote]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.[/pullquote]
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” [pullquote]’hospital won’t accept liability’ [/pullquote] and when I asked if there was something wrong, she said she couldn’t guarantee this until baby was here.
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.
[pullquote]Admittedly I cried because none of this my choice.[/pullquote]
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.
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. [pullquote]A slow birth wouldn’t have put that strain on me, or a Caesarean if they genuinely felt there was a risk.[/pullquote]
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.
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
[pullquote]C-Section birth rates in Ireland are three times the recommended figure[/pullquote]. 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.[pullquote] 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.[/pullquote] 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 email@example.com
February is a special month to me, not because of Valentine’s day or a birthday, but because it is Marfan Syndrome Awareness Month. This is a month where I can shout about my rare condition as much as I like, trying to inform and educate as many people as possible. Conditions like mine don’t get a lot of awareness so awareness days and months are a great opportunity to teach people a bit about your condition. Mine is called Marfan Syndrome and it’s a rare genetic connective tissue disorder.
Think of the connective tissues in your body as glue, they help maintain the structure of the body, internal organs and other tissues, so they are pretty important! These tissues are found all throughout the body as well so Marfan can affect everything from your heart to your joints. It’s a genetic condition so most people inherit it from a parent, I inherited it from my Mum, but sometimes spontaneous mutation occurs which is when the gene just changes. The condition is mainly known for the life threatening heart problems that can occur as a result of it. Marfan causes the tissues in the body to become too stretchy and this means that the aorta, the main artery in the heart, is able to stretch beyond what it should, this is called an aortic aneurysm. Then if this is left to continue further the aorta could tear or even burst, this is called an aortic dissection and sadly both my Grandad and Uncle passed away from one. My aorta is currently stretching towards the point where I’ll need major open heart surgery to replace part of it, my surgeons reckon I’ll need the surgery in my earlier twenties.
That’s the not the only problem that Marfan has caused me though and not the only problem that has/will require surgery. Growing up as a child I only had mild joint pains and joint hypermobility but when I was a young teen I was diagnosed with Scoliosis, the sideways curvature of the spine. At first we thought that it wasn’t going to get much worse but unfortunately it got a lot worse and I ended up needing surgery to correct it. Surgeons spent 6 hours straightening my spine using metal rods and screws, it was a pretty brutal surgery and the recovery was tough. I also suffered a complication though and almost a year after the first surgery I had to go back into the operating theatre to have a screw replaced because it was sitting on a nerve and causing me severe pain.
After that my hips started hurting so off I went to the doctors again, I was referred to see a hip surgeon and x-rays revealed that I had another secondary condition because of Marfan. I had a hip deformity called Protusio Acetabuli which basically means that my hip joint sockets are too deep which is causing early wear and tear and cyst formation in the joint. I had my right hip replaced when I was 18 and my left hip will also need replacing but the 3rd diagnosis that came after that is complicating that situation. During that whole time I also had ever increasing pain in my lower back that was so severe that I had to start using a wheelchair and then a powerchair. MRI and CT scans revealed that I had a large 5.5cm Tarlov cyst sitting in my sacrum, the triangle bone at the end of your spine but before your tailbone. It’s a cyst that grows out of a nerve root and fills with spinal fluid, putting pressure on nerves causing pain and it also cause me severe headaches and migraines. The cyst is also eroding away my sacrum which is leaving me at risk of fracturing it, hence why the left hip replacement isn’t being done yet as the force of that surgery would almost certainly fracture my sacrum.
I also suffer with regular joint dislocations and subluxations as well as severe chronic pain and fibromyalgia. I’ve managed to turn my bad experiences into a good thing over the years though, I use my blog and social media platforms to raise awareness and I’ve also been able to work with some great charities such as The Hypermobility Syndrome Association and The British Heart Foundation. It can be lonely and frustrating at times having a rare condition but I find that the online spoonie and disabled community really help that, even if you aren’t talking to people with the same condition.
The last thing that I want to leave you with is some of the signs and symptoms of Marfan, key characteristics of the condition to look out for: being tall and slim with long arms, legs and fingers, hypermobile joints, small lower jaw, high roof of the mouth, flat feet, breastbone deformities, crowded teeth, scoliosis, lens dislocation in the eye(s), early cataracts & glaucoma and aortic dilation/aneurysm.
You can find out more about Marfan Syndrome and Shona’s experience with it on her blog: Shona Louise.
UPDATE: On March 15 2017, criteria and classifications of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes were updated for the first time in 20 years. In light of this, I will update my guide (with the new information made available) to highlight new diagnostic criteria and classifications. You can read more about the changes here.
Because there are now 13 types of EDS, I have only covered Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (vEDS) and Classical Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (cEDS). If you would like me to do another guide to the rarer types, please comment below or email me. I would be more than happy to oblige!
“You’re suffering from Fibromyalgia!” “You’re depressed!” “You’re imagining it!”
The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a group of conditions that are poorly understood, even by many in the medical professions. It is essentially a defect in the production of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue.
Many articles about EDS contain medical terminology that can be difficult to understand. The purpose of this guide is to put the medical terminology in plain language and help non-affected family and friends understand exactly how EDS affects people and their day-to-day lives. The medical terminology is included in italics. Links to web pages are included throughout the article if you want to conduct your own research.
Why are they called The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS)?
The name of the condition itself is quite a mouthful! Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Eylerz-Dan loss Sin-drome) is named after the two physicians, Dr Ehlers and Dr Danlos, who first described this group of connective tissue disorders.
What is EDS?
People with a type of EDS will produce faulty collagen. Collagen is essential for healthy connective tissue, which is found throughout the body supporting and connecting the different types of tissues and organs, including tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs, bones, the blood and skin.
Imagine a healthy person’s connective tissue as being like regular household glue. People with EDS have collagen that is more like chewing gum; stretchy and not very good at keeping things in place.
What causes EDS?
There are a number of different genes responsible for making collagen and connective tissue, so there are different types of EDS depending on which genes are faulty. There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes
How did I get a faulty gene?
It is possible that the faulty gene may have been inherited from one parent, or both parents, or not inherited at all. It may be that the defect has occurred in that person for the first time. This happens in 25% of cases.
How I explained it to my 7-year old son.
A carpenter makes a wooden chair. Instead of using wood glue to place the joints of the chair together, he uses chewing gum. Once finished, the chair looks fine. But, as time goes by and the chair is used, the chewing gum doesn’t work very well at keeping the joints together. Without proper glue the chair can begin to get wobbly. I went on to explain that with proper exercise he could help to strengthen his muscles so that they acted like binding around the joints to help support them.
What does EDS feel like?
Having an EDS feels different from person to person, depending on their type, but many describe it as having a lifelong flu. Have you ever had the flu? Do you remember how painful it was having those aches and pains in the joints and muscles? Do you remember how tired and run down you felt? That’s what it’s like for people with EDS only worse and it never goes away. In addition to the daily aches and pains people with EDS also have to deal with very painful headaches, gut issues and then of course there’s the issue of dislocation. Many EDSers can’t go a day without a joint popping out. It can happen simply by stepping off a footpath or picking up a pot when cooking. A lot of people with EDS are also affected by the weather. When it is damp or when the air pressure changes their pain can increase.
How does EDS affect people?
Because collagen is everywhere in the body, there are hundreds of ways EDS can affect people. Any two people with EDS may have very different signs and symptoms, this includes people with the same type. In som,e the condition is quite mild. For others it can be disabling. Some of the rare severe types can be life-threatening.
One of the problems with diagnosing EDS is that many diseases share the same symptoms. As a result, EDS can be easily confused with other conditions and it may be difficult for doctors to recognise. But there are ways to tell if someone may be affected by EDS and need more thorough investigation. Some of the investigations available are listed later.
The most common symptoms of EDS (hEDS and cEDS) are:
“Double jointed” – Hypermobility: joints that are more flexible than normal.
Loose, unstable joints that dislocate easily.
Joint and muscle pain
In addition there may be
Fatigue (extreme tiredness).
Fragile skin that bruises and tears easily. The skin may also be stretchy.
Dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply POTS for short)
Incontinence of urine in women
If food in the stomach doesn’t move through the body to make its way out it may just sits in the intestines and can cause a feeling of fullness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, to name just a few symptoms. This condition is known as Gastroparesis. (gas-tro par-eesis).
Another condition than often affects people with EDS is a fault with that part of the nervous system controlling the “automatic” functions of the body; things like blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, digestion, how hot or cold you feel and the way your organs work and so on. This is called theAutonomic Nervous System.When it doesn’t operate as it should the conditions is called Dysautonomia (Dis-auto-no-me-a). Common symptoms of this are trouble with digestion, dizziness and fainting.
Some sufferers have fairly mild symptoms and can continue with normal work, school, social and recreational activities. For others, symptoms may be so severe that normal life things like bathing, housework, eating, sitting upright, walking or standing can be very difficult. They may feel dizzy or even faint from doing these things.
What are the symptoms for POTS?
People with POTS experience fatigue (extreme tiredness), headaches, lightheadedness (feeling dizzy), heart palpitations (when their heart beats so hard you can hear and feel it), exercise intolerance (feel ill when exercising), nausea (feeling sick), diminished concentration (hard to concentrate), tremulousness (shaking), syncope (fainting), coldness or pain in the arms, legs, fingers and toes, chest pain and shortness of breath. People with POTS can develop a reddish purple colour in the legs when standing; this is believed to be caused by blood falling down in the body because of weak veins. The colour change subsides upon returning to sitting or lying position.
Can you tell someone has EDS just by looking at them?
The short answer is no. Some may have typically blue sclera (whites of the eyes), they may have translucent skin (see through) and you may even notice how bendy they are. But some people may have some of these things and not have EDS.
Many people with the type of EDS that affects blood vessels (Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or simply, vEDS) do have some facial characteristics. Notice in the picture below that the people have big eyes, thin nose and lips.
Can EDS kill people?
Some people think it can’t but actually, EDS has led to the untimely death of people all over the world. vEDS is considered the most serious form of EDS due to the possibility of the heart or organs tearing.
Many EDSers live a life of constant pain. This pain and misunderstanding from their medical teams, families and friends can make a person feel very sad and alone which can lead to depression and even suicide.
What treatments are available for people with EDS?
Because EDS is considered “rare” there are not many doctors willing to learn about it. Types such as hEDS and cEDS can be somewhat managed through specialised physiotherapy. Joints with weak connective tissue are more likely to dislocate. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around a joint can help stabilize the joint. Your physical therapist might also recommend specific braces to help prevent joint dislocations. Occupational therapy is also useful to help manage everyday life. Pain relief is very important for people with EDS.
EDSers should also be under the care of a Rheumatologist (a doctor who looks after bones and joints), a Cardiologist (heart doctor). There may also be a need for more specialised doctors such as Neurologists (doctors who look after the nervous system) or all of the above plus many, many more. Sometimes operations are required to repair joints that have dislocated frequently and haven’t healed properly.
Do all people with EDS need wheelchairs?
Not everyone will experience EDS the same way, some people can live normal lives and manage very well with physiotherapy and pain relief. Others may need to use wheelchairs or walking sticks to help them get around. Some people with EDS also have Gastroparesis which we discussed earlier and may need to be fed using a tube. Others may only have mild tummy problems. Some people with EDS may have to go to hospital a lot while some may only go to their GP every few months. But, just because one person can live their lives fairly normally, it doesn’t mean they don’t have EDS or that their pain shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Can you catch EDS, POTS or Gastroparesis?
No. EDS and other sub conditions are not contagious. If you know somebody with EDS, don’t be afraid, you’re not going to catch anything from them. So, if you’re avoiding someone with EDS, go make friends with them.
How can I help someone with EDS?
Be there to listen if they want to talk about it. Some people are afraid to tell you how they feel because they think friends and family don’t want to hear them complain. Ask them how they are and if you can do anything to help them. Doing shopping or household chores can be a huge help and it would be most appreciated. If you’re friend or family member has EDS and can’t access appropriate treatment like here in Ireland, write to your local representatives to tell them about EDS and the lack of care that is available. Help raise awareness in the public by sharing articles or pictures about EDS. Experts believe that EDS is not rare, just rarely diagnosed.
I will update the Diagnostic Criteria for cEDS, hEDS and vEDS in the coming days.
*Special thanks to my Dad who helped me edit this guide.*
Do you think anything else about EDS needs to be explained? Let me know in the comments!
The topic of consent is everywhere at the moment, it is an important social issue that affects each and every person, male or female, no matter their age. While I welcome mandatory consent classes on college campuses, I can’t help but wonder whether we are leaving it too late to begin introducing the topic of consent to the young people of Ireland? Let’s face it; the majority of first year college students are already sexually active. Should these mandatory classes be apart of the secondary curriculum? Absolutely. But as parents I feel it is our responsibility to plant the seed much earlier on in life.
I recently watched Louise O’Neill’s documentary Asking for It? If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. After it’s airing, I began scrolling through comment sections on social media to suss out what the Irish public thought of rape culture and the issue of consent.
Sadly, I was unsurprised to see so many people claim that Ireland does not have a rape culture. People were either too fixated on the word “culture” or almost literally sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming to avoid dealing with this very real issue. It’s such an Irish thing to do, to sweep it under the carpet, no need to make anyone uncomfortable. We have a rich history of turning our backs on painful subjects. Just look at the Magdalene Laundry scandal, for instance. Modern day Ireland is repulsed with how women up until very recently were treated by the Church. We are also disgusted that as a society we kept quiet. This attitude reflects what we are seeing today with women being perceived within a Madonna-whore complex. No, “rape culture” does not mean that as a nation we condone rape. Not. At. All. Of course the vast majority of people believe that rape is a heinous crime and those who carry out such acts should be punished to the fullest extent. Consent is consent and using excuses means we will never tackle the real issue head on.
We have a tendency to victim blame, not just about rape but also in many other situations. Just look at Kim Kardashian’s ordeal in Paris, for example. The narrative wasn’t about this traumatic event a human being went through but rather, blaming Kim for showing off her very expensive jewellery on social media. That she was “asking for it to happen.” The same thing happens to victims of sexual assault.
“Well if she’s going out dressed like that…”
“She shouldn’t have walked home alone”.
“How much did she have to drink?”
“Sure wasn’t she mauling the face off him earlier on in the night? What did she expect?”
Excusing a man’s (or woman’s) actions because they were drunk and saying “he/she would never do that normally.”
Every time these words are uttered we undermine the actual issue.
Growing up in Ireland, I could not go with friends for a night out without the following lecture chanted at me like some sort of protection spell:
“Stay with the crowd, don’t wonder off alone. Watch your drink. If someone is buying you a drink, go to the bar with them.”
As a young teenage girl, I had never been exposed to rape. It was something I only knew about from obsessively watching Law and Order: SVU. It was something that happened in far away lands, not here in little ole Ireland. Then again, I did live a fairly sheltered life.
But, as I began going out more, I started to understand why my mother gave me the same speech over and over again, each and every single night out. Even today at 29, a mother of two children, I am still reminded by my mother to do all of those things. Years ago I would have rolled my eyes at mum followed by a “yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, Mum.” Now? I make sure I don’t walk home alone on the rare night I do go out. Or if I can’t get someone to walk home with me, I call my husband for the 7-minute walk home. A lot can happen in 7 minutes.
I recently had a discussion with an older relative about rape culture and particularly, victim blaming. The conversation went something like this:
“Women have a level of responsibility to protect themselves,” the relative said.
In a perfect world, it would be great for women to feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night. It has been drilled into our heads so much that we shouldn’t put ourselves in dangerous situations but how about we start telling young men before they go out to respect any girl they potentially hook up with. That no means no and not try a little harder to swoon her into submission.
Sexual abuse is rarely ever about sex, it’s about power. Assault can happen anytime, anywhere and the attacker more often than not is someone familiar to the victim. 93% of perpetrators are familiar to their victims.
I responded to this relative with a question.
“If a man is mugged in the street at night. Do you blame the man or the thugs that mugged him?”
This made my relative stop and think.
A few days later we went to the woods for a stroll and some foraging. We separated for a few minutes. I noticed a white van with no windows pull up near me. I looked around to see how many people were around me and checked the laces on my runners were tied properly. My male relative didn’t acknowledge the van, as in he didn’t think twice about it. Women all over the world are on edge. We always have our defenses up. Will that guy cat calling follow me home? Will I arrive home safely in this taxi?
When scrolling through the comments section under Jennifer Hough’s article about rape culture in Cork one comment stuck out for me.
It went something like this:
There have been no reports of rape over the weekend so I question the author’s claim that she saw this happening.
One in four Irish women have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One. In. Four. That’s almost as common as cancer and yet, why don’t we see it in the media more? Victims of assault fear the trauma of reliving their experience during an investigation or fear of being accused of leading the perpetrator on; that they did something to ask for the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Centre Network of Ireland’s (RCC) 2014 statistics 33% of survivors contacted the police about their assault. According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI), only one in ten sexual crimes are reported in Ireland. Of that one in ten, only 7% secures a conviction. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crime in Ireland get justice.
So, just because we don’t see it in the media everyday, it doesn’t it’s not happening.
Consent is a hot topic and Louise O’Neill’s documentary resulted in the subject being discussed everywhere-amongst friends, on social media and in the news. The end message is we need to teach young men about consent just as we teach women to protect themselves. We are now seeing mandatory classes in collages being taught about consent but should we wait until most young people are already sexually active before we introduce the idea of consent to them?
Just the other day my 7-year-old son was trying to get his 19-month-old sister to give him hugs and kisses. She was shouting no but my son kept trying. At that age of course there was no malice in his actions but something clicked. This is where it begins. I told my son there and then that if his sister didn’t want hugs and kisses and she is shouting no that it meant no and to stop. I want him to understand that now, not when he’s a teenage boy. No means no. We see it all the time, relatives practically forcing children to show them affection. Why are we so pushy for physical affection? Children are not property. We have no right to hit them so why should we force them to hug and kiss us? It is their body. It is their choice. Their feelings about their personal space matter as much as any adult’s.
It all starts in childhood. We need to teach our children that our bodies are our own and nobody, not our parents or siblings have a right to invade our personal space or have forced affection brought on them. Parents often tell their children to let them know if anyone touches them inappropriately. Abuse often starts with uninvited touching, hugging or stroking. If we force affection on a child who clearly doesn’t want it, it can be confusing for them to know when something is inappropriate. Forced affection doesn’t show children we love them, it shows them that we can do as we please with their bodies.
If you don’t believe the idea of consent should be introduced to children just take a look at the figures from the 2014 RCC report:
52% of survivors aged 13 to 17 were subjected to rape
15% of perpetrators were under 18
9% of survivors attending crisis centres in Ireland were children.
Waiting until our children become young adults to discuss consent is too late and the figures reflect this.
Although parents or relatives have no intention of harming a child, nor do they think they are doing anything inappropriate; we are teaching our children that an adult or other person’s want for physical affection is more important than their own comfort and safety. It starts as early as toddlerhood; we are laying the groundwork for behaviours that continue into adult life. Teaching our children that no means no could potentially save them from assault later in life. It could also empower young people to have sex only when they’re ready to.
We don’t see physical interaction amongst children as a problem until it’s too late. They tickle, they force hugs and rarely they mean any harm. But every parent has experienced an occasion where their child has either been subjected to touching they didn’t want or have been the ones to force the affection or tickles. So how can we introduce consent to children without going into too much detail about sexual abuse?
We need to teach our children to ask for permission to touch another person. “Is it okay if I hug you? Or “Can I have a hug?”
This teaches our children to ask for permission and it also teaches them to think about their actions before they do them.
We need to teach our children that consent can be taken away too.
Adults know all too well, especially parents that we have days where we feel “touched out.” Kids have those days too. They may have been very affectionate and willing to accept affection the day before but they are well in their rights to tell someone that they don’t want to be touched today. This maybe confusing for other children so it is vital that we show them that it’s OK to change your mind.
A child should never be forced to show affection to another person.
It is a common occurrence that children are told, “go give Nana a hug” or “give Aunty a kiss”. Children are eager to please so they may oblige but that shouldn’t be the case. No matter how familiar your child is with someone, he/she should feel comfortable enough to say no. Given that 93% of cases involve a person the victim is familiar with, it is important that we validate our children’s feelings and respect their decision. Under no circumstances should you guilt a child into giving you affection. Don’t pretend to cry or be sad. So many of us are guilty of this. I know my husband and I have been guilty of this. Humans need touch, we are social creatures but it isn’t really affection if you force or guilt a child into it is it?
Not saying no doesn’t mean yes.
As discussed, children are eager to please so they may do something they don’t really want to do to please a friend, teacher or family member. You may think your own child has no problem saying no but they may not be so forthcoming with someone other than you. Our children must also learn just because they don’t hear a resounding no that it means they can go ahead with that hug or kiss.
Practice what you preach.
Lead by example. Children imitate what they see in their day-to-day lives. If they see Daddy (or Mommy) force affection on to one another, the idea that it’s OK to do that is solidified. Many couples will force a hug or a kiss a form of tomfoolery and no there is no ill intent but still, it is important for us to show our children that we should respect everyone’s boundaries.
I spoke with some fellow EDS zebras about some of the down right crazy things they have heard from health care professionals, friends and family about their condition. Comment below if you have anything you’d like to add to the list.
1. You have EDS because you’re vaccine injured.
No. Just no. A vaccine isn’t going to alter my genes. Shoo! EDS is genetic. GEN-ETIC.
2. You have EDS because you’re possessed.
Seriously. This came from a chap who works in my local takeaway. Offered to make me herbal blends to cleanse my soul. Thanks, but no thanks, mate. Stick to making pizza, k?
3. You obviously have Lyme disease. That triggered your EDS.
Yes, there are some overlaps with EDS and Lyme but the latter isn’t going to cause your collagen to magically turn into a chewing gum like consistency.
4. You have EDS because you’re stressed.
I was told the stress of my wedding caused my EDS. If that’s true then EDS must be far more common! We should all stay single. Job done.
5. You’re husband is a lucky guy.
*insert pervy wink here* Shockingly, this came from a Doctor!
This is the extend of my bedroom antics, Doc. Seriously, I’m more likely to pop out a hip than to climax.
6.You’re sick because you’re in a bad relationship
This was in the Doctor’s office and my husband was sitting right next to me. The only bad relationship here is with this Doctor.
I mean, talk about awkward. If a Doctor was genuinely concerned about the patient, wouldn’t they wait until their patient was alone? Nobody is going to admit they are in a bad relationship in front of the person they are in a relationship with. Anyway, the point is martial issues are never going to cause a person to dislocate a joint.
7. You’re too young to be sick
Yes, because that’s how chronic illness works. You wonder if these health care professionals obtained their degrees from the bottom of a cereal box. Do you even science, bruh?
I’m too young? Hold on a sec while I tell my body that I’m not actually 90 years old.
8. You’re too short to have EDS
I think you’re confusing my condition with Marfan Syndrome.
9. A holy man once surrounded my hospital bed with his followers they started to chant and pray.
Well, that’s just creepy.
Here, while your at it, could you pray for me to win the lottery so I can pay for my very expensive medical treatment? Oh it doesn’t work like that? Silly me.
10. Your son has EDS because you’re a bad parent.
Like, what the actual F?
The child’s mysterious problems are from his mother yelling at him and letting him get away with too much all at the same time. This was said by a paediatric consultant!
11. Someone assumed because I was in a wheelchair that I was mentally affected.
I was seen in the wheelchair while being pushed by my husband and this old man saw me in the chair and automatically thought I had an intellectual disability. We had our dog with us and looked at me and said (in baby talk voice, no less) “is that your cat? Hah?! Is that your cat? What a lovely cat hah? HAH??!”
I just looked at him smiled and said nicely “yeah funny looking cat, no?! The poor man looked shocked. He just said, “have a nice day” and skootled off quickly.
What do you do in a situation like that? Laugh? Cry? Both?
Has any thing like this happened to you? Let me know in the comments!
Share this with your friends and family to help educate them.
Until next time,
One mother's experience of life with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome