Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Story Of Two Miracles

This is my daughter's story, which is also a story of immense courage through years of constant pain, and abdominal operations.  It is also the story of a tiny miracle, my granddaughter.

Katie's menstruation started in her mid-teens and was very painful from the first.  She had no proper cycle, but would go perhaps months without a period, and then have 2 or even 3 in the space of four weeks.  She was in constant pain, which would even radiate down into her legs.  Her bleeding was not normal, with either huge clotting or very little blood at all. 

Although we had gone through the usual mother and daughter talks about how a woman's body works, she did not realise that what was happening to her was in no way normal.  The first inkling I had that she was in a lot of trouble was when she told me she had been bleeding constantly for six weeks.  I was horrified, and immediately took her to the doctor.  He didn't seem terribly dismayed by her history of irregular and terribly painful menses, and advised that the contraceptive pill would regulate her cycle and help with pain.

To an extent the pill helped her, but not with the pain.  She would be white in the face and doubled over, hardly able to stand.  We tried endless painkillers, until we were advised by doctors at Accident and Emergency that she could take a combination of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol to relieve the pain.

A few months after her 25th birthday she was taken to A & E with crippling pain, and was given a series of scans and tests.  They found a mass near her ovary.  At first it was thought that this was "faeces" but the Gynaecologist wanted to do an exploratory operation as he was not convinced.   She reacted very badly to the anaesthetic, and started vomiting before she was properly awake.  She had a reaction to morphine, and her face and throat swelled.  When she was properly awake she found six doctors with her, all in shock.  They said that they had found her ovary was five times the size it should be, and it appeared cancerous.  They had taken one look at it, and stopped the operation.  As our local hospital has no facilities for radiation or chemotherapy, they were getting her an appointment with the Royal Womens Hospital.They had found severe endometriosis also, it was all through her abdomen, and even on her bowel.  So she was still in pain, and now had the operation to recover from as well.

Four weeks later, having finally recovered and started back to work, she was again rushed to A & E with agonising pain and vomiting.  The Gynae doctor decided that they couldn't leave her, so they would operate and then get her any follow-up therapy at the Royal.   Again, she was violently ill after the operation.  The same scenario afterwards was a severe blow to all of us.  They had gone in with the camera, taken one look and pulled out.  She had a massive pelvic inflammation from the first operation.  So - again - she had an operation to recover from but the same condition as before she went in.  This time she was on mega antibiotics and pain relief.

The Gynae doctor had decided he would still remove the ovary, and they booked her in as a Category 1 patient.  Another four weeks, and she was back in theatre.  This time they removed the ovary, and burned off as much of the endometriosis as they could see.  Much is not visible, unfortunately.  The endometriosis is the reason for the severe pain she was suffering, and for her body's inability to establish a proper menstrual cycle.   Her ovary was sent to the laboratory to test for cancer.

To our huge relief, there was no cancer - which the Gynae doctor thought was a minor miracle.   By this time she weighed only 46 kilos.  (7 stone 2lbs)

On her follow up visit the Head of Gynaecology saw her again, and changed her pill.  He advised that there was an almost certain chance the other ovary would also become a huge fibroma.  He told her that it would be difficult, if not impossible for her to conceive, due to the scarring from the endometriosis.  And added that if she wanted children she should try for pregnancy well before she was 30.  After this age it would become more and more difficult to conceive.

She was experiencing a little relief from pain after the endo had been burned off, but not a great deal. Through the next five or so years she had bouts of severe pain, especially when she was under any stress.  Then one day my phone rang and it was my daughter, telling me that she thought she was pregnant.  I was trying so very hard not to be excited!  She had decided she wouldn't even try for a family, and at this time she had only been  with her partner for six months.  She felt she was in no way ready to have a child, and was in a great deal of distress.  Over the course of the next few weeks she was out of control emotionally, and couldnt understand why.  Her HCG levels were about twice what they should be, and she was experiencing wild mood swings.

She called one night to tell me that she had had dreadful pain and had gone to a Medical Centre, where the doctor had suspected an ectopic pregnancy.  He had sent her to the Royal, for scans and tests.  They scanned and found there was a normal uterine pregnancy, so did not look any further.  They also said that BOTH ovaries were normal!  Two weeks went by, with the pain continuing, until one day at work she felt as if someone had driven a knife into her.

She actually drove to her own gp, who also diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy, and told A & E to be ready for her.  She then drove home to us, which I couldn't believe.  I rushed her to the hospital, she was by this time unable to even put her foot to the ground for the severity of the pain. 

The lady doctor in charge of A & E that day ordered further scans - they found 'free fluid' but could not decide what it was.  The doctor was certain that she was looking at a heterotopic pregnancy.  That is, where there is a normal uterine pregnancy and at the same time an ectopic pregnancy.  My daughter was in agony and yet was refusing pain killers.  She was afraid she would start being sick all over again.  After convincing her that the pain was causing her more harm than pain relief, she consented.  The doctor also started antibiotics by IV.  As the antibiotics started to enter her bloodstream she felt them burning her, and a short while later she began convulsing.  She also went into cardiac arrest.

When they had her stabilised again she was told that some of the doctors thought she may have appendicitis, and therefore they could not operate until they had two teams standing by, one from Gynae and one Surgical.  She was not allowed to get up, as the Head of A & E was convinced she had a heterotopic pregnancy and walking would be dangerous.  She was under constant supervision.   Then there was a change of shift. The doctor who took over completely poo poohed the idea of a heterotopic pregnancy, saying the chances were probably 500 thousand to one.  He slowly downgraded her condition.  She was still in agony.

Thirty-six hours after admission, she was now on the ward but had still not been to theatre.  One of the resident doctors was horrified and immediately started making a fuss.

Many hours later the Gynae team finally operated on her.  Once back on the ward after recovery she was yet again terribly sick.  She kept getting worse instead of better, and it was thought that her kidneys were failing.   This carried on all afternoon, and she was so ill she was only allowed visitors for 10 minutes.   That night I suddenly noticed that she had a drain bag on, and yet it was completely empty.  I called the nurse to question this.  At first the nurse said that if there was no fluid the bag would be empty, but when I expressed doubt she checked - to find that the drain had been turned off.  When she turned it on my girl felt extreme pain, and then a little later she started to improve, and stopped being sick.

The outcome of the operation was that she HAD had a heterotopic pregnancy, in fact she had had ectopic twins, and the damage to her fallopian tube was so massive that the tube could not be saved. Through all of this, the drugs, the anaesthetic, the antibiotics - one tiny life clung on inside her.

Her pregnancy is a story in itself, as is the delivery.  However, on 26th January, 2008 her tiny daughter Sophia Ruth was born, perfect in every way.  Both families rejoiced and still do.  This little fighter overcame so many obstacles and beat all the odds to come into the world.  Because my daughter now has an ovary on one side and a tube on the other, and massive scarring, together with other problems, there will be no other grandchildren.  So we all lavish our love and devotion on our miracle girl.

I am so proud of  the courage and strength my daughter Katrina has shown over the years, and even prouder of her as a mother, because she is one in a million.  We are so fortunate to have them both.

This article previously appeared elsewhere as a "guest blog"

Boys Will Be Boys - The Great Gender Debate!

Long ago it was said to me "boys will be boys as long as mothers have sons".   For quite a while this saying had me baffled.  Until I matured, and realised that many of the men I knew hadn't.

My belief is that we, as mothers, can mould our sons into thoughtful, caring, considerate men who respect women. Men who are willing to do their fair share in the home, who can step up to the mark, and who will bring up their own sons in the same manner.  A modern man, if you like, who is proud to take part in nurturing and caring for his own children.  And yet one who is still masculine.

We raise our daughters to be self-sufficient, to be able to do the normal daily work required when they have a home and family.  They learn so that when they leave home they are fully prepared to care for themselves, their partner and their family.  So what is is it that prevents us from raising our sons in the same way?  I  read about a twenty-something who moved into his own house, and whose mother came to visit a few months later.  She remarked that he needed to clean the shower, and his response was that he "thought it was self-cleaning".  I wonder if she realised what part of his upbringing she had neglected - where she had failed him?

The gender division appears to start in infancy, and is perpetuated by not only testosterone-driven men, but also by our own sex.  I find this incredible.  Here we are, absolutely fuming because our partner doesn't even know a toilet brush exists, or believes that women should do all the housework and raising the children - and yet we are continuing this tradition by not teaching our own sons.  Even my own mother said, of my brother, that he didn't have to do housework because "it's different for him, because he's a boy"... to my everlasting fury!

Little boys are precious and sometimes even more loving than little girls, who often want to be independent far earlier.  They love playing at 'daddies' and cuddling dolly, pushing the pram and even pretend housework.  But so many of us think that this is too feminine and boys should play with boys toys.  So why is it that girls love playing with cars, trucks, boats, planes and other so-called boys' toys?  Is this too masculine? Maybe it is time for us to think honestly about this all-important beginning to our little people's lives.  

It is not the stone age any more, where men had to hunt for food and had to protect the women from savage predators - yes, men have to work for their living, but so do vast numbers of women.  The difference between the genders is very much blurred in our modern time.  Women are only limited in what they can do by the physical strength they possess.  And interestingly, the greatest chefs, clothes designers, knitters, hairdressers and the like - are men!   Normal, masculine men, who have families and play contact sports and like a drink with their mates.

It is not effeminate to respect women, to understand them, and to act with consideration towards them.  It is not effeminate to be as CAPABLE as a woman when it comes to housework and raising children.  It doesn't make a boy a wimp when he can cook a meal, or take care of little siblings for a while.   Have you noticed that it is often men who only have sisters who are the ones who are most considerate and helpful?  Who understand that women aren't some mysterious beings who are only good for one thing? Have you wondered why this is?   I sincerely believe it is because those men have been brought up in the same manner as the girls, have had the same share of chores as the girls, and who have been taught this all-important respect.

Instead of discouraging our sons from playing with 'girls' toys, we should be ENcouraging it, just the same as we do with our little girls.  This is showing them from the very start that it is normal  and natural to be loving and caring, to be gentle and respectful.  When our girls want to help us in the house, from almost the time they can co-ordinate enough to mimic us, we encourage and praise them.  I strongly believe we should be doing this with our sons also.  Each child should have equal shares of the chores appropriate to their age, whether boy or girl.   And this should continue throughout their time at home.   Most importantly, the jobs they do should not be based on gender - little Tom can clean the bathroom while little Joan can mow the lawn. Why not?  

The rules about gender-oriented work about the house are made by US.  They are perpetuated by US.  Even if your partner is squarely opposed to this sharing of jobs, you have a perfect and valid reason for erasing the division between boys and girls.  When your son leaves home he will be entirely self-sufficient.  He will not have to bring his laundry home to mum to wash - and for dad to pay the electricity bill, for example.

I know that when our sons depend on us it makes us feel wanted and useful, but how much more wonderful would it be to be cared for and cared ABOUT by our sons?   Our children will always need us, male or female, whether or not they are living at home, are adult or not.  For me, I would much prefer a son of mine to be supportive, capable, tender and caring than for him to take me for granted and expect me and any future partner to wait on him hand and foot.  I do not believe selfish men make good partners, husbands or fathers – instead, they are far less likely to ever be able to maintain a stable relationship.  

If dad feels threatened by the fact that his son is being brought up to be  a well-rounded person, then he can take his boy fishing, or to football, or boxing lessons.  Whatever he likes!  And when his son has grown he will be a man any parent would be proud of. 

This article has previously appeared elsewhere as a "guest blog"

Things Were Tough, Times Were Hard!

Maybe some of you remember the ad for bread on television?  The old man says " ee, when I were a lad there were bread wi' nowt taken out".    Ever heard of people talking about the 'good old days'?   Do you think things were easier 'back then'?
Not so!  I just want to tell you a little about what life was like when I was young, and although I am an Aussie I would imagine things in the UK were just as hard.
Before my birth, my parents lived in a tent as my father was cutting timber for a living.  To get water my mother had to cut steps into the creek bank with a shovel.  To carry the water she used an old kerosene (paraffin) drum to which dad had attached a handle.  She cooked over a fire outside the tent.
Dad was an itinerant worker, so he had jobs in a sawmill, cutting cane, working in an abbatoir, driving a tractor and the like. 
 I remember when I was about 2 and we rented a little house in the middle of nowhere, while he was driving a tractor on a farm.  There was a wood fired stove with an oven - mum must have thought it such a luxury. The stove was kept going most of the day, all water was heated on it.  Ironing was a massive job. The iron itself was heavy, and made of iron!   You heated the iron on the stove, and did the ironing on the kitchen table.  You laid a doubled blanket with a sheet on top, and away you went.

 Everything white in the wash was rinsed in 'blue' which made fabrics seem whiter.  Most things were starched, then dampened down (dip hand into a bowl of water and flick the water across the clothes).  They were then rolled to keep them damp and then ironed.  Water came from a rainwater tank either separate from the house or situated under a spout from the gutter.
Washing was done in a copper, which was a big deep round tub which was heated by means of a fire being lit under it, and kept stoked until washing was done. Clothes were boiled, and stirred around with a 'pot stick'.   Soap was either rubbed onto the clothes prior to washing or shaved into the boiling water. My mother used to boil huge pans of water on the stove and carry them down four or five steps to the lean-to where the copper was to save wood.   Every article was wrung out by hand.  I used to feel very important because I was allowed to hold one end of a sheet whilst mum twisted and twisted it to wring out the water. The clothesline was just a rope tied to two posts, with a third post notched in the top of it, and this was used to prop up the line in the middle, to keep longer articles off the ground. Of course it was called a clothes prop!
There were no bathrooms.  We had a 'tin bath' which was round in shape.  Water was heated on the stove and poured into the bath.  It wasn't awfully big so was awkward for adults to bath!  We used old clothes cut up and hemmed as 'face washers' or as we called them, wash rags.  In a later house we had a 'chip heater' to heat the water.  Water ran into a cylinder through pipes, which went around the fire bed, heating the water.  It then came out of a spout, piping hot, into the bath.  Talk about modern! 


We had no electricity.  Pressure lamps provided light in the night.  These were filled with kerosene, and used a mantle.   They could be 'pressurised' by means of a tiny pump on the bowl of the lamp.  The mantle provided a surprisingly white bright light.   Every day the glass from the lamps had to be washed, wicks trimmed and lamps filled.
In place of a refrigerator there was a 'meat safe' which was just a metal box with holes punched into it for air.  It was hung up in a shady spot.  Milk came straight from the farm each day, in a billy can.  Butter came from the farm also.   Mum grew most vegetables and we bought meat from the farm.
Our toilet was outside, along a path in the back 'yard' which was really just bush and scrub.  A huge pit was dug and the dunny sat over this pit.  I remember going to the toilet one day, I believe I was about 3.  I sat down and started to do my wee when I looked up - there was a great black snake hanging above my head.  One little girl, minus knickers, ran out screaming for dad!
As we were many many miles from any town and hospital, any accident that wasn't life-threatening was dealth with using bush medicine!  Rough and ready first aid.  Around the time of the black snake episode I was riding my tricycle and fell, driving a fat splinter up under my thumbnail.  It broke off at a point where it couldn't be pulled out or dug out with a needle.  Dad promptly gave me a little glass of beer, and when i was a nicely drunken toddler he shaved my nail off carefully with a razor blade. He used tweezers to take out the splinter.  I cannot remember what antiseptic was used but suspect it would have just been salt water.
My brother was born when I was 3, and my father changed jobs again.   Two years later my sister was born, and he found a better job working in the abbatoir.  He moved us to town.  Mum must have thought this was luxury.  She had an ice box to keep milk and meat and butter cold.  Once a week the ice man used to come, carrying a huge block of ice between what looked like a strange pair of tongs.  This would go into the bottom of the ice box and it would gradually melt over the course of the following week.  The new house actually had electricity as well.  And the fancy iron plugged straight into the light fitting once you took the light bulb (globe) out.   Still no such thing as an ironing board, and still using a copper to wash the clothes.
There was never any form of heating for winter apart from the wood stove, and no cooling for the extremely humid and hot summers. 
Mum used to make most of our clothes, she had a Singer treadle sewing machine.  When sheets wore in the middle she would cut them in half and turn them 'sides to the middle' and resew them.   Worn collars were taken off and turned so that the underside now became the upper, and were sewn back on. Worn towels were cut up to make bathmats and face washers.  Everything was mended and patched.
Nothing was wasted, not even sawdust, which was put on the garden, as were vegetable peelings etc.
Mum grew our own vegetables, and also some fruit.
There was no television, only a radio if you were lucky, no telephone, vaccum cleaner, no supermarket even!   
I think it must have been a very lonely life for my mother, and a very hard one.  We don't know how fortunate we really are, there are so many things today that we take for granted.  I, for one, am glad things have changed so much over the past 60-odd years.

Parts of this article have appeared elsewhere as a Guest Blog.