The Unempathic Society
Why, in 2015, is it still okay for doctors, midwives, nurses and society in general to treat sick people like idiots?
Why is it that just because someone hasn't suffered something they can't imagine how horrendous it is for someone else?
I've never had a broken leg, but I can begin to imagine it's painful and debilitating! I've never had cancer, but I can begin to imagine it's terrifying, traumatic and painful! I've never experienced a still birth, but I can begin to imagine it's utterly devastating and life changing. I haven't yet experienced the loss of a loved one, yet I can begin to imagine how hard it is to move on and see the sun again.
I've never had food poisoning; I've never suffered mental illness; I've never been assaulted or raped; I've never been in a major car crash; I've never been in a war zone; I'm not diabetic or epileptic or asthmatic; I don't have a congenital disease or a serious allergy; I've never had anaphylactic shock... Yet I can begin to imagine that all those things are scary and difficult things for other people. Things that can take time to come to terms with and can have a major impact on their lives.
And I certainly don't doubt their existence. Nor would I presume that I can ever fully grasp the personal impact those things have on another individual.
Hyperemesis can turn a women from a healthy, happy person, enjoying work and looking after her herself and her house, excited about being pregnant, perhaps newly married, into a shadow of herself throwing up 20+ times a day, bed bound, unable to eat and drink, dehydrated and rapidly losing weight. Yet people all around her will be thinking that she is just making it up, attention seeking, making a fuss, weak, mentally ill etc etc.
Why is that? Are we raised to be so utterly unempathetic? Or are we raised to think deep down that most women are neurotic and melodramatic and prone to making a fuss over nothing?
I don't go around claiming that a medical condition doesn't exist simply because I've never had it or heard of it! “You have what? Oh I've never heard of that so it can't possibly exist!”
I wouldn't tell a pregnant women who has broken their ankle that they should just get on with it and walk on it because when I stubbed my toe that's what I did and it was fine. They should shun modern, evidenced-based science and certainly shouldn't use that big cast because it “might” cause problems for the baby and if they're in pain they should try homeopathy and positive thinking instead of pain killers. Of course there is plenty of evidence that a plaster cast won't cause problems for the baby and there is no (proper) evidence that homoeopathy will help with the pain with anything other than the placebo effect. In the same way there is plenty of evidence that anti-emetics won't harm the baby and no evidence that homeopathy or acupressure helps hyperemesis gravidarum.
But a broken leg shows up on an X-ray whereas HG is soooo much harder to diagnose... you actually have to trust that the woman isn't, in fact, sticking her fingers down her throat and deliberately starving herself to produce ketosis and weight loss and dehydration. That takes a lot of trust right? Cos sensible women with jobs and mortgages and husbands and other kids, they do that sort of silly thing ALL THE TIME!!!
What the hell is wrong with with people that the life of a woman is worth so so so much less that that of a 6 week foetus? Even if you personally believe the two lives are equal why are mothers left to rot and suffer and develop life long complications and risk their own lives and become mentally ill just because they are pregnant. Why are they treated like idiots who are making themselves ill "for attention" or "the drama". Why are they made to feel guilty for “risking their baby”... Don't those silly women know they just need to eat?
Is it that hard to imagine that she simply doesn't have a choice, that the food won't stay down and forcing it in just makes it worse?
And then there are the doctors who would rather a wanted, tried for baby was terminated by the devastated mother than go to the effort of looking up the easily accessible research about the safety of medicating for the condition. And they do this wonderfully clever thing whereby they make the mother feel like it's her fault for “not being strong enough” or “She is too selfish to put up with a bit of sickness like everyone else does”
The ironic thing about the “it's not safe to take medication” card that as soon as you look at the evidence (which is what healthcare professionals are meant to do) then it's pretty clear that by leaving the mother to suffer and rot you are also increasing the risk of harm for the baby! So because people “don't believe” the woman they risk both her and the baby's health and somehow the mother still gets the blame and is made to feel guilty.
And then there are the bosses and work colleagues who think their female employee is just after some time off work. The woman who hasn't been of sick for years, is always on time and stays late and enjoys her job and is sociable with colleagues, now she's pregnant she thinks she can have time off for any little complaint. Jeez... If you want some time off work then fake some other illness, not the one that actually requires IV fluids to stay alive and that risks your long term physical and mental health and your wanted, tried for baby!
Why would a woman, who risks losing her job and house, take months off work for an illness she could fix with a ginger biscuit and some fresh air?
Think about it people... maybe it's because it's really, truly, honestly a really awful and debilitating condition, which is not self inflicted and can not be overcome with positive thinking??
Why would a woman who wanted a baby so much that she has been through 2 years of multiple IVF treatments to get pregnant then consider a termination because she is so seriously ill and suffering in such an unimaginably awful way? Um... Maybe because she is suffering an actual horrific illness but her doctor doesn't believe her because "his wife had morning sickness and just got on with it".
So here are some more things to think about:
- Did you know that people who don't have pneumonia but do have a mild cold don't need to take antibiotics?
- And did you know that people who don't have diabetes but do really like sugar don't need to take insulin?
- And people who don't have a broken leg but did stub their toe last night don't need to wear a cast for 6 weeks and take pain killers?
It's true! And also women who don't have Hyperemesis Gravidarum but do have morning sickness don't need to take antiemetics or get IV rehydration!!!
COME ON SOCIETY!!! Is it really that hard to believe that just because you haven't personally heard of a condition that it doesn't exist? Is it that hard to show empathy to someone going through something that you haven't personally experienced? Is it really necessary to question the validity of your partner/friend/daughter/sister/employee's symptoms just because she is pregnant, when you know that normally she is a happy, busy, strong and sensible women?
And you know what? This post doesn't just go for Hyperemesis Gravidraum... There are so many conditions which people wilfully choose to misunderstand and stigmatise. Ones with clear physical symptoms and others with more hidden impacts.
Tell me... Are your really that arrogant that you think you've heard of every disease in the world? Are you really that self centred that you can't put yourself in someone else's shoes and see their suffering? Are your relationships with people so one sided that when their circumstances change and they need help and support that you turn on them and accuse them of melodrama? Are you so insecure and unhappy in your own life that you show jealousy towards people who need a little extra care and love because they are seriously ill and suffering?
I hope you are not but from speaking to women with a serious medical condition who risk losing their babies day in day out it can sometimes seem like everyone is like that until they go through something serious themselves... But it doesn't need to be like that.
If you are guilty of any of these traits then make today the day you change... Decide to open your mind. Haven't heard of something? GOOGLE IT! Don't make random useless suggestions. Don't know how to help your friend? ASK! "What can I do to help?" Is possibly the most wonderful thing you can say to an ill person. Stick up for misunderstood conditions! If someone is saying something ignorant about your partner/friend/colleague and their medical condition then CORRECT THEM! Coming from someone who doesn't have it can often get through far more effectively than from the sufferer themselves.
THANK YOU for reading this post... Please share it far and wide and let's make the world a more accepting and understanding place for people suffering stigmatised illnesses. And lets make sure that evidence based medicine starts to prevail, even in pregnancy!
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In conjunction with Pregnancy Sickness Support and Plymouth University I am looking for women who have been treated for HG in the last 2 years in the UK to take part in a research survey. Please click here to find out more.
I am mother of three beautiful children and wife to a fantastic and supportive husband. I am a nurse, a farmer and a trustee for Pregnancy Sickness Support. I love working hard and spending time with my kids.
About this blog
Information and support for pregnancy sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum. Views are my own and do not represent those of any other organisation. Information provided here should not be a substitute for medical advice. My aim is to raise awareness and encourage sufferers to know they are not alone.
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