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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

 

 

11 Crazy Things People With EDS Have Heard

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.

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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.

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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?

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3. You obviously have Lyme disease. That triggered your EDS.

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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.

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5. You’re husband is a lucky guy.

*insert pervy wink here* Shockingly, this came from a Doctor!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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9. A holy man once surrounded my hospital bed with his followers they started to chant and pray.

Well, that’s just creepy.

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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!

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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?

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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,

ZM

X

Our medical trip to London. Part 1

So, I’m sitting on a plane at Heathrow airport. As I stare out the window and listen to the rumblings of the engines preparing to take us back home, I reflect on the last few days.

I have been running on adrenaline, will power and strong cups of coffee to let my family enjoy the experience of everything London has to offer. I know they wouldn’t have gone sight seeing if they knew just how unwell I was. I can’t hide it now though. My pelvis has separated, which it does every few days or with exertion. My wrist popped out and is now painfully bruised. I am emotionally and physically drained.

We arrived in London on Tuesday evening. Weary after our drive from Cork to Dublin, I was looking forward to getting to our hotel in the Premier Inn Earl’s Court and hopping into the bath for a soak. Ollie Pops N’Clicks had other plans..

In addition to inheriting all my wonderful genetic gifts, she also inherited my inability to travel without some form of sickness cropping up. Yup. Right there on the packed tube, close to me in the sling she vomited. And I mean vomited. Like ‘Team America’ vomited. It just kept coming! How could someone so little bring up that much puke?

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The smell. Christ. Just what I needed. I look over at my husband only to see him laughing. Then everybody else in the tube noticed what happened and began to laugh too. Frickin’ hilarious, lads.

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We hopped off the tube so I could clean myself up as much as possible. We eventually made it to the hotel in one piece, just. Ravenous, we dropped off our bags, got washed up and went to the restaurant for a pleasant dinner.

I didn’t sleep so well that night. The next afternoon Bendy Boy and I would be meeting the Professor Grahame. I met him once at a conference in Cork. He was just as sweet and gentle as I had remembered. The Professor knows all too well the struggle Irish zebras face, almost total abandonment from our own Government and healthcare system. No specialists and the majority of tests needed are simply unavailable. We don’t even have an upright MRI machine.

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After an examination and a very long chat, the Professor confirmed Bendy Boy’s diagnosis of EDS Hypermobility Type. It was also noted that the six year old shows signs of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. When Bendy Boy stands up, his heart rate rises and his feet pool with blood. I was shocked to learn of the POTS signs as he has never complained of feeling dizzy except when he gets out of the bath. I was surprised I didn’t notice the pooling.

The Professor seemed impressed with my knowledge and understanding of medical terminology. When there are no experts available to you, you have to become your own expert.

Here is an excerpt from my own medical report:

“On examination there is evidence of widespread joint laxity with a hypermobility score of 8/9 on the hypermobility scale. Outside the scale her shoulders and hips (borderline) are also hypermobile, as are her feet which flatten and pronate on weight bearing. There is a non-significant 2° scoliosis on the Bunnell scoliometer, but no other features of a marfanoid habitus. Her skin is soft and silky and semitransparent, and shows increased stretchiness in the phase of taking up slack. There are numerous thin scars from knee scrapes acquired in childhood and similar over her elbows. Striae atrophicae were first noted by her at the age of 18, and she has minimal striae gravidarum despite having had two full-term pregnancies, a pointer to EDS. Gorlin sign, ability to touch the nose with the tip of the tongue is positive, and the lingual frenulum is rudimentary, both pointers to EDS. She scored very highly (25/30) on our checklist of symptoms compatible with autonomic dysfunction, known to be a common feature of EDS. Her blood pressure lying was 124/84, pulse rate 66; standing 124/84, pulse rate 80. This rise of 14bpm on change of posture is suggestive of postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), the most frequently encountered form of dysautonomia seen in patients with EDS. The evident pooling of blood in her toes on standing is further evidence in favour of PoTS.

On the basis of the clinical findings I have formed the conclusion that Yvonne is suffering from a heritable disorder of connective tissue, the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome hypermobility type, a diagnosis that was established by Dr Mulcahy in 2013. I explained the nature of the condition to her, in particular its genetic basis and the vulnerability it confers on soft tissues to the effects of injury and overuse. In her case it has resulted in longstanding widespread joint and spinal pain. Since the time of her first pregnancy she has suffered a secondary chronic pain syndrome, a frequent occurrence in this situation. It is likely that her bowel symptoms represent an EDS-related intestinal dysmotility, and almost certainly she has PoTS.

There is a concern about the possibility that she might have craniocervical instability on the basis of left-sided weakness, headaches, and paraesthesia in her arms and legs. In addition she feels that her head feels too heavy for her neck. With this array of suggestive symptoms I have agreed that we should proceed to an upright MRI examination, and I will be requesting this at the Medserena Upright MRI Unit for her to have one on a future visit.”

And Bendy Boy’s report:

On examination there is evidence of widespread joint laxity with a hypermobility score of 8/9 on the hypermobility scale. Outside the scale his shoulders, cervical spine, hips, fingers and big toes are all hypermobile, as are his feet which flatten and pronate on weight bearing. There is a non-significant 3° scoliosis on the Bunnell scoliometer. Other features of a marfanoid habitus include a pectus excavatum, and hand-height and foot-height ratios both elevated to within the marfanoid range. I interpret these findings as indicating an incomplete marfanoid habitus, which may become more obvious as he completes his adolescent growth spurt. This should not be taken to imply that I feel he has the Marfan syndrome as the habitus is widely distributed throughout the family of heritable disorders of connective tissue. His skin is characteristically soft, silky and semitransparent, and shows increased stretchiness in the phase of taking up slack. There are no paper-thin scars of note. Gorlin sign, ability to touch the nose with the tip of the tongue, is negative. The lingual frenulum is present (normal). He scored moderately highly (12/30) on our checklist of symptoms compatible with autonomic dysfunction, known to be a common feature of EDS. His blood pressure lying was 96/53, pulse rate 75; standing 102/62, pulse rate 85. This rise of 10bpm on change of posture is suggestive of postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), the most frequently encountered form of dysautonomia seen in patients with EDS.

On the basis of the clinical findings I confirm that Alexander shares his mother’s phenotype and diagnosis.”

While I was being examined, Ollie Pop (16 months) decided to stand up on her own for the first time!  And I missed it. Thank You, EDS!

Receiving the confirmation of EDS HT and the noted symptoms of POTS given by Professor Grahame will hopefully bear weight in accessing services here in Ireland. Although, I won’t hold my breath. My GP was happy to hear that I took the plunge going to the UK and she’s very interested in my case. It took a long time to find a GP that genuinely cares. While a weight has been lifted knowing that I definitely have EDS and haven’t been misdiagnosed for the hundredth time, there is a fear. The idea of having cervical instability or Chiari freaks the sugar out of me. This last trip cost roughly 5,000 Euro. The next trip will be double that again. If Chiari is present and significant it may mean I will have to take a trip to the US to have surgery. We will just have to wait and see.

Coming home to Ireland, it is wet and windy. It’s miserable. The weather here reflects how I feel about Ireland and it’s healthcare system.

giphy3

Now that I’m home I don’t have access to the fantastic services and more importantly the compassion I felt in London. I felt so at ease.

I am fundraising to get back to the UK in the new year for further testing. I will give details of these in Part 2 along with the rest of my tale. If you can donate anything at all, just click on the link below. Even sharing our story would be a massive help.

https://www.gofundme.com/2befu24c

So, until next time,

ZM.

x

 

Household Gadgets for Spoonies-Part 1

What’s a “spoonie”? A spoonie is a person who suffers from a Chronic Illness. It is derived from Spoon Theory. When you are ill every. single. day, you need to decide what’s important. Do I shower or clean the bathroom? Although it might be a no brainer that you obviously choose the shower, for many of us, we have to forgo the shower otherwise the house will look something like this:

hoarder-barbie-dreamhouse-4

Laundry-

When it comes to actually doing the laundry, it can actually be quite tough on the body with all the bending down to grab clothes out of the machine and reaching up to hang them on the washing line. To stop me bending down so much I bought a laundry basket with folding legs. I also bought a device that helps me fold clothes beautifully. I suffer from DCD like symptoms as does my son due to our EDS.

Top tip: Mountains of clothes stacked on chairs around the house? Everytime you do a load of laundry check the sizes, condition and try to remember the last time you wore it. Is it too big or too small? Put it in a bag to pass along to a friend or charity shop. Does it have holes in it? In all honesty, are you going to repair it? Bin it. Have you worn it in the last 6-12 months? If the answer is no, put it in the pass along pile. This will save you doing “the big clear out”.

Cleaning-

This is something everybody hates doing so can you imagine what it’s like for someone who may end up in bed for a week by doing simple cleaning tasks?

Hoovering and mopping the floors is a massive task for spoonies and can often lead to injury. Lugging around hoovers and buckets of water for the mop can often mean I dislocate or pull something. Hence why I don’t do the floors often! We did invest in a steam mop that can also be used to clean surfaces. I do the find the X5 to be a bit heavy so if anyone knows of a lighter model, let me know in the comments! What I particularly like about the steam mop is that you can clean without the use of chemicals.

I haven’t bought one yet but I’m dying to get a cordless hoover from Dyson or a one of those rob hoover/mops. Other spoonies have recommended them to me. Come on, how awesome is this?!

 

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Top tip: Fill one of these guys with 1 part dish soap and 1 part white vinegar. Keep it in the shower and wash down surfaces before you get out of the shower or while you are conditioning your hair. Simples!

If your shower or bath has mould growing around the rubber edges you can soak some cotton pads in bleach and place it on the mouldy areas. Leave them there for a few hours and then wipe clean. The rubber areas will be white again!

Tidying up-

If you have kids and are chronically ill, keeping the house tidy can be a full time job. We live in a two storey house which makes things that bit more difficult. Recently, I bought two little blue baskets. When I am tidying up I go to each room and put things in the basket that don’t belong in that room. Then, as I go from room to room I put the things where they belong. If you have visitors coming around and you need to tidy quickly-just fill up the baskets and leave them to sort later.

Top tip: This one is particularly handy for the little ones. Buy a timer. Each day set it for 5 or 10 minutes-whatever you can manage and for those few minutes do a little cleaning or tidying. It’s amazing what you can get done in such a small amount of time!

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Some other gadgets for cleaning and tidying:

 

Messy in the kitchen? Invest in some stove top protectors 

Dog hair everywhere? Dyson have an attachment you can use to hoover your pet

Slipper mops allow you to clean the floors while you walk to the fridge-or to bed.

A keyboard with storage is handy for extra wires, notes and pens.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you. Have any tips/gadgets you want to share? Hit me up in the comments and I’ll add them to Part 2.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

 

Me, the Zebra

Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania
Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania

I was asked to start a blog by a few fellow zebras to share my experiences of being a mom with a chronic illness. Well, here I am. Before I get into all that though, it is important that you know my backstory, how I got to this point. I’m sure many of you can relate to my story, my journey to diagnosis.

In 2012, I was interning at the Cork Independent newspaper. During my time there I happened to take a liking to writing the health section of the paper. My parents were both nurses and my sister, also worked in healthcare so while I didn’t strictly follow the family tradition, I still had a keen interest in health. That year I decided I was going to enter the European Health Journalism Awards. The theme I chose was rare diseases. So, I contacted the Genetic and Rare Diseases Organisation (GRDO) and asked to be put in touch with a rare disease sufferer. Later that week I interviewed a woman about her disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Little did I know that the answers I has been searching for about my own illness had landed right on my lap.

There is an old saying within the medical profession: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras’. Dr Woodward, an American professor at the University of Maryland would instruct his medical interns to practice as the phrase suggests. You see, horses are common in Maryland, while zebras would have been relatively rare during the 1940s. So, one would assume that, upon hearing the sound of trotting hooves, that a horse would be the most likely explanation. I however, am a zebra.

My symptoms started as a child but got really bad by the time I was 14. Gradually, my knees began to hurt, especially when it was cold. By 16, it was unbearable. A few years later, the pain spread to my hips and ankles. The joints began to make popping and clicking noises. Frustratingly, blood tests for arthritis and x-rays all came up clear. Then I began to have problems with my stomach and experiencing fatigue. In college, I was vomiting almost everyday for a year and napped frequently. The fatigue hasn’t stopped to this day. A colonoscopy and endoscopy came up clear but my GP said it was irritable bowel syndrome. Some days, my abdomen swells so much, that I look pregnant. After my son was born five years ago, I had no choice but to fight the fatigue. I am not anemic, but as the months have turned into years, the tiredness has become overwhelming. The smallest of chores around the house are exhausting for me. Some days, I don’t even have the energy to get dressed and face the world. People commented on this and called me lazy. Without a diagnosis, I couldn’t give them a credible answer as to why I was sitting in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.

I was living in constant pain for years, feeling exhausted every single day and life on a day to day basis was unbearable. I felt as though I was going crazy. All tests, scans and x-rays were coming back negative and my doctors came to the conclusion that I was depressed, that my physical pain was a manifestation of something that was purely emotional.

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Yes, pain and sleep disturbances can be symptoms of depression. Of course by that point, I became depressed. These doctors were the experts and who was I to argue? I was put on nearly every single anti depressant available on the Irish market at one point or another. Still, the pain and fatigue continued, so after eight years taking these pills, day after day, I was numb, floating through life. I felt useless as a mother, wife and friend.

Of course, I did have my good days, especially during the summer when the weather was warm and my joints didn’t hurt as much. For the past two years, the joint pain has spread to affect my hands and wrists, my back and neck too. If I move a certain way, a joint may slide out and back in again. But things changed for me in 2012 when I interviewed that girl. For the purpose of anonymity, we will call her Anna.

Anna has a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a Connective Tissue Disorder. People with the condition produce faulty collagen, which is the glue that holds the body together. In EDS, this ‘glue’ is more like chewing gum and causes the joints to be loose, often resulting in dislocations. However, collagen is present throughout all areas of the body and therefore EDS is a multi-systemic condition with secondary conditions present in most cases. When Anna explained her symptoms, I wondered did I have something similar? I was so touched by her story and felt connected to this young woman that we kept in touch. In the meantime I was put on a public waiting list to see a rheumatologist. But then, in late 2013, I was speaking on the phone and then everything started to go black; I felt hot, my heart was racing, I felt weak. I ran to the bathroom to lie down on the cool floor. This gave me such a fright that I decided I wasn’t prepared to wait two years to see a public consultant. I had to know what was wrong with me. I was going to get answers.

I organised a private appointment with a physiotherapist who confirmed that I was hypermobile. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Then I arranged an appointment with a rheumatologist in Cork, with an interest in EDS and Hypermobility Syndrome. Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed that I had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I cried with relief that finally I could put a name to what I had. After a decade of tests and scans I had taken the reins myself and finally got my diagnosis with just two appointments. The majority of doctors in Ireland are unfamiliar with EDS and there are no specialists available here in Ireland. If there were more awareness and training, I may have been diagnosed much earlier in my life.

After my diagnosis, I began weaning off the anti depressants. That was two and a half years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

I was on a high the day I got my diagnosis, but the next I had to face the harsh reality that I have a rare, lifelong and progressive disease. Luckily, my EDS is quite mild compared to some of my friends and hopefully more awareness will mean better treatment for me, and my fellow zebras in years to come. The biggest help for me through all of this has been Facebook and speaking to other people with EDS. They are enormously supportive and there is a real air of solidarity. Everybody is supportive and no matter how trivial I thought my problems were in comparison, the support has been immense. Hopefully, together, we can raise awareness about this debilitating disease and bring about an improvement in the services available especially for our children.

My son AJ is six years old. In 2014 he was diagnosed with Hypermobility EDS. I had him seen by the Rheumatologist that diagnosed me. AJ bruises very easily and I worried that teachers might question whether he was being abused. Sadly, this is not an uncommon fear amongst the EDS community. Children have been known to be removed from the family home as their parents are suspected of abuse. Thankfully, his school has been extremely supportive, even helping us organise an SNA for him. AJs’ EDS is extremely mild at the moment. But, he struggles in school, especially with concentration and writing. This is common with EDS kids. He has sensory issues, which makes it extra hard for him. His pelvis is also unstable so sitting for long periods is impossible for him. A care plan has been put in place for him in school next year. Alex is a happy child though and has never had a severe injury, as of yet, for this, I am thankful.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Orthostatic Intolerance and Vasovagal Syncope. I still have a long list of referrals to attend to investigate the array of health issues. There is a question mark over MS, Chiari Malformation, Gastroparesis, to name but a few.

The latest addition to our family is our little Olliepop, our 9 month old daughter. Obviously, she hasn’t received any diagnosis yet. But, deep down, I know she has EDS. Her sclera are extremely blue, a sign of EDS. The Public Health Nurse also noticed how flexible Ollie is, so much so, that she has been referred to physiotherapy. She suffered her first dislocation at just 7 months old. I fear for my little girl and what may happen to her. But, having a parent with the same condition will work to her advantage. She will be believed. She will not go decades wondering what the matter is.

Until next time,

Z.M

A letter to my children

 

To my little darlings,

I am here watching you both sleep. It’s 5.06am and I’m awake because I’m in pain. It’s peaceful here with only the sound of you breathing, the cat purring at your feet and the tapping of my fragile fingers on the keyboard.  As I watch over you both, I think of all the things I wish and hope for you and your futures.

I wish that medical professionals will believe you when you tell them there is something wrong. I wish that when you tell your teachers you’re not feeling well, that you will be believed. I wish that when you tell me and your Daddy that you need help, that we can do that and to the best of our ability.

I hope that as you grow up, that we can do everything in our power to prevent you from experiencing the type of pain and anguish that I go through almost every day. I hope that I can be a good enough mom for you both. Most of all, I hope that you won’t grow up to hate me because I was too sick to play or get up out of bed. I hope that you will understand that I didn’t get up out of bed because I was saving my energy to do something fun with you another day.

I pray that you will grow up and live a normal life. I pray you will get the best education, in life and in academia. I pray you will find a job you love but never feel like it is work. I pray you find love, with man or woman and they will accept you with all your flaws and imperfections. I pray that you appreciate them, as I have appreciated your father for loving me, despite the difficult days. I pray they treat you the way your father has so graciously treated me.

slleping zeebra

 

I know that should you experience any of the obstacles that I have faced, you will be far more equipped to deal with them than I ever was. I know you will be strong and determined as you have been in everything you do so far. I know that you will have days where life is just too damn hard, that there seems to be no end to the uphill battle but you will continue on. I know that when you should decide to become parents yourselves that you will know this guilt that I feel now, knowing that it was you who passed on these faulty genes. But, please remember; this is not your fault. You cannot control your genes as I could not control mine.

You begin to stir next to me now. No doubt you are looking for what you affectionately call “mama” as you nuzzle at my chest. And you, my love, at the end of the bed sighing in your sleep as if your dreams are giving you relief.

I want you to know that I love you, deeply and unconditionally. I hope that you know that I’m trying everyday to be the best mom I can and I pray that you will live a healthy, happy life.

All my love,

Mum.