|Blue Curtains, graphite and watercolour pencil on cartridge paper, approx. 250 x 200 mm.|
I am really happy with this piece. It is simple, but I think it does communicate what I wanted it to communicate. It has an 'impending' feel about it. Either regarding news the patient might be going to receive or simply who lies behind those curtains.
Now, why would I immediately think of these curtains? Well, I had a bit of an epiphany while wrapped in a similar set about five years ago, and they became the focus of the memory. I know I stared at them for hours on end. I wrote up the reason for it back in 2008 and I thought I would share it here. There might be a 'little too much information' warning on this, along with lots of medical terminology, so if that is a worry for you, please don't read further. That and the writing isn't crash hot, but it is a piece of my history and an important moment in my life.
One in a thousand
Very early on Monday morning, I hit the wall.
It was during that dull twilight of hospital night where blue curtains hide the world and give the illusion of privacy. I had been desperately trying to sleep. My heart was thudding in my chest, literally shaking me awake in its attempts to keep my blood oxygenated as I slowly drowned.
I had been like that for hours, and I was exhausted. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream out the injustice of this happening to me. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was one of those moments where you don’t think you have anything left.
Only to realise that you do. Whether you like it or not.
I stared at those blue curtains, forcing calm on a body wracked by anything but, and waited for the long hours to pass.
Such is the life of the IVF patient gone wrong.
It’s ironic really. I had never considered myself the motherly type. I never played with dolls as a child, was very much the tomboy, and had planned a career rather than a family. But life makes up its own rules.
We knew from the start I was going to have problems. That department has been the bane of my life, and for four long years we ran the fertility treatment gauntlet, producing failure after failure. IVF was our last resort. We ventured in bravely, pulling money from our pockets and clinging to what remained of our battered hope.
I wasn’t afraid of the procedures. Ovulation induction is very similar and I had managed that through nine cycles. IVF had a few more hoops to jump through, but I was a seasoned rollercoaster rider. I could do this.
And I did.
It wasn’t until the first blood test that things started going astray.
I remember the nurse looking at me a little strangely when I arrived for my ultrasound. The blood test had been the day before and she informed me that my oestrogen levels were extremely high. The number she gave me was huge, about forty times higher than the levels I experienced during my induction cycles. I didn’t really know what to think other than higher oestrogen equals more eggs - which is what we were after, wasn’t it?
The ultrasound revealed the source of all that oestrogen - there were too many follicles. So many, the doctor decided to harvest, but not transfer any embryos. The eggs would be fertilized and frozen for later cycles.
The injection to induce ovulation was on Monday. Wednesday was harvest day. They managed to retrieve twenty-six eggs from my eager ovaries and everything seemed to be going well.
Too bad it wasn’t.
Wednesday afternoon I started vomiting. Thursday was equally entertaining, and by the early hours of Friday morning I was vomiting blood.
Admitted to hospital, I fell worshipping at the altar of anti-nausea medication. Dehydration and an abraded oesophagus kept me in overnight. Saturday morning I collapsed in the bathroom.
That prompted a code blue and a trip to intensive care. The list of symptoms started piling up. My blood pressure was non-existent, my kidneys were beginning to fail, and fluid was being drawn from my bloodstream faster than it could be replaced.
I was suffering from a serious case of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS).
If you read the small print of any IVF treatment agreement, those three words are spelt out quite clearly, usually with other words like ‘rare’ and ‘possible side effect’. It is a situation that occurs when the ovaries overreact to the induction medication. The number of follicles stimulated causes them to overproduce their hormone cocktail and the rest of your body is left to ride out the consequences.
Most women only experience mild symptoms, bloating, nausea and some dehydration, but an estimated one to two hundred patients in every one hundred thousand assisted reproductive cycles develop the severe form of OHSS.
Apparently I’m one in a thousand.
Fluid pooled in my body tissues, distending my belly, back and thighs. It filled my lungs, strangling my breathing as my heart fought to compensate. A beached whale, flat on my back, I was too weak to do anything.
Except stare at those blue curtains.
I can remember thinking that IVF was supposed to be hard, but not this hard! Was it worth giving my life in the attempt to create another?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that sacrifice. But it is possible - the stakes can be higher than you think.
It took four and a half days in intensive care, six in the ward, and six weeks at home for me to recover. During that time I faced secondary complications including pneumonia and pleurisy. I required a blood transfusion and spent one awful night in the emergency room when it was thought I might have sprung a clot on my lung. To this day I am reminded of my encounter with OHSS every time I take a deep breath. The pleurisy left scars.
However, now there is also one other reminder.
Of those twenty-six eggs, ten successfully fertilised and eight survived the freezing process. But in the end it only took one to create my beautiful baby daughter.
Apparently the odds were in my favour.
I wrote this shortly after little KJ was born. Since then I have had another beautiful daughter who is as much a miracle as her sister. Both came from this incident, non-identical twins two years and one month apart. KJ was 3 years old when she was born, Izzy 5 years old. They are older than they look, and a darn sight tougher. I couldn't ask for more.
(sorry about the TMI)